Massachusetts is under a stay-at-home advisory, per notice by the Governor, until the foreseeable future in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. This is something that has never occurred on this scale and severity, and in these unprecedented times MassBike has received a lot of inquiries as to whether it is still safe and smart to ride your bikes outdoors. (Got an indoor trainer? No problem!)
Our response has generally been to follow the directives of the Governor's Office and the CDC, which have not suggested banning bicycling or other forms of active transportation or exercise as long as folks can maintain safe distance from one another. But MassBike certainly agrees with, and wants to reiterate, the official message of #StayHomeSaveLives. We encourage you all to stay home as best you can.
Doctors in Wuhan, China enjoying a bicycle ride on their break. (ChinaDaily)
But we also recognize that bicycling is a lifeline for a lot of people throughout Massachusetts, and not just during the public health crisis. For many essential workers, bicycles are a primary mode of transport to get them to their jobs. Doctors and nurses, grocery clerks, cleaning and sanitation staff, pharmacists, journalists, and more depend on their bikes to get to work (which is why MassBike advocated strongly for bike repair to be considered an "essential service" by the Office of the Governor, read more here). Bicycles also allow for short and long distance travel while still maintaining physical separation from others, especially for those who do not have cars and want to avoid public transit. Bicycling also helps people save money, which is crucial for all of us as we unfortunately have an economy in free-fall that has millions of people suddenly out of work. And biking of course still allows for active transportation, so people can get exercise as they get where they are going. For these reasons, and more, the bicycle will be an important tool for fighting this disease by building mental as well as physical fortitude.
So how should we modify our riding to fit these uncertain times? Since the data is still changing by the day, we recommend checking with the CDC and mass.gov for latest updates, but in the past few weeks we've seen some basic guidance from riding clubs and advocacy organizations that boil down to these six points:
1. Ride solo, or with those you're already quarantined with.
2. Carry all you'll need, so you won't need to rely on interacting with other people or depend on stores that may not be open.
3. Take the path less traveled, and find places that have open space.
3. Ride with caution, since our medical community is already overburdened you really don't want to end up in a hospital.
4. Wash your hands, you've likely got some grease on them anyway.
5. Wear a mask even if you're not feeling sick, since we know there are many asymptomatic people out there and we should all be mindful that we may be carrying the disease.
6. If you're sick, stay home! Do not ride if you are ill or experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
Social Distancing by Bike, How Close it Too Close?
One of the more confusing parts of our directives is to stay six feet away from others. But how does that really work when you're out riding with others at a steady 15mph? We've found some interesting studies that have been looking into the aerodynamics of particles when someone is running or biking. Research from one study from Belgium advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in one line should be at least 4–5 meters (12-15 feet), for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters (30 feet), and for hard biking at least 20 meters (60 feet).
Of course, this study can't take into account the turbulence and side winds that blow particularly strong in Massachusetts, but it's food for thought to give you an idea of factors to consider. Basically, in our eyes, six feet is not enough when riding behind someone else, so use your good judgement. That means no more pelotons, no more drafting, and give wide separation when even riding side by side. Frankly, the best way to stay as safe as possible is to simple ride alone or with people in your household you are already quarantined with.
Crowded Pathways and Closed Parks
But how can you reasonably create such distance from other who are out looking for the same solace and respite from the outdoors? This is tough, and there is no easy answer except to search for places to ride that have lots of room. Knowing of course many folks live in dense communities, this may mean riding further out, or riding at times of the day that aren't typically busy.
A line of traffic obstacles blocks drivers from parking on Wollaston Beach in Quincy. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
For now most paths and trails remain open. Even if many state park parking lots are closed to thin the crowd and discourage people from travel far from their homes, the parks are still open for people to walk, bike, jog, and pass through, so please feel encouraged to explore your local open space. Our friends at the Rails to Trails Conservancy have a list of local trails on their TrailLink.com, and we recommend you to check with your local trail management organization to confirm the status of the trail facilities.
Are Quiet Streets Safer Streets? #OpenStreets for People!
We are also seeing historic lows for traffic volumes on our streets. This is a good thing for many reasons, including reducing air pollution, creating safer spaces for people on feet and on bike, and to leessen the general aggrivation that comes from the nation's worst traffic congestion. However the double edge to this is how some drivers are now taking advantage of open roads and driving faster and more reckless. In New York City, where automatic speeding cameras capture offenders, we've seen a doubling of speeding tickets issued. Unfortunately, we do not have speeding cameras in Massachusetts (though we are pressing for an automated enforcement law at the State House), but anecdotally we are hearing of dangerous behavior from folks behind the wheel.
In late March, we were devastated to learn of the death of George Norris, 58, who was struck by a driver on Topsfield Road in Ipswich. George was out riding with his family when he was hit, and the driver of the vehicle has been cited for texting while driving, as well as motor vehicle homicide. This is heartbreaking, and we can only imagine the anguish felt by everyone involved, but this is also a reminder for everyone to be more careful out there and to not assume less traffic means safer roadways.
However, we are seeing a response to fewer cars in the opening up of certain parkways to provide more space for people waking and biking. This is both to alleviate the concern of crowded pathways that don't allow for physical distancing, but also to provide safe throughways for essential workers biking to get to their jobs. You can read about MassBike's response and thank you note to the Department of Conservation and Recreation for their proactive work to create more open space.
Support Your Local Bike Shop (LBS)
If you're like most people, you're pulling your bike out during the spring thaw after a few months of storage. This means your bike likely needs some good TLC on the ABCs, so make sure you're doing your bike service by checking the Air, Brakes, and Chain. Landry's Bicycles has crafted a nifty guide for you to use every time before you head out to make sure your bike is safe to ride, and the League of American Bicyclists has five videos to help you get back on your bike with both mechanical and on-bike riding tips.
And we of course recommend getting your bike checked out by a professional for a tune-up at least once a year, especially at the start of the riding season. MassBike was active early in this crisis to make sure the Governor designated bicycle repair as an "essential service" (not without some back/forth with the Governor's team and our allies in the legislature, you can read about the designation here), so chances are your local bike shop is operating with particular safety protocols and limited hours. We don't have a list of bike shops open in MA just yet, so we recommend calling up your shop to ask about their protocols, and thank them for staying on the job to provide their essential service that keeps you rolling.
Keep On Rollin'!
And even if you're not up for riding out in the real world, there are so many ways to connect to the virtual bicycle community from the comfort and safety of your personal quarantine. Keep and eye out for your local clubs and biking groups who are hosting events over Zoom and Google and GoToWebinar, they are coming up with innovative ways to engage, educate, and encourage bicycling.
For instance, the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride, one of the premiere community riding events that signals the start of spring and draws upwards of 2,700 cyclists on a good year, is hosting their event online. With footage shot from a past year's ride in its entirety, we're encouraging folks to ride on a trainer at home as we collectively relive the experience from behind the handlebars, with spin instruction to keep you rolling all 26.2 mile and music curated by local bike advocate DJ Bunny Hop and co-hosted by the talent from the BikeTalk881 radio show.
Looking for something more educational? Our friends at the Charles River Wheelers will be hosting a series of virtual classes and clinics to discuss the varieties of indoor training and long distance nutrition. They have their webinar series going throughout the month, and we expect more to come from clubs and groups across the state who will transition their energies to online offerings to keep active during this time of separation.
Keep Up to Date
These are challenging times, and this information is changing day by day – even hour by hour. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on the impacts of Coronavirus on Massachusetts, please visit the Commonwealth's webpage Mass.gov. MassBike will be updating the information related to bicycling in Massachusetts the best we can on our social media pages of Facebook and Twitter, and as information changes on bike shop designation, we will update this blog post accordingly. And please consider donating to MassBike during this tough time, so we can maintain our work to provide advocacy in key areas to keep better bicycling moving throughout Massachusetts.
In closing, we'll leave you with this inspiring video from Arnold Schwarzenegger dispensing advice on getting through social isolation by going out for some solo cycling – on an electric fatbike no less!