Around the world cities and countries are ordering residents to stay at home in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In my city of San Francisco, we have a shelter-in-place until further notice. Under this order, all SF residents are required to stay at home except for essential needs, but many restrictions are slowly being lifted. Most other cities, states, and countries affected also have similar orders of social isolation and distancing as a grand gesture to “flatten the curve.”
Amid all this chaos, bike commuters around the world might be wondering whether it’s safe to bike outside for the foreseeable future. As for myself, a significant part of my usual day-to-day is spent riding my bicycle to and from work, events, and various errands. Now that everyone is staying home, what do I do about that lack of biking? (Hint: Doing more rides for fun!)
Here are some common questions you may be asking yourself (links to answers below):
- Is It Still Safe to Ride a Bicycle?
- Should I Wear a Mask When I’m Outside Biking?
- Is It Legal to Ride a Bicycle During a Lockdown?
- Is It Safe to Use Bikeshare?
- Will My Local Bike Shop Be Open?
- I Need a Bike!
- If I’m Sick Can I Still Ride?
- Should I Avoid Riding Because Hospitals Will Be Busy?
Is It Still Safe to Ride a Bicycle?
Yes – I’d say it’s even safer than walking in many places with narrow sidewalks. Not many sidewalk are wide enough to allow you to pass by others with 6 feet of social distancing. With a bicycle, you can keep your 6 feet of physical distancing and touch only your bicycle (or bikeshare). Be aware of the other people in the bike lanes, and keep your distance. You should be riding solo unless you go out with people in your household. A silver lining when you’re biking these days is that there are less cars on the road, so there is less pollution and traffic!
Should I Wear a Mask When I’m Outside Biking?
Many places now have recommended or required usage of face masks when outside, and I have an entire post on the best face mask for biking. This keeps everyone safer, since it seems that many people with coronavirus can show no symptoms but still be infectious. The N95 masks are the most protective, but those are hard to come by these days and the medical professionals are the ones most in need of them. Additionally, it can be harder to breathe in them, especially when you’re climbing a hill or cycling hard.
You can try a buff (I like these because it’s easy to drop to your neck if you’re totally alone) or bandana for a little more breathability while still having some protection (and abiding by the law). Read my best face mask for biking post for more details and photos.
Is It Legal to Ride a Bicycle During a Lockdown?
Mostly yes – Some places have a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home directive in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. These rules allow essential travel, and for many folks, riding a bicycle is their primary mode of transport for these essential activities. And let’s not forget that exercise is still an essential activity for your mental and physical health.
Fortunately, most places are allowing biking for exercise as well as long as you go solo (or with people in your household) and maintain the 6 feet physical separation (aka social distancing) with others around you. Keep in mind the spirit of these orders is to prevent the spread of the virus. If you go outside for exercise, be quick about it and then go back home. This isn’t the time to hang out at the park. If too many people are outside hanging out and biking in the same places, the point of the quarantine is moot.
You should be riding your bicycle near your house to whatever parks or spaces are available near to you. Because California was having problems with too many people driving to parks far from their houses, many state parks are now closed to vehicle traffic. The plus is this should make them more pleasant to bike and walk!
Is It Safe to Use Bikeshare?
Kinda – If you have a personal bike, I would recommend using that instead to reduce your risk of exposure. If bikeshare is your only option, carry some disinfecting wipes in a baggie so you can wipe down all the surfaces you plan to touch before riding. Try not to touch anything (especially your face) after touching the bicycle until you wash or sanitize your hands.
Remember you’ll likely have to touch the seat adjustment handle as well as the handlebars. Perhaps the basket if you have anything to store there. A reminder that sunlight has NOT been proven to kill COVID-19, so just because bikes are sitting in the sun doesn’t mean they’re virus free.
Will My Local Bike Shop Be Open?
Likely yes – Because many people may need their bicycle for essential travel, bike shops will likely be open for essential repair. In San Francisco, this was confirmed, but check with your local jurisdiction. Some stores may not be allowing foot traffic and may be drop off only, so make sure to call your local bike shop before heading over. If you’re in San Francisco, the SF Bike Coalition put together a list of shops still open with their phone numbers.
If you’re a city dweller who doesn’t want to use public transportation for the time being, some of these bike shops may be stocking more commuter bikes, or you can buy one online. I really like the Public bikes now because they’re a bit more commute ready, but they still need to have components secured and a bike lock.
I Need a Bike!
If you’re an essential worker, there are programs popping up here and there to provide bicycles for vital transportation needs. Check out Bike Match, Spinlister (for renting and long-term rental), or just search around on the internet.
If you just want a bike for exercise and getting around without the need for public transit, you have a lot of options too. As stated above, many bike shops will still be open, but make sure to call first to make sure. Craigslist is still up and running, so you can purchase a used bike as long as you take the proper coronavirus precautions with the sale.
And don’t forget that your city may have a bikeshare you can take advantage of.
If I’m Sick Can I Still Ride?
No bike riding when you’re sick. This is not good for your recovery, and you are putting others at risk. Find someone else to help you get any essential items and quarantine yourself. Remember, you can be feeling fine and still potentially spreading COVID-19, so staying at home is the safest bet, and use a face covering when on your essential trips.
Should I Avoid Riding Because Hospitals Will Be Busy?
No, that’s a bit of a stretch – It’s true that during this pandemic, the hospitals will likely be very busy. This means you really don’t want to hurt yourself and need to go to the hospital. They may not have the capacity to treat you very quickly, and you risk exposure to COVID-19.
That being said, some have argued that people shouldn’t bike at all because of this risk, but a similar argument can be made for driving a car or simply walking outside, so the risk of bicycling isn’t any greater. Just make sure you’re riding safely and predictably, and don’t ride out of your comfort zone.
In a crisis like the COVID-19 coronavirus, people are still going to need to get around for essential travel, and bicycles are a great way to do it. Be safe out there, keep your physical distancing, use a face covering when outside, and remember you still need to lock your bike. Thieves don’t take days off.