Bike Love in the Time of COVID-19

The government’s response to COVID-19 is an evolving situation. We’ll update this post as we get new information; please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) for the most up-to-date guidance.

There’s a good chance your world has shrunk due to COVID-19. Your work has been disrupted. Businesses and schools are closed. Social distancing has become a daily routine. Perhaps you’ve been ordered to “shelter in place” for the next several weeks.

The situation is certainly dire, but it’s not without silver linings. For instance, now — possibly more than any other time in recent history — is the perfect time to bike, either for the first time or the first time in awhile.

Is Biking Even Allowed?

The short answer is an emphatic YES! Just remember to activate your personal forcefield before you head out as you’re still required to maintain a minimum of six feet away from other humans. Luckily, this is fairly easy to do on a bike. So while group rides are verboten at this point, going for a leisurely jaunt solo or with your spouse, partner, friend, or roommate is perfectly fine. Here’s what specific authorities and experts are saying about biking during the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • San Francisco: It is OK to go outside for walks or bike rides if you are not in a group.
  • New York: If you do go out, walk or bike.
  • William Schaffner — professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University — gave this guidance to The Verge: “People who take relatively short [subway] rides might do well to just walk and get a little exercise.” We think ditto for bike rides.
  • Even across the pond, the UK’s Bicycle Coalition director had this to say to Forbes: “Cycling is an important part of U.K. resilience against the Coronavirus. It enables travel without using public transport, and in relative isolation. It also allows people to keep exercising without using gyms or going to classes.”

Why Shift to Bikes Now?

Bikes have always been an efficient, green, and healthy way to get around. But living in times of a widespread outbreak makes biking safer and one of the few options left for maintaining your physical and mental health. Here’s more on the benefits:

  • Increased road safety: There are way fewer cars on the road as folks hunker down to work from home or avoid social situations. Nearly every major event is canceled. The upside? No one is driving to anything. The roads are about as car-free as they’ve been since the advent of the automobile. So if close contact with fast-hurdling vehicles was one of the reasons you opted out before, consider riding now.
  • Personal safety: You can still easily social distance while riding a bike, so if you’re choosing between hopping into a cramped subway car or hopping on the saddle, the latter will serve you better in terms of risk mitigation.
  • Health: Gyms are closed. Workout classes have been canceled. Biking, along with walking, hiking, are really the only options if you’d like to get out of your house; get some fresh air; and maintain good spirits.

Okay, I’m All in For Biking! Now What?

It can feel daunting to figure out how to ride for the first time or get back into it after a hiatus. Here are some ideas and tips to help you get started:

  • Try bikeshare: Many cities in the U.S. have bikeshare bikes available for you to rent. Most require a quick app download and account creation, and then you should be able to reserve and unlock bikes using your phone. Same goes for renting scooters. Lyft, Uber, and Lime dominate the micromobility market in the U.S., so there’s a good chance your shared bike or scooter will be operated by one of them (although note that Lime is pausing its service in California and Washington in response to the virus). On that note, if you’re going to use shared bikes or scooters, you should absolutely disinfect the handlebars before you ride and wash your hands when you’re through.
  • Tune up your bike: If your bike needs a little work, you may want to try velofix, a mobile bike repair service that operates nationwide. Housecalls are a huge part of their business, and they’ll have the parts and tools needed to get you rolling. Note that even in cities like San Francisco, where residents are sheltering in place, bike shops are considered “essential services” and remain open. If your bike doesn’t need much work, it’s good to do the ABC Quick Check before you ride to make sure your bike’s systems are in good working order.
  • Find a route: If you’ve ever thought about commuting to your office by bike, now would be a great time to try it. You don’t have 9 AM meetings to race to; you won’t have to worry about parking your bike and showering once you arrive. You will be able to familiarize yourself with its turns and get a sense of how safe you’ll feel riding it during commute hours. If you don’t know the way, Google Maps bicycling directions is a good place to start. Your local bicycle coalition or municipal transportation agency may also have local bike route maps.
  • Follow the rules: If you’re new to cycling, it’s good to learn the rules of the road before you head out in order to stay safe. The League of American Bicyclists has a great Smart Cycling video series on this topic. If you’re short on time, check out their basic road rules list. The one guideline that should serve you well in any biking scenario is this: Ride predictably. This means following all traffic signs and signals; using hand signals; and generally communicating your intentions to other road users.
  • Ride to pick up groceries: If your bike doesn’t have a front basket or rear rack, then bring a sturdy backpack for your grocery haul. Or check out Bicycling Magazine’s excellent guide on how to carry stuff on your bike. You’ll also need a lock to secure your bike to the rack while you’re shopping.

In these trying and uncertain times, biking can be a great stress relief. A way to feel free under lockdown. Or simply, a way to grab some more kitty litter (cats sometimes forget to stockpile). ;-)

Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike programs, facilities, and fleets for Airbnb, Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Salesforce, Stanford, Walmart and others.