Adam Coppola

Pedaling in a Pandemic

Mar 24, 2020

In these fast-changing weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, guidelines change by the minute. So before you set out awheel, make sure your jurisdiction has OK’d cycling (at the time of this writing, most  U.S. readers appear good to go, but those in Italy and Spain need to wait a while longer). And focus on the “bike” part of bike travel — this is the time to stay close to home.

As for touring, now is not the time to hop on a plane and make your cross-country dreams come true. No one wants to risk spreading the coronavirus, and small communities have limited supplies and medical resources. If you can keep close to home and stay completely self-sufficient (avoiding convenience store resupplies and community facility usage), calibrate your cycling to maximize safety and minimize impact. Keep in mind that in our current reality, a little spring cleaning and trip planning can be a good stand-in for striking out on the road. 

For some guidance on safe everyday riding, we reached out to Bruce Bernard, an Adventure Cycling Life Member and retired Chief Medical Officer in the Health Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I met Bruce a few years ago on an Adventure Cycling tour when he was freshly returned from West Africa where he’d been heavily involved with the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak. We were all fascinated … and we all took a half-step backward (Bruce quickly educated us about how such a step was not required) as we listened to his first-hand account of a global crisis.

This is not medical advice, just some tips for keeping your wheels turning during this unsettled time. And remember, crashing is always bad, but it’s never been more important to take care and ride safe and smart as medical services are already strained.

  1. Check with your local health department and other local guidance to find out whether groups of fewer than 10 riders are allowed out of their homes to ride safely.
  2. Anyone who has prior respiratory issues, diabetes, hypertension, or is immunocompromised or has cancer, etc., should probably avoid cycling right now or coming into contact with other riders. Even those without symptoms may have the virus and not know it.
  3. Do a self-assessment. If you have a cough, temperature, or are just feeling bad, do not ride. Call and cancel.
  4. Ride at least six feet apart. Call out greetings — no need to fist bump, hug, or shake hands.
  5. Before riding and each time you stop, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (Contact time with soap and water and rubbing your hands together kills the virus in about 10 to 15 seconds, so they add five more seconds to make sure!)
  6. If soap and water are not readily available, make sure you bring hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol and use it. Cover all surfaces of your hands (take your bike gloves off!) and rub them together until they feel dry.
  7. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. This is difficult when dealing with your helmet and glasses!
  8. Have fun!

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Steve Bales January 4, 2021, 2:47 PM

I agree with most that touring on a bicycle can be done safely. I did the trans-am from Astoria to Yorktown. I started the first week of June and finished in mid August. I ate in restaurants, and stayed in hotels about half of the time. The rules not only change from state to state, they were different at every single stop. I took all the possible precautions. Mask when going in grocery stores, and cafe's, wiping down with disinfectant alcohol just before getting back on the bike. I'm recently retired but luckily, I'm in the best shape I've ever been - not that I used that as some sort of protection from the virus. The virus may have reduced some of the vacationing traffic we were exposed to, so that would be a plus, I guess. One interesting to note, if you plan on doing your tour. The alcohol disinfectant is great for cleaning chain oil off your hands after changing a flat.

Zach Brown April 26, 2020, 8:00 PM

I really think you can tour safely right now. Granted it's been twenty years since me and a buddy went unsupported from MD to CA (and ten years since I went solo unsupported NC-CO) but I think that the types of

businesses open now are exactly the type of support you would need on the road. (And here I'm thinking fast food, gas stations, grocery stores...other than a bike shop, what else do you need? Maybe a hotel once or twice a week?)

Bill Flagg April 27, 2020, 10:29 AM

Zach, thanks for your response. I agree with you on not needing to many other types of services than the ones still open-- also, I know bike shops lobbied to receive an "essential services" designation so they could still do repairs during this time, which of course makes touring more feasible.

The biggest thing I am worried about right now is the potential of getting sick/injured and then putting a strain on the resources of whatever community I'm in, because they have bigger fish to fry right now. I am delaying my tour until at least mid-June and hope there is a little more clarity on the situation at that time.



Bernard Beckman March 29, 2020, 11:56 AM

Every time we get on a bike, from the little jaunt in the hood to participating in a bike travel excursion, we should be self contained. All riders need to be able to fix a flat, carry enough water and food required, dress for the climate and visibility, and just in case of an emergency, carry a phone. Being self sufficient on the bike is fun and lowers the chance of close encounters that may expose us to the corona virus

Alex March 27, 2020, 5:24 PM

Thanks for all the great comments and tips on this -- like most folks, we're flying a bit blind on this.

Advice on touring: from a purely logistical perspective we think services are going to be a problem. Many, many closures around the country and changing all the time. When will that change? Impossible to say, perhaps for a May departure there will be a little more clarity in the coming weeks. From a health and safety perspective, that's a real moving target, but in addition to your own wellbeing, consider the potential strain on out-of-the-way communities should you get sick, hurt, etc. As of this moment (March 27), err on the side of caution and keep your riding close to home. By May, well, we're all crossing our fingers!

Bill Flagg March 29, 2020, 4:48 PM

Thanks for the advice, Alex! This makes sense, and I'm of course keeping my fingers crossed as well!

Bill Flagg March 27, 2020, 4:33 PM


Like Lawrence, I am also wondering if there has been any guidance on long-distance tours? I was planning on a coast-to-coast tour starting in mid-May, and of course will be ready to delay if this pandemic calls for that, but am also wondering what typed of risks there will be on a long tour comprised mostly of camping. Any thoughts?



Rollie Stenson March 27, 2020, 1:33 PM

Good advice for all cyclists. I'm seeing a lot more people cycling now than ever before. That's a good thing.

I'm doing what I call "solo spin class" rides of one to two hours right out the front door with intervals (sprints), extended stretches with upbeat RPMs, real hills, and real headwinds :-).

I'm avoiding riding with anyone even though I'm a social creature. I intuitively avoid sharing breathing space with anyone outside my household/family circle and tend to agree with the comments to this article regarding Respiratory Signature. If you can smell the rider in front of you, you are probably breathing in whatever they may be breathing out. Just saying...

Get out and ride; stay happy and healthy.

Howard Maher March 26, 2020, 8:55 AM

This article doesn't mention "respiratory signature" (RS), and the possible dangers of riding within another's RS. I can understand riding 6' apart if the riders are side-by-side, but not if it's a follow-the-leader style ride. To me, if a leading rider sneezes or coughs or even huffs & puffs, following riders will go through the leader's RS. This would be the equivalent of a group standing around chatting, someone sneezes, and another person runs toward the sneezer.

To protect from this, I've heard of groups staying 6 bike lengths apart to avoid the RS.

Jane H Adams March 25, 2020, 11:37 PM

What I have seen on my local bike trail (the American River Parkway in Sacramento, CA & part of the Western Express Trail) is that with all other venues used for socializing now closed (the state is under a "stay at home" order), more unseasoned cyclists are hitting the bike trail. That being said, use caution when approaching even a small group of riders as they likely have little experience riding with others. Even on a good day I rarely hear "passing on your left" so it is non existent now. Frankly I'm more worried about a collision than contracting COVID 19 while riding. Stay well everyone!

Mark Ebell MD, MS March 25, 2020, 10:05 PM

I'm a family physician and professor of epidemiology at the University of Georgia, and also a cyclist. I also have hypertension and asthma, and am 58 years. That said, I have no concerns about riding my bike on multi-use paths and through town here in Athens, GA. I agree that cyclists should maintain appropriate distance and social distancing, but to ban any cyclist with hypertension or diabetes from riding seems extreme. I am VERY concerned about this pandemic and in no way intend to minimize the grave threat to our country. But I think the risk of infection from airborne viral particles is incredibly low in the context of cycling thoughtfully with appropriate distancing.


Mark Ebell, MD, MS

Alex Kent March 26, 2020, 5:13 AM

Dr. Ebell: Many thanks for this sane and reasonable advice. My wife and I are riding our Rans recumbent tandem these days even more than before the pandemic. No stops at stores, no contact when we encounter other riders or pedestrians, but we have seen friends along the way, which is a tonic for housebound people like us and everyone else!

Alex Kent

Amherst, MA

Lawrence Cohen March 25, 2020, 2:51 PM

How about some guidance for upcoming long tours? Seems like a no go. Hearing that motels, campgrounds, and Air B&Bs are shutting down.

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