Here in NYC, the epicenter of the U.S.’s Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve been on “PAUSE” since March 22. Schools and most businesses are closed, gatherings are canceled, everyone’s staying 6’ away from each other when we escape our tiny apartments to run essential errands – or to engage in solo outdoor activities, like biking and jogging.
I’ve been making it a point to get outside for a “fitness break” every day. These breaks have become a highlight; I crave the jolt of energy that keeps me going the rest of the day and the little endorphin rush that helps make the stress melt away. I’ve always savored the freedom and joy of bike riding, but I feel it even more acutely in the midst of the pandemic. Something about riding through a city makes one feel more connected to it, and that feeling of connectedness is even more critical right now in this period of isolation and suffering.
Over the last few weeks of biking during Covid, I’ve noticed that I’ve changed some of my riding habits to adapt to this strange new world. Whether you’ve continued to ride these last few weeks or are planning for the time when you can safely put your bike on the road and #ridesolo, I hope my learnings can help prepare you for biking during Covid in your city.
Be Extra Prepared
Normally for short rides of, say, 10 miles or less, I don’t worry about packing food or carrying water. In NYC, there is (or, was) a store about every 15 feet ready to sell you whatever you need. Now that most stores are closed, and essential stores like grocery stores and bodegas have long lines to get into them, I pack a lot more with me.
The main thing I think about when packing food and drink is being able to get it into my mouth without touching it. For water bottles, this means that I only use ones that I can open and close with my teeth. For snacks, I’m opting for individually wrapped snacks and granola bars that I can unwrap with my hands without actually touching the food.
Fulling loading up with my bike bags gives me the assurance that I’ll have what I need where I need it
Similarly, pre-coronavirus, I rarely packed bike tools when riding in the city because there was always a bike shop or train station nearby. Now I’m bringing a small bike pump and a flat repair kit if I’m riding more than 2-3 miles away from home. While many bike shops are still open, I don’t know where I’ll be when I need their help, and I’m really avoiding the subway right now. Self-reliance is the name of the game.
Don Protective Gear
Biking during Covid kind of reminds me of biking through harsh Chicago winters where donning all your gear before heading out the door was a serious “to do”. Now, instead of thermal tights, balaclavas, and layers of mittens and scarves, I prepare to venture outdoors by putting on my “Covid gloves”, which are gardening gloves with a latex coating on one side, a mask, and my sanitizing supplies.
Pro tip: Put the mask on BEFORE helmet.
I made a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water and put it in a spray bottle, which I keep in one of my Po Campo Irving Backpack Pannier 2 bottle pockets. I use this to spray down my bike if left outside, or the handlebars and seat of a CitiBike. I also keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my bike bag, just in case I mistakenly touch something with my bare skin. Bonus: hand sanitizer can also help with removing bike chain grease.
No one would ever call me a daredevil cyclist, but I’m even more of a cautious rider now. I do NOT want to get in a crash and be taken to the hospital. Not that I was ever okay with that idea, but right now hospitals in NYC are very busy dealing with a very contagious disease and I just want to leave them to it, supporting their work by clapping out my window (or ringing my bike bell) at 7pm.
With car traffic way way down, I have found that cars are driving faster, particularly on wider streets. So, while I had anticipated that less car traffic would feel safer, depending on the street, it can actually be much scarier. I’m still sticking to mostly protected bike lanes for that reason, or staying away from the bigger boulevards. I’m riding slower, checking both ways, and wearing my hi-viz everything to stay seen.
Stay Off Streets At Night
Now this is one behavior modification that I did not expect to make. One evening, I biked home from my office in Brooklyn through lower Manhattan at about 8pm. Normally at this hour, cafes and restaurants would be full, sidewalks would be full, shops still open and full. But on this evening, the city was totally deserted. I hadn’t realized how the busyness of NYC was so critical to making it feel like a safe place. What would I do if I was attacked and needed help? Scream? It reminded me of that part in Ghost where Patrick Swayze was stabbed by his friend in an empty street at night. So I don’t bike at night anymore.
Image Source: https://i.insider.com/5e738247c485404e7b32b4c6
Now, this might just be my thing. I certainly don’t want to infer that I think there should be a curfew for cyclists. I’m just sharing my experience for you to consider. Biking through NYC at night used to be one of my favorite things to do.
Rethink Preferred Routes
I’m not the only one who is craving the endorphins and peace that a little outdoor exercise will give you. We’ve heard stories from around the country about how previously seldomly used biking and hiking paths are now overrun with people. NYC is no exception. I used to make a special effort to include the Hudson River Greenway or Central Park bike path in my route but no more. They’re just too crowded.
Instead, I’ve been experimenting with different routes which has had the pleasant side effect of helping me discover different parts of the city. I’m still pretty loyal to the bike lanes of NYC and will go out of my way to ride on one; in my experience, they are not too crowded.
Greenway to Randall’s Island Park - practically empty!
But I’ve also tried riding on normal streets that aren’t too wide (so cars don’t go too fast, see above) but may not have many bike lanes. I have found some calm streets this way, and are often a more direct route.
Lastly, don’t forget that there are no public toilets! Go before you go, in other words.
I know many people have been (re)discovering their bikes as a way to get some outdoor exercise the last few weeks, and I hope the trend continues as we slowly start to reopen our cities. I personally enjoy checking in with the Social Distance Cycling Club on Facebook every day and invite you to join me there and share your photos of how you’re distantly riding solo (and tag Po Campo if you’re riding with a bag!).
I expect that my behavior modifications may become my new normal, at least some of them, but whatever it takes to get out and ride, I’ll happily do.