Joe Bike

Ask BikePortland: Can we still ride in groups if we keep a distance?

Posted by on March 18th, 2020 at 12:53 pm

I know it’s a bummer. But group rides shouldn’t happen for now.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As I monitor the news and the BikePortland social media feeds, it’s clear that there remains confusion about whether or not it’s safe to do group rides. While many folks have cancelled them, I still see people out there (online and in real life) riding close together.

I’m not an expert, but I want to offer some guidance on making the right decision about this.

Here’s a question I just saw posted from a friend who hosts a weekly group ride in Portland:

“Can we ride and maintain social distancing or do we run afoul of the 10 person group limits restrictions? Seems like we can maintain a 6’ distance and maintain that separation on the regroups.”

During a ride downtown and in north Portland yesterday, I saw a lot of people outside exercising and recreating in what I think are dangerous conditions: A group of 20-somethings played basketball at Couch Park, and runners and walkers mixed closely while a large group of bike riders rode two-abreast in a narrow bike lane on North Willamette Blvd.

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Based on what I’ve read and learned from a wide variety of sources, I say it’s time to end all group rides. In theory it sounds doable to follow the official social distancing guidelines of six-feet apart and groups less than 10. But in practice it’s just not that simple. I think group rides introduce way too many risk factors including: bodily fluids being expressed and then blown around in the wind (Covid-19 is spread by droplets), close contact with people who could be infected (remember, it’s safest to assume you and everyone else are infected!), increased risk of crashes (we need to keep hospitals open for Covid-19 treatment), and so on.

Don’t just take my word for it. There’s a reason why Italian officials are considering a ban on outdoor exercise. And in this just-published Atlantic article, the reporter shares guidance from an epidemiologist. In the following passage, replace “runners” with “cyclists”:

“Glanz recommends that people watch out for passing runners—and that runners keep their distance around pedestrians—because huffing and puffing could spread droplets like coughing does. (It should go without saying: Runners, however tempting it is, don’t spit, please.) “Veering out of the way or staying to the side of the path when there are lots of runners out is a good idea,” she said.

Think about that. If she’s saying walkers should “veer out of the way” of runners, how would you do that while riding your bike in a pack?

I might be wrong here, but I think it’s exactly the right time to put our needs and desires for fun and camaraderie aside and think of the big picture. We’re likely just a matter of days before we begin a more strict lockdown and “distancing” becomes “isolation.” As we try to flatten the infection curve, I think we should stay ahead of the curve and avoid any kind of group activity.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

30 Comments
  • Avatar
    Middle of the Road Guy March 18, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    I find the term “20 somethings” to be offensive and ageist!

    Just kidding – they’re the worst 🙂

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    Champs March 18, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    Regardless of what happens, I’ll still be there for Ronde weekend: safely off the back, just like always.

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      Chris I March 18, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      I’m trying to limit time spent driving at high speeds on 2-lane roads. Statistically, that is the most dangerous kind of (sober) driving. It’s a very bad time to end up in an ER for any reason.

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    Alan 1.0 March 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve been thinking the same thing, Jonathan, since I read the Bicycling article from Monday’s Round Up. If the six foot separation is for people inside, standing still or moving slowly, what happens with people walking? Doesn’t that six feet become cone expanding in their wake for some unknown distance. (That’s the model for scent propagation, anyway.) Maybe the cone is fairly short for someone walking (20 feet?), but how about at biking speed? Maybe 3 to 5 times longer? How about spending extended time within that range, breathing deeply? *I DON’T KNOW* any of that, it is just speculative, and I mostly ride solo anyway, but I’ll be keeping my distance even more for now.

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    Eric H March 18, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    Can you? Sure, you can do whatever the heck you want to do.

    Should you? I’ll take No for $500 Alex.

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  • Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost
    Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost March 18, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    Hey how about a photo credit for the Lawyer Ride, at least I think that is us in your picture hah.I respect Jonathan’s views here BUT on the Thursday Lawyer Ride in particular (mostly spread out and not in peloton formation like on Monday) we are continuing the ride. Keep your 6’distance, keep your snot to yourself and meet us at noon at Pioneer Square on Mondays and Thursdays ready to rumble at a distance.

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      Eric H March 19, 2020 at 3:29 pm

      So all group rides are canceled except for you ***portion of comment deleted by moderator***? Okay, makes sense to me. I can see a humorous end to this where you’re all suing each other for coming down with COVID-19.

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      q March 19, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      What was the group’s reasoning in coming to the decision to continue? What new developments might make you choose to stop? I’m assuming it wasn’t a cavalier decision, so it seems any background you could give would add to this discussion, and could be helpful for other groups making similar decisions, or for individuals who are choosing to participate in your ride or others.

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    El Biciclero March 18, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Also keep in mind that violating any of the new “health laws” put in place by executive order is a Class C misdemeanor.

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      Middle of the Road Guy March 19, 2020 at 9:09 am

      Like the police are actually going to enforce this?

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        El Biciclero March 19, 2020 at 11:28 am

        Well, not necessarily, but if they did…

        I guess it’s like our “mandatory sidepath” law; nobody cares too much, but it’s still the law. Plus, I’m expecting a lot of snitchery in the coming days/weeks.

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  • The eBike Store
    The eBike Store March 18, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    We know that the virus can stay ‘alive’ in the air for up to 3 hours. I could be wrong – probably am, but my tendency is to think of walking behind someone who is smoking. You can smell that a fair distance away. That is my thought about how far away we should be from each other right now.

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      John Lascurettes March 19, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      the three hour figure is for measles which can suspend in the air for hours. COVID-19 is believed to be heavier because of the mucous it’s assisted with during spread. Yes, it’s atomized during a cough or sneeze (or huff-n-puff breathing), but it’s generally believed to fall as a particulate onto surfaces, where it can survive for much longer (i’ve seen figures from a couple of hours to a couple of days, and it’s still being researched).

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    David Hampsten March 18, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    Clearly this op-ed piece is aimed at recreational group rides, but the definition of “group” sounds like any 2 or more riders who are riding within x number of feet, x being defined by rider speed , wind speed and direction, and the aim of a Covid-laced snot rocket from a rider upwind or their related heavy breathing, and other riders sucking it all in.

    Unfortunately, this scenario could just as easily be a bunch of bicycle commuters on the Hawthorne Bridge on any evening at 5:15 pm, or all day on Vancouver/Williams.

    When we begin to discuss our post-Covid world, we need to remind ourselves why we bicycle for both recreation and for transportation: the health benefits for us and society; less pollution for the environment; most efficient form of transport; joy of it, etc. But we also need to remind ourselves of the pre-Covid risks too: Getting hit by drivers (or more particularly, the constant fear of it); breathing in fumes, pollen, other viruses from riders, odors, and pollution; mechanical breakdowns; the weather, etc. Anything that has benefit also has risk.

    It’s all too easy to see societies that really should know better (such as now in Spain and France, soon in America) to “ban” bicycling, walking and other health-giving pursuits “for the greater good.” Essentially we are being forced right back into a car-oriented environment of “safe” sanitary enclosed motor vehicles, accelerating climate change, undoing several decades of promoting bicycling, running, walking, and public transit infrastructure improvements, all in the name of our immediate response to this current health crises.

    This crises in not going to end anytime soon; it may go on for years. With everyone becoming paranoid about being around other people, how easy do you think it will later be to overcome that paranoia? Are you going to stop bicycling because you are worried that the rider in front of you is a passive Covid-19 carrier? Never use transit because you fear everyone is quietly sick? Stop going into busy shops because you fear that the other shoppers are hiding their illnesses? Stay at home and only travel by car?

    This particular paranoia is sad and depressing.

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      dwk March 18, 2020 at 9:47 pm

      I am glad you have evolved on this issue.
      Thanks.

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      rain panther March 19, 2020 at 1:44 pm

      Agreed. It makes me terribly sad to think about the increased negative association that public transit will be burdened with, and the increased devotion people will harbor for their cars.

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      Sarah March 19, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Comment of the week.

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      q March 19, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      This does give me images of a two-class society (a la Metropolis) with those who can afford to riding from gated community to highrise office in a sealed, self-driving vehicle, while the masses ride huddled on buses or biking or walking exposed to virus-ridden squalor. You see that direction already, in (as one example) ads for 3-ton, blacked-out-windows trucks and SUVs that emphasize safety, privacy and comfort for the occupants, without mentioning they’re 7x more likely to kill anyone they hit. Or street design that leaves people walking or biking with whatever’s left over after vehicles are accommodated. Or neighborhoods with the leftovers after the commuter through-traffic is catered to.

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    q March 18, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    Ask not whether your behavior is legal, ask whether it’s smart. Or considerate.

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    was carless March 19, 2020 at 10:29 am

    Theres nothing stopping you from wearing some sort of mask or even a bandana to keep your moist breath/droplets from being exhaled into the environment as you breathe heavily while exercising.

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    BarnOwl March 19, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost
    Hey how about a photo credit for the Lawyer Ride, at least I think that is us in your picture hah.I respect Jonathan’s views here BUT on the Thursday Lawyer Ride in particular (mostly spread out and not in peloton formation like on Monday) we are continuing the ride. Keep your 6’distance, keep your snot to yourself and meet us at noon at Pioneer Square on Mondays and Thursdays ready to rumble at a distance.Recommended 1

    How about No. This is selfish and ill considered. Surprising for such an educated group

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    GlowBoy March 19, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Cmon, knock off the group rides already. This is the kind of thing that is going to make officials ban all outdoor activity. Don’t ruin things for everyone else, please!

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    Pat M March 20, 2020 at 8:48 am

    The Portland Bicycling Club has canceled all Club rides until the lifting of Governor Brown’s emergency declaration. There may be a risk of becoming infected while riding in a group. There may be a risk of spreading infection to vulnerable peoples if you are an asymptomatic carrier. There is also a risk of an emergency room visit at a time when hospitals are being strained to their limits. A hospital visit, in turn, increases your risk of infection. If over 60, the sequela to infection could be severe and long lasting. Individual riders are welcome to take such risks, but a Club cannot. The decision was one of the saddest I have announced as president. Stay well! Take care out there.

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    errol March 20, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    what i can testify to is that without fail for the last 3 weeks, I have had the new protected bikelane on NW Front between 9th and 15th crammed full of runners, walkers, scooters, skateboarders, dogs, all going the wrong way against traffic.

    the sidewalk IS RIGHT THERE, yet they proceed to fill up this limited stretch of protected lane for us cyclists BY GOING THE WRONG WAY.

    and, in light of the virus, I am livid about getting all of their accumulated aerosolized spit/ etc splattered on me

    here I am, trying to ride my bike out of consideration of others, so as not to spread anything if I have the virus.

    so much for that.
    No one here gives a sh*t. Such little respect for others lives.

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    mark smith March 21, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    Wire up a car horn, get camera. You tube….entertainment.

    errol
    what i can testify to is that without fail for the last 3 weeks, I have had the new protected bikelane on NW Front between 9th and 15th crammed full of runners, walkers, scooters, skateboarders, dogs, all going the wrong way against traffic.the sidewalk IS RIGHT THERE, yet they proceed to fill up this limited stretch of protected lane for us cyclists BY GOING THE WRONG WAY.and, in light of the virus, I am livid about getting all of their accumulated aerosolized spit/ etc splattered on mehere I am, trying to ride my bike out of consideration of others, so as not to spread anything if I have the virus.so much for that. No one here gives a sh*t. Such little respect for others lives.Recommended 1

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  • Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost
    Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost March 22, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    The community health situation has run us over from behind on group rides and the verdict is pretty much in from the many of our riders so..As we head toward the Noontime Lawyer Ride’s 29th anniversary next month, Jim Coon and I are sorrowful to announce that it is formally not happening until further notice for safety reasons. We see that Italy banned recreational cycling outdoors on March 9th, Spain for 15 days from March 14th, and France on 3/19/20. If you ride solo please be sure to educate yourself about applicable public health guidelines for our community.

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    Vince March 23, 2020 at 8:47 am

    And when you ride, please be extra vigilant. As there are fewer cars on the road, the ones that remain seem to be increasing their speed. General resentment of cyclists is higher than usual…I got yelled at three times in a mile while in a bike lane, riding alone, and not making any rash or illegal moves. Finally, expect that cars will treat traffic lights as mere suggestions.

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