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Masks, more room, and passing etiquette: The new rules for riding

Posted by on April 7th, 2020 at 10:51 am

Many Portland bike riders are already wearing masks. (Photos by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Age of Masks is upon us.

The deeper we get into this pandemic, the more apparent it becomes that we need a much more radical approach to cycling outside than simply saying “ride alone”.

With growing concerns about COVID-19 infections, Multnomah County health department now recommends the use of masks when you cannot maintain six-feet of distance between yourself and others while outside. As we shared yesterday, there’s good reason to think that distance should be far greater when heavy-breathing, snot-flying runners and bicycle riders are in the mix.

The deeper we get into this pandemic, the more apparent it becomes that we need a much more radical approach to cycling outside than simply saying “ride alone”. And it’s not just wearing masks: We need to give each other more space at stops; more warning when we pass each other; and more thought to where and when we ride to avoid crowds.

Below are some of my thoughts on these topics. Would love to hear yours in the comments.

Masks

Wearing something over my face when it’s freezing out is one thing; but doing it all the time even when it’s relatively warm is an entirely different animal. We really should wear masks while biking near others, and from my first few experiences, it’s not going too well.

Ideally your mask should be hands-free.

I’ve worn both a traditional medical mask and a cloth neck buff thingy (from Castelli). Both of them fogged up my glasses, were constantly sliding around, and were generally uncomfortable.

As commenter Kyle pointed out so well yesterday, “There’s a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to breath properly, blow your nose, and drink/eat on the bike. Not to mention how to keep from constantly touching your face trying to keep it on correctly.”

What to do? As usual, I recommend trying different things to see what works best for you. Our friends at Portland-based Blaq Paks are making what appear to be excellent washable cotton masks for $10 a piece. There’s also a popular, no-sew version you can make with hair ties and a bandanna. Personally, I plan to only wear a mask when I’m in the city near crowds and will move it down/take it off when I get out into the wide open and/or when there’s absolutely no one around.

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Give Extra Space

Please remember to keep your distance from other riders. This is especially true at signals and stop signs where there will be an urge to crowd at the front to make the light. Thankfully PBOT has installed dozens of bike boxes on busy bikeways. Use all that space!

Drafting off strangers has always been annoying. Now it’s just plain dangerous. If you are going faster than someone else and must pass them, please wait until there’s plenty of safe space to do so. Just be patient. Take a few breaths and think about all the people dying today because of this virus. If you jerkishly squeeze around someone, you are no different than people in cars who do it (the horror!).

Use Your Bell

I have always been a huge proponent of using a bell. I use mine constantly whether I’m in around-town mode or in got-fast-spandex mode. These days with the virus flying around, it is more important than ever to warn people of your presence.

Ding ding! I could have the virus and I’m coming up behind you!

And remember, just because you’ve rung your bell doesn’t mean you can pass someone closely or get mad if they don’t hear you. Many people wear headphones or might have some other reason why they can’t hear you. And this is America, where people are not yet conditioned to move over when they hear a bike bell.

If you don’t have a bell, a simple audible greeting works too. I am not a fan of barking “On your left!” because it’s not polite. If I can’t use a bell, I will slow way down and say something like “Howdy” or “Hi there” to get a person’s attention before going by.

Timing and Routes

(Big streets like Burnside and Hawthorne were no-go zones for bike riders pre-pandemic. Now they’re actually quite nice — although they’d be much less stressful with some temporary signs and barricades!)

With so many people flocking to well-known bikeway connections like the Springwater, Esplanade, Powell Butte, Mt Tabor Park and so on, you’d be wise to avoid them if possible. If those of us who are capable and willing to use lesser-known routes — even larger arterials that have much less traffic than usual right now — we can help reduce crowds in other places.

While considering a route, look for big streets and arterials that have more than one lane in each direction. Streets with one lane and a center turn lane and parking lanes are also a good option (like outer East Glisan).

I also highly recommend riding during off-peak hours if possible. With warmer temps in the forecast, now is a great time to consider riding between sunset and sunrise.

I hope these tips are helpful.

What did I leave out? What else should we know about the new rules for riding during the pandemic?

See more of our coronavirus coverage here.

— 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

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Hello, KittykkcoughlinChris IChrystal Ann DietzI'll Show Up Recent comment authors
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Momo
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Momo

I recommend the men’s boxer brief technique: https://www.wweek.com/news/2020/04/06/an-oregon-dentist-showed-us-how-to-make-covid-19-face-masks-out-of-boxer-shorts/

It stays on very tightly and covers my entire nose and mouth, but it’s comfortable and more breathable. It also doesn’t fog up my glasses at all, which is critical while biking! And I don’t find myself constantly fiddling with it like a normal mask. As the dentist in the video notes, you can also tuck a normal mask in between the layers if you want additional protection.

Also, you end up looking like a ninja.

Tiago Denczuk
Guest
Tiago Denczuk

Ultimately, people need to ride less, stay at home more. When we received the guidance to stay in, but with the recommendation for exercising, walking, running, and biking when possible, many took this as a pass to just do more of what they like to do. It’s incredible how many more miles my Strava contacts are logging in, frequently multiple long rides every day. The reality is that we need to leave our houses as little as possible, and not make excuses to go out. The longer people are casual with this, the longer our restrictions will be in place.

D'Andre Muhammed
Guest
D'Andre Muhammed

I’m with you. At this point stay home. I didn’t used to feel that way, but at this point it’s just plain selfish to be out there blowing snot around on a bike.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Blowing snot around is pretty disgusting, even on a good (i.e. covid-free) day.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It is possible to ride a bike without spitting or blowing snot.

I’ve been avoiding the neighborhood greenways, and sticking to major streets with bike lanes. It’s very easy to take the lane if you need to pass a runner or cyclist.

And remember, some of us have to go to essential jobs, in person. “Just stay home” is a great message for people who have the privilege of working from home.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

…and the longer the authoritarians stay on their power trips.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

We’re almost to the point of going after any kind of landlord with torches and pitchforks as it is. Who does Brown and Wheeler have lined up next?

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

The more drones drift toward total stupid

Go ahead, ban me this site is no longer relavent

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

I don’t have a car, my knees only tolerate riding every other day, and I really need the exercise. But I’m a loner anyway and one of my favorite things about cycling is that I can do it alone, plus I ride streets not paths anyway. Not cutting back.

Paolo
Guest
Paolo

Stay home, save lives.
I don’t know why it is so hard to understand it.
Now is the mask, next is going to be goggles to protect eyes.
Unless you have to go out for food, work etc.
And as we now all know walking and especially biking is even riskier than driving.
More exposure and more prone to accidents.
You should see all the newbies riding up to Tabor everyday.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

Do you realize your abject terror display fails to impress a human being ?

Falil.

Bill
Guest
Bill

Only essential travel under the stay at home order (groceries, work). Your little bike ride ain’t essential, no matter how much you try to justify it by showing how “on top” of safety/precautions you are. Get on your trainer.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

You are misrepresenting the governor’s instructions to make your point. Not really a good argument.

Please read the entire order:
https://govsite-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/jkAULYKcSh6DoDF8wBM0_EO%2020-12.pdf

Section 1.d.
Individuals may go outside for outside recreational activities (walking, hiking, etc), but must limit those activities to non-contact, and are prohibited from engaging in outdoor activities where it is not possible to maintain appropriate social distancing (six feet or more between individuals).

joan aguirre
Guest
joan aguirre

Someone’s “little bike” is how they get to work, or buy groceries.

Bill
Guest
Bill

Groceries and work are part of essential travel, so I’m not sure what your point here is exactly. Riding out to Forest Park, Mount Tabor, or crowding through streets, even at non peak times, just to “get out for a ride” is not essential by any definition.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

We are not under a lockdown. Have you still not read the order?

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Good advice in general, but this got me thinking… How are people getting sick right now? How are they contracting the disease? We seem to be hearing about the cases people contracted working in higher risk environments: hospital workers, pharmacy workers, care facility employees, care facility residents, retirement communities, people who work in warehouses, public transit, grocery workers, etc.. Are we hearing about a lot of cases where someone only went to the park and walked by someone or only went for a ride and passed another cyclist at 5 feet for a couple seconds? I’m not. But I’m asking? Are you? Verified cases? This comes down to risk and exposure. Everyone should minimize their exposure and hence risk but even N95 masks aren’t perfect. I think we need to find what feels like a reasonable balance. Sure, no group rides, obviously, and no congregating at the park (I too have seen some of this). But some elements of the community may be taking this just a bit too far. Everything in life caries some element of risk. We live with that every day. Minimize, be responsible and ultimately act as an adult.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Well, to start with, our testing is pathetic, so we really have no idea how many are sick. Based on data from countries that are doing good testing, it looks like roughly half of those who have the virus are asymptomatic. This means that anyone you encounter outside could have it. It’s safe to just assume that they do. Combine this with the lengthy incubation period, and there is really no way to know where you got it.

This is why social distancing is so critical. If you are out riding, just assume that everyone you pass could sneeze and spray you with virus at any moment. Keep your distance.

ruth weston
Guest
ruth weston

My new shout out is “Six feet…on your left”

bendite
Guest
bendite

There’s no evidence that face coverings or masks less than N95s do much, other than slow spew and chunks if you’re coughing and sneezing. The downside is that it can give people a false sense of security and also that people will touching face more often.

I’ll Show Up
Guest
I’ll Show Up

I prefer to stick to residential streets. They are amazing. Quiet, hardly anyone even walking on the sidewalks. I can ride miles on quiet streets without being passed, passing other riders, or being within 20 feet of a walker. The busy streets are a breeze to cross and the Idaho stop makes it pretty clear sailing.

Dan
Guest
Dan

That probably depends on the residential streets in question. I live on a bike boulevard in close-in SE and see about as many walkers/runners/cyclists as I would expect in nice weather if we weren’t in lockdown.

I'll Show Up
Guest
I'll Show Up

There are so many residential streets. If it’s busy use a different one. You don’t really need much help crossing busy streets right now.

Chrystal Ann Dietz
Guest
Chrystal Ann Dietz

I am on the 205 path for my daily commute to work and I might pass 2 or 3 people on an average day pretty quite.

kkcoughlin
Guest
kkcoughlin

at least until the pandemic passes PLEASE STOP BLOWING YOUR SNOT on the STREETS.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

And maybe don’t restart once the pandemic is over.