It’s sort of amazing to me that it’s been about a month since we got serious about this pandemic and there’s still a major split in local cycling circles about whether it’s a good idea to ride outside and how/where to ride if you do.
Mask or no mask? Are rural routes OK? Or should we stay close-to-home? How far can the virus fly in the air?
We’ve published six stories on biking and Covid-19 since March 12th and there’s still new information coming out — and even more confusion as it does. With amazing weather on tap for the weekend, it’s time to make sure you have the best info to help you make informed decisions about riding (or not).
Here’s some of the latest news and my thoughts on the situation…
The Gorge and Most of the Historic Highway are Off-Limits
Imagine you’re biking on the Historic Columbia River Highway along the Sandy River and you come upon an Oregon Parks ranger. She says you shouldn’t be biking through Corbett unless you live there. Huh? A locals-only policy? Yep. That’s the situation we heard about from reader Sarah R. last weekend. She and a friend were biking near Dabney State Recreation Area when the interaction occurred.
Historic Columbia River Highway Closure
- Closed 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Larch Mountain Road to Angel’s Rest.*
- Closed 24/7 from Angel’s Rest to Ainsworth.*
- Official ODOT announcement
Note: All of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail has been closed since last month. *Yes it includes bicycle users. No date set for re-opening.
To be clear, there’s no “locals-only” provision in place. People are allowed to use any open public road.
I called Oregon State Parks Gorge Parks Manager Clay Courtright to ask him about this. “If anyone on my staff said don’t bicycle in Corbett,” he said. “I want to correct that. We pride ourselves on being welcoming and we don’t want to be policing folks’ recreation.”
That being said, Courtright made it very clear that they interpret Governor Kate Brown’s executive order to mean you should only recreate close to where you live. “We’re telling folks they should only be doing essential travel and we’re saying recreation areas are closed to maintain social distancing” It’s an issue of public health and parks staff capacity.
If you choose to ride far from home, consider something as mundane as using the bathroom. Courtright said they’re seeing a big uptick in human waste near recreation sites because people are pulling off and relieving themselves in nearby woods and bushes. “It puts us at risk when that happens,” Courtright explained, “Because our team has to clean it up.”
OSP spokesman Chris Havel told BikePortland that, “It would be helpful to remind people this is the time to stay close to home, as nutty as that will make us in the short term, because the usual services that accommodate travel aren’t available… No restrooms, no trash collection, maybe no drinking water. The whole point of closing parks isn’t to make travel less fun or to force people to find different ways to travel — it’s to get people to stay home.”
Spreading Slipstream Science
News travels very fast in the age of Covid-19. When a group of Belgian and Dutch researchers said bicycle riders should leave 60 feet between other riders to avoid being infected by the virus, it caused a stir. Then Vice threw major cold water on the study, saying it wasn’t even a “study” at all.
In the end, everyone can say they’re right. The researchers are trying to share knowledge and protect public health. They are experts in how particles move in the air and — far from saying you shouldn’t bike outdoors — they’ve clarified that it’s important to stay out of another riders’ slipstream. For more on this study and the debate about it, check out this good summary just published The Oregonian.
OBRA Extends Racing Ban
The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association says they’ve decided to suspend racing through May 31st. The organization had cancelled racing for four weeks beginning March 11th and now says there won’t be any sanctioned racing until June.
Here’s more from OBRA Executive Director Chuck Kenlan:
“Some of our most beloved events, Monday PIR, the Cascade Chainbreaker, Sisters Stampede, Hammer Velo Crit and all the great racing at Alpenrose will have to be postponed or cancelled. Most of the promoters are working with their agencies and landowners to reschedule for later dates. We are posting the new dates on the calendar so keep checking it for changes. Once we hear from the most of the promoters, we will publish a list of the events and their new dates. As everyone knows, this is very fluid.”
Should We Even Ride Outside?
Every biking group in Portland seems to be debating this topic right now.
For some people it’s an easy answer: No. Stay home to stop the spread. For others, it’s an unresolved moral and ethical dilemma. There are the gung-ho types who think the virus is a joke and just want to defy authority and ride together no matter what. Then there are folks who’ve made peace with riding and have found a way forward.
Our friend on Twitter @heyitsweintraub shared a mantra that works for him: “No car. No gnar. Not far. Everything within that is fair game.” Translation: Only ride from home, don’t take chances, and stay close to home.
Since bicycling isn’t prohibited, and everyone will interpret “close to home” differently, many people are likely to ride outside as temps rise this weekend and beyond. It was one thing to hit the indoor trainer when it was grey and wet outside, but I know lots of people (myself included!) are itching to get out.
What about ethics though? “Stay home, save lives,” isn’t just a government slogan, it’s a fact. So why are so many smart and kind people deciding to go out and ride? It’s important to keep in mind that “bicycling” encompasses a vast range of things to a vast range of people. For some it’s a ride to the store or work. For others, a 80-mile ride is no big deal.
I’ve struggled with this question myself. I’ve done some riding indoors, but have also gotten out a few times. To mitigate risk factors, I’ve ridden locally at extremely off-peak times. This morning I was up at 4:09 am just so I could enjoy Sauvie Island and some climbing in the West Hills by myself. I was able to ride about 50 miles and be home before my kids even knew I was gone. I feel like I didn’t put myself or anyone else at risk by doing that ride; but I also know — even with its massive benefits to my physical and mental health — it wasn’t an “essential” trip.
I think everyone should think deeply about these questions. Talk about it with friends, read about it online, and make an informed decision. I also strongly suggest wearing a mask when you’re near others. I wear one to cover my mouth and nose until I’m into the great wide open.
Have a nice weekend everyone!
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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