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Group Riding in the Age of COVID

Thoughts from an Idaho bike lawyer, applicable everywhere.

Idaho’s Governor Little has issued the State’s planned staged transition away from his Stay-at-Home health order.  Road cyclists continue to wonder how we should engage in group riding under COVID. As a bicycle accident lawyer who deals with the negative aspects of cycling, I have been thinking a lot about when and how to ride safely in this very strange time.

Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, have been identified as the main risk areas for transmission. The data we have to date shows the main sources for infection are: 1) home from an infected cohabitant, 2) workplaces, 3) public transport, 4) social gatherings, and 5) restaurants. These environments account for 90% or more of all identified transmission. To the extent we have data, contact tracing has shown only a single outbreak reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections).

We know that increasing our distance from others, decreasing the duration of exposure, and improving the ventilation of the air around us can all lower our personal risk of infection. Going for a bike ride on our own can do all three.  Are there ways we can enjoy the comradery of group riding while staying safe?  

Each stage of Idaho’s four-stages in the reopening plan is predicated in continuing some basic practices. The Governor’s order reinforces the idea that all of us have a responsibility to protect ourselves and others.

Summary of the planned phasing

In all reopening stages, basic practices include:

  • Engage in physical distancing of at least six feet;
  • Wear face coverings in public places;
  • Stay home if sick;
  • Practice good hand hygiene;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes;
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly.

Stage One Gatherings (May 1-15): both public and private, should be avoided. Meaning that there should be no group riding during Stage One.  

Stage Two Gatherings (May 16-29): both public and private, of less than 10 people, where appropriate physical distancing and precautionary measures are observed can occur. Vulnerable Idahoans should continue to self-isolate. Members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not always possible, they could carry the virus back home. Precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents.

Stage Three Gatherings (May 30-June 12): both public and private, of 10-50 people, where appropriate physical distancing and precautionary measures are observed can occur. Starting in Stage 3 vulnerable Idahoans resume public interactions, but continue physical distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.

Stage Four Gatherings (June 13-26): both public and private, of more than 50 people, where appropriate physical distancing and precautionary measures are observed can occur.


Thoughts On Group Riding Behavior Once Gatherings Are Allowed

BASIC PRACTICES FOR INDIVIDUALS:

Follow the basic practices listed for individuals in the Governor’s plan,

Only join if you are sure you are not sick, don’t have a temperature and have no indication you might be becoming sick.

SUPPLIES/REFRESHMENTS:

To decrease the likelihood of contact to the extent possible carry your own food and water rather than stopping at C-stores or impacting grocery stores.

FACE COVERING, SANITIZER AND GLOVES:

Have a face-covering (mask, buff, kerchief, scarf etc.)  with you and wear it in any gathering area or meeting zone.  These are often public locations where others are present. 

Have your face-covering available and use it at ride stops, during flats/mechanical repairs or if you do go into a store for refreshments or a restroom.

Remove your riding gloves prior to touching anything.

Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use it after any stops where you touch anything any other human could have touched.

PHYSICAL DISTANCING GUIDELINES IN GROUP RIDING:

Establish gathering and start locations in large parking lots that allow people to spread out while awaiting the start of the ride. 

Keep ride groups to 8 or fewer cyclists to allow for safe spacing.  Create sub-groups if needed.  

Keep large gaps between subgroups.  A 2-minute interval or 1000 yards will reduce chances that the subgroups will intermingle down the road. 

Send faster paced subgroups first to reduce chances of subgroups intermingling.

Be aware of other riders/runners/walkers and pass  with enough distance to keep all safe (see below).

While waiting at stop lights, continue to observe social distancing rules.

RELATIVE POSITION IN GROUP RIDING (Drafting):

Group ride participants should maintain safe spacing.

A fair recommendation is a three bike-lengths between bikes though the study referenced below can be interpreted as arguing for greater distances.

If two abreast, cyclists can fairly stay less than 6 feet apart per the study.

The apparent key is to avoid being in the slipstream of the riders in front of you.

The well-publicized, but non-peer-reviewed, Belgian-Dutch droplet modeling paper showed the respiratory cloud of a person exercising remains within the slipstream. There are questions about where in the slipstream a large-enough dose of infectious particles can be transmitted to seed an infection in another rider.  Here is a balanced discussion of the modeling paper.  

In short, DON’T DRAFT because it increases the duration and volume of exposure. (Think of it as practicing to ride like a tri-athlete. 😊)

OTHER HYGIENE:

Don’t spit or blow “snot rockets” when anywhere near others.

Carry tissue or a handkerchief, and carefully dispose of tissues.

Handkerchiefs, face coverings, gloves and sleeves attract germs; isolate them and wash them after every ride.

WE ARE ALL ITCHING TO GET BACK IN THE SADDLE AND RIDE. HOPEFULLY, WE WILL COME TOGETHER AS A COMMUNITY AND DO SO WHILE PRIORITIZING OUR HEALTH AND THE HEALTH OF OTHERS.

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