How to Ride Through COVID-19
How to Ride Through COVID-19
A Guide to Fun Solo Cycling During a Pandemic
Bart Lipinski, a Best Buddies Domestique and USA Cycling certified coach based on Boston’s South Shore, sounded perplexed. “Everything in the world seemed to stop,” he said about himself and his clients, most of whom are hard-charging performance-based cyclists. “‘Cycling isn’t on a break’, I’m telling them. This is an amazing opportunity to build a huge base for when events do resume. Let’s be ready for WHEN the group rides and racing returns.”
Alas, his clients are like those greyhounds that lose their sense of purpose the second that “Switfy” the mechanical rabbit is pulled down.
For Best Buddies Challenge riders, especially those based in New England, COVID-19 has given them what’s never been available: months of nice weather in which to ride and prepare for our new September 26th date.
The challenge is this pesky pandemic. As it pertains to bicycling there seems to be three barriers: first, the general malaise described above that eliminated any imperative sense of purpose in our training; second, the confusion over HOW to ride outside in public with respect to public health guidelines; and third, how to replicate the social component of bike rides, which is THE best part of the cycling lifestyle.
For the first component view this as a gift. Every coach with whom I speak agrees the vast majority of charity cyclists need to simply ride their bikes without regard to speed, watts, calories or heart rate. With warm weather and ample daylight we can all get out nearly every day. Our mantra of “Ride More; Train Less” can truly enable us to ease into a base of fitness. The standard rule for any bicycle rider is to register six weeks of long, slow “base” miles. Forget everything you’re told in crossfit and spin class. The goal of these rides is to develop the musculo-sketetal system, engage the full capillary network of your cardiovascular system, and ride at an easy pace proven to burn fats instead of sugars.
The second part of cycling during COVID-19 is the new etiquette of the roads and paths. Every cyclist needs to prepare for situations when and where challenges arise to six-foot social distancing guidelines.
Start with securing some basic supplies. These are the same items we use when shopping: masks and gloves. We need to respect and adhere to the laws and guidelines in place by the CDC and local government. You need to have a mask. Many riders are simply employing a Buff, those sublimated thin Lycra neck gaiters. When alone on rural roads or paths, the Buff can come down to facilitate breathing, but as we gather near intersections or along crowded trails it needs to be covering your mouth and nose.
While you won’t need gloves for most of the ride, we may need to hit a store for provisions. Again, we’re protecting our fellow citizens, especially those important retailers and food service workers exposed to the general public every day.
Intersections can be managed like the checkout line of any store; we simply allow for more than six feet of spacing when we queue up.
When it comes to passing other riders, patience and courtesy are key, especially on crowded trails. Don’t push the river. Give plenty of notice when passing and provide ample distance when doing so.
For those of us with Sammy Hagar disease unable to ride at an appropriate pace on the path, please hit the open road and spare us slower folks your aggressive attitudes. Quality cyclists use bike paths for gently warming up or cooling down, not for speedwork. Please don’t be THAT person.
Even on the open roads we’ll need to manage passing of riders. Unless we are with our household quarantine partners, drafting of another rider is out of the question. When we approach a rider from behind leave at least 15 feet of comfort space and make doubly sure you can pass with a wide berth. Approaching motorists may mean you have to wait a while. This can be a challenge when you approach a rider with a similar level of fitness. If trailing a stranger, simply give them a verbal cue of your presence but also that you’re respecting the distance. We all need to de-stress these bike-to-bike encounters. Courtesy is key.
Finally we have the challenge of keeping cycling fun without our friends. Virtual cycling using expensive “Smart Trainers” and such online apps as BKOOL and Zwift – along with Zoom conferencing – is one solution. But cycling is an outdoor social adventure.
To enhance the solo cycling experience, most charity riders already possess a key tool: A Smart Phone. We can download two simple apps that open us up to the world outside our door: Strava and Ride with GPS.
Ride with GPS allows us to map out new routes and then follow along with a simple handlebar mount for the phone. Bike specific computers made by Garmin, Wahoo or Lezyne make navigation and tracking metrics somewhat easier. But to just get us started, keep us on course, and provide basic data, simply mounting your phone on the handlebars will do. Our only disdain with using a phone is that it is, well, a phone. We have riders constantly interrupted by work and home issues. (This includes a coaching subject recently interrupted by a spouse’s need to determine the specific disposition of a mulch delivery….The whole ride stops for mulch, seriously?)
For cycling socialization nothing quite compares with Strava. Think of Fitbit meets Facebook for endurance athletes. After a free download onto a phone, we plug in our profile – being careful to only post what we want the world to see. Then a rider need only hit “Start”, ride the bike, and then hit “Finish” when done. And wham! Up will come the route, the time, the speed, the elevation and other factors. When we search the app, we can find and follow our friends on their rides, give them “kudos,” post or reply to comments. After a few outings our times for segments will show how our ride compared to prior outings on “segments” along the way. And we can see the times set by others, including the friends we follow. We can establish a complete community of our choosing and curation, join “Clubs,” participate in “Challenges,” post photos, and even identify riders we saw along the way using the “Flybys” feature.
When we get bored riding our routine routes, Strava offers another powerful feature called “Strava Global Heat Map”. This is an anonymously gathered amalgamation of all that GPS data from all around the planet. Simply search for any location and watch the screen light up. The brighter the line the greater the usage by other cyclists. (We can also track running, swimming and winter usage too!). These maps literally light the way to fantastic paths, routes, and trails we never knew existed within range of our homes.
We’ll be riding together soon. But there’s plenty of great riding to be done on our own in 2020. Use a few of these tools, be sensible, incorporate some courteous habits, and get out for some new solo two-wheel adventures.
Richard Fries is the Director of Cycling Experience for the Best Buddies Challenges. With more than 40 years experience, he has been a racer, commuter, tourist, promoter, advocate, journalist and commentator on the sport and lifestyle of cycling. Having raced at the professional level both in America and Europe, Fries is well known as a race announcer having called countless USA Cycling National Championships, World Cups, and UCI World Championships. But he is also a tireless advocate having recently served as the executive director of MassBike. You can follow him on Strava to learn more.