For the last few weeks I’ve been biking to a job. This isn’t new, as I’ve been 15 years not a slave to cars. But recently I’ve not had work to go to, so a daily ride to a workplace, and then returning home during the still surreal situation we’re all in, is a bit odd. The global coronavirus pandemic is a huge tragedy that will be with us for a while until there’s a vaccine and maybe longer. One small consolation is that it has reduced traffic and pollution. This is good for bike riders, but there are still plenty of hazards so cyclists should remain vigilant. Here a few challenges I’ve noticed and tips for things you can do to make your ride to work as good and as safe as possible.
Some roads aren’t much safer. Although Austin, Texas like many cities is trying out some Healthy Streets, which have reduced access for local residents, deliveries and emergencies. Otherwise they are for walking, biking, skating, etc. When things were in real lockdown back in March and April, traffic was light. Now with Governor “Hey Abbot!” ignoring science and medical advice and allowing businesses to re-open, traffic has picked up. And with some drivers taking the chance to speed, in some ways it’s not much safer out there. A statistic in Austin I just saw is that there are 40 car deaths this year compared to 38 at this same time in 2019. I don’t want to become one of those numbers, so I often take the sidewalk on major streets where the traffic is fast and there are no bike lanes. That can be an issue if there are pedestrians. If you’re biking on the streets, exercise extreme caution. I biked down a major street the other day and had to take the lane and constantly show my face by looking back at drivers to make sure they got the memo to go around. It worked and I was fine, but my blood pressure surely went up. (I’m not calling you Shirley.) A rear-view mirror and an abundance of caution and confidence are your best friends. Or when in doubt, find another, safer route.
To mask or not to mask? At first when caca intersected with the air ventilation device ($#it hit the fan), people were all like, “Didja see that study? Ya’ know, the one with the air dispersal droplets? It says you could get the ‘rona just by biking within 26 feet of an infected person.” Well, it turns out that was an unverified report, and masks were considered essential outdoors. But then some people got lax or rebelled and found other articles that said “Fuggedaboutit!” The science on COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, and recently there’s been talk of it being airborne. So we’re back to maybe masking outside. However, it’s not conclusive. I err on the side of caution, but not paranoia. I wear one around my neck and if I come close to someone (like passing on a sidewalk because there are not any bike lanes), I whip it on. Then when the coast is clear, I lower it. Lately I’ve gone back to bandannas for biking. So I come down on the side of wear it around others, but otherwise the great outdoors is not a hugely likely place you’l get enough droplets with enough virus to become infected.
Gear, clothes and sweat management. I use a nice big lime green Osprey brand backpack. In it I carry a change of clothes, shoes, lunch, snacks, and other assorted necessities, and a book (at this writing, the one I just blogged about, Welcome to the Writers Life). But the pack makes me sweat a lot more where the straps go and of course on the back. So a simple wire rack might be in order, and I have one but haven’t installed it yet. You may want panniers, a milk crate, a front rack, a delivery rider’s front-worn backpack, or something else. Whatever you use, planning and packing ahead like the night before will save you time and stress when trying to get out the door to work. It doesn’t hurt to pad your time so you can wipe off the sweat and change once you get to work or whatever your destination may be. A travel size deodorant is also a good idea. Hopefully you can find a place to let your sopping wet bike clothes dry out. A lunch bag with insulation is a nice thing to have too.
Sum-sum-summertime. It’s summertime, at least in this section of the northern hemisphere. That means sunscreen, water, hats or visors, arm sleeves, and more sunscreen are all in order. Other things that cool you may include: ice in your insulated water bottles, (good for dumping on your head, on occasion), handkerchiefs with crystals sewn into them that feel cold when wet, and tunes by Billy Ocean, the Beach Boys and of course, the Butthole Surfers. But seriously, skin cancer is no joke. They say to reapply every 80 minutes, which I’m bad about. So I need to start carrying another handkerchief to wipe off the sweat and to set a timer to remember to do add more sunscreen. The kind dermatologists recommend is EltaMD, which you can also find on Amazon or Elta’s website. It is zinc oxide but thin, so does not have that thick whitening problem like many other brands.
Prepare for zombies. I haven’t seen any… yet. But believe you me, or at least the movies, if they ever do show up, there will be blood… and guts and brains. Cyclists will Mos Def be on the menu. I’m no expert, although I’ve done my research by watching every episode to date of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead and both Zombieland movies. Since we don’t have real world experience with them, we’ll have to imagine. And it’s not hard. Consider the people who are slow walkers like moseying romantic partners, those aimlessly walking their dogs (who are sniffing and peeing more than walking — the dogs, that is), meandering parents of babies in strollers, or others who are just not in a hurry. You simply have to be very vigilant of what’s around you and plan for evasive action. If and when zombie apocalypse ignites, we’l probably have to go all Mad Max by outfitting our bikes with welded-on, sharp pointy things, flamethrowers and other weaponry as well, but that’s a whole other post.
What are some tips and tricks you have for bike commuting in the time of coronavirus?
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