The Pedalshift Project 212: Bike Touring in COVID Times

As we adjust to the new normal, can we bike tour safely and responsibly during a pandemic? On this episode, I share the thoughts of fellow listeners, a bike touring organization, and my personal recommendations for bike touring during COVID times.

Bike Touring in COVID Times 

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News and housekeeping

Stay tuned for my next tour at the end of the show! Kind of a spoiler alert since the topic is touring during COVID that I’m on the side of “yes you can, but…” 
Bike shortages and maintenance backups – a quick heads up for those of you looking to ride that bike shops are having a tough time keeping many types of bikes in stock and many of them are backed up on maintenance and repairs, some for weeks. So plan ahead!
I’m really late to the game on the Adventure Cycling Dynamo Jenny podcast… if you’ve listened for any length of time to this show, I’m a big booster of women in bike touring go check it out! And if you never heard my chats with Jasmine Reese, Annalisa van den Bergh, Adele Dittus, Cat Caperello-Snyder, Kerry Gross, and I know I’m missing a ton of others, they’re all in the back episodes of the Pedalshift Project so please check those out too!

Bike Touring in COVID Times

Let’s start with some baseline elements here:
I’m taking this with a US perspective where we are, frankly, a dumpster fire compared to other parts of the world in terms of infections. Your region and/or country may vary.
The novel coronavirus is a real threat. It is contagious, we’re unsure if getting it confers immunity, but we do know some people can catch it and die. So even if you personally don’t worry about it, you can pass it along to people who are more vulnerable than you. This is not the flu, it’s way worse.
But, life is a series of managed risks. After all, bike touring is a managed risk! If COVID were a purely personal risk one would take it would be a lot different, however, the fact it’s contagious, can be passed on asymptomatically or presymptomatically means – in my opinion – we have a responsibility to others as well to manage the risk of spread.
I have a responsibility to my family. I have a responsibility to the people I come in contact with – folks at grocery stores and shops and cafes. On a bike tour, you’re bringing the potential of infection with you and may not know it.
Again, in my opinion, that means bicycle touring should be done with more caution and with less contact than before the outbreaks began.
What are others saying?
At this time, Adventure Cycling Association discourages cyclists from embarking on long-distance bike travel along the Adventure Cycling Route Network.
We believe the bicycle travel community has a responsibility to avoid endangering the health of small communities and straining limited medical resources. Moreover, shelter-in-place and quarantine orders exist at many levels of government across our network, and availability of services is inconsistent and unpredictable.  
We can’t say for certain when it will be safe to take long tours again, but at this time we’ve canceled our own guided tours through September 5, and are evaluating on an ongoing basis beyond that date.
In the meantime, Adventure Cycling is hard at work to improve bike travel conditions, develop new routes for future adventures, and make sure we’re ready to help you when it’s time to hit the road once again.
Martin in OK:
For context, I live in rural northeast Oklahoma. We have a low population density; however,  many area residents are at best inconsistent about protective behaviors. Also relevant is that I have a family member with a mild-to-moderately compromised immune system.
In late May I prepared a 200-mile, 4-6 day loop tour through rural back roads. I designed the route so that campgrounds were available every 40-60 miles and so with natural water sources I could filter from to minimize reliance on in-town resupply stops. Halfway through the route I had the option (and risk) of a hotel to cool off from the heat. I ended up cancelling my plans when Oklahoma’s COVID surge took off in June.
As I’ve considered why I canceled this tour, I realize that the presence of COVID alters my risk assessment of other tour variables – mostly by making my typical bail-out options potentially unsafe for me, my family, or my helper/rescuer. For this tour, the most likely potential problem was heat exhaustion (95 degree highs and 65% humidity). In a COVID world, I don’t want to cool off inside high-traffic buildings like gas stations, especially in a region where mask-wearing is not the majority practice. And, of course, if I get heat stroke I could end up in an emergency room where there’s liable to be a greater presence of coronavirus. In my mind, COVID amplifies the potential consequences of the risks already present on a bike tour.
What does touring look like for me going forward? Probably S24O’s and few, if any, multi-night tours. I’ve begun pinpointing primitive, open camping locations within a 40-60 mile radius: mostly wildlife conservation areas and designated fishing lakes. Typically, there are no facilities or campgrounds as such, and thus very low traffic. While I might consider a small state park, I’m not comfortable chancing a crowded check-in lobby. With luck I can string together a  2-night mini-tour of no-contact campsites. As long as the riding and weather aren’t too demanding I’d be willing to do that sort of a tour. Also, no more tours without a family member on standby ready to pick me up if need be; no relying on the kindness of strangers for enough aid to get me back on the road.
It will be interesting to see where the bike touring community lands post-COVID. I anticipate wildly different new norms between various regions of the country.  
Greg Braithwaite
What I’ve personally settled into is several one-day trips that include:
– 1 stop max. at some kind of supply/food store
– Duh–Use of disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, masks
– No weekend overnights to avoid crowds
– Repeated trips to a destination the coast that is a proven stealth spot–but modifying my route to get there (for me this is often 80-120 miles round trip).
What DIDN’T work was when our CA State Parks opened and I ASSUMED that included hiker/biker sites–It does not! It’s unclear from the website and I should have called before riding out to Half Moon Bay from Santa Cruz. This mistake caused me to stay in a hotel (very clean/very safe), BUT not something I’d necessarily sign up for during COVID.
Quick plug for Greg’s new YouTube channel! It’s called BIKEVIDS! 
What am I recommending in the US and potentially elsewhere?
Only tour in a responsible way. The routes are going to be there after this.
Shorter, local, low or preferably no-contact tours.
I am avoiding all forms of public transportation for now, including busses, trains and planes.
All of my tours are beginning and ending at home or within a drive or drop-off/pickup 
Limited resupplies, limited contact in towns
Mask up as much as possible, including when riding but especially when others are around 
Solo travel is ideal. Next best option, touring within your bubble. Last best is touring with others, but remaining socially distanced.
Maximum hygiene before and after contact with restrooms, facilities, shops, stores, etc. 
Camping is probably safest (lower contact, unless it’s not). 
Airbnbs and hotels aren’t necessarily unsafe – depends on circumstances
Less proximity to people is most preferable
If you are showing any symptoms, bail out ASAP
A day trip loop that starts and ends at your home is fine replacement in these times. 
Are people touring in the US?
Yes, but it’s hard for me to assess whether it’s less, the same or more than last year.
And, oh yeah, I’m touring. It’s been really helpful for my mental health and a nice getaway from the new normal

The next tour: GAP 4×44 Loop

Following my own recommendations:
Keeping it ocal-ish: Begins and ends 1 hour drive and pickup from my cabin 
All camping, potentially with some stealth camping to reduce contact even more
Self contained with one resupply point midway (water notwithstanding)
Masking, sanitizer – I’m treating my interactions so that if I were infected that it’s far less likely I’d be bringing it to anyone and that I’m minimizing my exposure in case someone around me is infected.
It’s a tour of the GAP – a loop from Cumberland to Connnelsville and back. What’s fun is it’s 4 days of averaging or hitting 44 miles (go Orange, no I didn’t plan it). So it’s the GAP 4×44 Loop. Coming to the pod in August!

As always we like to close out the show with a special shoutout to the Pedalshift Society! Because of support from listeners like you, Pedalshift is a weekly bicycle touring podcast with a global community, expanding into live shows and covering new tours like this spring’s DC to Cincinnatti bike tour! If you like what you hear, you can support the show for 5 bucks, 2 bucks or even a buck a month. And there’s one-shot and annual options if you’re not into the small monthly thing. Check it all out at

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