Due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), an order to “shelter in place” is likely coming to your area, if it hasn’t already.

On Thursday, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom made such a shelter-in-place order for the entire state. That’s 40 million people ordered to stay home. Inevitably, citizens are confused as to what is prohibited and what’s allowed.

Since we published this article, 20 other states and counting have issued a “shelter in place” or “stay at home” order to prevent the community spread of COVID-19. After California, Ohio, Illinois followed suit, and then a wave of states also implemented similar rules, including Washington, New York, Colorado, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, Wisconsin and Idaho.

While each county and state may have different specific restrictions, here is what we’ve learned as to such orders apply to riding your bike:

Can I Ride My Bike Outdoors?

I’m in the most contaminated county in California (Santa Clara, as of March 25 overtaken by Los Angeles), and along with five other counties, we’ve had an order to shelter in place Monday night at midnight.

The Santa Clara County order contained restrictions that caught the eye of many cyclists:

All travel, including, but not limited to, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit, except Essential Travel and Essential Activities as defined below in Section 10, is prohibited.

I’ve seen numerous social media posts wondering when we’re allowed to ride outside again. No, I’m not a doctor or public health expert, but I’ve had to learn for myself what’s allowed, and what is smart.

Some cycling friends, doing their best to do the right thing and prevent community spread, stayed indoors and hopped on trainers, fearing punishment and obeying orders.

Our tester putting down the watts in testing the Feedback Sports' Omnium Trainer. © Cyclocross Magazine

Sheltering in place on the Feedback Sports’ Omnium Trainer. © Cyclocross Magazine

The county’s order also thankfully has a provision for outdoor exercise, provided the person does so consistent with “social distancing” guidelines. It specifically allows:

To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, or running.

The confusing term is “by way of example and without limitation.” This does not limit exercise to just walking, hiking or running. Cycling is allowed with members from your home, or with others using social distancing.

Santa Clara County and cities within the county had to clarify this, due to the confusion (or was it the smart trainer hoarding and Zwift devouring Internet bandwidth?). The county did so in a FAQ:

Q: The Order prohibits non-essential travel on foot or bike — does that mean that I can’t go on a walk or take a bike ride?

A: No.  The Order allows you to go outside for exercise so long as you maintain social distancing (more than 6 feet from persons who are not part of your household).  This includes activities like walks or hikes or bike rides or going to a park.

Three types of cycling are allowed under the county order:

  1. Exercise with social distancing
  2. Transit to essential services
  3. Transit by essential workers

Even the San Francisco Chronicle tried to clarify to its readers whether riding a bike for exercise is allowed.

While Governor Newsom’s order did not specifically exempt exercise or cycling from banned activities, he said of the order, by KQED reporting:

“You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog.”

Newsom emphasized the goal wasn’t to ticket or arrest violators, but to give clear guidelines as to what’s necessary to slow the community spread. He said, as per CNN:

“I don’t believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it’s appropriate just to home-isolate, protect themselves. We are confident that the people of the state of California will abide by it and do the right thing.”

The rest of the nation may face similar guidelines, orders and confusion. Use the above guidelines and common sense to protect both yourself and more importantly, your community. While Californians might have been exposed to the coronavirus earlier than most other states, its athletes have traveled across the country to race in other states that have been slow to respond. The “lockdown” by California could help residents in other states be prepared, just as other countries’ successes and failures could have helped the U.S. prepare for this pandemic.

Note that in USA Cycling’s COVID-19 Q&A with Dr. Michael Roshon, he recommended not riding outside during a shelter-in-place order (see the 27-minute mark).

If You Do Ride Outside

During a time when safe is definitely better than sorry, for all of us, here are three guidelines that might help you keep your sanity and yet ride safely outdoors.

  1. Ride by yourself. It may not be as fun, but unless you’re riding with someone you share a living space with, it’s not worth exposing your loved ones, or riding buddies, to potential exposure. Do you really want to worry about wind speed and wind direction to avoid exposing each other? It’s too tempting to have a conversation, especially for those of us holed up for days already. Remember, some athletes are positive for COVID-19 but completely asymptomatic.
  2. Don’t take risks. Now is not the time to try to become Tom Meeusen and teach yourself to bunnyhop. It’s also not the time to PR a technical trail or downhill. Medial resources are limited and constrained, and may not be available to you if you need medical attention due to an accident. You also don’t want to be in a potentially COVID-19-contaminated place even if there are emergency room doctors or nurses to attend to you. Lost and Found winner Olivia Dillon has been sharing words from a doctor warning about this very risk. Dr. Philip Skiba says the same.
    This also should apply to distance and duration. If you’re used to hour-long rides, even a six-hour mellow ride on non-technical terrain still represents a tax to your immune system.
    Also, make sure your insurance policy covers you should something go wrong during these unique times.
  3. Stuff that saddle bag! This is an important, but often neglected key to surviving a solo ride. Bring all the essentials so that you can make it home regardless of the mechanical issue. Don’t be that cyclist on the side of the road or trail begging for assistance. You can pretend you’re packing for the DK200 or a bikepacking trip. Consider stuffing that saddle bag with these items, tailored to your cyclocross or gravel bike:
    • spare tube
    • tire levers
    • patch kit
    • tubeless plugs
    • extra sealant
    • pump
    • chain tool
    • quick link
    • multi-tool
    • snack
    • money
A Blackburn saddle bag carried the survival gear, but he didn't need it despite an early crash. Tobin Ortenblad's 2018 Lost and Found Santa Cruz Sitgmata. © Cyclocross Magazine

Pack the saddle bag and hope you don’t use it. photo: Tobin Ortenblad’s survival gear at the 2018 Lost and Found on his Santa Cruz Stigmata. © Cyclocross Magazine

Unclear on how to use some of them? Practice at home or watch a Youtube video, but be prepared. You don’t want to put a stranger in a difficult position of choosing between being a good samaritan to one person or being a good samaritan to a whole community.

Ride outdoors, by yourself, when the trails aren't crowded, but pack the saddle bag and don't take risks.

Ride outdoors, by yourself, when the trails aren’t crowded, but pack the saddle bag and don’t take risks.

Recreational cycling has been banned in Italy, Spain and France due to the potential burden it puts on the medical system. Please don’t be the case that triggers a ban in your county, state or country.

Remember Why You Ride

For most of us, cycling, regardless of terrain and bike, started out as a fun activity. Despite races being canceled or new homeschool or work-from-home schedules impacting our daily routines, cycling can still offer a healthy escape.

We don’t know exactly how long this pandemic will last, but it can’t last forever. As Governor Newsom emphasized:

“This is not a permanent state. This is a moment in time, and we will meet this moment together.”

Stay safe out there, and we’ll see you on the other side.