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Bike Shorts: How to Keep Safe When Riding Behind Another Cyclist

The coronavirus pandemic has caused us to raise questions about nearly every daily activity, from grocery shopping to getting a haircut to exercising safely.

Understandably, many who are used to cycling on roads and trails several times a week — often in groups — are wondering how to keep their routines going without endangering themselves or others. The good news is that, as long as you’re focusing on best practices for group cycling, the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 while cycling is relatively low.

In the first post in our new monthly series, “Bike Shorts,” we’ve gathered some quick tips from Coach Darryl MacKenzie to help you ride safely behind other cyclists when you’re out on the road.

General Precautions

The risk of catching or spreading coronavirus while cycling with others is low, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. It’s becoming clear to experts that the primary vehicle for coronavirus spread is respiratory droplets, and this is exaggerated when breathing heavily. So the main concern for cyclists is to avoid getting too close and thus passing through another cyclists’s slipstream and potentially inhaling their droplets.

To truly minimize risks, the safest thing you can do is to ride your stationary trainer indoors. If that doesn’t work for you, though, there are some best practices for group cycling — including how to safely ride behind another cyclist. 

Rules for Safe Distancing When Cycling

If you are riding with another cyclist, probably the best way to ride is handlebar to handlebar. Considering that the air you exhale is immediately blowing behind you, two cyclists riding side by side would be at low risk of passing droplets between them. You would need to space out when coming to a stop, however. 

For those times when cycling side by side is not possible, here are a few of Darryl’s tips on how to keep safe when riding behind another cyclist:

  1. Keep a mask ready: You don’t need to keep a mask on for your entire ride, but you should have one ready for moments when you need it. Keep a mask wrapped around your ears and hanging under your chin so you can pull the straps up and cover your mouth when passing closely by another cyclist.
  2. Avoid bike paths: Narrow, bidirectional bike paths present difficulties for keeping proper social distance, particularly when passing oncoming cyclists. There simply isn’t room to give each other a wide enough berth, so Darryl recommends avoiding bike paths in favor of open roads.
  3. Stay far behind: When riding behind other cyclists, you should give them at least 30 feet of space at a slow pace and 65 feet of space at high speeds to allow plenty of room for their breath to adequately disperse before you reach it.
  4. Pass safely: If you do need to pass someone, this is where you have to be especially careful. Before you begin approaching, move out 8–10 feet to the side so you are giving the other cyclist plenty of room when you pass. For moving this far out into the road, Coach Darryl recommends attaching rear-view mirrors to your sunglasses.
  5. No spitting! Remember, we’re trying to keep everyone safe here, and droplets are the big risk factor. If you have a habit of spitting while you ride, now is the time to break it.

Your mental and physical health is more important than ever. Keep those riding habits in place — and stay safe out there.