Riding in Groups and COVID-19

With America opening back up and striving for some normalcy, should cyclists start group rides again? There is no clear answer, and there will probably never be one. Under social distancing, we’re all doing our best to stay sane, and one of the best ways to maintain sanity is to go out for some nice fresh air. But venturing outside can be stressful if you’re worried that the air is full of virus particles just waiting to infect you.

Is it safe to ride in groups again?

It depends on what you want. If you want to keep the risks as low as possible, it’s still best to ride by yourself or maybe with one to three trusted mates. If you want to ride in groups, it is best to know with whom you are riding. If anyone is sick or has any symptoms of headache, cough, fever, or loss of taste, it would probably be best not to ride with that person or in that group. If you deem riding with a small group is something you’re comfortable with, you’ll want to ensure that these few people have been adequately careful over the past few months, the same as if you’re riding with one other person.

Pros and cons of riding in big groups and the possibility of catching COVID-19

Racing bicycles

Bicycle racing is a big group ride, and for the most part, cycling has done very well. As of this writing, many cycling events are being held again worldwide, both amateur and professional, and there has not been a slew of cases reported. This year’s Tour de France went very well, no riders reportedly caught the virus, and the few staff members who caught the virus were sent home, and the tour continued. In this year’s Giro d’Italia, 7 riders and staff have tested positive and 2 teams withdrew from the race. When compared to other organized sports such as American football, cycling’s overall risk for spreading COVID-19 is still comparatively low.

Riding Outside vs. Inside

Being outside offers many advantages. Fortunately, increasing your distance, decreasing the duration of your exposure, and improving the ventilation of the air around you can all lower your risk. And riding outdoors generally helps you accomplish all three. Having direct exposure to the sun increases the synthesis of vitamin D in your body. Adequate vitamin D levels are necessary for a robust immune system, which is critical for fighting COVID-19 or any virus for that matter. A recent study of over 300 COVID-19 outbreaks occurred indoors and not outdoors.

Understanding the fundamental concepts of transmissibility and infectious dose should help reassure you. The risks of catching the virus in an outdoor setting are low. It is logical to think that if you are riding, the air moves past you at some speed. That being said, no one has measured the actual risk of virus transmissibility outdoors. Many factors affect how viruses can be transmitted, such as temperature, humidity, sunlight, wind, rain, and more. Indeed, the risk is not zero outdoors, but it is a good bet to say it is likely a low risk. Most scientists who study viruses note that a near-perfect sequence of events must happen for a person to transmit a virus outdoors. For someone to contract a virus, there must be enough particles and exposure time. The virus needs to survive the sunlight, humidity, wind, etc. Even more, the virus particles would have to land in your mouth and nose and be inhaled in sufficient amounts to cause an infection. This is a complicated sequence to execute correctly.

But what about the Belgian-Dutch study showing …

In April, Belgian and Dutch engineers posted their social media results about how aerosol particles could travel and hit a trailing athlete more than 6 feet away. First, this was not even a study. It was just a demonstration of an aerosol produced by a spray bottle to simulate the spread of droplets we might generate as we walk, run, or bike. They recommended that everyone stay 16 feet behind someone walking and 33 feet behind someone who is running, and 65 feet behind someone who is biking. Scientists criticized the experiment saying that we cannot make assumptions about the experiment since it did not consider any transmissibility variables. Viral infections are started with a specific dose of the virus. Although we don’t know exactly how many particles it takes — 100? 300? 500? — the point to bear in mind here is that you’re not going to contract Covid-19 if a single particle falls on you. A major problem with the “study” is that its recommendations are based on the idea that any exposure is too much.

What are some things you need to consider before meeting up with a group?

The more people you’re around, the greater the risk you could be exposed or asymptomatically spread the virus. You don’t want to ride through someone’s fresh sneeze or cough cloud, and if this accidentally happens, you should go home, change, and shower. You’ll want to think about what others have been doing to be safe. And that you’re able to trust the people your riding companions. We assume that others are taking the threat of infection seriously by staying home, wearing masks when not home, and will be upfront with you if someone in their family is sick or if they’re not feeling well. Again, follow logical guidelines: don’t share water bottles, drive in separate cars, and avoid hanging around nearby (or have a mask handy if you’re doing some socially distanced talking afterward).