Is it Okay to be Riding Motorcycles During COVID-19? (& Why I Cancelled the Rest of My Trip.)
After an incredibly long winter, I was itching to get on my bike and hit the road for the first of many long distance trips I had planned for the riding season. On March 16, 2020, I loaded up my 2015 Harley-Davidson® Dyna LowRider and hit the road, riding out of Denver with COVID-19 uncertainty at the tips of my pig tails that were flying in the wind. It felt like I was riding away from the big scary storm cloud at the end of the Terminator movie. Seven days later, the world had dramatically changed. Social Distancing was no longer “enough” to stop the spread of the virus. I had no choice but to turn the bike around and head home, cutting my five-week trip dramatically short. I realized that quarantining myself by riding motorcycles during the COVID19 outbreak wasn’t going to be as easy as I had hoped.
Where the United States was with the severity and control of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16th and where we were with it on March 23rd, are two dramatically different places. The day I left on my trip, social distancing was considered “enough.” Nobody was on mandatory lockdown. I had packed a weeks worth of food, extra toilet paper, soap, and other items that I felt would be beneficial to being self sustainable, decreasing my chances and need of human interaction. I headed to West Texas, where I knew I’d have little cell service. Which, in my opinion, is the perfect way to spend a quarantine: two wheels, outdoors, very little humans in existence…pure freedom vibes, right?
Even with all the extra precautions I took to dramatically decrease my direct impact and need for any human interaction, I quickly learned that this wasn’t enough. With so much uncertainty in the world, I knew the right thing to do was to cancel my trip and wait this out with everyone else, at home. If you’re looking to get some time in on two wheels during this quarantine, take a few minutes to read about my experiences and observations from riding motorcycles during the COVID19 pandemic. Perhaps it’ll help you in your efforts to keep yourself, and others, healthy.
Here’s a few ways to be responsible if you choose to ride a motorcycle during COVID-19.
Be a Germaphobe. Because Others Aren’t.
This was the biggest observation and lesson I learned on my trip. While I managed to avoid utilizing gas station restrooms during my seven days on the road, I quickly learned how infectious gas stations can be. What I observed in each gas station restroom was the same: Nobody washes their hands correctly, even with simplified directions posted directly in front of their faces. The general population thinking that they are not potential contagious hosts, is exactly why we are being forced to quarantine, to not travel, etc. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but washing your hands is the first step of being hygienic, not the entire alphabet. If you can’t wash your hands correctly, imagine how dirty you actually are.
Germs spread extremely easy. Especially in shared spaces that are commonly occupied by dozens, if not hundreds, of people a day. That person that didn’t wash their hands? Well, they just went and took the pump out of their vehicle after filling up their tank. They also probably grabbed a drink and some snacks off the shelves, and then proceeded to put them back when they found something else they wanted.
That person touched money, credit cards, door handles, and more. And then, someone came in behind them, unknowingly touching that same gas pump, door handle, dollar bill…I’m sure you all see the domino effect this issue has. Is the “don’t take your (riding) gloves off while filling your gas tank,” theory enough? I’d go as far as to disagree completely that it’s a realistic option to not spread germs you may or may not knowingly have, or want.
Things you can do to be more hygienic: Pack hand sanitizer and generously clean your hands after pumping gas. Don’t use your riding gloves as a germ-blocker if you plan to continue using them. Bring your own water bottle and snacks. Don’t rely on gas stations and convenience stores to fuel you in addition your bike.
Act Like You Have The Virus
I will be the first to admit that when this first hit the United States, I felt that this was all dramatically overhyped. But as things have progressed, I’ve realized that even though I fall in an age range and overall health bracket that has a significantly lower death rate, I am still perfectly susceptible to becoming a host to the virus without showing a single symptom during contamination. If you were sick with symptoms, I doubt you would be hanging out with your friends or going into public. So, pretend you have this wacky virus, and do your best to not spread it.
Keep it Local
You don’t need to be going on any extended motorcycle trips right now.
I’m sure you’ve already debated “doing your part” by social distancing on two wheels. Obviously, I just did it, so, what’s any different if you went out and did a long distance motorcycle trip now? The biggest difference is, what we knew about this virus when I went on the road, and where we are at with it two weeks later, are two very different places.
We’ve learned that any potential germ cross-contamination makes a huge difference in slowing the spread of this virus down. We’ve also learned that small towns aren’t prepared to supply travelers with any resources, including grocery and medical. While we all want to jump on our hogs, post about how we’re “social distancing,” and ride into the sunset, perhaps you should save those long miles for when the world is back in working order, and that favorite little cafe in the middle of nowhere is ready to make you and your buds a few ice cream sundaes.
Find Local Roads to Rip
So, since touring on a motorcycle seems to be a bit unrealistic for the time being, should you be riding around your town and staying local? My answer to this question, is not a simple yes or no. At the very minimum, ask yourself this: are you willing to go the extra mile with your hygiene routine, even at the pump? If you’re not willing to change your routine or daily habits, please stay home. If you’re willing to be a stage five germaphobe for the time being, make sure your local city ordinances are allowing leisure travel. Some states are currently giving out major tickets for those not following quarantine guidelines.
Some of the best roads are the ones we often take for granted: the ones right in our backyard! Even if you live somewhere that you consider “flat and boring,” I guarantee that landscape brings a feeling to you that no other landscape in this country ever could. Enjoy being home, and take in every little sight and sound along the way.
Be Self Sustainable
Since there’s going to be that one person that still chooses to ride cross country amidst all of this, let’s discuss how you can be less impactful to small towns. Venturing to the less populated regions of the country has its benefits, like less human interaction. However, there are many things that most of us take for granted, like clean drinking water, gas availability, hand soap, toilet paper being available in public restrooms, food being readily available to purchase from grocery stores or restaurants, etc.
By traveling, we’re already putting a strain on small town’s supplies. While I managed to pack a weeks worth of food with me and a way to prepare it, dish soap and hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and additional supplies to reduce my need for human interaction, I wasn’t fully self sustainable. I dramatically decreased my need for local resources by packing the way I did, but some things were still needed, like access to clean drinking water and gasoline.
Additionally, hospital resources are even more slim in less populated areas. The Big Bend region covers thousands of square miles, but hospitals and emergency clinics are less than sparse. The closest hospital to Big Bend National Park is over 100 miles away in Alpine, a town with a population of only 6,000. These clinics and facilities are built to take care of their resident populations, not in addition to the excess travelers. If you were to get sick or have the unfortunate luck of going down, would you be ready to handle your situation without putting a strain on small town resources? My guess is, probably not.
Want to get a night out of “town” and into the woods to clear you head? I get it. It’s my favorite thing to do, too. Check with your local state parks, campgrounds, and other areas of interest to see if your plans are realistic. In many places, state and national parks are closed to visitors completely, never mind an overnight stay. New Mexico’s state park gates were locked when I rode through the area, and Texas followed in their footsteps shortly after.
While I was traveling, many RV parks and privately owned campgrounds seemed to be closing to visitors in any capacity as well. These spaces may not have public restrooms available at this time (never mind them being stocked if they are open. One RV Park I camped at had no soap in the bathrooms.) Yes, of course, you can always utilize the great outdoors to do your business. More importantly, are you prepared to do this the correct way? To pack out your used toilet paper and to bury any fecal matter? Again, rethink your self sustainability options before venturing out.
Be on High Alert and Ride Responsibly
Drivers are not looking for you now, more than ever.
During my 24 hour stay in Big Bend National Park, I saw more than a dozen vehicles swerve into my lane. Over a dozen people were too distracted looking at their phones, or the beauty of the west Texas mountains, to maintain their lane in a park that is over 100 miles from the nearest health care facility.
Imagine what people in a populated city are acting like? Are they thinking about motorcycles right now, since most drivers are only supposed to be out for essential business purposes or grocery runs? Since we all know that motorcycles aren’t at the top of many drivers’ normal priority lists, go ahead and assume you have a Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak on while you’re out riding.
Don’t ride like a kook.
Now is not the time to hot rod your bike or try to show off for someone. Imagine doing something stupid, that could’ve been easily avoided, and it sends you to the hospital at what is definitely the worst time to be needing medical assistance. Riding like a bat out of hell is fun, I know. Know your limits, and don’t push them right now.
Don’t Congregate or Socialize
If you’re just jonesing to make a hot lap around town, take this time to ride solo and to get some two wheeled therapy in for yourself. Riding solo is one of my favorite things to do for many reasons, but not having to worry about anyone else is one of the biggest reasons I enjoy it most. You are going to be okay if you ride alone. Be the big, confident, scary biker society sees you as and be a lone wolf with pride! Rawr.
If you choose to ride with others, keep it to only those you live with. Don’t run in the gas station and buy beers or sodas to cheers with your friends. I feel like these things should be common sense, but I guess I’ll continue to type them out so we can further discuss examples of cross contamination prevention.
Don’t Do it For the ‘Gram
I see so many brands and individuals in the motorcycle industry promoting the idea of riding motorcycles at the moment. While I wholeheartedly understand that yes, motorcycles are great and we need people riding to keep the industry thriving, and that you can follow simple social distancing protocols on two wheels, it just isn’t that simple.
While I highly support the theory, I hope that anyone who chooses to get some time on two wheels thinks about how they are impacting others. Are you using a credit card or cash and handing it to someone or placing it in a machine used by others? Are you touching a gas pump and not washing your hands before and after? There are many factors to consider.
Would you want to ride this badly if you didn’t see others doing it online? What about if companies weren’t asking you to tag them in your content with their quarantine-specific hashtags? Could you do it without doing it for the ‘gram, and/or encourage others to make necessary precautions before going out in public?
We all want to ride, and we all want life to go back to normal. So let’s get on the same page and proactively discuss riding responsibly during COVID-19. The sooner we all take progressive measures to contain this virus, the sooner we can all go back to having fun on two wheels.
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