Getting on the Bike During Covid-19 – FAQS
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about Running Responsibly During Covid-19, in the time since then, the snow has melted, the grass has started to turn green, and the crisis has extended its stay. But while gyms and studios have remained closed, its safe to say that we have seen a proliferation in the number of individuals pursuing back to basics fitness. More people are running, pathways are full of couples taking long walks, and bikes seem to be back in style.
But in the immortalized words of LL Cool J, “don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”. As a cyclist I couldn’t be happier that people seem to be rediscovering the simple joy of riding a bike. I love bikes, and I honestly think that the world would be a better place if everyone in it found the bike that is right for them. When you’re a kid, a bike is your ticket to freedom and the means by which you leave the sights of your parents home and explore the world. However some time around when we discover taking the bus, or when we get our first car, for many of us the simple joy of riding a bike is stowed away and forgotten.
Fast forward to today. Or this year. Over the past month I’ve received more texts and DMs about bikes than ever before. So, as your “bike guy”, I thought I’d take a few moments to capture all your FAQ’s about getting back into biking during Covid right here.
This is a loaded question and a half, but what I always tell people is, buy the bike that is best suited to 90% of your riding. Lets break it down.
- Leisure riding – If you’re looking to commute anywhere from 5-20km each way, or looking for a bike to take on a mellow 45 minute ride around the pathways, I’d recommend a hybrid bike like the Trek FX or Specialized Sirrus. These bikes are characterized by an upright seating position, flat handle bars, and 700c wheels. They’re ideal for fitness and leisure on paved or gravel pathways, bike lanes, and parks.
- Road Biking – If you’re looking to ride longer than 60 minutes on a regular basis, or have friends who ride road bikes and are just getting into road biking, I’d recommend an endurance road bike like the Trek Domane or Checkpoint, or the Giant Defy. When you get into riding those longer distances and durations, the versatility of drop bars and more aerodynamic body position allows you to ride more efficiently without relinquishing too much comfort. Road bikes like these are great for everything from bombing around town for leisure rides, or heading out for a 3 hour ride with friends on some quiet country roads.
- Mountain bikes – Mountain bikes are characterized by smaller diameter, higher volume tires, front and/or rear suspensions, disc brakes, and more upright body positions. The transition from the instances where you may need a hybrid bike versus a mountain bike depends, but usually when you start straying away from gravel pathways and into narrower trails with rocks and roots is when a mountain bike would be the best tool for the job.
- Others – There’s a whole range of other categories that I could get into but hybrids, road bikes, and mountain bikes account for about 80% of the bikes that most of my readers are interested in. I could get into niches like fatbikes, crusier bikes, touring bikes, gravel bikes, e assist bikes, but chances are if you’re interested in those bikes, chances are you’re a bit beyond this post already.
If you’re still unsure which category you fall into, think about what your friends ride, and ask them questions about how and where they ride. Chances are you’ll be riding with friends and family when this is all over so generally they’ll be able to provide a bit of insight towards your decision as well.
The second question I’ll receive is how much someone should spend on a bike. Or rather, its usually the first question that I ask others when they ask me about where to find a bike. If you’re looking for a used hybrid bike to just get onto two wheels, then usually around $300 or $400 is a decent place to start. But if you’re buying used for that amount, you should expect to be taking the bike in for a tune-up that’ll run you another $100 plus parts.
So in my totally honest opinion, going used for a hybrid bike generally isn’t THE BEST option. Bikes like the Trek FX start new at about $500 to $600 and will often include the first year or two of servicing. Plus you know you’re getting the right sized bike, and you can select from one or two options. I figure, if you’re going to spend $400 plus $100 on a used bike plus service, you may as well spend $600 on a brand new bike thats yours and only yours. Right now however, during Covid, bikes in that $500-$1000 sweet spot are actually a little scarce so you may need to do some shopping.
If you’re looking into getting a new or used road or mountain bike, that number starts to go up quickly. Typically decent used road or mountain bikes will start at around $1000. If you have any questions on that specifically, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Also, if you’re looking for a used road or triathlon bike and debating your options, I wrote a really great piece on what to look for in a used triathlon bike that probably no one read, so check that out for way more detail!
If you’re looking for a used bike, there are three picks on where to find what you’re looking for in Canada.
First of all, Facebook Marketplace has more and more decent options for bike shopping. What I like about Facebook Marketplace is that you can see who’s selling the item, ask them questions, and check to see that they’re legit. Secondly, Kijiji is always a decent go to for used in Canada. And thirdly is Pinkbike.com, which is more of a legit cyclist/mountain biker’s scene.
Kijiji and Facebook differ from Pinkbike in that Pinkbike is generally populated by more experienced riders. So you’ll often find people who know the ins and outs of their bikes a lot better, and you’ll usually find higher quality bikes on there priced somewhat fairly. On the flip side, Kijiji and Facebook can be all over the map sometimes with hilariously overpriced “Canadian Tire Specials” and suspiciously underpriced diamonds in the rough. Whenever I list my bikes I always list them on all three, but Kijiji and Facebook are a bit of a free for all when it comes to pricing and the quality of bikes.
Now if you’re looking for a new bike, I strongly recommend your local bike shop (“LBS”). I work casually at Ridley’s Cycle in Calgary and they’ve got a fantastic team there that’ll get you on the right bike. If you want to set yourself up for success, have an idea of what kind of riding you plan to do, and have an idea of your budget, and be prepared to spend another $100-$200 on things like helmets, pedals, bike pump, etc.
When you buy a bike, its not just the bike that you need. If you’re dusting your bike off from the garage right now and the tires are flat, you’re probably wonder what the next step in getting that bike road worthy may be. Here’s a list of things that every bike owner should have, and ideally know how to use, but thats a whole other question.
- Helmet ($50-$300)- Helmets are not mandatory in Calgary but I STRONGLY recommend you wear one. If you don’t think you do, go buy a melon from the supermarket, get in your car, bring it up to 30kph, and then throw the melon out the window and see what happens. I can go on and on about what kind of helmet to purchase, but lets just start with get yourself a proper bicycle helmet.
- A bike bell ($5-$20) – This on the other hand IS MANDATORY in Calgary, as it should be. Every bike that sees pavement ought to have a bell, and you ought to use it. Period.
- Bike Pump ($50-$100) – I’m shocked at how many people buy bikes without buying a bike pump. And when you go buy your bike the salesperson really ought to be selling you a bike pump with it. Believe it or not but rubber is actually very porous and bike tires loose air over time and you should check the tire pressure on your bike every few rides or so. To buy a bike without a bike pump (preferably a floor pump) is like buying a mobile phone without the charging cable.
- Flat repair kit ($20-$50) – This is actually a bunch of things in case you get a flat tire while you’re riding but its basically a spare tire tube, a tire lever, a CO2 cartridge or hand pump, and a multitool. Once you have all that, head on over to YouTube and familiarize yourself with the basics of changing a tire.
- Bike shorts ($50-$200) – Not entirely necessary, but a total game changer for anyone putting more than an hour or so in the saddle. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who rides their bike a lot if they’d ride without bike shorts.
- Bike Lights ($20-$100) – This also isn’t a must, but I strongly recommend bike lights that are visible to vehicles even during the daytime. Drivers get distracted, lights get their attention. I don’t ride on the road without a daytime rear bike light.
After all those things there are all the other obvious things like fancy pedals and shoes, bike gloves, expensive jackets, panniers, Garmins, etc. But the above five items are what I use every time I get in the saddle.
As of May 3 in most if not all Canadian municipalities, yes! As long as you are not infected with COVID-19, symptomatic, or otherwise self-isolating you may ride your bike.
Riding a bicycle is compatible with physical distancing. The City of Calgary even notes the 2 metres (6 feet) is about the distance of a bicycle (a practical reminder!):
Riding a bike extends how far you can travel to buy groceries or pick up prescriptions without sharing a vehicle. Cycling opens up our neighbourhoods when many of us are feeling locked in.
Before you go out and after you return to your place of residence, it is recommended to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. Be cautious using any shared facilities as surfaces frequently touched with hands are more likely to be contaminated.
Other measures to prevent infection, include:
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then immediately throw the tissue in the garbage and wash your hands
- If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (e.g., bicycle handlebars, brake levers and gear shifters)
Exercise is still important for maintaining your physical and mental health. However, Toronto Public Health recommends that you get exercise without leaving your residence, if possible. If you must go outside for exercise, be sure to maintain physical distance.
As of May 3 most if not all municipalities across Canada do not recommend group rides or social rides even if you are keeping 2 metres apart. The only exception is for people that you are currently residing with.
The Federal and Provincial sport governing bodies Cycling Canada and the Alberta Bicycling Association, Cycling BC, and Ontario Cycling Association have also cancelled/postponed all upcoming cycling events and races. As well, the Ontario Cycling Association recommends that clubs, athletes, and members “postpone or cancel any gatherings such as group rides and in-person group meetings for the immediate future” for the health and safety of their athletes and families.
Ride, but ride solo.
For the weekend warrior, once every three to four months is about right. For most leisure or family riders, typically once a season (usually in spring) is sufficient. As for what we need to do to the bike, it all depends on the condition of it.
At the shop we’ll first look at the drivetrain for wear and tear. That’s the chain, cassette, derailleurs and crank. It’s the key part that moves the bike. Following that, I’d look at brakes, cables and the suspension for any fluid leaks. If all’s good, we’d clean it out and oil it up.
Your local bike shop is always the best first place to start when you’re figuring out where to get your bike serviced. Google something like “bike repair near me”, and you’re golden. Check out Google reviews, find a reputable shop, and give them a ring. That being said, if you’re looking to get your bike serviced in the spring (when everyone else has the same idea) expect to be booking an appointment at least a couple weeks out.
Bike repair shops in many districts are considered to be essential services and are often categorized under “vehicle and equipment repair and essential maintenance and vehicle and equipment rental services.”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, many essential activities happen on bicycle:
- cargo and food delivery
- picking up family groceries/medication
- commutes by workers to essential services
Cycling is a key part of our transportation network, and bike shops are vital to supporting that transportation network.
If you’re in Calgary during Covid-19 right now I’d also recommend my buddies over at Ride Bikes & Service. They do mobile bike service and repairs at very reasonable rates, and typically they can get you in pretty quick.
I’m not even going to try and explain this one. Here’s a link to a really good article on REI that breaks it down. And here is a link to a decent Bike Fit Calculator on Competitive Cyclist.
I always see people riding bikes that don’t fit them, or riding bikes that COULD fit them but are set up incorrectly. The risk that you run riding a bike that doesn’t fit you is back pain, knee pain, elbow pain, neck pain, twitchy steering, lack of control, risk of looking stupid, and hating biycles. I strongly recommend you check out the two aforementioned links before you buy any bike.
One of my favourite tools for discovering new routes is Strava Heatmaps. You can do a search for your community and learn where other riders and runners are heading out. Similarly, if you own a Garmin watch or training device, Garmin Connect has popularity routing that you can use to create new routes, and then push to your watch for directions!
Always be sure to use common sense when you’re riding. Bike specific pathways, bike lanes, and quiet country roads are my favourite go-to’s for my rides. Right now I’m generally trying to stay away from the popular routes because I’m trying to avoid people in general, and I’d advise other riders to get creative and do the same.
If you’re interested in where I ride, you’re welcome to check my Strava profile for route ideas.
Here are my simple rules about bike etiquette, partly during Covid-19, but generally applicable all the time.
- Ride appropriate to the conditions. The bike speed limits in Calgary are 20kph almost everywhere. It doesn’t take much to exceed that speed limit. If you’re riding at 6am on an empty piece of pathway without a soul in sight and want to exceed that, whatever, cool, I would to. But if you’re riding through a busy pedestrian thoroughfare at lunch hour with kids and dogs and pedestrians, then take it super easy and be a good ambassador for everyone on two wheels.
- When you pass someone, use your bell, maybe say “passing on your left”, and bonus points for when you say thanks when you pass.
- Ride predictably and use hand signals to indicate your intention to turn or stop.
- When a cyclist gives you a wave or a nod, wave back, its awkward for them if you don’t.
- Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not for bikes.
- Don’t lose it at drivers if they catch you by surprise. I could rant about this forever but throwing your water bottle at a car that buzzed you will only make that driver hate cyclists more.
Now, for road cyclists, there is a special set of rules that must be followed. The rules of the Velominati and you can find them here.
Have a question that I missed? Leave it in the comments below as I’ll be adding to these FAQs as I go!
Sweating Responsibly During the Covid-19 Crisis
I’ll say this in no uncertain terms, it is our collective responsibility as a society to take care of one another, and look after those most vulnerable among us. This means observing whatever directives put forth in your region by the government and health experts. As I write this in Alberta, it means observing physical distancing practices. For my readers abroad, it may mean observing physical distancing practices and staying within the confines of your home with the exception of going out for groceries or going to the doctor.
The simple fact of the matter is that as the Covid-19 pandemic affects regions differently, we’ll all be observing different measures depending on the severity of the situation. Right now, my brave friends who work in the Calgary Health Region are telling me that there’s an unsettling calm before the storm thats set in through the hallways of the hospitals. Elective surgeries have been postponed, and beds have been made available, hopefully for the crisis that never comes.
They’re doing their part to be ready for the influx. Your part in that process is to not go mountain biking, trail running, cave diving, scootering, road biking, backcountry skiing, extreme fishing, skijoring, or anything else of the sorts that pushes you beyond or near the limits of your skill level, such that you would in any way that would risk you ending up taking a moment of their precious time. No one is saying that you can’t go for a ride or a run because you’re responsible for looking after yourself, but the moment your decision to “send it” lands you in a hospital, then others are responsible for looking after you when they could be looking after someone who didn’t have the luxury of deciding on where they’d land themselves.
Anyways, there’s nothing more important than staying healthy these days. I encourage everyone out there to keep fit, make good decisions, stay healthy, and look after one another. Have a great ride!