As a cycling club and team I was proud of our initial response to the pandemic. For many of us back in March, myself included, the risks of the virus seemed remote. It was news that was circulating, but didn’t personally resonate. It was like that random news story of some terrorist attack in the Middle East – a tragedy for somebody, but not something that would impact my immediate world, and certainly not something I was going to alter my life over.
As far as managing the club, planning group rides and other activities, it was business as usual as far as I was concerned. That is, until one of our members who is a doctor emailed me and told me I needed shut down the group ride. Within his purview, reading the internal emails at the hospital and being privy to inside information from those whose business it is to pay attention to such things, according to him things were “very scary.”
We discussed this internally and reached out to another doctor on our squad and asked her opinion about shutting down our group rides. Her response in a lot of ways was a reflection of how most all of us saw this at the time, even many epidemiologists. “If you had asked me yesterday, I would have told you not to worry, but I agree. I think it’s time to shut down the rides.” For most of us it takes reaching a tipping point to where we are forced to face reality in stark terms and dramatically change course in our daily lives. And so the group rides were suspended.
We have had two weeks in a row of an official remote ride. First Malibu, then Palomar. This week we will be doing Glendora Mountain Road. I was initially disposed to start regular Saturday rides again with certain distance safeguards in place. Now, with an uptick in cases, I’m not so sure.
It’s important to maintain our social connections. For us a big part of our connection to a community is through cycling. We are social creatures, and if you want to look at our health more broadly, you can make an argument that social contact and community connections are essential from a public health perspective.
Social contact actually does effect us in physical ways that improve physical health. If you consider that humans are a complex stew of neurotransmitters and protein signalers and feedback loops, this makes sense. Community and social contact elicit the release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones that a buffer against those antagonistic stress hormones such as cortisol, which, if continuously elevated lead to a suppressed immune response. So, more positive social interactions, better immune system.
But forget about all that. We just know, instinctively, that we can’t be isolated; that we need to have social contact. We all feel it. The challenge is to find the right balance between our instinctive need to be a part of a community and have social contact with the responsibility to minimize the risk to us and to those around us. We have an obligation to the larger community as well.
So, we will tentatively take steps to reintroduce group riding, starting with our climbing remote rides simply because it’s easier to manage human separation. I will continue to monitor the current status of the pandemic, do my best to stay abreast of the latest on what we know about its spread and transmission, to understand current guidelines and best practices, to consult with those with more knowledge, and try to synthesize it all into practice.
What we now do know is that the virus spreads predominantly, though not exclusively, through longer close contact in indoor settings. You are unlikely to get it through fleeting exposure outside. All well and good, but sitting in someone’s slipstream for three hours while they breath heavily and spray their effluence everywhere is not exactly “fleeting.” So, barring new information, I will continue to avoid the traditional large peloton group ride.
Can we safely reintroduce a regular Saturday ride that leaves in staggered starts with small groups of 2-3, or with a distance of 10 feet or more?
Can R5 host a social event outside, in a park for instance, with with distancing guidelines?
These are things that are possibilities, but not foregone conclusions, and I welcome your feedback. This is your club, too.