Adjusting to New Realities

Adjusting to New Realities

In uncertain times, it’s good to remember what is important to us and how we can continue to enjoy our lives. Cycling is what we do, and, fortunately, it’s something we can continue to do.

Yesterday, I pulled an old magazine from our archives, published in 1944 by the French Cyclotouring Federation amidst war and German occupation. With beautiful photos and inspirational texts, it reminded cyclists that there was a beautiful world out there, waiting for times to get better. It’s a symbol of resilience in the face of difficulty, and it’s helped me cope with the current situation.

Here is Seattle, we’ve been living with the new realities for a while. Just over two weeks ago, during a bike ride, Mark shared the news that the virus was spreading in our community. The same strain that had infected the first U.S. case two months ago also caused the first death six weeks later. The virus had traveled undetected for six weeks – it was clear that we were seeing the tip of the iceberg.

While our local, state and national leaders dithered and procrastinated, we began taking measures on our own. Social distancing was the first, obvious step. Implementing workplace precautions was the next. Checking with our suppliers and examining which of our outstanding orders might be affected – mostly by a slow-down of transportation – was last.

Beyond that, life has continued. We have been doing what we can to minimize the risk to ourselves and others. And once we had taken these measures, we stopped worrying. We no longer follow the news every hour, because it doesn’t affect how we live.

What does this mean in practice, as we ride our bikes? Not much, really. Now I prefer to ride alone or with a single friend. Drafting in close quarters and breathing hard is something that I’d rather avoid.

As the wind carries micro-droplets away to the back, riding in close quarters isn’t a problem as long as we ride two abreast. Fortunately, our favorite routes see little traffic, and there is no need to ride ‘single file.’

Coffee stops have become picnic stops instead. I bring a thermos with hot tea in my handlebar bag… We sit a little further apart as we drink our tea.

The emotional impact of the rapidly changing situation has been hard for many. I am reminded of the French cyclotourists, who continued to cycle during the war. When curfews and travel restrictions made long cyclotouring trips impossible, they turned to competition in Paris and its environs. Events like sprints in the Bois de Boulogne and cyclocross races on Montmartre provided much-needed distraction. Cycling clubs became support networks during the difficult times.

For us, it’s the opposite: Competition is no longer on the cards, but long trips to the solitude of the mountains are the best way of social distancing. We may not be able to travel to foreign countries for a while, but there is plenty to explore close to home.

Compared to the German occupation of Paris, the restrictions associated with the virus are manageable. And just like the occupation, this will not last forever. Let’s stay strong and do the right thing. And let’s support each other, even if we can’t ride together for a while.

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Comments (27)

  • Mark

    Thanks for some much needed perspective.

    I try to remember that here in Australia no one is regularly sniping, shelling, or firing missiles (at) me; or setting land-mines. Neither are we hard up for food. And here at least, we also have excellent, free, and complete medical coverage—it’s under strain, but doctors are not working under canvas, in the open, or without electricity.

    I also remind myself that many—most?—people in the world live with a much greater sense of hazard all the time.

    March 16, 2020 at 3:04 am
  • David Hsu

    Thank you for this excellent post.

    March 16, 2020 at 3:24 am
  • Larry T

    Everyone has to decide how best to cope with this individually but estimates are you folks in the USA are about three weeks behind us here in Italy as far as the spread of Covid-19 is concerned. When they closed things down here Italian National Team cycling director Davide Cassani (and others) suggested everyone take a break from cycling, even if you think it doesn’t put your “social distance” in danger. Not only will you show solidarity, but you’ll make sure you won’t tax an already (or soon to be) overwhelmed healthcare system if you fall off your bike and get hurt. As a result we’re not going out on ours until April 3 when the quarantine is supposed to end.
    Stay safe out there everyone, we’re ALL in this together, worldwide.

    March 16, 2020 at 3:34 am
    • Jan Heine

      Our thoughts have been with our Italian friends, acquaintances and customers. As you say, we’re all in this together.

      I agree that racing and other events that are crash-prone are best avoided. However, for the back-road rides that we enjoy, most of us should be able to keep the rubber side down. Still, it’s a good reminder to use extra caution and not to push the limits.

      March 16, 2020 at 6:51 am
    • calcagnolibero

      I live in Italy and agree with you. Cycliing is an inherently dangerous actitity due to other motorized street users.

      March 16, 2020 at 1:30 pm
  • Russ Ford

    Thank-you. Well said. Here in Vermont where it is still winter we are closing down our ski areas and schools, and figuring out how to re-purpose their kitchens to provide meals for delivery to the people who are most vulnerable and at risk to hunger and to COVID-19 during this emergency. I will ski alone in the woods (and ride when the season changes) enough to keep myself sane and healthy, but I won’t be traveling or spending money for sport. If a neighbor needs a bike I’ve got a couple to spare.

    March 16, 2020 at 3:41 am
  • Ingemar Bergmark

    Well written!

    I live in Siheung, South Korea (west coast, near Seoul).
    My wife and I have taken similar measures to make sure we’re as safe as possible during our rides. We avoid cycling in groups, and we wear KN-95 sports masks while outside mainly to keep out fine dust, but also for protection against the virus. Our usual coffee stops have been replaced with a backpack containing drinks and snacks, and we only stop where we’ll most likely be alone.

    These are challenging times, however, I believe by taking a few precautions we can continue to do what we love…ride.

    March 16, 2020 at 3:54 am
  • Christian

    Hallo Jan,

    Best regards or schöne Grüße from Germany and thanks for this kind and encouraging article. Same situation here: Social distance and working in the home office as far as possible, the cities and the highways are remarkably empty, schools and universities are closed, the students stay at home but nevertheless have to do their lessons. I hope that we soon accustom ourselves to the changed circumstances, calm down and go on in a good manner.
    Meanwhile I take my time on my bike to explore new gravel roads and trails in the Rhein Main area as well as in the hills of Spessart and Odenwald. Due to 2 hours less driving time to my office, I can spend the time on the bike.
    Best wishes

    March 16, 2020 at 5:04 am
  • Dana Shifflett

    There’s nothing I could add to this. Good words, from a fresh perspective. Cyclists are indeed fortunate to have a relatively unaffected avocation.

    March 16, 2020 at 6:20 am
  • Rick Mitchell

    Hi Jan,

    Apparently cycling is not allowed under Spain’s lock down, and cyclists have been getting tickets there for being out. So far that’s not the case in France, but that may not last.

    March 16, 2020 at 6:40 am
    • Jan Heine

      I can understand that in countries where most cyclists ride for transportation, bikes are included in a general ban on moving around to gathering places. For us in the U.S., riding on backroads keeps us healthy (both physically and mentally), which is important. And (unfortunately) it’s unlikely that the backroads will become so crowded with cyclists that there will be a risk of spreading the infection.

      March 16, 2020 at 6:58 am
  • Rod Bruckdorer

    Jan: Well said.

    March 16, 2020 at 6:52 am
  • Eduardo

    Enjoy biking while you’re free
    Here in Spain biking is forbiden now days since last Saturday. We are in lock down pedaling indoor on the static bike in the living room.
    A disaster.

    March 16, 2020 at 7:00 am
    • Jan Heine

      Our thoughts are with you. We’re all in this together. Let’s hope it passes (relatively) quickly and without too much harm.

      March 16, 2020 at 7:12 am
  • John

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you as well to all people who added comments. Adjusting to the new reality here in Texas. I’m more grateful for my bicycle than ever. My thoughts go out to all of us as we navigate this uncertain time. One strange gift I am also grateful for is this: to remember how connected, linked, we all are. Here’s to the rippling out of that insight. Take care.

    March 16, 2020 at 7:04 am
  • david


    Your thoughts put some much needed perspective on our situation.
    My Sunday ride provided healthy exercise, but more importantly, that very much needed mental refreshment…
    As you noted, social distancing is one of the most important elements of “flattening the curve” of an outbreak .
    The only other thing that I’d mention is to keep your neighbors in mind, and help more vulnerable folks if possible.
    Maybe, shopping for another more vulnerable person, if you’re going shopping, or simply checking on another persons well being..
    We ARE all in this together..

    March 16, 2020 at 7:37 am
    • Jan Heine

      Shopping for vulnerable neighbors (and leaving the products at their door) can be a good way to help them limit their exposure

      March 16, 2020 at 7:44 am
  • jgshinton

    That old magazine looks really cool. Wouldn’t it be great if these could published more widely?

    March 16, 2020 at 7:48 am
  • Georgena Terry

    Brilliant, Jan — thank you! I’m going to take your René Herse book off the bookshelf and re-read those chapters about coping with the war. We are definitely not alone.

    March 16, 2020 at 8:34 am
  • mike kone

    If there is concern regarding cycling based on what’s happening in Spain, this might be an interesting data point. The Colorado Department of Public Health issued an advisory that all folks are/who were in the mountain ski towns to minimize contact (sorta quarantine light). But it specifically stated that folks might want to take part in running or cycling (avoiding crowds) during this period. So my state health department is telling me/us to ride! Be safe out there

    March 16, 2020 at 8:43 am
  • Sukho

    Thanks for putting this out, Jan. Strange times, but positivity and perspective are what’s needed, not fear and paranoia. A big chunk of the world’s population lives (and has lived) in much worse conditions than any quarantine or severe measure that may occur for us in developed countries. They still seem able to find reasons to smile. We most certainly will get through this!

    March 16, 2020 at 9:13 am
  • Bill Hague

    Great advice for a troubling period in our lives. Thanks

    March 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm
  • Yan Fargeot

    Very poignant and well presented….After France’s new measures tonight we can still cycle….for now

    March 16, 2020 at 1:49 pm
    • Vince

      Yes, that’s right, there is some tolerance for going out exercising. But I prefer to ride relatively near my home and to choose secluded dirt roads rather than regular paved roads where we cyclists are more visible and where there is a risk of being considered law “bypassers”. A few images posted on social media going viral can force authorities to be stricter and totally ban outdoor exercices if people start riding out their bikes like they were on a normal Sunday morning.
      I’d love to ride like Jan writes in the article, but France does not have the small population density found in the Washington state (although some areas near me like Lozère are very remote) but I’ll refrain from doing that right now.

      March 17, 2020 at 8:55 am
      • Jan Heine

        We all have to adapt what we do. I commend you for acting responsibly – not only considering your actions, but also the perception they create.

        March 17, 2020 at 11:16 am
      • marmotte27

        You’re right Vince in your analysis. I have to add though that we wouldn’t be in that situation if people on the whole cared more for one another and apllied a little more logic to their actions.
        France had to impose those strict measures banning going outside only because large swathes of the population wouldn’t respect the previous recommenadtions on social distancing, and insisted on going to the city centres, going to cafes meeting in groups in parks etc.
        Now the sportspeople practising individual sports on their own on remote roads, which doesn’t present any risk for other people, have to submit to not practising their sport because other people wouldn’t show that solidarity.
        Same goes for all those people stockpiling food, toilet papaer and what not, deeply selfish actions that make no senes whatsoever but are making life difficult for everyone.

        March 18, 2020 at 3:26 am
  • Owen

    I feel guilty reading the comments from those in France, Italy, and Spain. I’m in Marin County, California, however our shelter in place order makes an exception for exercise and outdoor activities provided we maintain appropriate social distancing. We’re allowed to be outside alone or with members from our own households. It’s a blessing the trails of Mt. Tamalpias here are still open. What can we do for you all in those places where the restrictions are more rigorous? What opportunities does this present for us to come together, albeit if they’re only virtual?

    Definitely not advocating flooding social media with ride photos, but maybe folks have other suggestions?

    March 17, 2020 at 9:25 pm

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