Still Closed But Never Closeted

And Future Awesomeness Awaits!

Long story short: we are not restarting club rides yet and we will revisit the issue in six weeks.

After a long discussion the board came to a consensus that we were not comfortable with allowing club rides at this time. What led to that decision? Frankly it was a surprise to me because in the previous discussions there was a palpable feeling that we were open to the idea of having group rides again as long as the membership and ride leaders were comfortable with it, hence the poll on the website. In case you haven’t looked at the poll recently, over a third of the club responded and a little over half were inclined to attend a club ride, about a third weren’t, and rest were undecided. If that were representative of the whole club, I personally would have been in favor of allowing club rides all other things being equal because there was probably enough interest for small group rides (three or four participants). That said, personally I probably would not be leading rides at this point.

But in the past month the situation in the real world changed: the COVID-19 positivity rate started to inch up in the Bay Area, and as you know many other sections of the country including Southern California have seen alarming increases in infection, hospitalization, and ICU admissions. The Governor has put all Bay Area counties except San Mateo on alert because the numbers have not been going in the right direction. Face mask use has been inconsistent if not mostly absent. Counties have had to backtrack on reopening and there is even talk of going back to the initial lockdown to squelch the virus. So all other things are not equal after all!

When the board met again last week most of us now turned out to be more wary of restarting rides. Everyone on the board is a ride leader and obviously more involved and active than the “average” member yet we were feeling that now is not the right time to reopen. Most of us were also ambivalent or not enthusiastic about joining any group ride right now, club or otherwise.

So we decided to punt and wait roughly two more cycles of county health orders to see if the infection rates can be reduced or whether they’re still going to worsen. (County health departments generally wait two or three weeks to see how the rates respond to a new health order or alert.)

You might be wondering what other clubs are doing. Here in the Bay Area initially in March all clubs shut down their rides. Now about two-thirds of recreational cycling and racing clubs still do not allow group rides. The only clubs that currently allow outdoor group rides are Western Wheelers, Sunnyvale Cupertino Cycling Club, Santa Rosa Cycling Club, Benicia Cycling Club, Hercules Cycling Club, and Alto Velo Racing (in Santa Clara County). Western Wheelers now has club rides in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, their home turf, because those counties allow outdoor recreation of up to 50 and 60 participants respectively; Sunnyvale Cupertino CC has rides also in Santa Clara and San Mateo. Santa Rosa Cycling Club has rides in Sonoma where recreation businesses may do so after creating a COVID-19 compliance plan. Hercules and Benicia are two clubs that have just gone ahead with group rides despite their counties—Contra Costa and Solano respectively–not allowing group gatherings. Diablo Cyclists in Contra Costa County also seem to have group rides listed on their website but it’s not clear if those rides are actually taking place or not.

Here is the list of Bay Area clubs that do not allow group rides at this time: in the East Bay, Veloraptors (Oakland), Oakland Yellow Jackets, Cherry City Cyclists (Hayward) , Grizzly Peak Cyclists (Berkeley), Fremont Freewheelers, Berkeley Bicycle Club, and Valley Spokesmen (Dublin/Livermore); in the South Bay, Almaden Cycle Touring Club, San Jose Bicycle Club, and Velogirls; in the North Bay, Marin Cyclists; in the West Bay, Golden Gate Cyclists and Peninsula Velo. That said you would have to be blind not to see groups of cyclists, some in club kit, riding together. However they are doing it unofficially and not under the auspices of any club (not including the exceptions listed above).

Feedback from Western Wheelers and Santa Rosa Cycling Club has been that their members—since both clubs restrict their rides right now only to members—have been very good with social distancing and using face coverings on rides so far. According to our bylaws we cannot restrict club rides just to members, so we are not in a position to exert that much control over whom we allow to join club rides.

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Conduct A Poll

In June both Sonoma and San Mateo counties announced revisions in their shelter in place orders that allow group outdoor recreation with a capped number as long as the usual social distancing protocols and use of face coverings are followed. San Mateo allows groups of up to 50 to bike, run, hike, etc. and Sonoma allows groups of up to 12 for recreation businesses. Santa Clara County will allow outdoor group gatherings up to 60 starting July 13. San Francisco’s and Marin’s latest orders are more ambiguous but seem to allow outdoor recreation businesses to take place with restrictions; whether that applies to us is unclear. The other counties either do not allow group gatherings or allow very limited gatherings of social bubbles or at most members of two households, so riding as a club in those counties is not feasible right now.

Already some clubs are rousing from their forced hibernation and have rides on the calendar. Western Wheelers on the Midpeninsula is allowing club rides in San Mateo (and shortly, Santa Clara also) and Santa Rosa Cycling Club is calendaring club rides in Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties.

The board is currently discussing the details of how we can offer rides safely in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. We know that there need to be some new rules for club rides—maintaining social distancing, bringing a face covering and using it in specific situations, no physical contact—and there are others that are subject to debate and discussion, eg. mandatory preregistration to control for numbers, also use of the electronic waiver to avoid having to pass around paper and pen, and what responsibilities the ride leaders should have around safety on rides. There are also other issues that have to be resolved such as whether our liability insurance covers the club for suits around COVID-19 infection and whether we’ll need a separate COVID-19 waiver. The club also needs to decide whether to apply as a non-profit business for group gatherings in counties such as Sonoma that require COVID-19 compliance plans on file.

It may not appear so on the surface but getting the club ready to offer ride again has and will continue to involve a fair amount of work and obviously will require a change in how we conduct rides and how participants comport themselves. In other words it will not be the same as before and we will all have to cooperate in altering our conduct. Given the work involved and the degree of change we’ll all have to adopt, the board doesn’t want the cart get ahead of the horse, so to speak. We need to know: how do members feel personally about joining a group ride right now especially with the infection rate beginning to spike in California? If members are not ready to join group rides or are unsure and ambivalent, then there is little reason for the board to charge ahead at this time. If you are a current member, we would like to know how you feel about personally participating in a club ride. Please log in to the club website and respond to the poll, which you will find under the “Resources” tab or just hit this link. If you would like to leave more detailed input, go to the general forum at the website and respond on the thread about reopening rides.

When Tubeless Road Tires Are Awesome

I thought I was done expounding on tubeless road tires last September; mostly I was recounting their various annoying aspects because they are usually overlooked in all the hype around The Next Greatest Bike Thing. I’ve been planning to switch the tubeless tires to regular tubed tires after the Schwalbes wore out. The reason for going back to tubes was that I wanted to be able to switch tires back and forth on those wheels depending on where I was planning to ride next, and tubeless sealant would make that a big messy hassle. (Of course the other option would be to spend a lot of money on another set of wheels; then I would have a knobbier pair for fire roads/ pavement and a smooth set for pavement/occasionally fire roads.)

Then yesterday we went for a ride in an area that was replete with street debris. Let’s just say either their street cleaning is infrequent or their residents like to smash bottles. A lot. I ran through a couple of piles of glass but didn’t give it much thought other than to make a note to check the tires later on. With tubeless even that is unnecessary if the tires are still holding air. We made it home and I threw the bike in the corner.

This morning I checked the tires. 95% of the time I don’t find anything. Rather than glass this time I found something else embedded in the rear tire:

I thought it was just a flint since only the head was exposed. When I pulled it out I realized it was an entire nail. The tire had held pressure, which is why I hadn’t notice anything amiss. Of course when I pulled it out, air rushed out. I quickly rolled the wheel so the hole was at the bottom and sealant bubbled out. Within 30 seconds hole was sealed.

So despite tubeless tires having a set of problems all their own, in the usual use case and conditions they work rather flawlessly. I was able to finish the ride ignorant of the puncture and probably would have ridden a lot more with that nail still embedded if I hadn’t decided to be Boy Scout-like and check them the next day.

So despite my trepidations about using road tubeless, there are times when they are truly awesome.

Fall Centuries [updated 9/3]

Having been made impossible by the pandemic some spring centuries were postponed to this fall rather than cancelled outright. Now cancellations of the postponement dates are starting to trickle in. The uncertainty about the pandemic and whether large groups will be allowed has also led to some fall rides being cancelled and others to remain in a holding pattern and hope for the best.

Only a couple of one summer century still remains un-cancelled: the Alta Alpina Challenge set for July 25 and [Alta Alpina Challenge is now cancelled for 2020] the Fall River Century on July 18, which is just two weeks away. After that you’ll have to wait until September for your next chance of a big ride. The former is in Alpine county, home of its mate the Markleeville Death Ride (cancelled), and which has had only three COVID-19 cases to date. However the Alta Alpine Cycling Club has adjusted the event so that rest stops are almost unsupported to minimize contact with staff. However there is still a chance that permits won’t be issued and the event will be cancelled at the last minute. The Fall River Century takes place in Shasta county, which until a few weeks ago had hardly any confirmed COVID-19 cases and then a superspreading event occurred and it now has 92.

[9/3: Other than the Fall River Century in July every other century/gran fondo ride in Northern California through the end of 2020 has been cancelled or ‘postponed’ to 2021 (= euphemism for ‘cancelled’–I doubt they’ll be called, for example, “the 2020 Wild Turkey Century on July 4, 2021!”)]


Gold Country Challenge. Was postponed from June 13 to September but now is cancelled.

5 Saturday. Mile High 100. $55-85. 33-, 56-, and 108-mile routes. A beautiful ride around Lake Almanor near Chester, CA. If cancelled your reg fee minus processing will be refunded. Now cancelled. (When you attempt to register, then you are told the event is cancelled.)

12 Saturday. Best Buddies Challenge. $50 fee plus $1,550 minimum fundraising. 30-, 62-, or 100-mile routes but will be different than in past because of closure of Hearst Ranch. The event has gone virtual for 2020; see website for details.

25-27 Friday through Sunday. Eroica California. $200. 40-, 73-, 87-, and 127-mile routes. 1,500 riders max. Mixed surface routes. You must have a vintage bicycle to ride the classic route. [7/22: Now “posponed until 2021” (sic). Note no date in 2021 has been announced. If you registered for 2020, it will be carried over to 2021.]

26 Saturday. Bike Around the Buttes. Postponed from April 18, it is now cancelled.

27 Sunday. Jensie Gran Fondo. $140-195. Registration opens 9/1. 40, 70-, 100-mile routes. Rides through West Marin on a route similar to the Marin Century. [9/3: finally cancelled!]


Chico Wildflower. Was postponed from April 26 to an indefinite fall date. It is now cancelled.

1-4 Thursday through Sunday. Sea Otter Classic. Postponed from April 18, it is now cancelled for 2020.

3 Saturday. Siskiyou Scenic Bicycle Tour. Event has been cancelled for 2020. May 1, 2021 is the next one.

3 Saturday. Best of the Bay. Postponed to Oct. 3, but now registration is “delayed” due to COVID-19 uncertainty. Event has NOT gone virtual but format has now changed: do the ride by yourself from 9/12 to 10/10 for $50. No support unless you organize it yourself as part of a team.

3 Saturday. Konocti Challege. $70-90. 40-, 60-, and 100-mile routes. Nice ride around Clear Lake. Note no refunds if cancelled. [7/22: Ha ha, it hasn’t been canceled–just “postponed” to 10/2/21. Good luck getting a refund.]

11 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $75. 30-, 61-, and 101-mile routes. No refunds. Routes take in several of our Pajaro Dunes weekend roads! [7/22: Nope, not happening! Next edition will be 5/16/21.]

17 Saturday. Foxy Fall Century. Cancelled.

17 Saturday. Devil’s Slide Ride. $110-65. Registration is open. 101-, 64-, and 42-mile routes down the San Mateo coast and up the Coast Range and back. A benefit for PARCA. Cancelled. Next event is May 22, 2021.

17-18 Saturday to Sunday. Tour of the Sacramento River Delta (TOSRD). $127. Annual ride from Brannan Island to Sacramento via the Delta on Saturday and return on Sunday. Stay at La Quinta near old town. Includes lunch on Saturday and a post-ride bbq on Sunday. [7/22: Now cancelled for 2020, alas.]

Generations of Hope

Pride Ride 2019

That’s this year’s title for the 50th iteration of the San Francisco LGBT Pride celebration. 50 years of pride—a laudable achievement. Who would have thought that a nearly one-off march down Polk Street in 1970 would become the monstrous annual event with hundreds of thousands of visitors that we enjoy today? Starting small the Pride celebration née Gay Freedom Day has grown and made a huge difference, becoming a symbol and beacon around the world. Different Spokes isn’t nearly as old—we’re only 38 years old- er, young!—and we’re not nearly as notorious famous. But the title of this year’s Pride applies to us as well: we’ve had generations of LGBT folks come through our club, most of whom have moved on (if they didn’t die). Attending a Gay Freedom Day was, and perhaps still is, a rite of passage for those coming out—it certainly was for me. Being among the mass of fellow LGBT humanity at the parade can be like the proverbial scales falling off one’s eyes: the ugly ducklings have finally found their real family. The club also was and is a smaller version of Pride: those who come to us are looking for their brethren and have to make that tentative first step in identifying as ‘one of us’.

Pride 2008

I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. However I didn’t attend my first ride until maybe as much as a year later. I was welcomed warmly and quickly fell in. I didn’t ride a lot with the club though because I was in graduate school at the time and also working, so most of my cycling was snuck in short spurts here and there and I hardly had time for a club ride until my life settled down. I wasn’t the only new member–the club was young so we were ALL new members!–but I do recall one member in particular, a young man who wasn’t even 18. He was quiet and shy, a bit awkward interpersonally, but he loved to ride his bike. He lived in San Francisco with his parents and I’m not sure they knew he was gay. Somehow he found us. This was long before the Internet. But growing up in San Francisco he must have had his ear to the ground and made his way to us not long after the club formed. He was the furthest thing from a ‘Castro clone’ and as far as I could tell the club was his only gay outlet. He was a regular on club rides for years. I don’t know what happened to him but I like to think that hanging out with the club was a positive influence on him as he grew up. Wherever you are, Glen, I hope you’re doing well.

Spring 1982

And to all you present and future ugly ducklings, welcome home!

Pride 1985

A Pink Saturday Fashion Statement Every Day!

Don’t cha wish your face mask was hot pink like me?

Brian, our apparel couturier, has dreamed up that perfect accessory keeping with today’s hottest trend: the COVID-19 face covering! Tired of that bland surgical mask? Bored of basic black? Want to strut your stuff while huffing and puffing up Conzelman? You asked and Brian delivers! This is the new DSSF buff in hot, hot pink to match our current jersey. You didn’t know that hot pink is the new black leather?? Time to update your look! Next time you’re cruising Dore Alley with our kit you’re sure to have plenty of swooning eyes all over your mask! Or at least when you prance into the nearest Peet’s for some joe on your next club ride. And it’s just $20 at the DSSF Jakroo store!

Unmasked: Random Thoughts on Wearing a Face Covering While Cycling [updated 6/24]

The new normal?

Although I wear a face mask when cycling, I’m not sure why. There are two rationales for wearing a face mask: so the user doesn’t get infected, and/or so others don’t get infected by the user. Medical grade face masks are the only ones designed with preventing infection. Some N95 masks have exhalation valves to make them more comfortable. These allow one’s breath to be released from the mask easily since the original purpose of the N95 is to prevent the user from being infected, whose breath is presumptively not the vector for infection; these are obviously useless for protecting others from the user, ie. for ‘source’ control. Since most of us are not able to get medical grade face masks in order to spare the limited number for front line workers who need them, we are left with less protective non-medical grade masks and ad hoc face coverings. The figures I’ve seen are that single layer face coverings block about 17-20% of infectious particles. (Presumably N95 masks block about 93-95%.) Still that’s 17% protection versus nothing at all.

Using a mask to prevent infecting others: that’s an interesting turn on motivating compliance because normally you motivate people to do something by showing them how they benefit from it, not how it benefits others. Why should I wear a mask if it is primarily to protect others but does little good for me? My motivation to use one will be even lower if I think I’m not infectious because then it would not only be of no benefit to others, since I can’t infect anyone, but it’s of little benefit to me plus being uncomfortable. This guts both rationales, my self-interest and protection of others. When I see people walking around SF without a mask in the crowd, I suspect that may be behind that person’s behavior. Not having the ready availability of better masks makes it difficult to argue they’re for your benefit, which might increase compliance. I’d wear a N95 mask almost all the time if I could get one with exhalation valves. But I can’t.

One could argue that if everyone just took care of themselves—by wearing a face mask to lower the risk of getting infected—then not only would we be helping reduce COVID-19 in general but we’d be motivated to do so because it would be in one’s self-interest. That would be an easier sell, wouldn’t it? But we can’t get good masks, so the only way to appeal to self-interest is to argue that ad hoc masks do protect you from infection, which is a weak argument given how poorly they’ve been shown to perform. Trying to elicit mask compliance by appealing to community interest may work for some but it’s a really hard sell for many people because, well, selfishness and egocentricity.

Of course a flaw with the current rationale—wear a mask to protect others—is that if you think you’re not infectious, then there is no motivation to wear a mask yet you might be infected without realizing it. You’re only as non-infectious as your most recent physical encounter, right? It’s like the old mantra about HIV and sex: your HIV status can change after any sexual encounter. You might not have the coronavirus today but who knows after that last trip to Safeway? Your basis for believing you’re not infected may or may not be well-founded and it is only grounded on your self-perception.

But the way it is supposed to work is that we all agree to mutually help each other by all masking up. That is, I get some protection from you if I give you some protection in exchange. Everybody accepts some responsibility and inconvenience so that everybody can be protected. If I walk down the street without a mask and I encounter someone else without a mask, how can I expect them to protect me if I won’t do the same for them? This is probably a motivation behind ‘mask shaming’—calling out people and publicly shaming them for not wearing a mask. Those not wearing a mask have a duty (to us) to wear one and we shouldn’t let that slide since they’re potentially prolonging the epidemic and the inconvenience to me.

If one were sociopathic, then assisting others without getting something in exchange is completely nonsensical since other people’s wellbeing is irrelevant, only one’s own. But most of us are not sociopathic and we do care about other people, which is an important reason why people do wear masks. Another reason people wear masks is blind obediance: I’m supposed to wear a mask so I’ll do so whether it’s because I don’t want to be shamed or called out or because I just want to fit in and be ignored. This is the effect of authority, which as we have seen with Trump can work in the other direction to, ie. if you do something only because someone with authority tells you to do it, then you’ll change your behavior when said authority changes their mind about what you should do, such as Trump’s disparagement of masks.

But there is a positive side to blind obediance. When you ask people to use their judgment in deciding when to wear a mask in public, you’re assuming that their judgment is sound. Mandating blind obediance requires less judgment—you either comply or you don’t: wear a mask, period. During the height of the quarantine isn’t that why the Italian police stopped everybody who was outside? “Oh I’m tired of being inside. I’ll just go out for a little walk.” They knew that people wouldn’t comply unless forced to do so. People always find a self-serving reason why they should be excused from the rules.

Of course wearing a mask to reduce infection presupposes that there is a likelihood of becoming infected. This is where things get even murkier. The evidence to date—which is subject to change since the novel coronavirus is so new—is that COVID-19 spreads primarily, nearly exclusively, in indoor environments with prolonged exposure. The number of suspected infections in a Chinese study due to an outdoor encounter was less than one out of over 7,000 cases investigated. What that suggests is that we should be more concerned about indoor settings and focus on mitigating transmission there rather than on outdoors. Although outdoor encounters can lead to infection, the risk is very, very low compared to indoor transmission. We should be much less concerned about wearing a mask when cycling outdoors. This is probably why the counties say we are not required to wear a mask when exercising outside.

Why did SF announce a 30-foot rule for wearing a mask? It probably has nothing to do with 30 being a critical empirically-based measure, or a ‘magic’ number, and more to do with a lot of people not bothering to mask up when walking on city streets even when passing other pedestrians. In other words this has nothing to do with epidemiological evidence and more to do with social psychology: the six-foot rule gave people permission not to mask up until someone was very close. But it’s a hassle to mask up and down all the time so some people weren’t masking up at all. Now with the 30-foot rule you’re in effect asked to wear a mask virtually all the time when outside even though the risk of infection while outside is estimated to be about twentyfold less than indoors. From what I’ve seen in SF since the new mask order compliance has really increased even among those in less busy areas such as Twin Peaks. Yet just the other morning I saw plenty of people walking on Market Street without a face covering or even one at hand.

Back to cycling with a mask. To date there is little evidence that wearing a mask while cycling outdoors is providing protection for anybody. As research data has come in, indoor transmission is turning out to be the culprit. Outdoor transmission is much harder to accomplish because of air dispersion and virion degradation severely diminishing the concentration of infectious material. The other factors for infection, distance and exposure time, are usually—but not always—insignificant when cycling—just don’t linger near anybody and maintain social distance. On group rides that’s apparently harder to do; I’ve observed groups rides where participants are bunched up at stop lights or cyclists are pedaling down the road in a tight paceline. Keep in mind that mask use is secondary to social distancing. If you maintain social distance especially outdoors, then mask use becomes redundant.

Despite knowing all this I continue to wear a mask while riding. Perhaps I’m being irrationally risk averse. But masks, like everything else, are signifiers and in this situation they are symbols of cooperation. It may be irrational to stop at a stop light when there is no traffic but drivers do it most of the time, probably from a combination of habit, internalization, fear of a ticket, and cooperation. Those who do not might be reckless…or they might be making a rational decision: no traffic, no cops or cameras, so why should I stop? If masks are primarily for others’ protection, then wearing a mask sends a signal that I am cooperating even if the actual physical function of the mask is near useless. In essence the symbolic function of a mask—as in stopping at a light—is ‘you don’t need to fear me’, which is interesting because we usually think of wearing a mask as ‘I’m afraid of getting infected by you.’ But wearing a mask while cycling when no one is around? That doesn’t make any sense at all. No one is in danger of being infected and you aren’t signifying to anybody (except yourself). However you may want to have a mask ready, say pulled under your chin, in case you unexpectedly have close encounters with others. Or, you may want to wear a mask all the time in case of situations such rounding a corner on a trail and finding yourself next to a hiker. Do you have time to pull that face covering over your face? Maybe not. Wearing a mask all the time means you don’t have to think or take action should someone suddenly approach you.

Wearing a mask while cycling is often uncomfortable especially over here in the East Bay in summer when it can get quite hot. Road cycling culture puts a strange value on suffering. It’s often elevated to mythic status, hence ‘epic’ rides and ultra-long distance efforts like Everesting, centuries, double centuries, Dirty Kanza, Alpe d’Huez, you name it. The discomfort and inconvenience of wearing a face mask for two hours on a ride can be more daunting to cyclists than the prospect of riding a hundred miles. I’m not sure what to make of that except that perhaps it’s only suffering of a specific sort or suffering of one’s choosing that has positive status. Of course real suffering is often something over which you have no choice of in life; it can be unexpectedly thrust upon you and you just have to deal with it, whether it’s a bad reaction to chemotherapy, getting mangled in a high speed car accident, or the dentist not having used enough anesthetic on your root canal. In any case wearing a face mask seems rather minor as far as ‘suffering’ goes and yet elicits strong refusal. Is it because the minor discomfort of a mask is such a gigantic buzzkill that cycling really becomes pointless? That is, mask discomfort nullifies all pleasure of riding, and the point of riding is to have pleasure, so what’s the point of wearing a mask? Perhaps it’s because it’s optional to wear one. If I don’t have to wear one and it’s uncomfortable, why would I wear one? In my experience just slowing down can make wearing a mask while cycling less unpleasant. If that’s true, then why don’t cyclists just slow down and use a mask? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to have to slow down, ie. compromise how they ride.

One way to deal with discomfort is to reframe its purpose. Suffering for a good reason often is incentive enough. Isn’t that why some people ride from SF to LA? For some it’s fun and maybe a challenge. But for others it’s simply a grueling masochistic effort. It’s all about the purpose that can help one endure, hence ride 545 miles in a week.

Perhaps wearing a mask can be reframed as a training tool. I’m curious about the amount of carbon dioxide one rebreathes when cycling with a surgical mask. Why? Because breathing in air with a reduced amount of oxygen is one way to stimulate red blood cell production, hence high altitude training or using a hypoxic chamber, ie. an altitude tent (some of which simulate high altitude by reducing oxygen and replacing it with nitrogen). If it were significant enough, one could eagerly wear a mask in hopes of increasing one’s RBC to go faster. Maybe the racers (or wannabes) would embrace using a mask!

6/24/20 Update. Here‘s an interesting and slightly different view on face coverings that ties into my comments about signifiers. His comment about tolerating the discomfort of a face covering because he respects others resonates.

Enquiring Minds Would Like To Know: When Will There Be Club Rides Again?

We are almost three months into the quarantine and we have not had a club ride since Leap Day, February 29. The state has been in Phase II for over two weeks but Bay Area counties are mostly just in the very beginning of Phase II and opening up more slowly. If you’ve been out riding, you may have noticed that there are groups of cyclists riding together outside. You may be wondering whether group rides are now allowed and when Different Spokes will start riding together.

With all the talk about Phase II, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that things are loosening up. But essentially Phase II is about allowing some businesses that heretofore weren’t deemed “essential” to reopen up with conditions to reduce the threat of infection to patrons and workers. Group activities are still not allowed. The San Francisco “Shelter In Place” order of June 1 still includes a critical paragraph which bans gatherings of individuals who are not members of the same household:

“7. All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited purposes expressly permitted in this Order.”

You may have thought that group rides were okay as long as we kept social distancing and wore face masks. The 6/1/20 order includes a potentially confusing statement: (#13.1.III)

“For the purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence only to perform the following “Essential Activities.” … iii. To engage in outdoor recreation activity, including, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, bicycling, and running, in compliance with Social Distancing Requirements…”

But given the clear statement on group gathering earlier in the order, you should interpret this statement something like, “When you are cycling alone or with members of your same household/living unit, you should keep a minimum six feet away from others, wear a face mask when within 30 feet of others, wash hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer, etc.” It does not mean you can do group cycling as long as you socially distance.

So despite what you may see on the streets, we are still can’t have club rides without being in violation of the health order.

What about those groups of cyclists you see in a paceline? After checking at least fourteen Bay Area clubs I think I can confidently say that no recreational or amateur cycling club in the Bay Area is sanctioning group rides at this time although they do say that you may continue to ride alone. But people will do what they feel safe doing and that includes group rides with friends and acquaintances even if it’s contrary to the order. Early this morning we saw a training group in a double paceline; we have friends who are riding with other friends but using social distancing because they think this is safe enough. I know of a rider in another club, which currently has stopped group rides, who is advocating for group rides of up to ten. (I know one is the loneliest number but why is ten a magic number?)

If we try to look ahead and predict when group activities will be allowed, we can look at the outline for Phase III and Phase IV. Phase III is more of Phase II but applied to higher risk businesses such as ‘personal care and recreational venues’. These include businesses such as nail salons, barber shops, and gyms. Phase IV includes mass event venues such as sports stadiums, movie houses, and conventions. Essentially Phase IV is “normal” functioning although it is likely that it will look a bit different that the previous “normal”. Perhaps group rides will happen in Phase IV, which in California—if the infection rate declines rather than surges—is probably months away given how carefully the Bay Area counties are proceeding. Note that moving from phase to phase is supposedly conditioned by having testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place and functioning. Currently we do not have capacity thoughout the Bay Area to do adequate contact tracing except perhaps in Santa Clara county.

So if we are going to comply with the counties’ health orders, we just need to be patient. In the meantime enjoy your solo rides and look forward to when we can do the Tib loop again. Together.

Update 6/5/20@8 pm: Of course after I posted this I read that Alameda county is allowing so-called “social bubbles”. A social bubble is a group of no more than 12 people from different households who are allowed to meet together and encourages them to use social distancing and face masks when they do so. I haven’t seen the actual text of the order so the details are murky at the moment. You can belong to one bubble only at any time, ie. they are closed and exclusive groups. This would technically allow group rides again but only in Alameda county. If other counties adopted this, we could end up with Different Spokes sub-bubbles: “Could I ride with David Gaus? Darn, he’s a member of a different bubble!” You can see the potential problems. Interestingly this same announcement says that face coverings will have to be worn whenever one is outside the home even when you’re exercising and you’re within 30 feet of others. So it’s copying the San Francisco idea.

Build It And They Will Come?

Berryessa BART station to open June 13

Almost assuredly people will eventually start packing the new BART stations, Milpitas and Berryessa/North San Jose, that are—finally—going to open on June 13, less than two weeks away. But for now with the pandemic still raging in the Bay Area those trains will probably frighten rather than lure potential patrons. That’s too bad because those two new stations are the most significant development in mass transit in our area since the SMART train in Marin/Sonoma opened in 2017.

But eventually the shelter in place orders will give way to a resumption of more-or-less prepandemic life and those stations will make it easier for Spokers to do rides in the southern part of the East Bay. The most notable example will be –“Tradition!”–Mount Hamilton In The Fall, which starts at Penitencia Creek Park just two miles from the Berryessa station. Until now the nearest BART station was Warm Springs and before that, Fremont, both of which entailed significant additional cycling—at least ten miles one way—to the start. In addition BART’s Sunday service, which has not opened until an absurdly late 8 am, meant that one had to hustle to get to the Hamilton start on time. With Berryessa/North San Jose station open this will be considerably easier if you’re coming from, say, San Francisco.

The big question is, will they come? BART trains are unlikely to be packed on an early Sunday morning. But nonetheless the possibility of infection on mass transit is going to make a lot of people think twice about using it rather than safely piling into one’s car and driving to Penitencia Creek Park.

Over the past two years we’ve put up with delay after delay in the opening, to the point that BART’s repeated postponement dates were to be disbelieved. In December, the last time BART delayed their opening, it wisely kept its mouth shut on when it would predict the stations would really open. Privately I thought that June was a reasonable deadline but very likely to be blown anyway just like the past five or six previous announcements. This time BART surprised us all by actually announcing an opening gate with just weeks to go. If they don’t open on June 13 there will be some serious mud on BART’s collective face.

I hope to see you all at the Mt. Hamilton ride this fall whether you come by BART or by car!

Fashion Crime or Accessory?

Work it, baby!

The current Bay Area counties shelter in place orders require in some situations that face coverings/masks be worn and in others it just recommends that they be worn. [Note: But LA County now requires everyone to wear a mask whenever outdoors.] For example masks are required when entering enclosed places of business and government offices. Face masks are not meant to replace social distancing but to complement it. Are you required to wear a face covering or mask when you’re cycling? No, county health officers just recommend that you do. However you are asked to carry a face mask with you in case you need to enter a business or office or when you simply cannot maintain social distancing.

When you’re cycling on streets social distancing from other road users is usually no problem except when you’re passing or being passed by other cyclists or at stop lights/signs where you encounter other stopped cyclists. You may also cross paths with dog walkers, joggers, skateboarders, and walkers using the street. Conversely there may be times when you need to use the sidewalk. If you ride on multi-use paths (MUPs) they may be so crowded with other users and/or not wide enough for you to be six feet away from others. Depending on where you ride and the time at which you ride, you may want to wear a mask in order to prevent transmission.

Regardless of the shelter in place order you’re probably not crazy about the idea of cycling with some kind of face mask. Roger and I have been riding with face masks for weeks now and we have some real world advice if you decide to try it.

Different Spikes goes-with-everything black leather face mask

First, masks of any sort will unavoidably be less comfortable than riding without one. If you’re looking for a face covering that has no downsides, you aren’t going to find that unicorn. If you can’t deal with an increased level of discomfort—and fogging if you wear eyeglasses—then don’t wear one or at least don’t wear one in certain cycling situations. After all you’re not required to wear one while cycling. Second, there will probably be an adjustment period—there was for us—and you may find that if you keep wearing a mask, that your perceived discomfort will diminish or disappear. Third, be clear about why you’re wearing a mask. If you feel that wearing a mask outside is overkill, you’ll probably dump the mask in short order because your commitment to it was shaky to begin with. But if you think that wearing a mask is going to provide you and others with protection or because its symbolism is important, then you may find yourself wearing it more often or tolerating it longer.

Ad hoc, giddy-up!

I’ve tried four of the six following face coverings: (1) handkerchief, (2) thin neck gaiter/buff, (3) surgical mask, (4) N95 mask, (5) Respro sports mask, and (6) ad hoc face masks. I haven’t tried a handkerchief (or t-shirt, cotton shirt, etc.) simply because I don’t need to use something improvised. But my strong suspicion is that a handkerchief would feel very similar to the neck gaiter I’ve been using. We also have no real world experience to share about ad hoc face coverings since we’re using one of the others. Just keep in mind that the homemade fabric face masks you see these days are going to vary in design, fabric, shape, and durability—they aren’t standardized. Of the four others the most comfortable I’ve found is the thin neck gaiter (also called a buff). Mine is a thin elastic cloth tube you pull over your head. Its intended use is for cold weather as a neck warmer cum balaclava cum head scarf. It’s easy to pull up or down depending on conditions and I can double the fabric for “extra protection”. It’s surprisingly easy to breathe through and my glasses fog up less than with the surgical mask. I can wear this while riding even when climbing up Pinehurst (ie. when gasping and dying). The main problem right now is that the weather here in Contra Costa is getting to be too warm for a neck gaiter. If you live in SF or coastside, maybe it would be tolerable for this summer. But for now I can’t wear it now that daytime temperatures are warming up significantly. One minor complaint is that it tends to slip down. But I can hike it up and it’ll stay in position for a fair amount of time even when swiveling my head to look around.

I’ve been wearing a surgical mask most recently as the weather has warmed up. The biggest issue is being able to get surgical masks since they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. Surgical masks work better for warm weather because they’re still thin and don’t cover as much area so you can stay cool. They’re also easy to put on and take off, and if you need to temporarily remove it you can just slip it down your face and easily pull it back up since it’s retained by handy ear loops. But the material around your nose and mouth is thicker than a buff so making it harder to breathe. Instead of your exhalation going through the fabric, you’ll find it’s mostly contained and so you’re rebreathing more of your exhaled air. Oh, and if your breath is foul, you’ll be the first to know. If you wear glasses, you’ll likely find that fogging is an ongoing issue. That warm, humid exhaled air tends to be moved to the perimeter of the mask since there is less resistance than going through the fabric. And a lot of that goes up into your glasses. Be prepared for fogging especially when you stop—you’ll probably want to pull the mask down for a sec to let the exhaled air clear. Its symbolic function aside it’s not clear to me that when you’re breathing hard a typical surgical mask is providing much protection to other people because a lot of your exhalation is being forced out the perimeter of the mask. If you attempt to make the mask for comfortable by, say, creating a channels to the side, then you’re venting a lot of your breath completely unfiltered into, say, that 7-11 you just entered for a snack.

Surgical masks have very little structure and are flimsy. My neck gaiter has enough elastic that it’s pulled against my face and doesn’t move around. But surgical masks, which are not intended for exercise, just can’t handle the volume of air I’m moving when cycling anything above an easy pace. When I’m breathing harder the material is sucked tightly into my nostrils or my mouth making it very difficuilt to inhale. If you’re in a headwind the fabric is pushed even more closely against your orifices. There are workarounds to make a surgical mask less impeding. You can wear it more loosely (for example, by hoisting the lower edge up so that it doesn’t cover your chin and forms a tent over your face). It may take some experimentation to find the best way to shape the mask so that it doesn’t block your breathing. Since it has little inherent structure whatever shaping you’ve done will be (disappointingly) temporary. In order to give it more structure I’ve played around with taping and stapling a bag tie on the inside of the mask in order to create a shaped ‘tent’ similar to that of a N95 mask. This doesn’t compromise the filtering function (much) since the perimeter of the mask is still against your face. A surgical mask, if you can get one, is so small that it’s easy to carry with you on a ride.

An N95 mask theoretically provides more protection but that protection comes from forming a tighter seal around your face. I found that the N95’s structure and shape were better than a surgical mask but breathing was much harder at effort and the overall experience was much less comfortable. At least the material isn’t sucked into your nostrils or mouth, so you’re drawing new air from the entire surface area of the mask and not just the tiny area covering your nostrils. It’s also a lot warmer. Anything above an easy pace was progressively less comfortable. Some N95 masks have exhalation check valves. (Respro masks do too.) They are more comfortable because your exhaled breath can more easily be vented rather than being held tightly in the mask. Technically exhalation valves defeat the purpose of containing your respiratory droplets from possiblly infecting others. On the other hand, ad hoc face coverings and surgical masks are also inherently leaky. So it’s all rather academic. (In this case I mean literally academic since little research has been done on the comparative efficacy of ad hoc face coverings—I’m only aware of one study.) In my experience I have less fogging than with a surgical mask but it’s not completely gone. It probably has to do with the seal around the edge of the mask. We’ve seen almost no N95 masks being used by other cyclists and the ones we’ve seen have all had exhalation valves.

Respro Sportsta

Respro is a British cycling face mask company. Their products are aimed at cyclists who want to avoid inhaling air pollution but they make a range of masks now including the Bandit, which is essentially a sophisticated handkerchief! Unfortunately Respro has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and can no longer manufacture enough for domestic sale let alone internationally. I happen to have one that I picked up in the UK years ago. You can read about my use of it during the 2018 Camp Fire here. This fits even more tightly around your mouth and nose than an N95 mask—it forms a great seal. It’s also surprisingly easy to breathe through. Why? I’m not sure but the large surface area of the filter probably helps. It has exhalation check valves like some N95 masks—the valve ports open when you exhale and close when you inhale, so it’s easy to exhale and your mask doesn’t fill up as uncomfortably with warm, humid air. The filters are replaceable too. But as I mentioned previously it’s warm (being made of neoprene rubber doesn’t help) and although easier to breathe through it’s less comfortable than a (structured) surgical mask. You won’t want to do any prolonged, hard efforts while wearing a Respro. They’re also pricey—about $40-plus. And like N95s you can’t find any for sale right now.

Bottom line: If you’re going to wear a face covering, it’s probably going to be ad hoc since N95 and surgical masks are hard to find. You’ll do better with a thin fabric that is elastic so that it fits somewhat tightly over your mouth and nose and doesn’t get sucked in when you inhale. That’s why a buff/neck gaiter works so well. So either a thin buff or ad hoc face covering. If you can get surgical masks, that would be my second choice especially if you play around and add some structure to it so that it forms around your orifices more like an N95 mask does. An N95 mask is, in my opinion, not only overkill but much less functional for recreational cycling above a casual pace. The Respro—did I mention you can’t get one?—is similar to the N95 despite its many positive attributes. For easy cycling any of them will do. But if you’re going to go harder (and I mean just a bit harder, like anything above zone 2 training), you will likely have to go through an adjustment period.

Ineffective face mask…with accessories

Bottom-bottom line: now, why are you wearing a face mask when you’re riding?? Oh right, because sometimes you CAN’T avoid getting close to others such as on shared use paths, trails, and crowded streets. Just pull that baby up over your face and your spew won’t go all over them (and hopefully, vice versa).

If you can’t get an N95, surgical mask, or Respro, what do you do? For neck gaiters check these out at REI.

For ad hoc face coverings, here are some manufactured examples.