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 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 (disappointly) 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 (which is same as Respro masks). 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.

Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report, part 2

Roy (right) in Prachuap Khiri Khan with other stranded cyclists

Here is more on Roy Shachter’s life in Thailand with the latest chapter, his forced shelter-in-place in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south of that country.

My life in Thailand continues to be good. Last year I traveled a total of eight weeks to Bali in Indonesia, and to Malaysia and Taiwan. This year, I had hoped to do more international and domestic travel – possibly to Laos, Burma or Vietnam and maybe to California in the Fall, if things dramatically improve in the U.S. and elsewhere. But I am now seeing that travel this year, even if things ease up substantially, could still be higher risk than best for me. Unfortunately I am clearly in the demographic of being at higher risks of severe complications due to age and underlying health conditions should I become infected. With that in mind I am taking many of the recommended precautions without 100% isolating myself. Since I am staying in a hotel for a couple of months, I buy prepared food to eat in my room and I try to handle that with care. However I don’t try to disinfect everything I bring home, which would be quite tedious. Without a kitchen or sufficient counter or storage space such precautions while not impossible are particularly difficult.

Fortunately so far no infections have been reported in this town where I am staying temporarily unlike the situation in Chiang Mai, where I have a rented townhouse. In Chiang Mai the number of infections is still relatively low and the last few days no additional cases have been reported. So far I’ve been able to adjust to changes without experiencing hardship but rather only inconveniences.

My biggest challenge are the limits to social connections. My choice to live in Thailand included many factors, one being the relative ease in meeting people and the friendliness of Thai people. Now I rarely try to engage persons I don’t know, even with my mask on. I don’t know who feels comfortable having me near them particularly since foreigners have been vilified here in the media as bringing the virus here and not taking sufficient precautions to prevent infection. As an example, many foreigners including myself rejected using face masks based on recommendations by international health experts while Thais more widely adapted to using masks albeit hardly universally. Now that some of our home countries have reversed course on this, attitudes are changing. Additionally in many areas here it is mandatory when out in public. I have a few N95 masks I purchased last year for protection from the bad air quality in Chiang Mai – and now temporarily staying at the coast where the air is far better, I don’t need this level of protection. So I use a cloth-sponge material mask, with a very small amount of essential oils to make it less unpleasant. I will save my N95 masks for my return to Chiang Mai, for safer travel or in case I am forced to leave here before the air quality improves in Chiang Mai.

I felt a great sadness yesterday as I was cycling around that my opportunities to meet and chat with Thai people has been greatly restricted. Social distancing obviously greatly decreases face to face social interaction, something I had planned to enjoy frequently during my two months away from my home in Chiang Mai. Usually I am often fine to be mostly alone for two or three days. But now for weeks at a time it is much more difficult. If anything this helps to better understand the severity of punishing people with solitary confinement. My situation is immensely better than that with many freedoms still. Being confined alone for 23+ hours/day must be extremely psychologically damaging to most persons. But as so many of us are experiencing I do have times of loneliness. So far though this has not been a big problem. I keep in touch with my expat friends in Chiang Mai, mostly American and Brits via the Line app on my phone, which is the preferred messenger app here used by nearly everyone. They are all hunkered down in their apartments in Chiang Mai except for forays out for food, etc, and a few still get together occasionally trying to adhere to recommended precautions. I also keep in touch with friends and family in the USA, Spain, Australia and Latin America via Facebook Messenger and email and chat with some Thai friends using messaging apps – usually in English, mixed with Thai language. I have also enjoyed a couple of video calls and will try to do more of these.

One other interesting note about Thai culture: theft and street crime is rare here. It does exist but compared to the several cities where I have lived in the U.S. and Latin America, or traveled to elsewhere, it feels incredibly safe here. As an example, in Chiang Mai bicycles are usually locked with a cable lock, some pencil thin. Even the thicker cables would be cut in a flash back in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere but not here. Additionally people routinely use the lock only through their wheels, without securing the bike to a stationary object – contrary to essential theft prevention practices elsewhere – even for higher cost bikes. I am still amazed. I have inadvertently left my bike unlocked for hours at a time in an apartment house bike parking area and elsewhere, without problems. In the U.S. I would be shocked at my carelessness as I would be lucky to still find my bicycle untouched. Here though I shrug my shoulders and remind myself I should try to be a little more careful. Also I leave all my bike accessories on my bike when I lock it up to go inside somewhere – helmet, three bike lights, and a pannier. I long ago learned the hard (and expensive) way not to leave those things out back home – but here no matter, no thefts.

Having become quite accustomed to this, on this trip I stayed for a few days in Hua Hin, rented a bike and hung my helmet, which I had brought from Chiang Mai, on the handlebars without looping the cable through the helmet straps as I do in the U.S. Lo and behold, after being in a café a couple of hours, my helmet, along with the expensive helmet mirror, had been stolen. I was aghast – I had thought that doesn’t happen here in Thailand – although I wouldn’t make that assumption in Bangkok. I felt anger, more a great disappointment and a loss of innocence. No longer would I be able to let down my guard and assume theft is nearly non-existent. So now I do lock the helmet, but I still leave the other accessories in place. Anyway here in Prachuap I think it is a lot safer than in Hua Hin, which raises another potentially troubling issue: the shutdowns and lock-downs have caused an enormous amount of unemployment and loss of income especially for people with their own small businesses including the tens of thousands of food stalls and food carts. There is a rising concern that this could result in more crime – due to desperation, with the economic margin of safety and government assistance inadequate to meet many people’s needs. I think I’ll need to be more careful now, and also try to be more generous when I can help someone in an appropriate way.

Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report!

Longtime Spoker Roy Schachter (now former member) retired and moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand at the end of 2018 mentioned here. Roy sends us a report on life in Thailand during the coronavirus epidemic. Here is the first part.

I chose to come to Prachuap Khiri Khan for about a two-month stay due to the terrible air quality for 3-4 months each year in my chosen retirement location of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. In fact last year was worse than many prior years and this year is turning out to me even worse than that in part due to large forest fires close to the city. Last year I had hoped to be able to stay in Chiang Mai throughout the year. But after getting sick for a couple of weeks and having continued albeit less severe symptoms for much longer, I decided to take a five-week trip, leaving on March 29 to Bali with an extended stop in Malaysia on my return, getting back to Chiang Mai on May 2, 2019. This year I left on March 5 intending to return about end of April, until I began a long-planned, one month trip back to California for June. Alas, I almost surely will not be traveling back to the U.S. anytime soon because if I left Thailand now, I could not get back in. That might change by early July when I would have been returning, but who knows? Even if I could travel, I could be subject to self-quarantine at either end of that journey. And if things are still out of whack, I am probably better off staying in Thailand for the time being as this is home to me – and more practical and economical and probably also more enjoyable. Additionally, any kind of travel via plane, bus or train, with hotel or AirBnB lodging would carry far higher risks this year, particularly for me since I am in the higher risk groups of age and underlying health conditions. I know I should limit my travel this year, although I might still go to California in fall 2020 if things improve significantly.

My situation here in Thailand is still rather quite good despite the many changing and increasing restrictions. I am not experiencing the severe hardships faced by so many and I am still able to get out on my bicycle a couple of hours each day. I try to keep up with local and international news and I know many people are experiencing hardships during this time, with unemployment or loved ones sick or even dying or the imposed restrictions being very problematic. I feel for all who are suffering, all around the world – the income interruption alone will be an extremely difficult challenge for so many who just get by and have few resources for an extended economic shutdown. For me, even with the dramatic drops in the financial markets, and my investments, fortunately I am still reasonable financially secure and stable. So, with the pandemic and its health challenges to each of us and our families and friends and others in our communities and also the stark economic difficulties faced by many, I am one of the luckier persons. As a contrast, a friend in Spain is facing the loss of loved ones, and his life is a daily challenge to maintain hope for a better tomorrow.

It feels like I am living in a parallel universe. The health crisis seems to be nonexistent here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, even though it most certainly is affecting the country and in many key areas, many things have been closed. The most beautiful and peaceful beach is at the edge of town and within a Royal Thai Air Force base, which is open to the public after taking a minute to sign in and get a temperature check (which has given incorrect readings of about 34.5 C for me on two consecutive days, a full two degrees below what my own digital thermometer indicates.) Once through the entry gate checkpoint, it is two km on my bicycle to the beach, crossing the landing strip and military housing and other buildings. Lounge chairs are available for daily use at the beach for twenty baht. Tasty, inexpensive Thai food is available for delivery to your chair or across the street at the food court. I saw a guy riding a motorbike a short distance, balancing a tray with the traditional tom yum soup serving ring which usually has a flame at the center, managing to drive and keep the soup from splashing over the rim of the serving dish – quite a sight! This beach, called Ao Manao, is even better than I imagined. The land forms a bay with beautiful outcroppings at each end and an island in the middle. The water is shallow all the way to the buoys delineating the swimming area, about 100 to 130m from the beach – where the water there was at waist level. Maybe only once before, somewhere, have I felt so buoyant. I can lie in the water on my back or front, without movement and my body floats including my legs, which usually sink. I know there are other places in the world like this, where the salt content makes you so buoyant. But it’s new to me and so nice to be able to lie just on top of the water.

My parallel universe quickly converged with much of the rest of the world. Fortunately the actual situation of CV infections and fatalities in Thailand is still relatively low and there are no cases in town. In contrast Chiang Mai has had 40 cases and fortunately no new cases for the past five days. Thailand’s CV cases, which had remained under 50 for weeks, suddenly started multiplying and is was over 2,000 last week. That resulted in a series of increasing and substantial restrictions which has dramatically shut down most travel as well as tourist businesses, hotels, restaurants (take-out only), parks, some beaches, and much more. Fortunately after a period of 100+ new daily cases nationwide, much of the past week has seen daily increases of less than 50. The nearby Royal Thai Air Force Base closed to visitors just recently. My plan to spend several hours at the wonderful Ao Manao beach several days each week is now just a dream. I get most of my info about the COVID-19 situation here on Facebook and am careful to discern which sources are reliable. Last week I gasped when I saw a notice requiring all foreigners who arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan province (where I am now) after March 15 to report to the local hospital. I arrived on March 14, so the order does not apply to me. But I was worried – what if my hotel or the police think I should report to the hospital? I talked to the hotel mgt and they told me not to worry. And nothing has come of it since.

Then the next day I saw an order for all hotels in the province to close – except if there were any remaining guests, who would be allowed to continue to stay. But if my hotel chose to close, I could not get into any other hotel here – and it would be very difficult or impossible for me to return to Chiang Mai at this time. I talked to the hotel owners and they told me not to worry, I could stay. The next day, I saw someone else in town say his hotel would not extend his stay, so he had to leave within one day. I gulped again, talked to my hotel’s owners and they assured me I could stay beyond my current paid month. That was a big relief and actually an emotional moment for me, as I felt threatened with eviction with no good or easy options. And so I learn in a very personal way how some others face this kind of difficulty in their lives, not just due to the current health crisis. Of course, I am fortunate in many respects and even though I could be subject to some big challenges, I know I will be okay – unless I get the novel coronavirus. But it’s still kind of scary and upsetting.

The very next day all of a sudden I am the only remaining guest at my 24-room motel-style hotel. What a strange feeling! They turned off many of the lights, drastically reduced their staffing and only have the front desk staffed from about 8 pm to 6 am, for security reasons. Much of the day I am the only one around. I stay most of the day in my second floor room or on the comfortable first floor patio-corridor. I had reserved a hotel room for my first week here at another hotel in front of the beach, but I wanted a room better for a longer stay. I found an ad for a nice little furnished house, but they would not consider a short-term rental of 1 to 2 months. Unfortunate, and I imagine that house is still not occupied, but many places are only available for a minimum of 6 months or a year. I checked out many hotels as well as an apt-room which does rent monthly and found some viable options, but then I found out about the emergency decree which would come into effect in a couple of days. With that in mind, I quickly choose my current hotel room, at double the cost of some of the other options, since I knew if I might have to spend most of the day in my hotel, so I felt I would be more comfortable here. Included in my consideration was my very good first impression of the woman owner and her son – and I was right about that. She gives me food treats some days such as sliced watermelon, fresh corn salad with basil leaves, and Pa-Tan-Go, a Chinese style fried dough. Every culture seems to have a fried dough food. Fortunately this one was not very sweet. I would have felt more isolated at the other lodging options, with little help available and no one to talk to. The U.S. gov’t relief “check” which I will soon get will offset some or all of these higher costs. With all the U.S. taxes I still pay, I have no qualms about accepting this payment, which also allows me help out some local friends a bit.

I shipped my travel Bike Friday bicycle, which collapses and can be packed in a hard-shell suitcase, to my hotel here from Chiang Mai, which only cost about US $13 – similar shipping in the U.S would probably cost $50-$75. This has allowed me to have a comfortable bicycle for my extended stay – and I use it every day. I buy most of my food at a long open-air covered fresh market along the rail line, one km, less than five minutes by bicycle from my hotel. Everyone, including me, wears a mask. I eat nearly all of this low cost and tasty prepared food in my hotel room or on the patio. One exception is the tasty pizza I’ve been getting a couple of times each week, available for take-out only – cost about US $7. I’ve hidden behind the stone beach wall, looking at the waves, to avoid being noticed, but always alert to any approaching authority that might chase me away or cite me. I feel like a criminal and now I think even that is getting more risky. Less appealing but safer will be to take the pizza back to my room less than 10 minutes away by bicycle.