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Should you be riding your motorcycle during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Added April 22, 2020
Motorcycle and helmet

For weeks now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted many areas of our daily lives. It’s also leaving us with a lot of questions. For motorcycle riders, one question is whether it’s safe—and legal—to ride a motorcycle while the pandemic and measures to control it continue.

As the spread of coronavirus progresses, public health officials are constantly reviewing and updating safety recommendations. As of this writing, there are no restrictions on riding a motorcycle. So, if you do head out on the road, here are some things to be mindful of.

Pay attention to outbreaks in your area

The rate of coronavirus spread and the number of people infected varies from community to community. Health officials have the goal of slowing and stopping the spike of infections (flattening the curve). The purpose of this initiative is to keep the peak number of coronavirus cases beneath the available emergency medical and intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. Since first responders and medical professionals are stretched to the limits handling patients with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to ride safely. You don't want to wind up in an already strained emergency room.

Stay informed on local conditions and safety ordinances

State and local governments are working to manage the coronavirus crisis with stay-at-home orders, business closures, and limited travel restrictions. If you decide to head out on a motorcycle ride, consider where you intend to go, and check online to learn what the current local safety rules are. Some communities consider breaking them a misdemeanor offense.

Travel restrictions may be in play where you ride. To understand the differences between different levels of travel restrictions, you need to know the difference between stay home and stay safe and shelter in place orders. Here’s a brief explanation:

  • Stay home and stay safe: Many states and communities have issued stay home and stay safe declarations to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases by limiting possible exposures. People are asked to stay home and keep their outings to essential trips for things like groceries, medicines, and doctor visits, or to care for others. Workers are allowed to go to jobs at essential businesses and service organizations, while healthy outdoor activities like walking, jogging, cycling, and hiking are allowed as long as you follow social distancing recommendations by staying at least six feet away from others. Riding a motorcycle certainly seems like an activity that applies social distancing rules. However, if you ride with buddies, be sure to maintain your social distance when you stop.
  • Shelter in place: This is a stronger level of stay home and stay safe, and includes much tighter mandatory restrictions. Few communities have applied this. If your community needs to apply these levels of COVID-19 containment, check the rules carefully. Recreational travel, including a motorcycle ride, is probably prohibited. You likely could use a motorcycle for essential travel defined under the rules, but you should carefully consider the risks.

Social distancing and the dangers of empty roads

If you ride your motorcycle during this time of social distancing, you’ll likely find roads with less traffic. It’s natural for other drivers to begin feeling like they have the road to themselves, and not be as attentive as they might normally be. As a motorcycle rider, that means it’s more important than ever to increase your following distance and expect the expected. Be alert for drivers stopping suddenly, failing to use turn signals, ignoring rural stop signs, crossing the double yellow line to avoid a pothole, and speeding.

Take extra care when you find yourself alone on unfamiliar roads. Navigate curves carefully with enough traction to handle unseen, twisted turns and unexpected driver actions ahead.

Face-touching and personal hygiene

One common way the coronavirus is spread is by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears. Of course, not touching your face when riding can be a challenge. We all know that airborne debris, bugs, and even beard whiskers can make us want to touch our faces, but zero touching is the goal. 

Wash your hands frequently. It's among the most important steps you can take to help stay healthy. It’s always wise to consider any surface that can be touched by the public as possibly contaminated. That includes door handles, vending machines, and, of course, the gas pump and its buttons.

Handling the fuel pump

Even if you just go for loop rides from your garage and back again with no stops, you’ll still need to buy fuel at some point. Since the gas pump is one public surface that’s touched countless times by many people with unwashed hands, it can transfer the COVID virus. That’s why you need to plan what you will use for your own personal protective equipment (PPE) before you get to the gas station. Leaving your riding gloves on and handling the pump could leave your gloves contaminated. That may lead to contaminating other parts of your motorcycle and the rest of your gear.

Wearing latex gloves is one safety option. Use one gloved hand for all pump contact and the other clean-gloved hand for touching your motorcycle and wallet. If you can find a station that has contactless payment where you can tap an enabled credit card, smartphone, or watch, all the better. As for the receipt, while the paper is probably safe, the process of pocketing it isn’t worth the risk.

Don’t be surprised if the restrooms at gas stations and public facilities are closed. To help protect yourself, carry hand sanitizer that’s made up of greater than 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol alcohol. Use it liberally any time you touch public surfaces. Even if you find a place to wash your hands for 20 seconds and rinse with warm water, follow up with the hand sanitizer. Consider wearing a bandana or facemask if you intend to stop at a drive-thru or interact with employees at a gas station.

Returning to your garage

When you return from your ride, consider leaving your riding gear in the garage with your motorcycle. This precaution is especially important if you live with someone who’s at higher risk of infection because of preexisting health issues. At the very least, don’t wear your riding boots in your home, particularly if you walked around a gas station. The coronavirus can live on surfaces, and it’s still not clear how long it survives on its own. 

As for your motorcycle, sanitize any surfaces that you might have touched with contaminated hands or gloves. Sanitizers are effective and take less time than a bike wash. Follow the instructions of your sanitizing product and pay attention to information regarding dwell time, which is how long it needs to stay wet on a surface. Test your sanitizing product on inconspicuous parts of your bike to see if it’s safe for the finishes.

By keeping yourself protected, following hygiene recommendations, and working to keep your gear and your bike clean, you’ll be ready to ride when the moment comes!

Till next time, ride safe!

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If you enjoyed this piece on motorcycle safety, we have other motorcycle safety tips featured in our Safety section.

At Dairyland, we feel strongly about your safety and promote it through our rider training course discount. Check it out.