Extra space needed for cycling, running social distancing

Just about everyone knows when we’re out and about it’s important to socially distance about six feet.

But if we’re on a bicycle, did you know the recommended safe gap for many could be as much as 60?

That’s what the experts are telling us – to create a wide space when exercising outdoors, and that includes running.

You see, when you’re moving along at an accelerated pace with a group of two or more, those dastardly respiration droplets possibly containing coronavirus can get caught up in a slipstream behind a lead person and hit a trailer smack dab in the face.

While cycling and running clubs all across the country have basically discontinued group rides and runs, inevitably there are “informal’’ get-togethers which contain smaller gatherings.

And, even if you ride or run solo, you still have to watch out when you pass (or get passed) by other outsiders.

According to a story posted on the WIRED website this week, a Belgian-Dutch research team conducted a study and found these expanded safety numbers to be factual for cycling and running.

The study calculated safe distances for each sport: That 65 feet is needed when riding a bike at 18 miles per hour, 33 feet while running at a 6:44 minutes-per-mile pace, or 16 feet while walking at a normal pace.

“By that time, the droplets will have moved down to the ground and you won’t get them in your face,” said researcher Bert Blocken.

What about riding or jogging side by side?

“It’s no problem unless you turn your head and cough in their direction,” Blocken said.

By way of wind tunnel tests, it was concluded that the zone of potential danger falls in a narrow slipstream behind runners and cyclists, instead of forming a wide V-shaped cone. In theory, Blocken said, this means that runners or cyclists can limit their exposure even more by staggering their position to avoid that slipstream.

Veteran cyclist Bill Gorodetzer, a member of the Central Bucks Cycling Club, tends to believe in these findings.

Gorodetzer points out that riding groups, pedaling strictly on an unofficial basis, have dwindled from the usual 10 or so down to about a maximum of four. This allows for proper, safe spacing.

“As we’ve gotten more educated and more concerned about what the public would think of a string of 10 riders – even if they’re safely spaced out – they would say there’s a gang of people,’’ Gorodetzer said.

On the other extreme, there are people who only feel comfortable solo riding. But as Gorodetzer noted, it’s more dangerous to bike on your own because you can have a breakdown (and you’re on your own), a medical issue, plus you’re not as easy to spot as a larger group by automobile drivers.

Ultimately, there are other factors, such as wind conditions, that play a part in safe spacing as well. So like with the gusts that were around here on Wednesday, even greater precautions have to be taken.

“In theory, the higher the wind, the greater the dispersion,’’ Gorodetzer said. “We take as many precautions as we can.’’

Then there is the matter of whether or not to wear a mask. The majority of casual/recreational riders seem to be donning them while the advanced riders for the most part are not. Breathing issues come into play here, too.

Harry Betz, who owns and operates Newtown Bike Shop, is an accomplished cyclist himself.

One thing he’s tried to do on his rides, particularly on the weekends, is avoid crowds. So his recent trip along the Delaware Canal path turned into a ride along River Road.

“It (the canal path) was packed,’’ Betz said. “Most were wearing masks but I didn’t feel safe. Still, social distancing is working to bring down the cases and perhaps gives us a light at the end of this dark tunnel we’re in.’’

For the past few years, the Bucks County Roadrunners have been gathering for group runs and rides on weekends but with the pandemic, the number have dwindled.

“Due to recent findings on how far the virus can travel, we have had very few bikers and even minimal runners,’’ veteran BCRR member Bill Schaffling said. “Uncooperative weather aside, most of the bike riders are going it alone.

“When running, all are wearing a mask or scarf to protect other runners or people they pass while trying to maintain a safe distance between each other.’’

Added BCRR member John O’Brien: “I have done most of my running and all of my cycling solo. It’s not easy to find somewhere not crowded. I enjoyed last week when the trails in Core Creek Park (Middletown Township) were open and the gates were kept closed since it minimized the people in the park and eliminated car traffic.’’






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About Wayne Fish 2451 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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