Bicycle touring during the pandemic

Bicycle touring during the pandemic

So you think 2020 is the worst year to go cycling about. Or maybe the best. Or maybe you don’t know. I see bike touring as one of the safest forms of tourism for the pandemic season, and is a rather reasonable way to enjoy this year’s warmest months. Below I try to give a few thoughts and tips on how to enjoy bike touring in 2020, based on my experienced so far while cycling almost 3000 km from France to Montenegro.

Protect yourself and others

This one is obvious. If you go cycling in 2020, you will need to carry hand sanitizer and facial masks. I carry three fabric masks and regularly wash them with soap and near-boiling water. At least within Europe, as far as I can say, hand sanitizer is the ubiquitous product of the year so I only carry a little flask and buy refills along the way. While I did not use hand sanitizer at all during the lockdown, I find it very practical on tour: washing hands is not always an option, and sometimes I just don’t want to leave the bike.

Follow local customs

I was really surprised how social distancing and face masking customs vary between country, or even from place to place within a country. The country that surprised me the most was Switzerland, which recorded a high number of COVID-19 cases but followed virtually no social distancing measures. On the other hand, Slovenia and to some extent Croatia appeared relatively well-prepared despite having been little affected in Spring.

When entering a new country, it may be a good idea to ask for the local customs. The locals are typically well aware of the evolution of the pandemic in their countries or cities, so I tend to trust their behaviour. The only place where I did not follow what others did was, again, Switzerland, were I was the only one wearing a mask in shops and definitely felt stigmatized for it. Other than that, I generally felt that adapting my behaviour, and trying to stay on the safer side, led to better relationships with the locals. In any case, the rules of COVID-19 manners are not really different from the rules of travelling into different cultures. Just open your eyes and ears, and in doubt, just ask.

No plan is the best plan

Many of us have had our plans jeopardized in the first half of 2020. So this new strategy is what has worked best for me. I met several other cyclists on the road who had cancelled their original plans because of travel restrictions or fears to visit badly affected regions. During the peak of the pandemic, I too cancelled my plans, loosing a lot of money in the process. So when I began cycling in mid-June, I had no clear plans beside cycling east, with the vague idea that I wanted to visit the Balkans. Since leaving France I have seldom read the news. When major waves of infection happened, as for instance during mid-summer in Serbia, I always heard about it through others. As many European countries are now on the brink of loosing or gaining control on the spread of the virus, the legal situation is ever changing. Current travel bans may be lifted in two weeks, and vice-versa.

Prepare to quarantine

The best way to avoid getting stopped at a border or having to quarantine is to tour within your country of residence. I found that this is the option of choice for many cycle tourists this year, especially those who need to get back to work or family. On the other hand, if one plans for longer-term cross-country cycling, I think one should be ready to end up in quarantine. My way to deal with this is that I carry with me a laptop and a pile of blank notebooks. With these items, hopefully complemented with a few bottles of wine, I know that I will be able to keep myself busy if I end up locked for two weeks in a hotel room.

Enjoy slow travel

Finally, I think cycle tourism is one of the more responsible options to enjoy this year’s summer. In 2020, the effects of climate change are more blatantly obvious than ever. But when cycling instead of using a train or car (or plane), you’re not only doing good for the planet, but also travelling slower. If you were to get infected by the virus, and used motorised transit, you would perhaps carry it to multiple countries before noticing the symptoms. With a bicycle, unless you cycle in Liechtenstein or Luxembourg, there is no such risk. Of course, the safest option of all remains to stay at home. But if you are travel-sick, there is no more hesitation to have, just grab your bike, and then why not just start travelling from your door?

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