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Motorcycling Safety During a Pandemic

Wearing motorcycle gear and rider skills take on new meaning

By Carla King
2/27/2021

motorcycling safely in a pandemic women adventure riders
Riding and bonding with riding buddies is one of the best things about motorcycling. Besides wearing safety gear and honing your riding skills, social distancing, disinfecting, and wearing masks at stops will help keep you safe to ride another day. In this photo, Henriette Thiim, Jessica Gelderman, and Cate Canaveral are geared up in the Moroccan Sahara Desert.

Motorcycling is suddenly the safest way to travel, with natural social distancing, lots of fresh air, helmets, and gloves. But how do we stay safe when we stop for gas, food, or head out on a trip with overnight stays? Here are some tips for you with help from my friend Elaine Masters, the Trip Well Gal, for staying protected while riding your motorcycle. Elaine's story, "How to Be a Responsible Tourist" (link below) details precautions she took on recent road trips up and down the Pacific Coast and an international trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

The Importance of Riding Extra-Cautiously

I had a motorcycle tour in Thailand in 2020 planned, but since it was canceled my motorcycling adventures have been centered close to home in California. If you’re lucky enough to have a trailer or toy hauler, now’s the time to take it on the road with you.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic carla king adventure rider ktm 450
My favorite setup: Land Cruiser with paddleboards on the roof rack, a tent in the truck bed, KTM 450 EXC dual-sport bikes on the trailer. This was a fun way to explore Baja during the pandemic.

A note about riding style, speed, and risk-taking. While I’m not inclined to take risks when I ride even during normal times, I’m extra careful these days so I don’t end up in the hospital during this crisis.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic carla king dual sport riding women
Being extra careful while riding has never been more important so that we don't wind up needing medical attention when hospitals are experiencing supply and equipment shortages. In this photo, Cassandra Yahnian and Erin Sortwell celebrate riding at the women's Over and Out off-road event in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.

Check for Outbreaks

Wherever you go and however you get there, Elaine’s first tip is to check ahead for regional outbreaks. Research current CDC guidelines and follow scientific progress as the contours of the pandemic evolve. If there’s an outbreak near your destination it’s better to change your plans than to risk it. The good news that comes with the bad is that nowadays most places have lots of vacancies and are hungry for visitors, so you won’t have to look far for a good alternative.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic carla king adventure rider
Helmet and gloves in hand, mask and wipes in the tank bag, and flip-flops tucked under the ROK-straps. Me and my Kawasaki KLR 650 are ready to ride.

Masking Up

Because COVID-19 is transmitted as an aerosol, it’s important to keep yourself masked. If you wear a full-face helmet, awesome! Keep that visor down. If you don’t wear a full-face helmet, do wear a properly fitted mask. Purchasing the right mask is important and layering up can help a lot. Masks should have two layers of washable, breathable fabric, completely cover your nose and mouth, and fit snugly against your face. Bandanas aren't a good option because it doesn’t meet this criteria. Neck gaiters are good, but they are usually only a single layer and made of thin, stretchable fabric. Fabric that stretches will naturally create more space between the fibers to allow air and aerosol spray through. The CDC recommends folding a single-layer gaiter in half to create a double layer.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic tricia szulewski mary ohare
It’s easy to pull your neck gaiter up and keep your face shield down while riding. At stops, make sure you safely distance and use CDC-recommended masks. Taking group selfies is a little more challenging when you need to keep distanced, but WRN editor Tricia Szulewski shows us here how it can be done.

The most effective masks are rated N-95 (US Standard) or KN-95 (Chinese Standard). With new virus mutations, the CDC now recommends double masking if you’re not using a N-95/KN-95, and to make sure it’s sealed completely. If you wear a double-layer cloth mask, use a filter in it for best effect.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic carla king masked women riders
Wear your mask correctly by covering your nose completely and make sure to cover your chin, too. If the mask makes your glasses foggy, that means it’s not sealed, therefore not effective at keeping you and others safe. In this photo, Jo Miller, Soph Doiron-Desharnais (with Radit the tiger), and Denise Pelrine mask up during a break from riding.

Be careful about handling used masks. Remove the ear loops first and avoid touching the front of the mask. Wash your hands or use sanitizer after handling your mask. When you take off your mask put it in a folder, baggie, or designated holder. Wash your mask daily or expose it to sunlight and heat which are natural sanitizers. In a car, the dashboard works great. On a motorcycle, tuck your mask into the clear map holder on your tank bag. Otherwise, rotate it frequently with another mask.

Rest Stops and Gas Stations

If you can keep your gloves on through the entire process of getting your credit card out, gassing up, and going, that’s awesome! Remember, though, don’t touch your face. If you have to take your gloves off, keep them clean by removing them before you touch anything. Also, make sure you’ve gotten your hand sanitizer out ahead of time. Then do all the things you need to do: pump gas, purchase snacks, and go to the bathroom. Don’t forget to wash your hands to your favorite 20-second song. Now’s the time to put on sunscreen and lip balm.

Back at the bike, use your hand sanitizer on your credit cards, phone, key fob, and anything else you’ve touched before finally sanitizing your hands. Now put your gloves back on.

Safe Lodging

motorcycling safely in a pandemic camping
Campgrounds can offer riders a safe getaway. Check ahead to learn about any new campground restrictions before you go.

Campgrounds are open again but if you’re not a camper, try booking independent units in motels and small hotels. Cabin rentals make social distancing easy. Request rooms with windows that open and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions when you book. Ask what safety procedures they’re following. Specifically ask when the room was last used and when it was cleaned. It needs to be empty for a couple of hours to allow any aerosol particulates to settle and dry.

Here are a few tips:
  • Book a room with windows that open.
  • Bring disinfecting wipes for the high-touch spots and you just have to trust that housekeeping staff wear masks and gloves.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or witness noncompliant staff, go somewhere else.
  • Leave good tips for staff. They’re probably working reduced hours and crazy schedules. They are putting themselves and their families on the line to be of service.
  • Respect the locals

Motorcycle Safety Training and Tours

Motorcycle tours and rider training businesses are open. You can enjoy the sport and avoid being a spreader. Practice social distancing, wear a mask, and wash your hands. If you see staff, students, or other guests ignoring safety precautions, speak out.

motorcycling safely in a pandemic maggir mcnally msf womens class
Maggie McNally (far right) kept her students safely distanced when she taught this MSF Basic RiderCourse at Capital Area Motorcycling School in Troy, New York, on International Female Ride Day 2020. The two women standing together on the left are family members.

We already knew motorcycling was a great way to travel, and now it’s both a fun and smart way to go. But we still need to take precautions to keep ourselves and others safe.

What are you doing to keep yourself and others safe on motorcycle trips, long or short? Got any tips for us? Stories about what you’re seeing while you’re on the road these days? We’d love to hear your thoughts and observations. Please share your comments below, and find out how to submit your story here at this link.


Carla King is a long-distance touring motorcyclist who travels to exotic places and writes about it. Read her Motorcycle Misadventures stories about trips in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. She runs a Your Moto Diaries travel writing workshop, travel memoir workshops, and offers book publishing services, too. Find her on the web at CarlaKing.com and enjoy her book American Borders, which was reviewed here on WRN.

Sources
CDC Guide to Masks
Trip Well Gal
How to Be a Responsible Tourist

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