ENCINITAS — Each weekend, North County plays host to hundreds of cyclists in dozens of groups ranging between five and 50 riders.
But with group bike rides uniformly canceled since the onset of COVID-19, North County cyclists are struggling to adapt to local and state regulations, with some debating the merits and restrictions on cycling during a pandemic.
Despite individual rumblings, leadership among cycling clubs and businesses, as well as state and local officials is uniform — no group rides, submit to social distancing measures and respect the law.
Swami’s Cycling Club, one of the most recognizable cycling organizations in Southern California, placed a full stop on all group rides as early as mid-March.
“Swami’s believes in doing what’s right for the community,” organization President Ryan Meskimen said. “60% of our membership [lives] in North County. The last thing we want to do is frustrate our local communities, especially the ones our rides originate and end in.”
Operating in line with CDC guidelines, USA Cycling and the State of California, Swami’s and local businesses are fully committed to canceling all group rides until public health conditions improve.
While the CDC and State of California openly allow biking alone or with members of one’s household, many cyclists have found themselves pressured by their own peers to stop entirely.
As a community, not just in Southern California but around the world, cyclists cannot agree whether continuing to ride during a pandemic is a right to be exercised or a privilege to be sacrificed in the face of uncertainty.
The level of danger a solo cyclist or any person engaging in outdoor activities poses to their community is still technically undetermined.
In an interview with NPR in early April, the World Health Organization firmly stated that coronavirus is not airborne, sparking disagreements from multiple accredited research institutions and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Lifelong endurance athlete, Mitch Hall, is among those Encinitas residents and cyclists fighting to ride a line of reason between respecting the law and continuing to ride during COVID.
“If the science and law demands it, then yes, I will comply,” Hall said. “If a guideline is based on fear, rumors, or irrational social pressure then I will find changing my behavior difficult.”
Hall will continue solo rides, practicing social distancing rules but without a mask or additional PPE until laws demand otherwise.
“It’s a balance between honoring the facts and holding to your own personal freedoms. What kind of world do we want to live in, especially when this is over, and what’s actually true about this virus? A new world governed by fear or misinformation?” Hall asked.
Brent Garrigus, owner of Ride Cyclery in Encinitas, pushed back on San Diego County’s latest restriction on small gatherings.
“For it to be illegal for two [non-related] people to stand outside in an open-air environment is a complete violation of our rights,” Garrigus said. “There’s no proof that [would] create a [health] problem… to me, that is an overreach by our local governments and municipalities.”
Garrigus ensured RIDE Cyclery does not condone large group rides and will remain open in an effort to support the physical and mental health of not just the cycling community but North County in general.
Like most things during COVID-19, the road forward for cyclists is unclear.
Currently, USA Cycling, the guidepost for businesses and cycling clubs such as Swami’s, has canceled permits for all sanctioned group rides, events, and races until May 31, 2020.
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