Bike Etiquette: Mask Edition
May 23, 2020 3:15 PM   Subscribe

My work will re-open relatively soon. I want to return to bike commuting. Of course I wear a mask whenever I'm outside or at the office these days. But what's the expectation when on a bike?

One more complication. My masks and my glasses don't get along, and I don't want to lose my glasses while riding, or try to ride while gazing through fogged lenses.
posted by bearwife to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
Most bicyclists in my area (Bay Area) are not wearing masks. (Of course, when you stop at stop signs and stop lights, stay 6 feet away instead of pulling up alongside someone like you normally would).
posted by amaire at 3:23 PM on May 23

I haven’t been wearing a mask when I ride. Of course, I’m riding in mostly residential neighborhoods where I rarely even see anyone on the street, let alone within six feet, but I would think the mask would interfere with your breathing pretty badly.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:28 PM on May 23

Most of the bike riders in my part of town go unmasked. Stopping a few meters from pedestrians at crossings and not pulling up to cars with open windows seems thoughtful. (Don't expect cars to do the same.)
posted by eotvos at 3:30 PM on May 23

I've taken to wearing mine; adds a little to the exercise value; which I missed for a few weeks of the ~not going outside moments of our recent lives~.
It's also already on; so I'm not having to stop and fumble with remembering to put it on before going into the grocery; etc.
Good to be rolling again; yes :) .
posted by Afghan Stan at 3:30 PM on May 23

not a cyclist but here in urban los angeles, the split I’ve observed is around 2/3 no mask (but often wearing one around the neck), 1/3 mask while riding.
posted by changeling at 3:40 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

I have seen a lot of cyclists wearing masks in my neighborhood, and *really* appreciate it even if it's just a bandanna, especially is someone is breathing heavily, or passing me from behind as I'm walking so I can't easily get out of the way.
posted by pinochiette at 3:45 PM on May 23 [10 favorites]

I think the expectation is to have one available, but not to wear it when you're nowhere near people. I'd wear something like a buff around my neck, that way you could simply pull it up if you feel like you're in a situation that requires a mask
posted by beyond_pink at 3:47 PM on May 23 [13 favorites]

One reason I quit walking outside was because of cyclists and joggers not wearing masks and passing very close to me. If you choose not to wear a mask, please stay far away from pedestrians when you pass them.
posted by FencingGal at 3:51 PM on May 23 [32 favorites]

I don't wear one but have one readily available and I give other riders and pedestrians lots of space. This seems to be what others are doing as well in my area (Chicago).
posted by readery at 3:55 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Depends where you are and the circumstances but on my multiuse trail where I run, bicyclists who zoom by without wearing a mask The deal is the refuse left by a bicyclist's breath hovers in the air behind them and walkers and runners can only hold their breath for so long without sucking it in and have to calculate how the wind is blowing. That sucks.

If you want a recommendation: mask you wear around your neck mostly and when you come up behind people, slip it over your face, then thirty, forty feet away, slip it back down.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:02 PM on May 23 [14 favorites]

This guy from Bicycling magazine makes a pretty good case for wearing one.

Cycling News and VeloNews mostly agree, though they allow a little more room for not wearing it all the time, but having a mask readily available for when you're close to other people.

My own inclination has been to wear a mask whenever I'm in sight of other people (and to try to hit up some of the less-popular local trails).
posted by box at 4:06 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

I’m a Minnesotan bike commuter and wear a face covering often, and the fresh air when moving should keep your glasses fog free.

Getting a good nose seal also helps a lot. I find that my large plastic glasses push my mask down to fit better.
posted by advicepig at 4:06 PM on May 23

I'm in the Bay Area also, and in my county the order states that you are not required to wear a mask while bicycling, but that you should wear one wherever possible. In practice, I never see anybody on a bike wearing a mask (or following any of the other guidance about keeping your distance, for that matter). I think that having the mask handy and being able to put it on within many feet of any other cyclists or pedestrians is the expectation.

Personally, I can't even walk with my glasses on and a mask without experiencing fogging, but I've read in a few places that both the fit of the mask and how you tie it (if it has ties) can make a big difference there. I haven't tried any of the suggestions yet , though.
posted by sm1tten at 4:11 PM on May 23

Running errands I usually have a mask worn chinstrap style so I can quickly put it on if I see someone coming in my direction. Otherwise when I bike for exercise I try to find places with no pedestrian traffic (empty business parks early in the morning are pretty good for this). If I do see someone coming I give them a wide berth, i.e swing into the street instead of staying the bike lane or shoulder. I’ve pretty much stopped using the trails near my house because I wasn’t comfortable passing all the walkers and cyclists with no masks and no space to distance.
posted by btfreek at 4:14 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Have you tried it? The velocity of biking may make the glasses less of a problem than you think.

I have not been using one but only bc my recent rides have me mostly alone on each block.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:15 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

I've been wearing one if I am anywhere near pedestrians or other bikers. I get horrible fogging whenever I stop. As long as I'm moving, though, the glasses have been clear. I think it's unfair for the pedestrians who don't have a choice of me passing by them otherwise.
posted by lab.beetle at 5:13 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

"Buff" is actually a brand name that has become kind of a general term for an item known generically as a neck gaiter. It's a tube made of synthetic stretchy thin fabric , about 18 inches long and 9 inches wide. If you fold it in half, you've got a double layer of fabric that's 9 inches long, so if you pull it over your head and wear it around your neck while biking you can pull it up over your mouth and nose quickly and easily as needed. True, I see many people out walking and biking without masks, and I know there's controversy as to how necessary they are outdoors, but I think that covering my face when passing others within 6 feet is a courtesy to people -- some of whom have posted above -- who have autoimmune conditions or other concerns, and it's just not that hard. "Buff" actually turns out to be a better search term than neck gaiter, and I have found them to be available through REI, Duluth Trading, Dick's, etc. at $13 to $20 and up (more for merino wool, etc). I wear glasses and have found the buffs to fit pretty well over my nose so my glasses don't fog very much, if at all, during the relatively short periods of time (i.e. before, during, and immediately after passing people) I have it covering my face. Also very breathable.
posted by littlecatfeet at 5:14 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]

In my city (disclaimer: lots of cyclists, low Covid cases) almost no cyclists wear masks.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:16 PM on May 23

The “buff” (new word to me but that is exactly what I have) is what I use for biking or running (I run a mostly deserted route early in the day.) I also have a better designed snug-fitting fabric mask for other times like strolling or grocery pick up. I’m trying to adjust to it for exercise but I’m finding it sets off a sense of being suffocated for me if I’m breathing hard.* I have a limited supply of medical-grade masks made by a local supplier for times I’m really close, like at the pharmacy.

* it’s likely PTSD related but there it is. The buff is open enough at the bottom that I don’t feel the same way.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:03 PM on May 23

I've been wearing some kind of face covering while riding and trying to space out at lights. Mostly that's been a buff, which is easier to breathe through and sits low enough on my nose to not fog my glasses, and then I'll carry a better mask for if I'm stopping somewhere. It's easy enough to pull it down around my beck when I'm not remotely going to be near anybody else and want better airflow (carry hand sanitizer if you think you'll be touching your mask). Not every cyclist is wearing a mask here, but a decent number are, and it very much seems like the right thing to do if there's any chance you'll be near others.
posted by zachlipton at 6:48 PM on May 23

I've been wearing one. I'm in a dense urban area with narrow streets (Boston/Cambridge), and there are pretty much always people around, so I'd be constantly futzing with my mask if I took it off and then put it on whenever I was near someone. When I'm walking, I get annoyed by passing maskless runners and cyclists who're clearly breathing more heavily than someone at walking speed; I figure I should behave accordingly when I'm the one on the bike. Mask-wearing rates seem to be a bit higher here - yesterday I'd say more than half the other people I saw on bikes had masks - but mask compliance is pretty high here in general, in part due to the $300 fine for not wearing one, and in part due to high COVID-19 rates.

So far, I've found the glasses-fogging issue to be similar to the glasses fogging one encounters with neck gaiters or buffs when biking during the winter (which I've done in Chicago and Boston): it's real, but it can be minimized by choice and arrangement of the face mask, and it clears up when in motion. In this case, you absolutely want one with a bend-able wire over the nose, which can prevent your breath from exiting up around the top of the mask (and by your glasses) rather than through it. We also just had one of our first really warm days, and fogging was much less of an issue at warmer temperatures, as expected. The slightly increased difficulty in breathing isn't that unlike biking with a buff or gaiter either. Realizing that this is all essentially something I already had experience with is helping me get used to it. I should note that I am very much an urban commuter: with stop signs and traffic lights and people everywhere, there's a limit to how fast I'm going to go. Your experience may differ if you're used to biking fast in sparsely populated areas!

Might be worth it to take some test rides to try things out before jumping back into commuting?
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 7:47 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

I wear a bandana or buff while cycling and my approach has been mask down when in the street, but I do stop 6+ feet behind other cyclists at lights, etc.; mask down on multi-use paths with no people or just a few; and up when trail is crowded and users can't be 6' apart. Regardless of the scenario if I see a group coming toward me all wearing masks I pull mine up as I pass out of respect for them. I have tried various strategies from youtube and cycling forums by my glasses still fog up every time I slow down! :(
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:51 PM on May 23

So, turns out Buff is the name of the company that makes them. I've ordered up.
posted by bearwife at 10:08 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

I use anti-fog spray on my swim goggles. I googled, and they make it for glasses, too:
posted by SageTrail at 11:41 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

I'm also one of the Buff™ users. I got the merino wool one, which is heavenly in all weathers because merino sheep wander from the Mediterranean to the Alps and their wool is suited for both climates. I tend to keep it around my neck as a scarf/sweat-wicker and pull it up over my nose and mouth when I head into a shop or someone is getting too close and I want to signal that I'm uncomfortable with it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:06 AM on May 24

I think you should at least signal to other folks that you're prepared and have a mask if you need to use it, so a buff sounds good. I've been using one anyway as a mask for walking and biking around, and have glasses, they're not too bad. Easy to pull down a bit when no-one's around. For me one problem is that if there are other folks who don't like wearing masks and if they see someone without one then they're more likely to think that they don't need one either.
posted by carter at 6:23 AM on May 24

Here is an article someone sent me recently.
posted by aniola at 8:48 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Here's an article linked to from the previous one I mentioned.
posted by aniola at 8:57 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

That Vox article aniola linked does a good job of explaining why it's very unlikely anyone will get infected from a passing bicyclist - e.g., any viral load in a dispersed exhalation cloud would be low and the duration of exposure is very short, both important factors. I've decided it's ok to not wear a mask during bike rides, though I do keep one around my neck/chin and pull it up if there's a busy section of the trail or when I stop near pedestrians. The streets I bike on are fairly wide and I visit the trails mostly during less busy times, so if that's not the case for you maybe adjust mask-wearing accordingly.
posted by mediareport at 8:32 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, is is it too late to throw out a tip I just learned?

Altoids. It gets gross under masks. Having a few in your pockets when you're winding through crowds or when it's hot is pretty nice, or, err, nicer than your sweaty face mask pocket smell.

I really appreciate how many people are being thoughtful about this....
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:36 PM on May 26

Late response but hopefully helpful for any other late readers. I wear contact lenses, but I've had terrible problems with my sunglasses fogging. Going without them in southern CA is not an option. Here's what I've tried:

Mask options:
1. Neck gaiter - almost no fog, but it doesn't feel like it offers great filtration even when the cloth is tripled up. I'm OK with it for outdoor exercise but keep extra distance.
2. Mask with ties - mimic N95 strap placement (knot upper ties toward the base of head, lower ties toward top of the head. Works pretty well but hard to tie on correctly unless in front of a mirror.
3. Mask with ear loops - slipknot the string or elastic to shorten the loops. Helps a bit, but uncomfortable on the ears after an hour.

Anti fogging options:
1. Anti fog spray/wipes - Coworker gave me a few single use cleaner/anti fogger wipe packets. Helps, but has to be reapplied frequently.
2. Soap residue - leaving a thin film on lenses works well. I no longer use this technique after getting soap in my eyes one sweaty day. Shaving cream supposedly also works.
3. Saliva - used to use this for ski goggles. Works really well and is always available. However, spitting on your glasses in public is obviously a no go these days.

What has made the biggest difference is finding a mask that fits to my face. Most of the mass produced unisex ones are just too big for me. A strong, long nose clip is good but harder to find unless you DIY. Also helpful is to slide the mask UP a little so that it can then be sandwiched between my glasses and face.
posted by Orrorin at 4:10 PM on June 6

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