Dear Dr. Hamblin,
My partner and I are both blind. Since March, our primary means for getting anywhere has been walking. We haven’t ridden public transit and very rarely ride as a passenger in a car. However, we do have two tandem bikes. In normal times, our sighted friends would captain them (which is to say, be the front riders). Because this is an outdoor activity, and not face-to-face, we are wondering what the level of risk would be if both riders were masked. Is it safe to go tandem biking?
For all the volumes of research that have been published on COVID-19 so far, none has specifically focused on tandem bicycles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued no guidelines. But we’re all making decisions based on imperfect information these days, and I think we know enough to confidently apply some other studies to your scenario.
Generally speaking, biking is an ideal pandemic activity. It’s a great transportation alternative to riding in a car, and the presence of the bike itself mostly enforces physical distancing. Cycling has proved so opportune for the moment that in many places, the demand for bikes and the subsequent strain on the supply chain has made a decent bike almost as hard to come by as hand sanitizer that doesn’t smell like urinal cakes and vodka. I’m far from the only person endorsing pandemic cycling; in July, New Yorkers recorded 80 percent more bike rides in the exercise app Strava than they did at the same time last year. Riding a bike feels manifestly good in a world where almost nothing else does.