To Ride, or Not to Ride? That is the Question….

Africa Twin desert
The decision to ride or not ride a motorcycle in these troubled times is a highly personal one. Photo by Kevin Wing.

As I write this in early April 2020, the effect of the novel coronavirus on the planet is evolving daily. Currently entire countries are on lockdown and shelter-in-place orders are in effect in more than 40 U.S. states in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.” The toll on human life and the global economy has been heartbreaking, shocking and downright scary, and unlike anything most of us have experienced.

The concept of “social distancing” is strangely new and difficult to fathom by a species for which socializing is so vital to our health and well-being. Yet physically distancing ourselves from one another or just staying home has become the second most important weapon in our defense, after our brave, selfless and heroic first responders and healthcare workers, who soldier on despite a lack of basic supplies and the risk of infection. God bless every last one. Being an optimistic type, I believe we will get past this eventually, and that life will return to something like normal — perhaps even better than normal having learned a lot about ourselves from the experience (hoarding toilet paper, really?). 

One topic of discussion that’s come up regularly, both within and beyond the friendly confines of the Rider office, is whether or not we should still be getting on our bikes and riding. Like any difficult question, the answer lies in a gray area; it’s not as clear-cut as many believe or would like it to be. I will say that here at Rider, we are still swinging legs over saddles and hitting the road, but only in the name of photo shoots and actual bike testing (perhaps at a slower pace than normal), so that we can continue to bring you the content we hope will help see us all through the coming weeks (months?). Touring is pretty much off the table, but fortunately we’ve got plenty of stories in the bank from our contributors around the country to see us through. 

But to answer your question: to ride, or not to ride…I won’t tell you outright that you should defy an order to stay home — we’re all in this race against the virus together and can’t afford to let our guard down. We certainly can’t get together to kick tires or bench race at rallies or races right now, or even just hang out at the usual gathering spots, a major sacrifice for those of us for whom the group social experience is the ride. But riding a motorcycle can be the very definition of social distancing, and the soul-cleansing joy of a ride is needed by all of us now more than ever. It’s certainly much more rewarding than binge-watching Netflix!

While there are a lot fewer vehicles on the road, it’s important that if you choose to ride, you do so with extra caution to avoid placing an additional burden on the healthcare system. Weigh the risks and make an informed, careful, personal decision about where, how and with whom. In areas where it’s still permissible to visit public parks and go walking, running and bicycling, it seems to me that motorcycle riding adheres to the spirit if not the letter of a stay-at-home order and provides an equally and adequately social-distant venue for recreation, provided that extra caution is observed. Consider your skill level and the local healthcare situation, and do or don’t accordingly.

Curious about how you, our readers, are handling the riding question, we sent out a survey to our eNews subscribers (you may have seen it, and hopefully you participated). While nearly 85% of you are currently under a “safer at home” order, 58% of you are still riding — but you’re doing it alone. Only 10% still meet up with their friends for a ride.

If you decide a motorcycle ride is out of the question for now, fortunately there is still plenty you can do to stay involved in our favorite activity/lifestyle/passion. At this writing the industry is just beginning to generate some special promotions and contests to give us something to do while we shelter in place. Roland Sands Design has kicked off a bike build-off contest open to anyone, for example, with some very cool prizes for the winner — a deadline for entry has not been set so check out rolandsands.com.

Although some dealers are closed and only doing business online, it’s vitally important that we support local motorcycle businesses any way we can, even if it’s just ordering up some parts and doing those basic maintenance chores you’ve been putting off. My 1982 Yamaha Seca is finally going to get the carburetor rebuild it needs, and maybe I’ll pull the exhaust system off and polish it up as well (the wife is taking bets).

Of course one of the most hopeful things you can do at home that will help keep your two-wheel dreams alive is to start planning some rides! Order up a highlighter and some maps and paper the walls of your living room with them — no one’s coming over anyway, right? Search the touring features and Favorite Rides on this website by region or keyword to research the best roads in the area, the things you should see along the way and great places to eat. In the meantime we’ll keep finding and writing about new places for you to ride when we are released from this nightmare. 

Speaking for the entire team at Rider and our contributors around the country, we hope that you and yours are safe and well and that you stay that way. For ourselves, the staff is taking the necessary precautions recommended or mandated by local government, but will continue to bring you Motorcycling at its Best somehow, some way. Motorcycling isn’t unique in that its enthusiasts have always nurtured and been part of a tight-knit community, but I like to think that we are exceptional in the strength of that bond, and in the universal understanding by our community’s members that for many of us motorcycle riding isn’t just a sport or a pastime — it’s a necessity, like breathing or eating. Stay safe and thanks for reading Rider.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Mark. I’m reaching out to you from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia Canada. It seems that we have something in common. We both own 1982 Yamaha Secas. Mine was given to me by my best friend Larry a while back. He has since passed on due to cancer. Although he had a collector plate on it as recently as the 2018 season, it has been down since then. He had a hard starting problem that turned out to be a major issue. We found out that in order to repair the problem the engine had to come out of the bike! Really? Yup. It was back to Larry’s shop where he and I removed said engine. Then, into the minivan and back to the dealership where the offending starter was repaired. Then it was carted home and sat in Larry’s shop beside the waiting motorcycle where it remained for the entire 2019 season. It remained there until early in January when my son-law Bruce and I managed to get the engine back in the frame under Larry’s supervision. Sadly my longtime riding pal succumbed to the big C two days later. Ya still with me? It gets interesting/frustrating from here. It turned out that we had no headlights. Neither light worked. Also, the high tech (for its time) dash shut down and will not function properly. As you are no doubt aware, the power to the lights runs through a relay on the left side of the bike. This relay is operated by special low voltage which delays turning on the lights until the engine fires. The idea is to save the battery during startup. We were able to jumper between the pins which allowed the lights to work. Hot damn! Just replace the relay! Right? Nope. We tried the relay from our parts bike which came along with this one and it still didn’t work. We then obtained another used relay and…….? Nope! So that’s where we’re at right now Mark. One more thing. The left turn signal doesn’t work. We tried everything including running a ground directly from the battery to the switch, then to the signal itself. No luck. In desperation, we replaced the signal relay located on the right side up under the gas tank nest to the steering head with one that was guaranteed good. No luck! Do you have any advice you can offer? Thanks for listening. Stay safe. P.S. I’ve got pictures. lol Jim Morris

  2. I’m in an area that is asking folks to practice social distancing and stay home for the most part. There are signs up around the city “Stay Active But Stay Apart”. Motorcycling seems a perfect fit. I won’t be doing any lengthy trips for a while but I’m still riding within 30 minutes of home.

  3. I’ve been social distancing on motorcycles for years. Face and hands covered (ATGATT), 2 seconds following distance (way more than a mere 6 feet), etc. Of course I’m still riding.

  4. I have chosen not to ride, although I have been an avid road and track rider since the mid 60s. Originally from Ohio, now living in Colorado, I find every season that my early season rides, after 4 to 6 months off the bike, need to be approached very carefully with extra focus even just getting from the garage to the road. And this current epidemic has hit just as winter is loosening up. Even a minor fall can cause stitches, or a broken hand and those medical providers have more important cases on the way, most likely. But I still am planning my autumn trip across the deep south, and a few track days later in the year.

  5. I am riding. Doing so for years. My work is considered essential so off to work I go , yes on two wheels.
    Of course when I start feeling off, I am off the saddle. I ride in cold and hot. Last weekend on my morning constitutional of course is full gear (this never changes due to temps) 35 degrees and sun was a nice ride morning. Time to test my cold weather gear (freshly repaired) and my shake down run (finally off the table) for 80 miles, Weather and health permitting I am off for a 150+ run for my final shake down.

    Ride long, ride free and keep your knees in the breeze.

  6. Michigan laws are such that you can be ticketed for riding. I don’t know that anyone has actually received a ticket, but it is well within an officer’s purview. You may say that you were going out for essentials, and that might prevent a ticket. But I have yet to tempt that potential fate. However, to be fair about this, we are not allowed to be out “joy-riding” in our cars or trucks either. All is on lock-down. I have not yet gone on any rides since the Executive Orders have been established. I see quite a few people not following these rules. That is their choice. I may decide to bring my bikes home from storage at my sister’s house, but that is only a couple blocks away on residential streets. I am planning some trips for when all this brouhaha is over, but for now, I will follow the rules as I wouldn’t want to potentially put anyone else (or myself, for that matter) under unnecessary risk . . .

  7. As a rider with 51 years of history and 5 bikes in the garage, l will continue to ride daily to run errands, go to the office, and stress relieve with short rides on country roads nearby.

    I am hoping that we return to normal life in the months ahead. To Mark’s suggestion, l will be planning a couple of epic rides in anticipation of that happening.

  8. This is absolutely clear cut: NO JOYRIDING! Only travel for work, to gather provisions, exercise, or special reasons, like getting to the hospital because you can’t breath! If we don’t take a break from our spring riding we’ll be taking a forced break from our summer riding. Stay put. Stay safe. And wash your hands!

  9. I take occasional short rides, less than 30 miles, every 4-5 days. I don’t stop anywhere on the ride and so don’t come into contact with anyone. We in Texas are not currently prohibited from such activities unless that has changed very recently.

  10. Here in Iowa there is no stay at home orders, but I’m 64 years old and retired, My wife and I both have been staying at home except for a couple grocery store trips, I have a project bike I am working on, but I have made a couple short rides out side the city, ATGATT, but I have not gone on rides when I could have because I think staying home is more socially responsible, besides I do like working on My new drag bike, and I want to healthy enough ride that down quarter mile.

  11. Yes, I’m still doing day rides with my pals here in the southwest. I spend winters in Yuma AZ where the weather is mostly perfect. Early April brings day-time highs of about 80. The roads near here are mostly straight and flat so not great fun on a bike but it’s easy to get to the fun roads in the mountains of San Diego county. We’ll get take-out lunch from any open restaurant or pack a picnic lunch. And of course we stay at least 6 feet away from each other and anybody we might meet during our outings. Because of Covid-19, we don’t have any of our tours scheduled for 2020.

  12. Great article, well thought out with great meaning. My riding circles and I are on the same page as you. Thanks for writing this article. I sent a link to my riding clubs.

  13. I have been taking along disposable mechanic’s gloves (same as medical gloves?) and use them when I pump gas or use any device like a money machine or vending machine. Then I dispose of them right there in the gas station’s trash can before I put my riding gloves back on and ride off.

  14. Very thought provoking. Many varying opinions. A rider of 50+ years, local and long distance touring, we are of the age that is supposed to practice care and limitation of interactions. I am active in our local military honor guard, and we continue to provide services for families of departing fellow veterans. Most services here are limiting attendance, and mainly conduct graveside services. We have modified out procedures to limit exposures.
    As Spring is making its presence known in Indiana, I took advantage a couple of days ago, added 80 miles to the over 100k on my odometer. I was alone, out in fresh air, in full ATGATT, and rode local highways. It was truly refreshing.
    That being stated, I do see some comments from others, that I could become a burden for EMT’s, since we all know we are at somewhat more risk astride our mounts that if we were enclosed in our cage. I now have to ponder if/when I’ll go out again.
    thanks for the various views.

  15. I am 92 miles north of NYC and we are very hunkered down .. I did take the Street Scrambler to pick up my meds the other day and came home via every farm road I could think of … I don’t think I have ever washed and polished my bike this much ..Stay safe .. Remember people are dying . Wash your hands 🙂 and take this thing seriously .I think optimism in the site of adversity is the definition of true bravery ..

  16. I haven’t ridden in the past few weeks, but had been planning a long. multi-state trip in late May/early June that I guess will have to be postponed. My biggest concern about the trip itself — considerations of the general health/welfare of folks across the country aside — had been whether or not I’d find a place to eat or stay along the way. I’d not really considered the possibility of being ticketed for riding by myself across a deserted stretch of backroad in the middle of nowhere. That’s hard to fathom.

  17. I’m working from home as are many. even though I’ve the paperwork that says I’m essential with my work in the transportation industry. My tendency is to work longer than my normal day due to challenges with direct communication. Takes longer to plan and coordinate work. My normal commute is 150 miles a day and I accomplish this on vintage BMW’s airheads and K bikes. So when time has allowed am catching up on Maintenance for the stable two airheads and two k’s. Haven’t turned a wheel in a month. good time to patch up the riding equipment as well. Seems like many are working around their homes when not tied to the confuser. Good time to be work with the significant one and enjoy building something together. A WE shed is almost done and good to clear some things out of Garage make room for the project gs 750’s I’ve been trying to get to…. Stay busy.

  18. I have too much respect for our medical workers to risk adding another casualty to the already overworked system. Riding is like saying ‘screw’ you presently.
    Some will say, ‘But I only ride slowly and carefully’. Problem with that is it’s like not wearing ATGATT and saying; ‘Well I don’t plan on crashing.’ Does anybody?
    I have been riding for 55 years now and I’d like to make it last at least another 10 years.

  19. What?…only 65? I’m 87, have been riding now for for 70 years and don’t expect to quit until I can’t get on by myself anymore!

    • When the road calls, I hope to say hi! It was 40 this morning on the ride in today. I had to be tested for work when I arrived. The Med team laughed when I had to take off my leathers and the noticed I had 3 more layers under them. — – Keep your feet on the pegs and 65 and still riding.

    • My hero, Don! What do you ride? Would love to know what bikes you had when you were younger. My first was a 1966 Honda 160 Scrambler at 15 years old. Somehow the seller got a restricted plate, 81 mph!

  20. Talking with a friend we both figure there will be no Rallies we would attend because of the Chinese Virus. There is a place in Southern New Mexico and Arizona that I discovered but would not want to motel it for obvious reasons. Tent camping, having my own nastiness instead of another’s, just might be the ticket. It is still reasonably early in the season so waiting is not an issue. Day rides, taking my own lunch, and sitting amongst the pines, alone, does not break my heart.

  21. Riding a motorcycle remains the ultimate expression of social distancing for all the obvious reasons. I ride every weekend, locally, and can’t wait for the return of some kind of normalcy. I understand the risk I am potentially placing on the emergency services if something goes sideways on a ride. Without riding, many of my friends and I would not be pleasant people to be around.

    • Good for you! I stay on the boat all weekend, or on the golf course away from everyone (separate carts). I ride my Vespa up/down the beach in fresh air, no problems! Would like to do cross country camping trip with a KTM 390 on the back of the truck as soon as things settle down a bit (post election?)

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