Like almost every other aspect of life right now, riding a bike around Atlanta is different than it was before social distancing and the shelter-in-place order. There are fewer cars are on the road, bike shops are instituting new policies to keep their employees and customers safe and group rides have been canceled.
One of the more notable cancellations was of Atlanta’s largest group bike ride, Critical Mass. It rolls out from Woodruff Park in Downtown Atlanta on the last Friday of every month. On March 27, that did not happen. It was a sunny, 80-degree day, but at the time the ride usually begins, the park was quiet.
Angel Poventud has helped organize Critical Mass for the past seven years. While technically the ride does not have a leader, Poventud creates the route and often guides the ride out of Woodruff Park each month. In response to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s shelter-in-place order, he posted to the ride’s Facebook page, encouraging people to skip it this time around.
“I did not want to tell people what to do, it’s every person doing their own thing together. But I just let people know that I wasn’t going to do it and that I encouraged others not to do it as well,” he said.
Although group rides and other cycling-related events are no longer happening, bike shops are considered essential services under Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order and continuing to get business, especially for repairs.
“We picked up a lot as far as service goes. A lot of people started showing up with bikes they haven’t ridden in quite some time,” Kenneth Oladapo, owner of Clutch Bicycle Shop, said.
Shops are also undertaking new safety precautions like limiting the number of people allowed in the store, requiring all employees to wear gloves and disinfecting bikes.
Chris Tavel of Loose Nuts Cycles has instituted a contactless system of bringing a bike in for repairs, should a customer want to go that route.
“If you wanted to stay in your car, you could give us a call we could come out as long as the bike is on a bike rack on the outside of the car, we have no problem pulling it off,” he said.
People riding bikes in Atlanta have noticed a change as well. Jill Lowther is a car-free, bike commuter who found her commutes safer after the shelter-in-place order was issued.
“As a bike commuter, it’s been awesome. My job cannot be done from home. So I had about two or three weeks where I was working at the office, and the streets were empty. So it really made bike commuting safer,” she said.
While fewer cars on the roads can make things safer, it also changes the way people are driving, warns Rebecca Serna, the executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
“People can drive a lot faster. So we’re calling on people who are still driving to try 25. And what that means is try driving 25 miles an hour. That speed, if you hit someone, you’re much less likely to kill them. The last thing we want to do is have anyone have to go to the hospital and take up a bed that is really needed to treat this crisis,” Serna said.
Riding a bike is allowed as exercise or transportation under Kemp’s shelter-in-place order.