Here in British Columbia, we have been really lucky with our pandemic response. Starting as the initial epicenter of Canada’s COVID-19 infections, our Provincial Officer of Health Dr. Bonnie Henry was swift to put forward recommendations to flatten the curve (my vote for 2020’s catchphrase). We closed things down early, and I started my working from home adventure nearly two months ago, on St. Patrick’s day.
I commute to work on my motorcycle. I honestly ride 12 months a year as it’s the only place in Canada you can, with the trade-off that you can’t ride in the Lower Mainland unless you ride in the rain. I only bring this up to point out that my motorcycle is my main mode of transportation. Vancouver isn’t particularly friendly to motorcycles, but in the ‘burbs they like them. (Rest assured, this will be revisited…).
Since March 17, I’ve tried to end my week (when it isn’t biblical levels of rain) by taking a spin after work on Friday evenings. Why then? I don’t know, that’s when I need it. Occasionally, part of a Saturday or Sunday, but really generally on Friday evenings. It’s wind therapy. Then I saw an article or two about riding during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I started to wonder if I was being selfish. Was this just me finding a way to flaunt things? Was I just breaking a loose rule about essential travel?
I’ve been talking to my 84 year old dad regularly. He has lived on his own for a few years now, but always has the company of friends, some of whom live in his building, and my brothers and their families. Not anymore, though. He’s pretty isolated in his building. Sometimes, he just goes out for a drive – just to get out and about. It’s safer, as there is little other traffic on the road, and it lets him get out and reconnect with the world. He’s bored, alone and watching TV or futzing about on the internet. No one begrudges him that, when he’s ensuring that he isn’t coming into contact with anyone else. He’s just getting out, not even stopping anywhere. He’s out to see something other than his four walls.
Riding connects me to a kind of peace…
My riding is, essentially, the same. It gets me out. I’m socially distant from everyone. The traffic is lighter so it’s a lot safer. And I’m going on some pretty scenic routes around the city, staying off highways and most arterial roads where I can.
Until April 24th, anyway. That’s the time I took a longer trip. That’s the time I traveled, as the B.C. Government would put it. That’s the first time I rode up and saw my children. Actually saw them, with my own eyes, live and not on Facetime, for the first time since March 15th. And it was a surprise to them too. I had to travel an hour north, and there is no doubt in my mind that this was necessary travel. I needed it, and so did the kids. Like I said: necessary travel.
There have been other rides of note. I’ve used the bike to pick up take-out from restaurants we want to see survive. During the first break of amazing weather, we rode to White Rock and on to Steveston, where we got take-away fish and chips from a restaurant run by family. I’ve used the bike to get groceries, pick up medicine for my dog, go to a local brewery to get beer, go to the post-office, and even to deliver a “care package” to the front porch of friends who were on 14-day self isolation after returning from a trip at the start of the lock down.
There are lots of ways to justify my riding, but the biggest one for me is this: it’s good for my mental well being. It blows the cobwebs out in a way nothing else can. It’s not a “freedom” or “call of the open road” level of BS that the marketing department of some lifestyle company is trying to send. It’s a very personal solace that I take with me on my rides, and it lets me decompress in a way unlike anything else. And it’s maintaining the requisite physical distancing.
The “wave”, and May is Motorcycle Awareness Month
Even on my solo rides, though, I’m not alone. I’m sure you’ve seen it, the two finger wave that motorcyclists give to each other as they pass. There is a whole bunch of bro-code BS on the internet about that wave – again, a lot of it promoted by the lifestyle brand types. “It’s a biker thing… you wouldn’t understand”, or similar trite and obtuse phrases to exclude those that aren’t part of the “club” don’t help.
I wave at other bikes. I wave at scooters. If it has an engine and 2 (or 3) wheels, I wave at it. If it is meant to be driven only on the street and not a mix of street and sidewalk (I’m looking hard at the scourge of electric scooters that look like motorbikes…), I wave to the rider. We share something, a kindred spirit, and a skill. Jeep owners do it, as do VW Bug owners – you acknowledge someone that shares something ephemeral and fleeting, almost capricious, that you can’t put your finger on. Again, it’s not the Easy Rider call of the open road, or the longing for Route 66. It’s about balance, and focus, and the smell of the air at 90 km/h. It’s about a shared experience, and a hope that everyone has enjoyed the ride they’ve had.
That brings me to the Public Service Announcement portion of our program. It’s May, and the Province of BC has once again declared it Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. ICBC is continuing a great campaign that they have about wearing “all the gear, all the time” (also known as ATGATT), and will likely still work with the department of highways to put up notices on the rotating highway boards. To their credit, ICBC has always done a great job of promoting motorcycle safety for May, when even their classic car calendars have a picture of a motorbike. (The calendars are normally freely available from your Autoplan broker in November to January, and are full of great photos). So, here’s a reminder – there are way more bikes out on the road right now, in fact it looks like there are more that normal even for May. The weather has turned, and people are getting antsy to get out and about, and eyeing their shiny steed in the garage or parking stall. Please remember that, and do proper lane checks. If you have a new vehicle with blind spot monitoring, motorbikes are small and might just be missed by your car’s sensors. Please do your part and be wary about motorbikes at all times of the year, but especially now as more people are putting them on the road, and as their skills might be a little rusty since putting the bike away in the fall.
It’s good practice for you, anyway. We’ve all been on lockdown, which means we are driving less, and there is less traffic on the road when we are out and about. You might be more relaxed, and more lax, instead of having to be hyper-vigilant in bumper-to-bumper Lower Mainland traffic (and of course, you stay off your phone, right?). Your skills might be a little bit rusty too. So please, double-check those blind spots. Try and make sure you see the orange bike that has a guy that looks like me on it, dressed like a Power Ranger – because, well, that’s me, and I’d appreciate it. So would the 3% of British Columbians that have an insured motorcycle.