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Masks & Riding: 5 Things to Know

For the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on the developing COVID-19 pandemic, please check resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , World Health Organization (WHO), and Oregon Health Authority regularly. 


The United States of America has 50 states, 3,007 counties, 19,495 cities & towns, and 2,800 departments of health. Each has its own, unique COVID-19 policies which can make getting out for travel and recreation a little bit confusing. Here in Oregon we have “only” 36 counties and 241 cities & towns but that still has many of us wondering where we can ride, how far away we should go, and how to be best prepared for any of the communities we encounter along the way. As Bicycling magazine says in a recent article, “Depending on where you live, your local government may be giving you advice that’s different from what the federal government is saying. If you’re confused, you’ve got a lot of company. We’re all confused.”

Oregon has 32 counties in Phase 2 reopening and 4 counties in Phase 1 (Clackamas, Lincoln, Multnomah, & Washington). Governor Kate Brown issued updated guidance from the Oregon Health Authority regarding the use of face coverings in indoor public spaces for 7 Oregon counties, (Clackamas, Hood River, Lincoln, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, & Washington) effective Wednesday, June 24, 2020.  Counties not included in this guidance update may request to opt in at any time so it’s as important as ever to “Know before you go.”  Guidelines, updates, and county contact information can be found at Building a Strong & Safe Oregon.

We highly recommend Travel Oregon’s comprehensive and regularly-updated page: What Reopening Oregon Means For You

You Are Not Required To Wear A Mask While Riding

The updated guidance on wearing face coverings for 7 Oregon counties that went into effect earlier this week is for indoor public spaces. Outdoor activities and recreation can still be performed without masks though it is important to carry a face covering with you at all times should you encounter a group of people, enter a crowded public space, or stop at a cafe or store as part of your ride. Face coverings are not so much about your protection as the protection of those around you. In the case of cycling this is to control breath which may contain droplets from landing on others or on surfaces where they can be picked up later. Many reports suggest that outdoor transmission is uncommon but care should still be taken if you have to sneeze, cough, or blow your nose; drop back and ensure that no one is in your slip stream.

According to USA Cycling,  solo rides are safer than group rides though small groups with close, personal contacts are likely safe. Tim Johnson, Director of Development for USA Cycling, calls the group of his wife and a friend, the “Quaranteam”, and will only ride in their slip stream without a face covering. Encountering others mid-ride he will ride side by side and does carry a buff for closer, more public encounters. 

Group rides with people that you don’t know, even with face covering, are not recommended currently.

A Mask Doesn’t Exactly Mean A Mask

Masks while riding are use primarily to prevent droplet spread, not filter the air, and there are a few ways to do this. Certainly, there are many varieties of over-the-ear masks being offered by sports apparel companies and the designs are getting better and better for exercise use. We’ve recommended masks from Primal Wear before and can also recommend options from Portland-based Biciclista. Neck gaitors, or what many call buffs (Primal Wear calls them maskas), are popular for riding as they can be worn around the neck and quickly pulled up over the nose and mouth. Buffs are also popular because of the airflow they offer by being held a little bit more away from the face. Another neat feature with buffs is you can rotate them throughout the day to change from a damp section to a fresh section. A bandanna tied in a triangular shape is similar to a buff but with greater ventilation and air flow though that does mean less protection.

Pro tip! – Avoid paper, surgical style masks as high-intensity breathing and perspiration makes them damp quickly.

Wash Masks Daily!

Stories about “maskne”, an unpleasant and embarrassing side effect of regular mask wear, are popping up everywhere. Perioral dermatitis, a type of acne typically found around the mouth and in the areas around the nose, is being reported by dermatologists across the country. Similarly, acne mechanica can also result from face coverings due to the mechanical friction of fabric against skin. Pressure against tiny hair follicles in combination with moisture from breath and perspiration can lead to blemishes and irritation. Add in consumption of sugary energy gels and drinks, application of sunscreen, and the huffing and puffing of hard efforts and you end up with a microbe-rich environment. Don’t just remove a mask and leave it to dry for another use, wash and dry thoroughly after each use.

Pro tip! – It’s not just about clean hands; cleanse your face twice a day with gentle skin care products.

Carry An Extra Mask

Nearly every article we’ve read, from doctors to coaches to athletes, suggests bringing a second mask to exchange once the one you are wearing becomes wet. Damp cloth material is not only much more difficult to breath through, it may increase the facilitation of viral transmission. As noted above, long term wear of damp face covering may also lead to skin irritation on the face.

Pro tip!  – If you’re bringing an extra mask don’t just stuff it into your jersey pocket as it will likely absorb sweat from the moisture-wicking  jersey material. Use a plastic baggie, maybe the same one your phone is in, or place your mask in a seat or handlebar bag until ready for use.

Wearing a Mask May Impact Performance

We’re still in the early phases of learning about high-intensity exercise with mask use and much of what we are seeing is anecdotal and not published research. The analysis and commentary from exercise experts, though, does suggest that mask use can have significant effect on the wearer and caution should be taken. In a New York Times article out this week, Cedric X. Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise says, “In my personal experience, heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” That is, if you put on a mask and ride at the same level of effort you always do you can expect a heart elevated beyond what would be normal for you. Dr Bryant adds, “You should anticipate that it will be about 8 to 10 beats higher per minute”. Keep this in mind when doing intense efforts while wearing a face covering.

A June 12th  post on the British Journal of Sports Medicine titled, “Should people wear a face mask during exercise: What should clinicians advise?, offers information on the selection and use of face-coverings for exercise based on the balancing of benefits versus the possible adverse affects. Some key points to consider from this short feature are “Airflow-restricting masks can increase the rate of perceived exertion and decrease performance,” and “masks may increase perceptions of dyspnoea (difficult or labored breathing).

Additional Resources

Governor Kate Brown Issues Face Covering Requirements for Indoor Public Spaces

Q&A: Dr. Michael Roshon, chief medical officer for USA Cycling – Velo News

What Does It Mean To Ride Safe Now? – Bicycling Magazine

Cycle Oregon Classic 2018 Day 1 (Photo by Dean Rogers)

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