Motorcycling in the COVID Crisis

It’s a beautiful day in the Apocalypse. Spring is emerging, traffic has all but vanished, the air tastes cleaner. While doomsday preppers hunker down in tombs of spam and build forts of toilet paper, and homemade masks turn people faceless, we may find this is a good time to get the hell out of here.

When asked where they’re headed, likely few motorcyclists have not answered at one time or another with Chuck Berry’s immortal words: “No particular place to go.” Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler in The Wild One puts it more directly: “I have to straighten you out. Now, listen, you don’t go any one special place. That’s cornball style. You just go.” Then he snaps his fingers.

With the snap of a throttle, we can roll out to an unbound nowhere, just riding for the purity of riding; the wind scrubbing off worries and germs, rolling on roads suddenly far less traveled. While most of us like to think we avoid the cornball style, the reality is we ride to somewhere, be it a cafe, eatery or saloon of some sort. Regardless of whether we throw kickstands down for burgers, beers or beaches, no place in particular also meant options, choices we took for granted. Until now. Until we get the all clear and maybe for a few days after, avoid these places like, um, the plague.

The reality is we ride to somewhere.

In a pandemic, natural selection will choose not the baddest or fastest, richest or most privileged, only the smartest. The key to survival is using your good sense to the best of your ability, and stay informed. Do not get your news from Twitter or Facebook or any number of silly social sources; rather, check in with the CDC ( and other credible outlets. This is a fluid crisis, changing day to day as new data is analyzed.

Yet, there are still stubborn dolts and delusional citizens who believe this is all a Chinese conspiracy or Russian hacker hoax. It is alarming to see people still clustering at street corners, some holding infants; standing shoulder-to-shoulder in takeout lines; grocery shopping not out of need but to break the monotony; or rolling the dice at house parties or underground bars, somehow believing the odds are with them. They will only get a little bit sick, not die horribly or suffer permanent lung damage, or one of my favorites I have sadly heard more than once: “Everyone in the world will get it eventually anyway, and then we’ll all be immune.” This is Darwinism at work. If you believe in unicorns and magic motorcycles that run on beer, by all means cuddle up.

What can we do? I like to think bikers are enlightened people, often willing to help others. There are a number of ways to volunteer in your area, be it a food bank, soup kitchen, as a transporter or just talking a friend down from high anxiety and panic. Think of this as an adventure, something our kind embraces. Wrap your leathery courage around the challenge.

So many people are climbing the walls, fretting, whining, planning their next toilet paper plunder, hoarding mail order rations for the inevitable end-powdered eggs, freeze-dried tomatoes, dehydrated vegetables, bottled and boxed water, slimy packets of mushed mystery meat. Sometimes I get a call or text from a friend complaining how dull life is, how they’re losing their minds, missing what it feels like “to be human”- the simple things really- touch, face-to-face interaction, some sex. The irony is we normally spend most of our days with faces buried in phones and computer screens, avoiding actual contact as much as possible.

I remind them as apocalypses go, it could be worse, much worse. We have food and fuel, streaming channels galore, takeout and delivery, fantastical phones, books, radio, TV, the internet. We can still exercise everyday and should, which eases anxiety and guilt about the piles of comfort food we’re gorging.

Getting on our bikes is, and has always been, good therapy. If you’re going to ride with a buddy, stay at least 10 feet apart, on and off the bike. Avoid public places. Pack a lunch if you’re riding out for a few hours. Don’t buddy up at gas stations, sharing the nozzle. You both can be asymptomatic and still have or carry the virus. A visor closed, full-face helmet may offer some minimal protection against a direct sneeze, but wear a cloth mask and stay far away from any “lungers” (cougher-sneezers).

Getting on our bikes is, and has always been, good therapy.

Keep day/night sunglasses on when out since your eyeballs are a point of entry for microbes. Wear gloves, but remember COVID-19 can be transferred surface to surface, so wash hands thoroughly every time you de-glove, and often after.  Do not allow gloves or a mask (not even recommended much less mandated only a few weeks ago) create a false sense of security. They absolutely will not make you invulnerable.

The air is fresher, the roads almost empty, but this is not an invitation to speed or otherwise gallop around like a hooligan. Slow down, enjoy the ride and your good health. Coppers are still writing tickets and crashes still kill. Hospitals are stressed to the breaking point; medical supplies are low; ambulances are scarce. There is a good chance you will not get urgent medical care. As for the hurt bike, most motorcycle shops are closed, parts are harder to come by, and good luck finding a tow.

Maybe when this is over, we’ll all be kinder and appreciate one another a little more. But I doubt it. Stay calm and ride on.

By the way, if while you’re out riding about and you happen to, say, spy a good, defensible position to hide out if this turns into a zombie apocalypse, please email with GPS coordinates. Toilet paper is the new currency and we have a vault.

Disclaimer: zombies are not real, and if they were real they would be very, very dumb and malnourished since so many edible people really have no brains at all.

Disclaimer 2: there is no truth to the rumor that Road Dirt is selling zombie killing kits.

J. Joshua Placa

*J. Joshua Placa is the former Editor-in-Chief of Cruising Rider and Motorcycle Cruiser. He has contributed to major dailies, travel and adventure publications and most major moto magazines. Whereabouts unknown, it is believed he is holed up in some clapboard desert shack, comfortably hiding from the Vatican.

1 Comment

  1. Julie Combs

    Good advice, Mr. Placa.


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