How to cycle responsibly in a time of pandemic – all you currently need to know

Dos and don'ts for responsible riding based on the law (vague) and best current advice (less vague)...

Recreational cycling for health is still allowed in the UK. The current guidelines are that during the lockdown you can exercise outside once a day, and cycling is permitted, so long as you cycle alone or with members of your household. Cycling to work is also very definitely still allowed and has the extra benefit over public transport of built in social distancing.

In this third update of to How to cycle responsibly in a time of pandemic we've tried to pull together al the latest information on the rules laid down by government and the best practice for applying them drawn from our own expertise and what is being advised by cycling's main governing bodies. We've tried to make this as clear as possible and address some misconceptions around the current rules on cycling and exercise generally that have sprung up amongst some sections of the general public and the cycling community. 

The actual regulations covering exercise in the emergency laws enacted by the Government last week – The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 lists exercise as one of the exceptions to Section 6 (1) “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse”  covered by Section 6. (2) "For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need—"  (b) "to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household". That’s it.  When it comes to excercise – as with most everything ele they cover – the emergency powers are vague and leave plenty of room for the Government to interpret them and re-interpret them in any way that suits the situation. What’s listed below represents the current interpretation.

It is worth noting that the vagueness of the act means that some things the public, and police forces are interpreting as the law – are not actually covered by it: there is no limit in the act to the number of times a day you can exercise, nor is there any specific bar on driving somewhere to take exercise. However, the Government as part of its efforts to stop the coronaviurs clearly doesn’t want people to do either of those things. Some police forces are doing their best to enforce the Government’s wishes rather than the letter of the law – that situation may change.

In the meantime…

Why we need to ride responsibly?

First, because of the ethical and moral considerations placed upon us all to do our bit to slow the spread of the coronavirus to safeguard the health and lives of our fellow citizens and the health workers striving to keep us all well. And second – and a very distant second – because if we don't cycling will be banned for weeks and possibly months. 

Recreational cycling has already been banned in Italy,  Spain, and France, and cyclists here failing to heed the new reality will inevitably lead to further restrictions.
Richmond Park in London has already been closed to cyclists with the Royal Parks Authority citing congestion as the reason – a reason hotly contested by many cyclists.
Derbyshire Police ( a force that has come in for considerable criticism of their enforcement of the emergency powers act) say club riders have been flouting new social distancing laws on Snake Pass in the Peak District and British Cycling has warned that cycling will be banned if cyclists don't ride responsibly

So what should and shouldn't you do to be a socially responsible cyclist during the current crisis? 

Do ride on your own, stay on your own, go home on your own and keep social interactions down to the absolute minimum. if you do meet people along the way then observe the guidance on social distancing. In like with all other forms of exercise the only exception to the riding on your own rule is if you ride with other members of your household – partner, children, housemates/flatmates. 

Don’t go out for a recreational/training ride on your bike more than once a day. Government advice is very explicit about this. While there are no rules about how long, or how far you should ride – beyond Michael Gove’s assertion that you should do no more than you would normally do. The advice on how often you should go outdoors to take exercise is VERY clear. Once.

Do stay local – stick to routes you know well and ride within your limits.

Do keep a safe distance from other cyclists in as safe a manner as possible and remember that your speed dictates how safe a distance you need to be behind someone before you pull out to pass – inevitably it is going to be much more than the two metres prescribed for pedestrians. Read our guide to How much distance you should leave the cyclist ahead in a time of pandemic.

Do make sure that you're self-sufficient and that you can fix your bike and make it home without help from anyone else. 

Don’t share bikes or equipment – pretty easy if you’re riding on your own. Only use your own bike, and your own equipment. 

Don’t drive somewhere to ride – the Government's Covid 10 Travel Guidance is clear on this only essential travel is allowed and it deems only three things essential: going to work (if you can’t work from home) luckily you are allowed to ride to work if you have to go; health reasons; and buying food. True the relevant wording of the travel exemption for exercise "to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household" is open to interpretation, but it is also clear that the Government don't want you to do it. The court of public opinion is definitely against it too. Given that you can ride your bike from your front door on deserted roads it's hard to dress driving somewhere else to ride it as either essential or smart. 

Anything else?

Cycling/exercising indoors –  you could consider doing some or all of your exercise at home either just generally keeping fit and doing some core and flexibility work with Joe Wickes (or the like) or if you’ve got one by doing your cycling on a turbo trainer or smart trainer. Or you could cut down the frequency of your outdoor rides by swapping some for indoor exercise or the turbo. 

Training – if you're training and trying to keep your fitness through this, then it's probably a good time to ask yourself how important that training really is. 

A pandemic isn't the time to be pushing your limits out of doors – certainly not doing things you wouldn’t normally do. Getting some fresh air on a leisurely solo ride is a very different thing to a hard, fast training loop, and the risks are different too. And while Michael Gove might say that doing what you normally do for exercise outside is fine – so long as you only do it once a day – British Cycling has wisely advised its members to ride for “calm recreation” and not to challenge themselves. 

The locked down cyclist's guide to getting fit and staying fit from the comfort of home

If you have the equipment to allow you to train indoors, then that is the place for more intense training sessions: an online training app is a great way –and really the only way – to ride as a group now, too. Even if you’re going hard in the comfort of your own home, you might still want to pause and think about whether now is really the time – you may be stressing your immune system just when you really don’t want to be and when an over-stretched NHS doesn’t want you to either. That applies just as much if you’re recovering from Covid 10 (or any other virus) too. 

Some of us though don’t have an indoor trainer, and for most of us getting out on our bike is about more than boosting our physical health – it’s also helps de-stress and maintain mental well being, not only for us cyclists but also quite importantly for the people that have to live with us. And of course it cannot be stressed too firmly that CYCLING IS NOT BANNED (sorry to shout) in fact it is being positively encouraged so long as it is done responsibly. 

This advice may change – it's an evolving situation – and we may see a further lockdown in the UK similar to we've seen elsewhere on the continent. But whatever happens, stay safe and keep yourself isolated to help check the spread of the virus. We all need to do our part.

As we've already mentioned both of the UK's cycling organisations British Cycling (link above) and Cycling UK have also issued updated  guidance. The current advice from Cycling UK is as follows:

Following the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s address to the nation announcing strict new curbs on life in the UK, Cycling UK has updated its advice on cycling.

Although people are now being told to stay at home during the pandemic, one form of exercise is allowed a day.

This means it remains advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being, but in line with our previous guidance, you should only do this alone or with members of your household unless any of them have reason to self-isolate.

Under no circumstance should you cycle or take part in any cycling activity in groups. This is critical to stop the coronavirus disease spreading between households.

We are also advising that anyone who needs to travel to work if it’s absolutely necessary should consider cycling to avoid using public transport, where possible.

Cycling should also be considered as the best means of transport when essential shopping for food for medicines

The guidance for avoiding contamination remains unchanged, keeping at least two metres away from anyone else, regularly washing your hands and catching coughs and sneezes in tissues and throwing them away immediately. See further advice on the NHS website.

We will continue to evaluate the latest advice from Government and update our guidance accordingly.

Failing to ride in a socially responsible way will have devastating consequences for communities, individuals, and the health service. It will also mean the end of cycling outdoors for everyone for quite some time. That in turn will see bike shops and all those that depend on them – yes, even websites like this – going the way of pubs, clubs and restaurants in having to shut or severely restrict their operations. 

Updated 30th March 2020 (twice), first published 22nd March 2020, first update 23rd March 2020.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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