On Monday, the UK government ordered people to stay at home in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus, with police given powers to enforce the rule. One exception is for exercise, including cycling – but many are confused about what exactly is permitted. So what are and aren’t you allowed to do?
How to ride responsibly in a time of pandemic - all you need to know
(updated 30 March)
If there’s a theme to today’s news stories here on road.cc, it’s of people failing (sometimes wilfully) to appreciate the government’s instructions relating to cycling.
Ironman triathlete Joe Skipper has been heavily criticised on social media for clocking a 200-mile ride outside during the lockdown, arguing that while guidelines state you can exercise once a day, “there’s no time limit on it.”
Meanwhile, cycling will be banned in Richmond Park from tomorrow due to “congestion” and there have also been warnings from Derbyshire Police about groups of cyclists riding on the Snake Pass.
Government advice on staying at home is that you should only leave the house for very limited purposes.
Among other things, the guidance lists, “one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.”
It goes on to say that, “even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.”
Police forces have also been saying that driving to a location to exercise isn't permitted.
It’s worth pointing out that in addition to cycling for exercise, you’re permitted to ride when you need to travel for basic necessities, for medical need, or for work purposes (if you can’t work from home).
But with regards to daily exercise, without specific time or distance limits having been stated, it is to some degree open to interpretation what is considered reasonable (although it is hard to argue that a 200-mile ride constitutes ‘minimising time spent out of the home’).
The overriding sentiment seems to be that you can (and should) do enough to stay healthy and sane – but not really any more than that.
British Cycling is advising people to ride “for calm recreation” and not to challenge themselves.
“Now, more than ever, we must ride our bikes responsibly – that means only going out once a day, on our own, or with people we live with, and keeping two metres apart from anyone we meet, stopping and waiting for people to pass when necessary.
“While you should only use your bike to exercise once a day, you can also use it to shop for basic necessities, provide care or help somebody vulnerable, and travel to/from essential work.”
Explaining the importance of being cautious, the spokesperson said: “Riding a bicycle is a generally low-risk activity, but with our health and emergency services under such intense pressure it is important that we all take steps to manage risk wherever we can.
“Please only ride on routes you know well, that are close to home and that are well within your ability level; this is a time for calm recreation, not for challenging yourself.”
Cycling UK says: “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.”
In terms of duration, the charity adds: “Our advice is to go out for long enough to keep yourself in good shape physically and emotionally, but avoid doing more than this.
“Use common sense when planning your route: for example, ride a loop close to home rather than a long out-and-back route, so that in case of a mechanical you should be able to walk home unaided.
“Try to avoid areas you know are likely to be busy, to make it easier to maintain social distancing of at least two metres from other people. Ride within your limits to reduce the risk of requiring rescue or medical assistance.
“Now is not the time to tackle remote, technical trails, go for a PR on that descent or try a new jump line.”
British Cycling also makes the point that our current freedom to ride is dependent on continued common sense behaviour and adherence to Government guidelines.
“We are concerned that, should some people continue to organise and ride their bikes in groups, then the Government will feel that it has no choice but to prohibit all outdoor cycling.
“If the cycling community continues to behave responsibly then we all hope to keep the roads and trails open for use, so that we can all manage our health during the coming weeks and months.”