Coronavirus Q&A: cycling guidance

Socially distanced exercise is vital for our wellbeing, but make sure you follow local rules
Alex Cuppleditch's picture

Coronavirus Q&A: cycling guidance

Coronavirus rules and restrictions vary across the UK and are changing all the time. Here is the latest guidance

*** This is a live document and was last updated Friday 19 February to reflect the latest announcement on exercise regulations from the Welsh Government.

Note that it is not possible to cover every local variation across the UK here, and you should always follow local restrictions where these are imposed. 

Our previous Q&A on cycling safely during the coronavirus pandemic, which has been evolving for many months and has grown significantly in size, is now called Cycling in the coronavirus era with advice from our panel of experts around some of the most common FAQs.***

Update: Exercise and 'staying local' in England

Cycling UK has received enquiries from members, groups and the general public seeking clarification about the current government Covid-19 guidance on travel and exercise, particularly in England and in relation to the meaning of ‘local area’.

The regulations in England state that people must stay at home and only leave for permitted reasons, which include exercise. However, exercise must only be done either alone, with members of your household, or with one person from outside your household, while observing social distancing. Breach of those regulations is a criminal offence.

In addition to the regulations, which set out the legal restrictions and requirements, there is separate government guidance, which indicates that exercise should also be limited to once per day, and that you should stay within your local area. The guidance is advisory in nature, not a legal requirement, although Cycling UK would urge everyone to carefully consider the guidance and act responsibly in their decisions.

There is no definition of ‘local area’ within either the regulations or the guidance. The guidance advises people to avoid travelling outside of their village, town or the part of a city where they live. It also states that they can travel a short distance within their local area in order to exercise, though, again, the distance is not defined.

Cycling UK, along with British Cycling and British Triathlon, recently wrote to the Department for Digital. Culture, Media and Sport to ask for clarification on what constitutes local exercise. The minister for sport, Nigel Huddleston, has now responded:

"As you are aware, the government’s current guidance regarding outdoor exercise states that people are allowed to leave their home to exercise outdoors, and should remain as local as possible.

As you state, people’s circumstances are different and so this guidance relies on people to use their common sense to determine what is and is not a reasonable distance for their outdoor exercise.

As we navigate these necessary new restrictions, we remain clear on just how important exercise is to people's health and wellbeing, whilst staying safe at home."

While the minister's response stopped short of defining what constitutes "local", we are pleased to see official recognition of the fact that people's individual circumstances vary and that common sense needs to be applied. What is appropriate in one area may not be appropriate in another. The intention behind both the regulations and the guidance is to limit contact between people and reduce the spread of infection, and these must be balanced with the well established physical and mental benefits of exercising outdoors.

Cycling UK therefore encourages people to continue to cycle for exercise during the current lockdown, but to do so in a manner which minimises risk. In the absence of specific regulation on how far they can travel, cyclists should use their common sense: for example, avoiding crowded or narrow routes where social distancing is difficult to maintain, but also bearing in mind that you may put others at risk if you suffer an injury or mechanical problem far from home and require rescue. To minimise unnecessary travel, start and end your rides at home if this is practical; however, common sense may dictate that travelling a short distance to a more suitable location is reasonable.

Cycling with a group

Regulations and guidance on meeting and exercising with people outside your own household change regularly and vary between the four nations of the UK. The advice in this article reflects the legal position as to what cyclists can and cannot do in various parts of the UK but Cycling UK reminds riders to use their own judgement when deciding whether it is sensible to ride. Group riding (with more than two people from different households) is currently only permitted in Wales, where (from 20 February) up to four people from two different households can meet for exercise, while observing social distancing. When the situation changes, please check our advice on group riding for more information.  We have a separate article with tips for socially distanced riding.

Cycling with friends and family

The below guidance sets out the government rules for cycling with friends and family in each of the four nations.

Key notes

  1. Social distancing rules: Social distancing rules differ across the four nations of the UK. In Northern Ireland, the social distancing rule has been reduced from two metres to at least one metre. The two-metre rule remains in Scotland and Wales, however in England from 4 July, government guidance on social distancing is that if you cannot keep a two metre distance, you should reduce the risk to yourself and others by maintaining a one metre distance where possible, and taking suitable precautions.
  2. Localised restrictions: In certain areas of the UK, restrictions on movement and guidance around social distancing may temporarily differ from those applicable for the relevant nation. We do not intend to outline such local differences within this document, however it is important to note that localised restrictions will also apply to people cycling in those areas, not merely residents, so anyone considering cycling within an area subject to a localised restriction should consider the published advice on the relevant government’s website.
  3. Households: We have referred to ‘households’ within this document; however in some circumstances, people living alone can now form ‘extended households’ or ‘support bubbles’ which allow people who live alone to be considered part of another household for the purposes of the guidance. As the terminology and circumstances where this can apply differ across the four nations, we have not covered this further within this document, but that guidance may be relevant to people who live on their own and wish to form an extended household or support bubble with others they wish to cycle with.

The position across the UK is summarised in this graphic. For further details, see the country-specific sections below.


England

New restrictions were announced by the prime minister on 4 January. People must stay at home and only leave for permitted reasons, which include exercise. However, exercise must only be done either alone, with members of your household, or with one person from outside your household, while observing social distancing. There is additional guidance that exercise should also be limited to once per day, and you should stay within your local area. The definition of "local area" is unclear, but government guidance is that you should "avoid travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live". You can travel a short distance within your local area in order to exercise, but again the distance is not defined.

Northern Ireland

From 7 January, tighter restrictions are in place in Northern Ireland,and will remain in force until at least 6 February, with a review due on 21 January. These rules prohibit group exercise (including organised group rides), except where this involves members of a single household or social bubble, or with a single other person from outside your household. There is no official limit on the distance you can travel, but advice is to stay local and avoid unnecessary travel. You should also remember that the Republic of Ireland has a strict 5km (3 mile) limit on travel for exercise.

Scotland

New regulations from January 5 prohibit leaving home except for permitted reasons, including exercise. Exercise must be carried out either alone, with members of your household or with one other person (observing social distancing). Exercise must begin and end at the same place, and that place must be either within the local authority area in which you live, or within five miles of that local authority area. These are the legal limits set in the regulations; however the Scottish government's guidance is that you should "travel no further than you need to reach to a safe, non-crowded place to exercise in a socially distanced way".

Wales

From December 20, 2020, all of Wales was placed into alert level 4. This means that exercise outdoors is permitted only alone or with members of your household or support bubble, or with one person from outside your household/bubble, while observing social distancing. There is no time limit on exercise, but it should be begin and end from home wherever possible; however the government acknowledges that for some people, driving a short distance to a suitable location to exercise might be necessary. 

On 19 February, 2021, the Welsh Government announced that it plans to introduce changes to the restrictions, from Saturday 20 February, allowing up to four people from two different households to meet outdoors for socially distanced local exercise. Cycling UK has not yet seen any amended regulations or guidance, but the Minister’s statement indicates that people must still start and finish exercise from their home unless a person needs to travel for disability or health reasons, and that people meeting need to live near each other as travel for exercise is generally not allowed. We will update this guidance once the revised regulations are published.

 

Please get in touch with the team via publicity@cyclinguk.org if you have any queries about coronavirus.

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