Coronavirus Q&A: is it safe to cycle?

Cycling UK continues to support the UK to cycle
This remains true during this difficult period with the ongoing threat of coronavirus Covid-19
Latest advice is to avoid cycling in groups, however individual riding is still possible.
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Coronavirus Q&A: is it safe to cycle?

How does the coronavirus outbreak affect cycling, and how can you minimise the risk to yourself and others?

*** This is a live document and was last updated Thursday 28 May 2020 ***

Regulations regarding exercise outdoors in Wales, and separate guidance on exercise outdoors in England, Scotland and Wales, were all amended on 11 and 12 May. Regulations in Northern Ireland were changed on 19 May.

Further detail is provided in response to specific questions below, but the principal changes, clarifications, and differences are as follows:


England

There is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise; however official advice remains that you should stay at home 'as much as possible'.

You can travel any distance in order to exercise.

You can meet and exercise with one person who is not a member of your household, provided you maintain social distancing of at least two metres.

Scotland

There is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise

Unnecessary travel should be avoided, so exercise should be undertaken in your local area. You should not drive to beauty spots, parks or beaches to exercise.

You can only exercise on your own, or with members of your household (or carers).

Wales

The regulation preventing exercise more than once per day has been amended, and there is now no restriction on the frequency of exercise.

There is no restriction on the duration of exercise, however the guidance states that exercise must be done within an area local to home, not involve going a significant distance from home, and Government advice is that exercise should start and finish from home.  

In general, people should not drive to a location away from home to exercise, and no journeys of any significant distance should be taken, for example, just in order to exercise in the countryside or at beauty spots.

You can only exercise on your own, or with members of your household (or carers).

Northern Ireland

The regulations changed on 19 May, and it remains the case that there is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise.

The new regulations also extend the exemption on leaving home from exercise to "outdoor activity", so stopping during your cycle ride simply to enjoy the view as part of your outdoor activity is clearly permitted, whereas previously there was uncertainty about the definition of exercise, and when time spent outdoors ceased to be exercise.

The new regulations also now permit up to six people who are not from the same household to gather outdoors while maintaining social distancing. That means that six cyclists gathering to chat, whilst maintaining social distance, would not seem to be in breach of the regulations. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether six cyclists riding two metres apart would be breaching the regulations, which would depend on whether or not that group ride was classed as an outdoor gathering. New guidance doesn’t assist either, referring to up to six people who aren’t members of the same household being able to meet outdoors while observing social distancing, which raises the same question about whether people cycling together are “meeting” whilst they cycle.

Cycling UK’s advice is therefore that it is unclear whether you can only cycle on your own, or with members of your household (or carers), or whether socially distanced group riding of up to six people is permitted. In general, people should also not drive to a location away from home to exercise, and should avoid travelling to beauty spots, for example.

 

To help the cycling community and our membership understand the impact of coronavirus on their personal riding, Cycling UK has consulted experts such as Public Health England; Cycling UK’s Policy Director, Roger Geffen; Head of Campaigns, Duncan Dollimore; and Cycle Magazine’s medical expert and practising GP, Dr Kate Hattersley, of South Devon Cycling UK group. With advice on how to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak changing all the time, we will be updating this article regularly.

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on the evening of 23 March, 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, exercise outside is still permitted, subject to regulations (which are legal requirements), and Government guidance (which is advisory). Additionally, the latest advice from the World Health Organization is that "whenever feasible", you should consider cycling or walking for essential journeys, such as travelling to work or shopping, in order to maintain a safe distance from other people and keep active.

The latest advice from the World Health Organization is that "whenever feasible", you should consider cycling or walking for essential journeys

This means it remains advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being, as well as for essential journeys, but in line with our previous guidance, you should only do this alone or with members of your household. As of Wednesday May 13, in England it is permitted to cycle with one person who is not a member of your household. Under no circumstance should you take part in any cycling activity in groups. We have also written a guide containing advice on how to maintain social distancing when cycling.

Here are our experts' answers to some commonly asked questions about cycling during the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Q: I’m a healthy cyclist under the age of 70. Is it safe for me to continue cycling during the coronavirus outbreak?

Dr Kate Hattersley (KH): Yes. There is no reason for you to stop cycling, as long as you follow guidance on social distancing and use common sense when planning your route.

That means avoiding unnecessary social contact, as well as keeping a safe distance (at least two metres) from other people. Visits to busy public places should be avoided to limit exposure to infection.

You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible.

Upon returning home, you must wash your hands. It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too. Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.

Return to questions

Q: I’m a healthy cyclist over the age of 70. Is it safe for me to continue cycling?

KH: Yes, but with particular caution. The latest advice is to remain at home to protect yourself from infection.

Public Health England (PHE): If you're from a vulnerable group but feel that you need to take a walk or go for a bike ride, choose a route where you are unlikely to meet any other people, or take your exercise at a quieter time. This will reduce the risk of exposure to other people. 

Exercise at home or in your garden is encouraged where possible, for example on a turbo trainer or an exercise bike if you have access to one.

Tissue use and hand washing advice is as above.

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Q: I’m a cyclist with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or COPD. Is it safe for me to continue cycling?

Roger Geffen (RG): The answer we received from PHE suggests that if your chronic condition is relatively mild, you can follow the same advice as that for the over 70s.

However the more serious your condition, the more strongly you are advised to stay at home to reduce your overall social contacts during the period in which the social distancing measures apply. 

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Q: I’m a cyclist who is currently unwell with a new continuous cough or fever. Is it safe for me to continue cycling?

KH: No. Do not go out, as you present a risk to others. Strenuous exercise is unwise while you are unwell. Consult the NHS 111 website for advice on self-management of your illness, but expect to be confined at home for at least seven days.

If you don't live alone, members of your household must self-isolate for 14 days from the time you first showed symptoms.

If they also become symptomatic, their period of isolation extends for a further 7 days from day 1 (day 1 being the day they started to show symptoms) regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period.

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Q: I have been in physical contact / close proximity recently with friends or relatives with symptoms who are self-isolating, but I don't live in the same household as them. Is it safe for me to continue cycling?

PHE: Yes. Walking, cycling or running outside is fine, as long as you are well and have no symptoms – and is probably more beneficial than ever for your mental wellbeing if you are working from home all day.

Follow the advice on social distancing.

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Q: I have been in physical contact / close proximity recently with friends or relatives with symptoms who are self-isolating, and I live in the same household as them. Is it safe for me to continue cycling?

KH: No. You present a high risk to others as you may be infected, even if you are not showing symptoms. You should stay at home instead of going out, even if you feel well. 

However, if you feel well enough you may want to undertake light exercise on a turbo trainer or exercise bike (if you have access to one) at home or in your garden (if you have one). As much as possible, keep a safe distance from other people at all times.

PHE: If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for seven days, but all other household members who remain well must also stay at home for 14 days.

For anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they must stay at home for a further 7 days from when their symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period. See the 'ending isolation' section for more information.

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Q: I'm in voluntary self-isolation because I have returned from a high-risk country, but I'm showing no symptoms. Is it OK to go for a bike ride by myself?

PHE: Yes. Walking, cycling or running outside is fine, as long as you are well and have no symptoms – and is probably more beneficial than ever for your mental wellbeing if you are working from home all day.

Follow the advice on social distancing and contact and ride solo or with someone you live with.

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Q: My workplace is still open and requires me being there. Should I cycle to work?

RG: For those still needing to get to work, cycling is a healthy option (depending on the distance and your level of fitness) which avoids public transport, helping to reduce overcrowding for those who are more dependent on public transport services.

The latest government advice on social distancing for those continuing to work specifically recommends cycling as a suitable option for travelling to work while maintaining social distancing. The World Health Organization also recommends that people should consider walking or cycling to work whenever feasible.

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Q: I am a key worker. Should I cycle to work?

Cycling UK: Yes. During the coronavirus outbreak, key workers are encouraged to cycle to work and avoid public transport if you can. The roads should be quieter. Stay at least 2 metres away from other people, including cyclists, at all times. You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible. Upon arriving, you must wash your hands. It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too. Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean. For more information, see our commuting advice for key workers. Cycling UK is also offering three months' free membership, including free third-party liability insurance, for health and social care workers. 

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Q: Can I cycle to the shops?

Cycling UK: Yes. Buying essential shopping is one of the "reasonable excuses" to leave your home under the current emergency legislation, and there is no reason not to make the journey by bike as long as you observe social distancing rules. Indeed, doing so is a healthy – and fun –  option that also reduces unnecessary vehicle traffic and pressure on public transport. The World Health Organization recommends that people should consider walking or cycling for essential journeys whenever feasible. Advice from UK governments also emphasises that it is desirable to combine reasons for leaving the house (eg taking exercise and shopping) into a single trip, to reduce the amount you need to leave home.

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Q: What number of people is classed as a group?

Cycling UK: Two or more people, unless they are living in the same household. (NB, from Wednesday May 13, guidance in England changes to allow exercise with one person who is not a member of your household, provided social distancing is maintained.) 

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Q: Can I ride with a friend if we live in the same household?

PHE: Yes, as long as you are feeling well and neither of you are showing any symptoms. Follow the guidelines for social distancing. 

You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible.

Upon returning home, you must wash your hands. It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too.

Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.

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Q: Can I ride with a friend if we don’t live in the same household?

Cycling UK: In England, the latest guidance, which came into force on Wednesday 13 May, states that you can meet one (but only one) person outdoors as long as you maintain social distancing of at least two metres. In the rest of the UK, until advice changes, you should only ride alone or with members of your household.

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Q: Is it OK to go for a ride with my kids? 

KH: Yes, assuming you live in the same household as them. If you are all well and not self-isolating (because of symptoms of a cough or fever), then you are not a risk to each other.

It's therefore safe to go for a ride together with the usual social distancing and hygiene precautions outlined above.

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Q: What advice should I give to my children if they are well and want to go for a ride?

KH: Provided they are old enough to go out alone, they must demonstrate that they understand social distancing and observe the sensible rules of keeping two metres away from others and observing hygiene rules.

Encourage them to wash their hands and gloves when they get home.

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Q. Is it OK for me to go for a ride in the woods?

Duncan Dollimore (DD): While the latest rules in England allow unlimited travel to outdoor spaces, in the rest of the UK the advice is that exercise should start and end from home, avoiding unnecessary travel.

In any case, Cycling UK's advice is that you should avoid travelling to popular locations where it would be difficult to maintain social distancing. (See also our response to the question Does my ride have to start from home?)

Of course, for those who live in or very close to such woods and forests, they may be a natural destination for their recommended and permitted daily exercise, which they can cycle or walk to and around from their front door.

Anyone doing so should observe recommended social distancing and hygiene advice and also take even more care than normal to make sure they don’t put further pressure on the emergency services, and respect any trail closures that have been implemented during this time.

It’s not a time for stunts or extreme downhill riding. However for those riders who might otherwise be driving to a trail centre, now is the perfect opportunity to open up an Ordnance Survey map and begin to explore the byway and bridleway network from your front door, taking the time to enjoy a different sort of riding.

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Q: Can I drive somewhere to go for a ride?

DD: Individual governments across the UK have different positions on this question.

England: the latest guidance, which came into force on Wednesday May 13, clarifies that you "can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance"; however you should drive alone or with members of your own household. Bear in mind also that rules in other parts of the UK mean you are not allowed to drive across the border into Wales or Scotland to take exercise there.

Wales: Guidance updated by the Welsh Government on 11 May states: "Exercise must... be done within an area local to home. Exercise should not, therefore, involve going a significant distance from home and our advice is that exercise should start and finish from home." There is specific advice relating to cycling, highlighting the risk of putting additional strain on the emergency services if you have an accident or a breakdown far from home. The advice also says that "people are expected to only cycle on routes they know well, and that are well within their ability level".

Scotland: Police Scotland guidance refers to the Scottish Government’s advice to stay local, use open spaces near to your home where possible and avoid unnecessary travel.

Northern Ireland: The Police Service of Northern Ireland guidance encourages people not to drive to local beauty spots for their daily exercise, and asks people to use their common sense and only leave their house if absolutely necessary.

In addition, land-owning and land-managing organisations, including the Forestry Commission, National Trust, the National Parks and many local authorities, have closed their car parks and are urging people not to travel to visit them.

Acknowledging that there are differences in the guidance across the UK, Cycling UK’s advice is that at this time, we all need to resist the temptation to drive to ‘honeypot’ locations – particularly over long distances – in order to get our daily dose of physical activity. Unfortunately, these are the places where we’re most likely to encounter crowds, and possibly place pressure on the emergency services too.

Instead, we should take the opportunity to seek out quiet and uncrowded places to cycle close to home, preferably places we can cycle to from our own doorstep (our guide to planning local rides will help you do just that). That won’t be possible for everyone, particularly for those in inner-city areas or on fast and busy main roads, or even those in towns surrounded with a bypass that lacks a safe crossing point into the countryside, and potentially for people with – or caring for others with – a disability. In making decisions about where to cycle currently, it’s sensible to bear in mind the intention behind both the regulations and the guidance, which is to reduce the risk of spreading infection while allowing people the benefits of outdoor exercise.

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Q: How long and how often can I ride for?

DD: There is no longer any restriction on how often you are permitted to leave your home for exercise anywhere in the UK.

From Wednesday 13 May, the position in England is that there is no limit on the frequency or duration of exercise; however official advice is still that you should "stay at home as much as possible".

In Scotland, updated guidance effective from 11 May states that people can go outside more than once a day to exercise. The guidance says this activity should continue to be undertaken 'close to home' and should be done either alone or with members of the same household.

In Wales, the latest guidance, updated on 11 May, says that "the number of times anybody goes out to exercise is not limited". This is a change from the previous rules which limited exercise to once a day.

In Northern Ireland, there is no specific limit in the regulations, but you are advised to stay local.

As for how long we can exercise for, there is again no legal limit restricting this to any particular time period. Instead we should ask ourselves what is reasonable, based on where we live, where we’re seeking to exercise, how many people are likely to be there, and what time of day we are venturing outside.

On the one hand, we are all being encouraged to go out for some exercise, for the good of our physical and mental health and well-being. On the other, we are being urged to avoid unnecessary proximity to or contact with other people. We all need to use good judgement in how to get exercise in ways that minimise unnecessary travel, crowds and possible pressures on the emergency services.

Use common sense when planning your route. If you have a mechanical mishap that you can’t fix yourself and you’re miles from home, you may struggle to get back without asking someone else to undertake an additional journey that could have been avoided if you’d planned a circular route close to home.

People cycling from their homes in Northern Ireland who may plan to cross the border with the Republic of Ireland should be aware that the regulations in the Republic which restricted daily exercise to within five kilometres of people’s homes were lifted on May 18.

To make it easier to maintain social distancing of at least two metres from other people, try to avoid areas you know are likely to be busy, and narrow paths with limited passing places. 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!

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Q: Should I ride on canal towpaths?

DD: If you chose to ride along a narrow towpath that’s popular with walkers, at busy times of the day, it’s likely that you will find it difficult to pass those on foot while leaving the recommended two metres of space. You’ll end up either riding at walking pace behind people or breaching the social distancing guidelines.

Cycling UK’s advice is therefore to think about the paths you plan to ride on, avoid the narrowest sections when they are likely to have large numbers of walkers using them, and think about the time of day you pick for your ride. Leave plenty of space when overtaking walkers or slower-moving cyclists, and allow time before pulling in again, so that you’re not leaving them in your slipstream. See our guide to social distancing for more advice on how to keep yourself and others safe when you ride. 

Remember also that some canal boats are also people’s homes, and their occupants will expect you to maintain distance as you pass.

Return to questions

Q: I am a cycling activity provider (CAP). Does my Cycling UK CAP insurance still cover me?

Cycling UK: The cover provided within our Cycling Activity Provider insurance is valid so long as individuals are following the latest government advice on social distancing. In England, it would be possible to provide one-on-one activities, e.g. cycle training – subject to maintaining social distancing – but not led group rides. In other nations within the UK, CAPs should follow government advice, which may mean they cannot resume activities at this time.

Return to questions

    What next?

    It is our responsibility to try to avoid spreading this virus to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

    In the light of the latest guidance, Cycling UK groups should call a halt to organised group rides for the time being.

    Stay in touch with your friends using phones and social media and support each other both practically and with moral support through this difficult time.

    Maybe you can do some shopping by bike and deliver groceries to your friends, relatives or neighbours. This situation will not continue indefinitely, and we can expect to be back out riding our bikes together before too long.

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

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    Comments

    Hi, what about people working with their bicycles, and then keeping the bikes inside the flat? I'm having an argument with my flatmate about this. 

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