Coronavirus Q&A: is it safe to cycle?

New restrictions are in place in parts of the country, so follow local advice to stay safe
Rob Kingston's picture

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 Friday 16 October 2020 to reflect new restrictions affecting Northern Ireland, and restrictions on travel into Wales from 'high-risk areas'. Note that the information below reflects regulations at a national level within each of the home nations, and you should always follow local restrictions where these are imposed. 

In Wales, new lockdown restrictions will come into force on Friday 23 October and this article will be updated shortly to reflect these changes ***

 

Regulations and guidance on meeting and exercising with people outside your own household have recently been updated and there are now significant differences between the constituent nations of the UK. The advice in this article reflects the legal position, but Cycling UK reminds cyclists to use their own judgement when deciding whether it is sensible to undertake group rides. We have a separate article with tips for socially distanced riding.

The below guidance sets out the government rules for cycling with friends and family in each of the four UK nations. However, there are separate rules about riding as part of an organised group which, in some cases, permit a greater number of participants. Please check our advice on group riding for more information.

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 allows 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.

 

Changes to advice on group riding

We have revised our guidance on group riding in England and Scotland following changes to regulations and guidance on outdoor exercise with effect from 14 September.

The changes introduce a legal limit on gatherings of more than six people from multiple households in England, and a legal limit of six people from no more than two households in Scotland (not including children under 12 from either household in Scotland).

In England, there is still an exemption for organised sports and activities allowing activities involving more than six people. This involves individual sports bodies submitting an action plan for approval by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with all recreational clubs relying upon that exemption being legally required to develop a written Covid-19 plan and risk assessment prior to activity. Given the nature of the requirements on clubs and participants, and that any failure to comply by either is, from 14 September, a criminal offence rather than non-compliance with guidance as it was previously, Cycling UK can no longer advise groups that they can rely on the organised activity exemption. Accordingly, our advice in England is that group rides in England should be restricted to a maximum of six participants. However, multiple groups of six are permissible, as long as these groups do not come into contact with one another.

Cycling UK’s advice in England is aimed at member groups and those arranging or participating in other informal group rides. It is likely that some professional and other event organisers may continue to organise events involving more than six people in both nations, and it will be for organisers of those events to satisfy themselves that they can comply with the relevant sports activity exemptions.

In Scotland, there is also an organised sport exemption from the new rule that restricts outdoor groups to a maximum of six people from no more than two households, plus any under-12s from either of those households. Organised groups can use the organised exercise exemption, as long as they adhere to the protocols stipulated – our return to activity guidance (Scotland) gives full details and the general comments are here. Cycling UK recommends that in any case group rides should be limited to no more than 15 people. Any groups that don’t want to adhere to the Covid protocols to gain an exemption need to use the "six from two households" guidance.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, we are still recommending limiting groups to no more than 15 participants within a group ride, as there have been no changes to the regulations or guidance in either nation affecting outdoor recreational activity. 

 

Below is our general Q&A covering informal and social riding. This graphic does not indicate the rules on organised group riding: for more information, see our group riding advice.


England

There is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise, or the distance you can travel to exercise. Current guidance states that you should continue to stay alert and limit your contact with others. You can now meet outside with up to five other people, provided those from different households continue to observe social distancing rules, so up to six people can exercise together in a socially distanced group. Our guidance for organised group rides has also been revised to restrict groups to no more than six people from 14 September. If you are travelling by car to exercise or spend time outdoors, the guidance also states that you shouldn’t travel with someone from outside your household unless you can practise social distancing.

Scotland

Current guidance puts no limit on duration or frequency of exercise.

You can exercise in a group of up to six people from no more than two households in Scotland (not including children under 12 from either household) while socially distancing, or with members of your household without socially distancing. Organised groups can use the organised exercise exemption to ride in larger numbers – Cycling UK recommends no more than nine – as long as they adhere to the protocols stipulated.

Wales

There is no restriction on the frequency or duration of exercise, and amended regulations which came into effect on 3 August now permit people to gather outdoors in groups of up to 30 people, while maintaining social distancing. This is a relaxation of the rules, which previously only permitted gatherings of up to 30 people if the activity was an “organised event” within the meaning of regulation 15, which no longer applies.

While socially distanced activity of up to 30 people is therefore now permissible in Wales, participants should note that if during their ride they cross the border into England, different regulations apply. It's also worth noting that Cycling UK is recommending limiting groups to no more than 15 participants: see groups advice page.

The Welsh government has confirmed that the Covid regulations will be amended with effect from 6pm on Friday 16 October. The amended regulations have not been published yet, but information on the government website indicates that travel restrictions will be introduced, making it an offence for people from parts of the UK where there are higher rates of Covid infections to travel to parts of Wales where there are low rates of infections.

Some areas within Wales with higher rates of infection are designated as local health protection areas (HPAs), and travelling into an HPA is already prohibited, whether from other parts of Wales, the UK or from other countries, subject to certain exceptions which do not include outdoor activity, recreation or sport. The amended regulations will now make it an offence to travel into those areas of Wales which are not within an HPA, if travel is from an area of the UK with high infection rates, which the BBC has reported will include all of Northern Ireland, England's tier two and three areas and the Scottish central belt.

This will mean that from 6pm on 16 October people cycling across the border from England into Wales will be committing a criminal offence if they have travelled from any area within England with higher infection rates. Cycling UK will provide a further update once we have been able to consider the published regulations and any accompanying guidance.

Northern Ireland

There is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise. However, as part of the tighter restrictions imposed for a four-week period from 6pm on October 16, people are urged to avoid unnecessary travel, so rides should start from home wherever possible.

The new regulations also now permit up to 15 people who are not from the same household to gather outdoors while maintaining social distancing, and removed the restriction on outdoor sporting activities that do not involve shared contact with hard surfaces. Please see Cycling UK's group riding advice for further details.

 

*******************

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. Except in the strictly defined circumstances outlined in the individual country sections above, you should not 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: Even though the guidance might allow for group rides, is it sensible to do so?

Cycling UK: We have outlined what the regulations and guidance permit, but riders and clubs should make their own assessment of whether they should undertake any socially distanced group ride, and if so, when, where and how.

Infection rates may vary regionally, some groups will have different demographics and members with different risk factors, and it may be difficult to maintain social distancing within a group on certain rides.

It is therefore important for people to exercise their own judgement and common sense if they are undertaking group rides, having regard to their own safety, other road users, and infection risk.

We have a separate article with tips for socially distant cycling: note that our advice is to limit group rides to no more than 15 people in Wales and Northern Ireland, and no more than six people in England and Scotland.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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. 

Return to questions

Q. I’m clinically vulnerable or in a shielded group. Can I ride in a group?

Cycling UK: Vulnerable people who have been "shielding" are now being advised that they can go out for socially distanced exercise with members of their household or, if they live alone, with one person. The advice is that this remains the same person each time they go out. Clinically vulnerable people (essentially, over-70s and those with long-term conditions who are advised to have a flu jab) are being reminded to take all guidance very seriously and continue to limit their social contacts.

The guidance for people “shielding” is different in Scotland. With effect from 18 June people in this category can go outside for outdoor activity, including cycling, and as of 19 June do so with people from up to one other household, up to a maximum of seven other people.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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. 

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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

Cycling UK: This depends on where in the UK you live. Follow the country-specific advice at the top of this article, and check back regularly for updated information.

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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. [NB since this answer was given, the social distancing guidelines in Northern Ireland have reduced this distance to one metre.0

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

Return to questions

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.

Return to questions

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

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

England: The guidance states you can travel to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, but that you shouldn’t travel with someone from outside your household unless you can practise social distancing.

Wales: You can now travel to take exercise, subject to being able to travel whilst socially distancing from anyone who is not part of your household.

Scotland: You can now travel to take exercise, but you are encouraged to use active travel rather than driving where possible, and the general advice is still to try and stay local.

Northern Ireland: There are no restrictions on the distance you can travel for any purpose, subject to the general guidance to act reasonably and responsibly.

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.

Return to questions

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 (subject to possible local restrictions). In Scotland however, the general advice is still to try and 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 wellbeing. 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 and crowds.

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

Return to questions

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 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, the latest guidelines mean it would be possible to provide activities, e.g. cycle training, in groups of up to six (including the instructor) outdoors, subject to maintaining social distancing. In other nations within the UK, the restrictions limit activities to groups consisting of at most one household other than the instructor's.

Return to questions

    What next?

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

    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.

    Sponsored Advert
    Sponsored Advert
    Sponsored Advert
    Sponsored Advert
    Sponsored Advert
    Sponsored Advert

    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. 

    Cycling UK continues to support the UK to cycle
    This remains true during this difficult period with the ongoing threat of coronavirus Covid-19
    Join Cycling UK to help us change lives and communities through cycling
    Join Cycling UK to help us change lives and communities through cycling
    Membership gives you peace of mind insurance, discounts in cycle shops, rides & routes