Cycling in the coronavirus era

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

Cycling in the coronavirus era

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

*** This document was last updated Friday 27 November 2020. Our guide to the latest restrictions and guidance covering cycling across the UK is here  ***


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.

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 wellbeing, as well as for essential journeys. We have separate articles covering regulations for cycling in the various nations of the UK, and specific guidance for 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: Our page on group riding outlines 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 even when regulations technically allow for more than this.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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?

NHS advice is that you do not need to self-isolate in this case; however, if you're told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app, it is a legal requirement to do so for 14 days. This means you should not leave your home for any reason, including exercise

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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 10 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 10 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 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?

No. If you travel to the UK from a country that is not on the travel corridor list, you must self-isolate for 14 days beginning on the first day after you left that country. For more information see the government advice page.

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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: 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: This depends on where in the UK you live. Follow the country-specific advice in our Q&A, and check back regularly for updated information.

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

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

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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, which are summarised in our nation-by-nation advice.

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 (subject to possible local restrictions).

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.

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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 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.

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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 and regulations on social distancing and gathering in groups: see our group riding page for more details. Note that the insurance is non-refundable, as set out in our CAP insurance FAQs.

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    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.

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