Coronavirus Q&A: cycling guidance

Socially distanced exercise is vital for our wellbeing, but make sure you follow local rules
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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 Thursday 22 October 2020 to reflect the new regulations in Wales which come into force on 23 October. 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 has been moved to a separate page and can be found here ***

Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, we have been providing tips and guidance to help cyclists stay safe and comply with local regulations. Because our Q&A page has been evolving for many months and has grown significantly in size, we have decided to move our general health and safety tips to a separate page. The advice below will focus on explaining what cyclists can and cannot do in various parts of the UK.

Regulations and guidance on meeting and exercising with people outside your own household change regularly 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.

 

The position for informal social cycling is summarised in the graphic below. This 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, except under local tier restrictions as outlined below. 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.

Note also that it is currently forbidden to enter Wales other than for essential purposes, so leisure bike rides that cross from England into Wales are not permitted.

New guidance was introduced in England on 12 October, followed by new regulations on 14 October.

These changes introduce local Covid alert levels, whereby areas within England fall within different alert levels or ‘tiers’: medium (tier 1); high (tier 2); or very high (tier 3). Different restrictions apply in each tier, and areas can move at short notice between tiers. You can check the current alert level in any area here.

For people cycling the restrictions within the different tier areas are:

Tier 1 – medium

National guidance applies, so there is no limit on duration or frequency of exercise, or the distance you can travel to exercise. 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. 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.

Tier 2 – high

On top of tier 1 restrictions, you must not socialise with anybody outside of your household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. This means that café stops on group rides are no longer possible, unless the group is made up of household or support bubble members or the café is serving outside.

Tier 3 – very high

On top of the tier 1 and 2 restrictions, different restrictions apply in many of the tier 3 areas, so you should check the specific restrictions within your area here
As a minimum however, people within tier 3 areas should try to avoid travelling outside that area, and those outside tier 3 areas should avoid travelling into them, other than for things like work, education, to meet caring responsibilities or if you are travelling through as part of a longer journey. This does not include recreation or leisure, which means that you can’t cycle into or out of a tier 3 area purely for leisure purposes or exercise, but  you can if your journey is for work or other reasons permitted by the specific tier 3 rules for that particular area.
 

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.

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

New stricter regulations come into effect in Wales at 6.00pm on Friday 23 October, expiring at midnight on 8 November. These replace local travel restrictions previously in force within Wales, which no longer apply.

Regulation 3 imposes a stay at home requirement, breach of which is a criminal offence unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave or stay away from your home. Reg 3(2) lists ‘reasonable excuses’, which include travelling to work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home, and exercise.  

You are therefore still able to cycle purely for exercise, but only alone, with other members of your household or, where applicable, with your carer. Children can also cycle for exercise with a parent they do not live with but have contact with.

Gathering outside is prohibited, so except for the people above who you are permitted to cycle with, you cannot meet up with others on or during a cycle ride.

New guidance simultaneously comes into effect for the same period. In relation to exercise and outdoor activity, the relevant guidance is that:

  • You can exercise as often as you wish – there is no restriction of frequency or duration.
  • Your exercise should start and finish at home, and the nearer you stay to your home, the better.
  • In general, you should not drive just to exercise elsewhere, unless you have specific health or mobility issues and need to travel to an accessible / suitable location in order to exercise.

Regulation 5 prohibits people living outside Wales from entering Wales without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and exercise is not included within the list of ‘reasonable excuses’. As with reg 3, travel for work, where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home, accessing certain services and shopping for food are some of the ‘reasonable excuses’. This means that it is an offence to cycle into Wales for leisure or exercise, but you can cycle into Wales if your journey is for work, to access services, or for another ‘reasonable excuse’ as outlined with reg 5.

 

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 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. 

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, the new restrictions in force from 23 October to 8 November prohibit cycling or meeting with anyone other than those within your household.

 

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

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