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.
Rob Kingston's picture

Coronavirus Q&A: is it safe to cycle?

How does the coronavirus outbreak affect cycling, and how can you minimise your risk as an individual?

*** This is a live document and was last updated Wednesday 15 April 2020 ***

At times like this, the advice of experts is needed more than ever.

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). The regulations are different in Wales from the rest of the UK: see How long and how often can I ride for?

This means it remains advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being, but in line with our previous guidance, you should only do this alone or with members of your household (unless any of them have reason to self-isolate). Under no circumstance should you take part in any cycling activity in groups.

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 maintain guidance on social distancing.

That means avoiding unnecessary social contact, as well as keeping a safe distance (at least two metres) from other people. Visits to public places, eg cafes, should also 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 for the next 12 weeks 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 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.

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.

Return to questions

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

Cycling UK: Two or more people, unless they are living in the same household. Recreational cycling amounts to “unnecessary social contact”, which risks spreading infection. The longer the time you spend together, the greater the risk.

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: No, you should not ride with a friend if you don’t live in the same household, as either of you may be infected, without showing symptoms.

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.

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): The advice from governments across the UK, Forestry England, Forestry and Land Scotland and similar bodies is clear, and reflects the advice given by National Parks, National Trust and other large land owners and land managers.

People should not be getting into their cars to travel to the nation’s forests, woods and other outdoor spaces. Cycling UK's advice is therefore that it would be irresponsible to ignore that advice and travel unnecessarily to reach those destinations. (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: Does my ride have to start from home?

DD: Boris Johnson’s announcement on travel restrictions was not specific about this, and there have been some conflicting messages from the Government. However, several police forces around the country have been clamping down on what they have deemed to be unnecessary travel and telling people that their exercise should start from home. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has also said that people should take their daily exercise "as near home as possible".

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.

The strict legal position is that there is no requirement that your permitted exercise must start from your front door; however, please remember that taking exercise alone or with other members of your household is one of the defined “reasonable excuses” for leaving your home. Accordingly, anyone thinking of jumping in a car to travel somewhere to take exercise might need to justify that this was reasonable in the circumstances.

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. 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. That’s where the question of what’s reasonable becomes important. In these cases, do the best you can, and comply with instructions from local police or other authorities.

Return to questions

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

DD: The Prime Minister’s announcement did not include a fixed time limit.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the regulations provide that taking exercise, either on your own or with members of your household, is a reasonable excuse for leaving your home.

The guidance from Governments in England and Northern Ireland initially suggested that this should only be once per day, but that is not a legal requirement.  The guidance in England has however now been changed to recognise that people with certain physical or mental health conditions may need to go out more often. 

In Scotland, the guidance does not mention exercise being limited to once per day, but it does say that people should be minimising their time outside their home when undertaking permitted activities such as daily exercise.

In Wales the regulations are different, and there is a legal restriction limiting exercise outside your home to once per day.

Working out how long we can exercise for is also something of a balancing act, and we all need to strike that balance depending on the context. 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 once a day 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. Think about what's reasonable.

Cycling UK advice is to go out for long enough to keep yourself in good shape physically and emotionally but avoid doing more than this. 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 also need to be aware that the regulations in Ireland are more restrictive, and daily exercise is restricted to within two kilometres of people’s homes. Accordingly, cycling across the border into Ireland for daily exercise is likely to breach those regulations, unless you remain within 2km of your home.

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!

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 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.

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.

    Q: What’s the difference between social distancing and self-isolation?

    PHE: Social distancing includes:

    • Avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of Coronavirus (high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
    • Avoiding non-essential use of public transport.
    • Working from home where possible.
    • Avoiding large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs.
    • Avoiding gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, Internet, and social media.
    • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

    Self-isolation includes:

    • Staying at home
    • Not going to work, school or public areas
    • Not using public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis
    • Avoiding visitors to your home
    • Asking friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you - such as getting groceries, medications or other shopping
    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. 

    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