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12 ways that lockdown has changed cycling

The whole world has altered over the past few months, and cycling has too – sometimes for the better, sometimes not

The lockdown related to the Covid-19 pandemic has had huge effects on all aspects of our lives, including cycling. Some of these changes have been positive, some not so much...

There are more (solo) cyclists on the road

People getting their permitted daily exercise, commuters wanting to stay off public transport, the Government urging people to walk or cycle to work, the sunniest spring on record in the UK... each of these has contributed to a greater number of bikes on the roads since the lockdown was introduced on 23rd March. 

Okay, club runs are out for the time being and cycling has been suspended in Richmond Park, but riding in Greater Manchester is reportedly up 22% compared to pre-lockdown data, for example.

In terms of participation, cycling is one of the few activities that has benefited from the lockdown.

Bike sales are booming

Bike shop interior (CC BY-ND 2.0 jun.skywalker:Flickr).jpg

We reported back on 23rd April that UK bike sales were booming. Evans Cycles said it had seen "unprecedented demand” for bikes and another online retailer told us that it was busier than during the Black Friday sales period.

Halfords said last month that sales of some cycling equipment had risen 500% at the start of the lockdown, and bike sales were at double normal levels.

Some brands have decided not to send bikes for review here at road.cc because they can sell everything they can get their hands on and they're at full stretch fulfilling orders.

There's less motor traffic on the road... for now

North Circular Road, lunchtime 7 April 2020 (copyright Simon MacMichael)

UK road traffic levels plummeted when the lockdown was introduced, falling to their lowest level for decades. In late April there was 56% less traffic on the road than in early February, according to government data – a boom time for cyclists.

The RAC said last week that traffic levels are still below what would normally be expected at this time of year, but that its black box insurance data showed a 19% increase in vehicles on the road between the first week of lockdown and the end of May, with vehicles travelling on average double the weekly distance they were at the end of March. In other words, traffic is on the rise again.

Racing is off

Although cycling has benefited from the lockdown in some ways, it's far from all good news – we all know that racing isn't happening at the moment.

The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) announced the suspension of all events on the international calendar back in March, and the current plan is for the WorldTour to resume again with the Strade Bianchi on 1st August, the Tour de France to start on 29th August, and for the Vuelta a Espana to run well into November!

Domestic racing and sportives have, of course, been similarly affected. 

Indoor training is in

zwift indoor training 1

Indoor training has been on the up for the past few years, and it has been given a further boost by the lockdown. Back in March major retailers began telling us of an uplift in sales of turbo trainers as many people decided to get their exercise at home rather than venturing outdoors. 

Online platforms like Zwift responded by ramping up events, many featuring pro cyclists like Geraint Thomas, Andre Greipel and Robert Gesink who were unable to train outside.

Group rides are out

When the Government first brought in the lockdown rules, the guidance was that you could exercise outside once a day, alone or with other household members. For most of us that meant riding solo.

The latest guidance in England (as opposed to the UK generally) is that we can spend time outdoors in groups of up to six people from different households, following social distancing guidelines – which means staying at least two metres apart. If you're sitting right on another rider's wheel, you're within two metres.

People are riding further away from the kerb!

road positioning - primary and secondary position.jpg

Most of us know that cyclists aren't obliged – and it's not always advisable – to stick to the left of the lane, but riding further out from the kerb in the primary position has become essential on many roads, particularly in urban areas, in order to stay the required two metres away from pedestrians on the pavement.

Everesting is more popular

Evereresting – riding repeats up a hill/mountain until you've clocked up 8,848m of climbing – has become more popular lately, perhaps because of the lack of racing, perhaps because of the need to ride alone.

Hannah Rhodes (pic via Strava)

We reported last month that Keegan Swenson had taken the Everesting men's world record from retired WorldTour pro Phil Gaimon, who had held it for just four days,
and Hannah Rhodes (above) broke the women's world record last weekend, becoming the fastest British rider, male or female, to complete the challenge

Cycle brands switched to making personal protective equipment

Santini PPE face masks - 1

Many bike brands have become involved in the production of personal protective equipment since Covid-19 began sweeping the globe. Italy's Santini switched from making cycling clothing to the production of face masks, for example, and Muc-Off began manufacturing antibacterial alcohol and QUAT sanitisers. 

Strava policing became a thing

Strava Bristol and Wales ride.PNG

Back in April we reported that the Sunday Times had taken it upon itself to name UK cyclists who had shared details of their rides on Strava, including one who rode an average of 100 miles a day over the previous week – even though government rules on outdoor exercise undertaken during the lockdown didn't specify a time or distance limit.

We also reported last month that a Bristol cyclist who crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales to cycle on quiet roads had his ride flagged on Strava because of claims it contravened lockdown guidance from the Welsh Government not to ride more than walking distance from home.

Pop-up cycling infrastructure is big

leeds pop-up bike lane 2.PNG

New government guidance for local authorities demands that more space be provided for walking and cycling in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Writing in the foreword to the guidance, dated May 9, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “The government … expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians."

Mr Shapps announced a £250m emergency active travel fund to support pop-up bike lanes and other measures to improve cycling and walking created in England within weeks. The money is part of £5bn in funding for cycling and buses outside London that was announced in February. Shapps said £2bn of that is earmarked for active travel.

As a result, pop-up bike lanes have been introduced in many towns and cities, and some areas of London are being closed to cars and vans in order to prioritise walking and cycling

We've had a glimpse of the way the future could be

Brighton street closed to motor traffic (via YouTube)

More people on bikes, fewer cars on the roads, encouragement for cycling from government and many local authorities, better provision for cyclists... if only this was the 'new normal' that we keep hearing so much about. 

We told you back in April that Cycling UK was urging people to ask their councils to create wider footpaths and temporary cycle lanes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Great idea, but maybe ask them to make it permanent.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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