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12 ways that lockdown has changed cycling

The whole world has seen huge changes in 2020, and cycling has too - some for better, others not so much

The lockdown due 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 rather less so...

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 first national lockdown was introduced on 23rd March. 

Okay, club runs were cut completely at one point and limited numbers were allowed to meet up for group rides. Cycling was also suspended in popular 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.

Some brands have decided not to send bikes for review here at 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 in June that traffic levels are still below what would normally be expected at that 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.

Professional racing was more exciting

Although the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) pushed all events on the international calendar back. When the WorldTour racing did resume on 1st August with Wout Van Aert winning Strade Bianche the racing was incredibly exciting. With professional riders responding differently, physically, to the readjusted season, unexpected teams and riders dominated—we were treated to edge-of-the-seat action on back to back days with Grand Tour's running simultaneously.

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 cases are high

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. This was upped to being allowed to ride outdoors in groups of six people from different households – but staying at least two metres apart. If you're sitting right on another rider's wheel, you're within two metres.

With the rates of cases and deaths related to Covid–19 constantly fluctuating, goovernment guidelines regarding group rides will change to reflect that.

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)

Records were broken rapidly. We reported in May 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. But on October, 3 the 26 year-old Amercian amateur Sean Gardner, broke sub seven hours mark, clocking in a time of just 6 hours, 59 minutes and 38 seconds.
Hannah Rhodes (above) broke the women's world record in June, becoming the fastest British rider, male or female, to complete the challenge. Although this also didn't stand for long. The former British pro Emma Pooley knocked 15 minutes off this time in July.

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 in May 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 technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. 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 over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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Rick_Rude | 3 years ago

Group rides are out..... My sides are splitting. Tell me another one. Club rides in club jerseys are out. Tbh the threat is completely overblown imo but cyclists seem to one of the biggest groups of social distancing rule breakers going by my routes.

nniff | 3 years ago

My ride to work has got a whole lot better.  A nice big rural circle with only one set of traffic lights, instead of the 100 sets that I used to get battering into London every day :o)

kil0ran | 3 years ago

I'd add the dark side - more fatalities and more assaults on cyclists.

For me, I am seeing a positive change in driver behaviour. The roads are getting busier near me but I'm getting less close passes, more positive interactions with drivers. I'm conditioning myself not to expect close passes when I hear a car close behind. On a couple of occasions on this morning's ride I had to actually wave drivers through because they'd been sat on my wheel when I could see it was safe for them to pass. 

I'd also add more punctures to the list. Possibly anecdotal and #justme but I've never know a spring like it for punctures. It's like hedge-cutting season. The fact that the LA are using the lower traffic levels to go and surface dress roads isn't helping but 7 punctures in 4 weeks is just ridiculous - that's more than in 5 years of several thousand commuting miles. Perhaps it's because lower traffic levels aren't sweeping the roads.

Awavey replied to kil0ran | 3 years ago

early on during lockdown yes I think some drivers were doing that extra bit of being more cautious and safer around cyclists, stil got close passed but overall it felt positive.

more recently though I dont know, it feels more aggressive on the roads,maybe even worse than it was before March, people seem to have alot of pent up frustration and a lack of patience now, just in couple rides this week Ive been cut up, left hooked, close passed, punish passed, pulled out on from a junction,verbally abused, beeped at,  one driver who was clearly angry about having to turn around having ignored all the earlier road closed signs warning them the road was blocked for them, wasnt far from clattering my knee with their wing mirror as they leapt on the accelerator after completing their u turn

SimonAY replied to Awavey | 3 years ago

In some ways I yearn for the return of full lockdown when the roads were near enough empty. The currently situation seems to be inducing people to drive with less patience as they rush to queue at the garden centre

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