Seven “mountain bikers” have been fined by police in Sussex for breaking lockdown rules on gatherings, according to local press reports – although it turns out that the group were actually on off-road motorbikes, rather than mountain bikes.
Posting to Twitter yesterday, Lewes Police said: “Following your reports of off road bikers using the #ChalkPits in #Lewes, officers attended this afternoon & issued 7 adults who had travelled from West Sussex with fines for breaching Covid-19 restrictions. A non essential, and now expensive, journey for them all.”
Following your reports of off road bikers using the #ChalkPits in #Lewes, officers attended this afternoon & issued 7 adults who had travelled from West Sussex with fines for breaching Covid-19 restrictions. A non essential, and now expensive, journey for them all.#CK159 pic.twitter.com/0QRSQ9Svf1
— Lewes Police (@Lewes_Police) February 7, 2021
The tweet was reported upon by local newspaper The Argus under the headline Covid fines for group on mountain bikes in Lewes, and is currently the top story on its website, while radio station More Radio Mid-Sussex went with the headline, Police raid ‘illegal’ mountain bikers’ gathering near Lewes.
While a Google search for mountain biking at Lewes chalk pits returns plenty of results relating to online discussions, there are also a lot of results showing off road motorbikes, also known as pit bikes, being ridden there – and upon checking with Sussex Police, road.cc has established that it was the latter that the seven people fined were riding yesterday.
It is an important distinction to make, given the negative comments that cycling stories often attract in the local press, as well as widespread confusion that still exists regarding the coronavirus regulations, as highlighted by a number of comments to the Argus story.
Clearly, travelling somewhere to ride off-road motorbikes as part of a group of people is not, under the regulations currently in force in England, a “reasonable excuse” to leave your home.
What if the riders had been mountain bikers, though? Well, the regulations permit people to take outdoor exercise either with members of their household, or alone with one person from one other household.
It is possible – though unlikely – that all seven would have been from the same household and the likelihood is that the police, upon establishing where they lived, would have issued fines in this case, too.
One point worth clarifying, however, is in relation to the mention of a “non-essential” journey in the original tweet.
While government guidance is to undertake exercise including cycling locally, the regulations, which carry the force of law, place no restrictions on the duration of exercise, nor how far you can travel to do it.
As we’ve mentioned before, the difference between the advisory guidance and the actual legislation is something that has regularly given rise to confusion over the past 10 months or so, whether among the public, the press, politicians and even the police.
Last month, the National Police Chiefs Council, updating its guidance to police forces, said: “UK Government guidance strongly requests that people do not leave their local area. However, the COVID Regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue FPNs for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.
“Police officers will be inquisitive about why people are out of their homes and will explain the regulations and encourage people to comply. Where people are breaching the regulations and are away from home without a reasonable excuse, they may be issued with a FPN. In situations where people are breaching the guidance not to travel out their local area but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance.”
Different rules apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to those in force in England – and as we reported last month, police in Gloucestershire ordered seven mountain bikers who had travelled to the Forest of Dean to return home to South Wales.
Besides breaching the regulations in force in England due to the size of the group, the cyclists, from Caerphilly, would also have broken rules applying in Wales by travelling across the border – although police in Gloucestershire have no power to enforce those.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.