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Cycling dos and don'ts in a time of pandemic – how to be a responsible cyclist

What you should and shouldn't do when out riding your bike based on the (quite vague) law and the (not so vague) best current advice...

With England now in a third national lockdown and restrictions tight in the rest of the UK, recreational cycling outside for health is still allowed throughout Britain. The current guidelines are that during the lockdown you can exercise outside once a day, and cycling is permitted. Cycling to work is also very definitely still allowed, and has the extra benefit over public transport of built-in social distancing.

“Stay local” – What the latest lockdown laws and guidance mean for you and cycling

In this fifth update of our guide to cycling responsibly during the ongoing pandemic, we've tried to pull together all the latest information on the rules laid down by government, and the best practice for applying them drawn from our own expertise, and what is being advised by cycling's main governing bodies. We've tried to make this as clear as possible and address some misconceptions around the current rules on cycling and exercise generally. 

Since the first March lockdown, exercise has been listed as one of the exceptions to the emergency laws enacted in the original regulations that state: “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”

While originally exercise was only allowed "either alone or with other members of their household", the legislation now says you can exercise:

By yourself, with the people you live with, with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one), in a childcare bubble where providing childcare or, when on your own, with 1 person from another household.

That’s it. When it comes to exercise – as with everything else they cover – the emergency powers are vague and leave plenty of room for the Government to interpret them and re-interpret them in any way that suits the situation.

It is worth noting that the vagueness of the act means that some things the public and police forces are interpreting as the law are not actually covered by it. Oddly, given that it's been a central part of the Government's message when it comes to limits on exercise, there is still no limit in the act to the number of times a day you can exercise (there is in the Government's Guidance that accompanies the act), or the amount of time an individual spends exercising outdoors every day; nor is there any specific ban on driving somewhere to take exercise, despite the guidance telling us to "stay local".

For example, after the BBC reported that two women were fined by police for travelling to exercise, human rights barrister Adam Wagner said this on his Twitter account: "It [a limit on travelling for exercise] is not enforceable in law. No explicit limit on how far you can travel for exercise or for how long in the law. There will come a point where you travel so far that the journey becomes the reason not the exercise but driving a few miles should not breach the regulations."

The Government FAQs on social distancing simply emphasises that exercise is permitted once a day (with exceptions for people with certain health conditions) and summarises it as this: "You can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble. This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area." 

As mentioned before, some police forces are still doing their best to enforce the Government’s wishes rather than the letter of the law, something that caused huge confusion in the first lockdown after a certain Cabinet Office minister said that half an hour was enough when it came to exercising outside.  

So, what should and shouldn't you do to be a socially responsible cyclist during the current crisis? 

Do try ride on your own (or socially distanced with one other person), stay on your own, go home on your own and keep social interactions down to the absolute minimum. If you do meet people along the way then observe the guidance on social distancing.

Don’t go out for a recreational/training ride on your bike more than once a day. The Government advice is explicit about this, even if the law is not. While there are no rules about how long, or how far you should ride, the advice on how often you should go outdoors to take exercise is very clear. Once.

Do stay local – stick to routes you know well and ride within your limits.

Do keep a safe distance from other cyclists in as safe a manner as possible, and remember that your speed dictates how safe a distance you need to be behind someone before you pull out to pass – inevitably it is going to be much more than the two metres prescribed for pedestrians. Read our guide to How much distance you should leave the cyclist ahead in a time of pandemic.

Do make sure that you're self-sufficient and that you can fix your bike, and make it home without help from anyone else. 

Don’t share bikes or equipment – this is pretty easy if you’re riding on your own. Only use your own bike, and your own equipment. 

Don’t drive somewhere to ride if possible. The Government's Covid-19 Travel Guidance is clear that only essential travel is allowed, and it deems these things as essential:

- Work, where you cannot reasonably work from home
- Accessing education and for caring responsibilities
- Visiting those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
- Visiting hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
- Buying goods or services that you need, but this should be within your local area wherever possible
- Outdoor exercise – this should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)
- Attending the care and exercise of an animal, or veterinary services
- Attending communal worship and life events, including weddings and funerals

Some would argue that while driving to exercise is legal, it probably isn't a very sensible or desirable thing for people to do. So if you can ride your bike from your front door on deserted roads, we'd argue that's still the most socially responsible way to do it.

Why do we need to ride responsibly?

First, because of the ethical and moral considerations placed upon us all to do our bit to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which can safeguard the health and lives of our fellow citizens and the health workers striving to keep us all well. During the first lockdown there was a genuine concern that cycling could be banned if cyclists don't ride responsibly; and although that's very unlikely to happen, we all have to do our bit to ensure cycling outside continues to be viewed as a socially responsible way to get some daily exercise during the lockdown. 

Anything else?

Cycling/exercising indoors
You could consider doing some or all of your exercise at home either just generally keeping fit and doing some core and flexibility work with Joe Wicks (or the like) or if you’ve got one by doing your cycling on a turbo trainer or smart trainer. Or you could cut down the frequency of your outdoor rides by swapping some for indoor exercise or the turbo. 

> A Zwift setup for every budget

Training 
If you're training and trying to keep your fitness through this, then it's probably a good time to ask yourself how important that training really is. 

A pandemic probably isn't the time to be pushing your limits, and doing things you wouldn't normally do. If your usual training regime is pretty strenuous then it should be fine to continue doing that; however in its latest update to its Covid-19 FAQs section, British Cycling advises you to "ride well within your ability and ensure that you are self-sufficient."

Distance V Distancing
Last year, there was much discussion within the cycling community about how far it is acceptable to ride during the current emergency. The key point here would seem to be that distance ridden is a lot less important than the distance maintained between you and other people while out riding. From a virus-spreading perspective, a short ride on a relatively crowded route where it is hard to maintain proper social distancing is a lot more hazardous for you and the people you meet compared to a much longer jaunt on quiet roads. All that said, going for much longer rides than you normally would clearly goes against the spirit of the law.

> Turbo training tips — get the most from your home trainer

If you have the equipment to allow you to train indoors, then that is the place for more intense training sessions. An online training app is a great way –and really the only way – to ride as a group now, too. Even if you’re going hard in the comfort of your own home, you might still want to pause and think about whether now is really the time – you may be stressing your immune system just when you really don’t want to be, and when an over-stretched NHS doesn’t want you to either. That applies just as much if you’re recovering from Covid-19 (or any other virus) too. 

Some of us don’t have an indoor trainer though, and getting out on our bike is about more than boosting our physical health. It also helps de-stress and maintain mental well being, not only for us cyclists, but also for the people that have to live with us. And of course, it cannot be stressed too firmly that cycling is still being positively encouraged so long as it's done responsibly. 

Cycling UK coronavirus infographic - via Cycling UK

Both British Cycling and Cycling UK have already issued updated guidance. Cycling UK has recently updated a Q+A on cycling guidance during the pandemic, and its current basic advice is as follows:

Where riding is allowed, cyclists should still observe good hygiene, and Cycling UK advises leaving plenty of space when passing others, and to avoid pulling in rapidly after overtaking another cyclist, causing them to end up in your slipstream.

Cycling UK's advice remains that it is advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being. 

The guidance for avoiding contamination remains unchanged, keeping at least two metres away from anyone else where possible, regularly washing your hands and catching coughs and sneezes in tissues and disposing of them appropriately as soon as possible. For further advice, please refer to the NHS website

We will continue to evaluate the latest advice from government and update our guidance accordingly. As the threat level reduces, our guidance is likely to be along these lines but this will depend on factors such as local levels of infection, national guidance and so on.

Failing to ride in a socially responsible way could have negative consequences for communities, individuals, and the health service. Stay safe, take heed of the latest government advice and enjoy cycling responsibly! 

Updated: 8th January 2021, 17th April, 2nd April, 30th March (twice), 23rd March. First published 22nd March 2020. 

road.cc's founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

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116 comments

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Tom_77 | 3 years ago
3 likes

The guidelines for Scotland regarding distance are much clearer:

Quote:

local outdoor recreation, sport or exercise, walking, cycling, golf, or running that starts and finishes at the same place (which can be up to 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority area)

Seems like a lot of confusion could have been avoided if a specific distance was stated in the English guidelines.

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zeeridesbikes | 3 years ago
1 like

Reading the news this week meant I was a bit paranoid about going out for my first ride of 2021 this morning. Thought there was would be police out looking to question people. The lanes were very quiet and I didn't see a single police officer. I didn't come into contact with anyone other than a few other lone cyclists.
 

When I passed the nearest national trust site it was rammed and loads of folks going for a walk. I'm not making a judgement on them but I deem my exercise to be safer even though it might have contraviened what some may define as staying local. 

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OldRidgeback | 3 years ago
0 likes

Boris Johnson has just made it clear that you can cycle up to seven miles with your security detail.

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brighty | 3 years ago
2 likes

You've not been clear that "ride alone" is the law in Wales, it is not, as it is in England, a recommendation. The entire article takes the English laws/guidance as a base but then generalises for the whole of the UK.

Also more than once a day is fine in Wales.

Stay Local is not part of the advice in Wales - start and finish at home is the guidance, with cyclists urged to ride within themselves e.g. if you find a 50 miler a breeze then this is fine.

So I'd add 2 more suggestions

1 - don't read an English centric publication for UK wide cycling advice

2 - don't pompously add unhelpful and gloating "turbo trainer for me, its the only safe option..." posts to these discussions. If that works for you then lovely.

 

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HarrogateSpa replied to Tom_77 | 3 years ago
1 like

Agreed. Even if it is necessarily arbitrary, just set clear rules - job done.

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Awavey replied to OldRidgeback | 3 years ago
0 likes

And made it clear he's happy to judge what the whole country are doing & consider making new laws about it, just by riding around near a shopping centre.

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sean1 | 3 years ago
5 likes

For anyone wondering about the restrictions relating to distances for exercise the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has now issued guidance that there is no distance limit to travel for exercise.

Derbyshire Police have issued a press release after receiving critisism about issuing fines for people going for a walk 5 miles from home.

https://www.derbyshire.police.uk/news/derbyshire/news/news/forcewide/202...
 

 

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Sriracha replied to sean1 | 3 years ago
1 like

As regards exercise, there does not need to be any "travel" distance limit specified. They just need to stipulate that you must travel under your own power. Then the distance will be self-regulating. People could call it exercise if they wished.

In fact, that is pretty much how it is in the legislation. Then they muddied the water with loosely worded unenforceable "guidance", and left the police to deal with the mess.

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Hirsute | 3 years ago
5 likes

Any medic who is getting air time is very worried about how people are behaving and the govn is now saying to people 'act like they have got Covid'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55598918

If you go for a long ride please may sure you are self sufficient for food, water, clothing, repairs and in extremis can be recovered by a household member.

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Richard D | 3 years ago
1 like

"It [a limit on travelling for exercise] is not enforceable in law. No explicit limit on how far you can travel for exercise or for how long in the law. There will come a point where you travel so far that the journey becomes the reason not the exercise but driving a few miles should not breach the regulations."

I disagree.  It is an offence to leave one's home "without a reasonable excuse".  Exercise is one of the potential reasonable excuses, but whether that was the purpose of someone leaving their home - and whether it was reasonable - is NOT a decision for the individual, but is likely to be determined as a question of fact by a court.  What might be exercise in one situation might not be in another, and what is reasonable in one situation might not be reasonable in another.

For example, I would not regard a 2-mile bike ride as being exercise.  I'm not even warmed up at hat point.  For my wife, it might be a very different matter.  In my view, it's probably not reasonable to drive 100 miles because you fancied a walk in the Peak District.  But if your exercise had to be of a specific type (such as hydrotherapy after a bad accident) then it might well be reasonable to travel the same 100 miles.

The barrister is correct to say that there is no stated limit.  But that doesn't mean that your personal view of what is reasonable will trump that of the court.  It won't.

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Richard D replied to Richard D | 3 years ago
1 like

I think I'm allowed to disagree with him BTW.  He's no better trained than I am, and I have the advantage of having done it for a fair bit longer than he has.

Of course, there is a way to tell which of us is right.  I'd not recommend it though.

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Awavey replied to Richard D | 3 years ago
5 likes

no, but then we are left in a dilemma, as various police forces around the country are now "vowing" to issue more fines and interpret the guidance more strictly and have started writing in local newspapers, issuing tweets etc  warning you amongst other things not to travel to beauty spots to exercise, sticking rigidly to stay in your local area only whilst not defining what that means, and even some claiming theyll be randomly stopping people outside to determine if they are compliant with the rules and fining them if they arent, all while the government are already again leaking hints even stricter rules will be in place by Monday if Im reading the runes correctly.

so what do you do? carry on riding as per I think the vast majority of people have been doing in a sensible responsible way all through this, or just say the actual higher risk now is encountering a bored copper on a power trip and shut away the outside world until some semblance of sanity is restored.

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HarrogateSpa replied to Richard D | 3 years ago
8 likes

The Regulations definitely don't mention distance from home.

I understand the argument you make, based on "reasonable excuse", but it is tenuous. If applied in the way you suggest, the rules become so vague that in many situations it's impossible for people to know whether they're committing an offence or not. According to your interpretation, it's up to the court to decide afterwards, and that's not good.

Where I live the roads are nearly as busy as normal. Even if they decided to "enforce", the police couldn't stop more than a tiny fraction of drivers.

Another aspect is that it's pretty pointless criminalising people for going for a walk outdoors at a reservoir. They are not at risk of getting or transmitting Covid, so fining them is petty and bloody-minded.

I've heard North Yorks police say they are focusing on indoor gatherings, which makes far more sense.

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IanMK replied to Richard D | 3 years ago
0 likes

Aren't we conflating 2 ideas. The definition of exercise and whether it was reasonable to travel to take that exercise. Not helped by the ambiguous guidance on travel. As you say both of these ideas are specific to the individual. I think the mistake the Derbyshire Police force is they targeted popular touristy car parks and made no judgement about whether a stroll with a mate was really exercise, whether it was reasonable to travel the distance in question or even if it was your one and only exercise that day. It's not helped by the fact one of the women brought in the question of the benefit of meeting up with her mate on her mental health. That's another topic entirely. Looking at the roads this morning I think they would have been better off setting up road blocks and interviewing all road users. If it is not 'reasonable' to drive to a park that is further away than your nearest park then it cannot be necessary to drive past a Tesco's to get to an Asda. I personally will be starting all exercise from my front door and keep my riding distances down. Not difficult in this weather.

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IanMK replied to IanMK | 3 years ago
1 like

I should add that my local park continues to offer free parking and has its own coffee shop open for takeaway. I have pointed out that this seems to be facilitating breaches of the guidance.

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Hirsute replied to IanMK | 3 years ago
3 likes

Peple are allowed to visit open spaces. Car parks are allowed to be open, take away food and drink is allowed.

Which item did you leave out that causes you concern ?

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IanMK replied to Hirsute | 3 years ago
0 likes

Tbf, I'm just trying to get my own thoughts on the subject in order. I am disappointed by the levels of traffic about this morning. I wasn't trying to make a judgement. That's down to individual circumstance. I was suggesting that if the police are going to make a judgement they should target all road users not just those taking a walk. As was already stated the legality/interpretation is down to the courts if anybody wants to take it that far. With regard parks being open and free to cars. My local councillors advertised (on Facebook) that my local park, which is technically in the next village and therefore not strictly 'local', remained open to cars and that the cafe was open for takeaway, I pointed out that they were telling me to stay home and facilitating non locals to visit at the same time. We have plenty of open space in the town albeit not as scenic and potentially muddier than the park so for the vast majority they don't need to drive to the park to take exercise and it's easily accessible to joggers regardless.

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Hirsute replied to IanMK | 3 years ago
4 likes

I think many have forgotten the basic requirement which is to stay at home. There seems to be too much of 'what can I do next?'.
Some of the travel is due to more shops being open, click and collect, takeaway food.
Why do garden centres need to be open in January? How many people are actually only buying seeds and bulbs as opposed to sale tat ?

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IanMK replied to Hirsute | 3 years ago
3 likes

Thank you hirsute. I think this clarifies my thinking. My gut reaction was that Derbyshire Police were totally wrong but I thought my reaction was about issuing fines where no law was clearly breached. My real issue is that they targeted a low risk activity that has little economic value. They didn't stake out shopping centres and garden centres to check that people were only buying necessities. Worse still those that went to a garden centre to have a stroll round and didn't buy anything. This doesn't feel like an apolitical choice.

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HarrogateSpa replied to Hirsute | 3 years ago
1 like

'What can I do, without breaching the rules and without creating a risk of transmitting Covid?' is a fair question in my opinion, and it's natural people will ask it.

I understand, it's a bad situation we're in. But we've all put our lives on hold for nearly a year now, and not all of us want to go further than necessary.

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Hirsute replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 years ago
0 likes

Indeed, but do you think that is the question people are actually asking themselves?

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Sriracha replied to Richard D | 3 years ago
3 likes

The law does not specify a distance limit for travel because the law does not say anything about travel. People have simply inserted the travel element themselves, probably because they are incapable of imagining things any other way, such is the hold that car culture has over them. Going out for some physical exercise? Sure, how far shall we drive?

How far can I fly to take my exercise? The law does not specify a limit. Put it that way and it seems ridiculous. But travel by car is assumed unless specifically excluded.

Yet the law does actually exclude it. It starts with a blanket ban - don't leave home (so that includes travel) - and then fails to re-admit travel, so far as taking exercise is concerned.

Yet still people just assume car travel is a given, a universal default, it's simply held as self-evident. So the only question now troubling them is, "how far?"

So what about going to the supermarket or doctors? Indeed the law does not tell you how to get there, but it does say that you can be there. At that point it must be true that you are allowed to go from home to venue, and it does not restrict your choice of transport.

But that argument does not apply to exercise. Because the law only says that it is an excuse to be outside if it is reasonably necessary to be outside to take exercise. So if you are apprehended by the law whilst outside, your defence can be that for the exercise you are engaged in it is reasonably necessary to be outside. You can't say that if you are in a car.

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mdavidford replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
0 likes

Quote:

Yet the law does actually exclude it. It starts with a blanket ban - don't leave home (so that includes travel) - and then fails to re-admit travel, so far as taking exercise is concerned.

It doesn't re-admit exercise per se either. What it re-admits is being outside for the purposes of exercise, insofar as that is reasonably necessary. So exercising outside is legal if it is reasonably necessary both for you to exercise, and to do so outside. Travelling in order to exercise is legal if it is reasonably necessary for you to exercise, to do so outside, and to do so in a location that requires you to travel to it.

It's a defensible position that it's never reasonably necessary to travel to another location in order to exercise, but it's a matter of subjective judgement that others are likely to disagree with.

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Sriracha replied to mdavidford | 3 years ago
0 likes

I know we've argued over this already, but I still fail to see where you get travel from. The law asks only, why you are outside? It offers a drop-down menu of allowable responses. One of them is, "to take exercise for which it is reasonably necessary to be outside". And that's it. It's not asking whether the exercise reasonably requires you to travel, that's not on the menu.

And to be clear on some of your other points, the law does not ask whether, nor require that, the exercise be reasonable or necessary, nor that it is reasonably necessary to take outdoors exercise.

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mdavidford replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
1 like

Because the travel is for the purposes of exercise.

It doesn't ask whether you are exercising; it asks whether you are outside for the purpose of exercising. That doesn't just mean doing the exercise itself; it means anything you need to do in order to do the exercise. In the same way that if you are travelling to a shop to buy essentials, you are outside for the purpose of purchasing essentials, even though you're not actually purchasing them at the time.

If you are, then it asks whether that was reasonably necessary, which is where you could argue that there are no cases where it's reasonably necessary to travel in order to exercise. But it also means that others could argue that there are no cases where it's reasonably necessary to be outside to exercise at all ("I mean, there's that there Joe Wicks, isn't there?") or that it's reasonably necessary to drive 50 miles to the coast ("It's vital for my mental health to see the sea regularly").

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HarrogateSpa replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
0 likes

I think you're in the realms of fantasy here, Corporal Jones.

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HarrogateSpa replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
0 likes

Nonsense.

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trisc | 3 years ago
0 likes

On the point about exercise and the immune system please see this thread by Ross Tucker https://twitter.com/Scienceofsport/status/1250312403423596544?s=19

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Nick Gough | 4 years ago
0 likes

.. then 'as with most everything ele they cover'

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Nick Gough | 4 years ago
0 likes

Typo: 'When it comes to excercise'

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