Cycling UK has asked the government how “local” is “local” when it comes to taking a bike ride for exercise in England – and, as anyone who has followed our stories over the past year explaining the difference between official guidance and what the letter of the law actually says, the reply is as clear as the mud that is probably clogging your drivetrain if you’ve been out on a ride recently.
Government guidance in England during the current lockdown is that outdoor exercise “should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.”
That’s not reflected in the actual legislation, however, which places no restrictions on how far people can go on a bike ride, nor its duration, and likewise there are no limits in law over, say, driving a car somewhere with your bike on a roof rack and starting your ride once there.
Cycling UK, along with British Cycling and British Triathlon, wrote to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ask for clarification following reports that despite what the regulations say, some people have been fined for travelling outside the areas where they live to take exercise.
Minister for Sport, Nigel Huddleston, replied, saying: “I appreciate the concerns you raise and agree that sport and physical activity play a crucial role in supporting people to be active and healthy. No government would want to be in a position of needing to restrict something that brings so many benefits to so many people and communities.
“However, Covid-19 cases remain high across the country and the single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.
“As you are aware, the government’s current guidance regarding outdoor exercise states that people are allowed to leave their home to exercise outdoors, and should remain as local as possible.
“As you state, people’s circumstances are different and so this guidance relies on people to use their common sense to determine what is and is not a reasonable distance for their outdoor exercise.
“As we navigate these necessary new restrictions, we remain clear on just how important exercise is to people's health and wellbeing, whilst staying safe at home.”
You may recall that nine months ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “good solid British common sense” was helping the country get through the pandemic, yet here we are once more with a government minister urging us to employ that trait without explaining what it actually means.
Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, said: “Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six deaths in the UK, so while everyone must comply with coronavirus regulations and guidance around outdoor exercise, it’s also essential for the nation’s health and wellbeing that people aren’t dissuaded from exercise through misinformation and a perception that they’re doing something wrong by trying to stay active, keep themselves healthy, and get some fresh air.
“Tragically, too many have been, with a recent UCL report indicating that 40% of people were now exercising less than they were during the first lockdown.
“That’s why Cycling UK is relieved that, in England, the government has reiterated the importance of physical exercise while complying with the guidance – and, critically, that individual circumstances are different and the guidance relies on people using common sense.
“We have been inundated with questions about how far and for how long people can cycle or exercise outdoors, and what ‘local’ means, so clarification that some common sense can be applied is extremely helpful, and will hopefully reassure people that they can go for a bike ride, a run or a walk, provided they use their reasonable judgement.”
The charity has updated its guidance to state that while it encourages people to continue to cycle for exercise during the current lockdown, they should do so in a manner which minimises risk, for example avoiding narrow routes where it is impossible to maintain social distancing.
It also advises people to start and finish their rides at home, where possible, and to ensure that they do not go that far away that a mechanical problem or injury would cause problems returning there.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.