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Q+A: What has changed for cyclists riding for exercise in Great Britain after the latest lockdown restriction announcements? (Updated)

We look at the latest changes to emergency legislation and guidance and what it means for you

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to people in England yesterday evening is top of the news agenda today, and it’s clear there is a lot of confusion about what is and isn’t permitted now. Among other things, he said that people would be permitted to undertake “unlimited outdoor exercise”; although they already were under existing rules. Here, we look at the current situation regarding exercise in England; as well as in Scotland and Wales, which each have their own emergency legislation in place and where the respective First Ministers have announced minor changes to rules regarding exercise in recent days.

Please note, this article was updated at 4.15pm on 11 May 2020 to reflect that under advice contained in the in government's recovery strategy, in England, from Wednesday you will be allowed to exercise "with up to one person from outside your household," and that advice is "to not travel to different parts of the UK where it would be inconsistent with guidance or regulations issued by the relevant devolved administration." We have indicated such revisions by marking them [Updated].

How much distance should you leave to the cyclist ahead in a time of pandemic?

Summary

Here are the main points resulting from the latest regulation and guidance as they apply to each country. Detailed explanations follow later in this article.

I live in England. Can I ride outside for as long as I like, or go out on my bike multiple times a day? Yes, to both.

What if I live in Scotland or Wales? You can go out multiple times a day, but unlike in England, guidance is to stay close to home.

Can I ride outside with members of my own household? Yes, whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales.

Can I ride with people from different households at a distance of 2 metres or more? In England, as from Wednesday you will be allowed to exercise with  you are now allowed to exercise with "up to one person from outside your household." [Updated]. However, in Scotland and Wales, restrictions on exercising alone, or with other members of your household, still apply.

Can I drive to a preferred destination with my bike to ride? In England, yes. In Scotland, there are restrictions within the guidance on where you can drive to for exercise. In Wales, guidance is that exercise must start and finish at home.

What if I live in England and my ride crosses into Scotland or Wales? Government advice is not to travel from England to other parts of the UK where different rules apply and it would be inconsistent with those rules. [Updated]

And if I live in Scotland or Wales and want to cross into England? You would need to live close to the border to comply with the guidance in your own country, but once in England, iit appears you could ride for as long and as far as you like with no restrictions. However, bear in mind that the advice about travelling between different countries of the UK may make cycling across borders inadvisable [Updated].

Will I notice any differences? More motor vehicles on the roads especially in England plus, in some towns and cities in all three countries, pop-up cycling infrastructure should be appearing in the coming weeks in all three countries.

Introduction

It is important to note that the rules themselves that set the legal boundaries on what is permitted, and government guidance - whether in England, Scotland or Wales - is just that; it’s not the letter of the law, but it would be influential to the police and other authorities in determining whether an offence has been committed.

And in all three countries, the legal stipulation that outdoor exercise should only be undertaken alone, or with household members (or carers if applicable) remains.

It should be noted that as in England, while the regulations themselves in neither Wales nor Scotland place any restriction on duration or distance of exercise, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that interpretation by the authorities would take a narrow view, given the guidance to stay close to home.

Bear in mind that we are not qualified lawyers. What follows is our understanding of what the current rules and guidance is in each country, and how they might be interpreted; it does not constitute legal advice, however.

We have not covered Northern Ireland, which has its own rules and guidance in force and which uniquely has a land border with a country outside the United Kingdom, which raises specific issues. First Minster Arlene Foster is set to update the country on its measures tomorrow. 

I live in England. Can I ride outside for as long as I like, or go out on my bike multiple times a day? 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 place no restriction on how many times you can exercise a day in England, nor how long you should exercise for. The new guidance regarding “unlimited outdoor exercise” may have been presented as a relaxation of the law, but does not change it. However, it would now seem difficult for the police to suggest that a long-distance ride , or multiple rides, did not constitute a “reasonable excuse” to leave the house.

What if I live in Scotland or Wales? 

In Scotland and Wales, the devolved governments’ messaging remains to “Stay home,” as it has done since the start of lockdown, while England has moved to a “Stay alert” message.

Here are the rules and guidance relating to exercise in both countries. In each case, as in England, exercise can only be taken alone, or with members of the household.

The relevant legislation in Scotland is the The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

The latest Scottish Government advice and guidance is that “You can go outside to exercise as often as you wish,” and that it can include “cycling - on road and low-risk paths.”

However, “High risk exercise (that may result in injury and require medical care or emergency services support) should be avoided” – so downhill mountain bike runs, for example, are out.

The guidance adds: “Unnecessary travel should be avoided, so exercise should be done in your local area. You should not drive to beauty spots, parks or beaches.”

Also, “Exercising in crowded areas where physical distancing may be difficult - such as narrow paths - should be avoided.”

The legislation in Wales is contained in The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, as amended.

Following an announcement from the Welsh Government on Friday, as of today the previous “once-a-day” restriction on exercise has been lifted.

In its statement, the government said that it was “Allowing people to exercise more than once a day, but people should stay local. This means any exercise should start and end at home and not involve going a significant distance from home.”

Uniquely, Wales has specific and detailed guidance for cyclists, at paragraphs 17-20 here, although this has not yet been amended to reflect the removal of the restriction to exercising only once a day. Key points of the guidance include:

People are expected to only cycle alone or with members of their household, on routes they know well, and that are well within their ability level. Cyclists on shared paths should be considerate of walkers, runners and other people cycling: they should stay two metres from others, slow their pace and stop to let people pass as appropriate.

Cycling should be local, as a rule of thumb limited to travelling no further than a reasonable walking distance from home. Exercising by cycling significant distances from home is not considered to be a reasonable excuse for leaving home.

Can I ride outside with members of my own household? 

Yes, that is unchanged, whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales.

Can I ride with people from different households at a distance of 2 metres or more? 

No you cannot, whether you are in England, Scotland or Wales. In all three countries, you must only exercise alone or with household members.

You should also adhere to social distancing guidance of at least 2 metres from non-household members although, as we have explained previously, when you encounter another cyclist ahead of you on the road, you need to leave more space than that. 

What if I live in England and my ride crosses into Scotland or Wales? 

The rules of the country you are in at a specific point in your ride apply. If you live in the Shropshire town of Oswestry, for example, you could cross the border into Wales; but then you would be bound by the legislation and guidance that applies in Wales, such as ride only within walking distance of where you live.

With England now apparently issuing more relaxed guidance than Scotland or Wales, we’d expect enforcement of the law to be stricter in those countries.

However, see our comments about driving to exercise below. We suspect that police in both Wales and Scotland would not be sympathetic to anyone crossing the border for exercise, whether that be by car or bike. 

[Updated]  The UK government’s own Recovery Strategy, published earlier today, states:

People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household. When travelling to outdoor spaces, it is important that people respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and do not travel to different parts of the UK where it would be inconsistent with guidance or regulations issued by the relevant devolved administration.

While the initial reference is to people driving, cycling does count as outdoor exercise, and this would seem to indicate that official advice is not to cross into countries where different restrictions apply.

And if I live in Scotland or Wales and want to cross into England? 

Here, it seems that the opposite would apply; once you've crossed into England, you could ride as far from your home as you wanted and not fall foul of the guidance in Wales, say, to stay within walking distance of home.

However, you would in the first place need to live within that distance of the border while riding on your home country's roads.

[Updated] As mentioned above, the Recovery Strategy now published by the UK government advises people in England not travelling for exercise to other countries where regulations differ. While that is not addressed to residents of Scotland or Wales, you would be cycling into a country where different legislation applies, which me inadvisable, not least because when returning to your home country, you could face some uncomfortable questioning from police if you were pulled over.

Can I drive to a preferred destination with my bike to ride? 

In England, it appears that under the new guidance you can, with the Prime Minister saying that from Wednesday “you can drive to other destinations” to take your exercise.

Existing Crown Prosecution Service guidance to police forces in England was that “Driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving)” was likely to be a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home, and that could, by extension, be applied to taking your bike somewhere.

Bear in mind, however, that since yesterday evening’s announcement, some local authorities and tourism bodies in areas such as Cumbria have urged visitors to stay away. 

In Wales, where guidance is that exercise must start and finish at home, Counsel General and Member of the Senedd Jeremy Miles has this morning issued a very clear “stay away” message to people living in England not to drive to Wales for exercise (which by extension could also apply to cyclists crossing the border).

He said: “Our regulations do not permit people to get in their cars and drive to destinations in Wales and this includes people getting in their cars in England. We are not permitting that in Wales.”

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today reiterated that "Scotland's lockdown restrictions remain in place for now and our key message remains the same: We need you to stay at home.” 

[Updated] The UK government, in its Recovery Strategy published today, says: that in England:

People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household. 

We assume that driving somewhere to exercise by bike would be covered by that, within England. However, the advice mentioned above not to travel into other UK countries where different regulations are in force still applies.

Will I notice any differences? 

In England, certainly, you are likely to notice far more motor traffic on the road. That’s something that has been on the rise in the past couple of weeks, and the Prime Minister’s statement last night that people in sectors such as construction and manufacturing should return to work from today, but avoid public transport and “if possible” travel “by car or even better by walking or bicycle”, is likely to lead to even more cars on the road.

That pattern may not be repeated to the same extent in Scotland or Wales, with those countries' governments taking a more cautious approach to easing lockdown including re-emphasising the "Stay home" message, which no longer applies in England.

At the same time, in the coming days and weeks we will increasingly see pop-up infrastructure for cyclists implemented in towns and cities in England, as well as in Scotland and Wales, to provide safe space for people on bikes.

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.

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