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

New measures are now in force in England and Scotland – what’s changed?

The escalation in the number of cases of coronavirus over Christmas and New Year has led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a new lockdown in England, effective from today; while in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined new measures that have come into effect there today. British Cycling says it is seeking urgent clarification from the government about what “Stay local” means for people in England when it comes to riding bikes for exercise; but according to the latest amendments this appears to be guidance, not law.   

> Recovering from long COVID - a cyclist's guide

Here’s a brief summary of what the latest rules in England and Scotland, plus the existing ones in Wales and Northern Ireland mean for cycling, with a focus on exercise and leisure – with active travel encouraged for those who have to commute to work, or when undertaking essential shopping. 


There is a summary of the rules on the website, which includes guidance and also outlines most things which are against the law. On Tuesday evening a full set of amendments were published which laid out the new laws that have now come into effect. Here are the rules relating to exercising and meeting other people.

Exercising and meeting other people

You should minimise time spent outside your home.

It is against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble. You can only leave your home to exercise, and not for the purpose of recreation or leisure (e.g. a picnic or a social meeting). This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

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

Public outdoor places include:

parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests

public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)

the grounds of a heritage site


Outdoor sports venues, including tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools, must close.

When around other people, stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household - meaning the people you live with - or your support bubble. Where this is not possible, stay 1 metre apart with extra precautions (e.g. wearing a face covering).

Additionally, in the 'travel' section of the guidance document it says: "This [outdoor exercise] 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)". 

British Cycling has provided updated guidance on its website, where it acknowledges that some people may be confused by what constitutes their local area, and says it is seeking clarification on the issue.

“We know many of you will want to know what is meant by 'staying local'. The government’s definition of this is stated as ‘your village, town or the part of a city where you live’,” the organisation said.

“We understand that this definition is particularly restrictive for cycling, and we are working to seek further clarification on this. We will provide a further update as soon as we are able.

“In the meantime, we recommend that you follow the advice to stay local, ride well within your ability and ensure that you are self-sufficient.”

Update, January 6th: as mentioned above, it's now become clearer that exercising once per day and 'staying local' is guidance, and not the law. Does this mean it's sensible to go/ride against the spirit of the guidance? Probably not in most cases, and we'll be giving a more holistic answer to this question in our soon-to-be-updated guide to being a responsible cyclist in a time of pandemic.  


The mainland, and some islands including Skye, have been placed in Level 4. Some islands remain in Level 3, and you can find a list of those here.

For areas falling within Level 4, people are told to stay at home “as much as possible” and to “Travel no further than you need to reach to a safe, non-crowded place to exercise in a socially distanced way.”

The Scottish Government says: “A maximum of 2 people from 2 separate households can meet outdoors for sport or exercise. Children under the age of 12 from these households do not count towards this number.

“The members of an individual household or extended household [similar to a support bubble – Ed] can meet outdoors for sport or exercise.

“You can travel for local outdoor sport or exercise such as meeting another person, 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), as long as you abide by the rules on meeting other households.

“Indoor sports facilities are closed.”

Scottish Cycling last month produced a detailed guide to what informal and formal (ie organised) cycling is permitted under each of the country’s five tiers, which range from Level 0 (lowest) to Level 4 (highest).

You can find the guide here, but the Level 4 restrictions announced yesterday appear more restrictive than those that previously applied.


Wales has been in an Alert Level 4 national lockdown since 20 December, with the Welsh Government’s guidance available here. In response, Welsh Cycling said:

With the new regulations and guidance coming into place, this will mean a change in organised sporting activity. The new regulations mean you must adhere to the following:

All group activities are suspended until advised otherwise by Welsh Government

Ride on your own or with members of your household*.

Your ride has to start/finish at home.

Keep to social distancing measures of two metres apart.

If you live around borders into England please be aware of that regulations differ so please check the latest advice, we urge you to ride responsibly and within your ability to help protect the NHS [nb The latest rules in England mean that people in Wales will not be allowed to cross into the country – Ed].

It is also important to be self-sufficient by carrying the tools you need (i.e. inner tubes, chain tool and a working pump).

Welsh Cycling added: “As we enter another difficult period, we understand the physical and mental benefits exercise and cycling can have. We encourage you to continue to cycle but urge people to do so responsibly during this upcoming period and to follow Welsh Government regulations and guidance.”

Northern Ireland

As outlined on the regulations guidance page on, tougher restrictions were introduced in Northern Ireland following an increase in coronavirus cases on the 26th December, which meant the closing of all non-essential retail. From Friday NI will enforce a 'stay at home' law, however residents will still be allowed to take exercise outdoors. Here is the current guidance for sports on NI Direct. 

Indoor and outdoor sport is not permitted, other than at elite level.

Elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors.

Elite sporting events must be held behind closed doors without spectators.

The definition of an elite athlete is set out in the regulations.

Horse racing can take place behind closed doors, in line with the elite sport regulations and animal welfare considerations.

All sports facilities such as leisure centres, gyms, health clubs, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios must close.

Other exercise facilities, including activity centres, equestrian centres (access for the purpose of animal welfare is permitted), marinas, and venues relating to motor sport and water sport must also remain closed.

Only individual or household outdoor exercise is permitted. Physical activity such as walking, running, cycling, horse riding, or just walking the dog, bring many health benefits. 

You cannot participate in personal one-to-one training sessions or group activities such as running or cycling.

Physical education delivered by or for schools, pre-schools and other education providers is permitted to continue.

Simon joined 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.

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