Page last updated: May 11, 15.20
Doing the right thing during the coronavirus crisis is important to everyone – but there remains considerable confusion over what is and isn’t allowed during the UK’s lockdown.
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Riding your bike has been permitted since the lockdown began in March. This was initially limited to only once a day, and there was encouragement to keep this local and minimal, though there was no legal limit to how long or how far you could ride.
From Wednesday May 13, people in England will be allowed to exercise as much as they like, wherever they like. Changes in government advice also allows people to meet up with one member outside their household, as long as they are outdoors and remain two metres apart.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday May 10: “From this Wednesday we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.”
In Scotland unlimited exercise is permitted from Monday May 11, though the ‘stay at home’ measures remain in place, meaning people should not leave their house other than for buying food, getting medicine or exercising.
Wales will also allow exercising more than once a day, though will keep its ‘stay local’ advice.
Welsh government advice says people can “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.”
Northern Ireland has currently made no changes to its rules around exercising, but has indicated “nuanced changes” may come soon.
Is there a one-hour limit for cycling?
The UK government has at no point enforced a one-hour limit for exercise.
On April 23, Cycling Weekly contacted the Department for Media, Culture and Sport to find out if the government had issued guidelines on how long to ride for.
“There is no strict limit on time for exercise,” a press spokesperson replied. “The official guidelines are clear that, in any given day, a person can go outside for one form of basic exercise, such as a walk, a run or a cycle, if they are well enough and as long as they are on their own, or with members of their household.”
On April 24, the Welsh government issued its own advice, saying that “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.”
From Wednesday May 13 though, cyclists will be able to ride freely in England, with the government encouraging people to take more outdoor exercise.
The Welsh government, which has allowed more than one outing for exercise a day from May 11, has not adopted Westminster’s easing measures and continues to advise that exercise, including bike riding, is taken locally.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said people should not drive across the border from England to Wales to take exercise because of the differing rules.
In Scotland, the rules remain the same except unlimited exercise is now permitted. That means you can ride your bike for as long or as far as you like, though you should still only ride on your own or with members of your household.
Northern Ireland rules have not changed and while there is no specific limit on exercise, people are only permitted to go out once a day for outdoor activity.
How far should I cycle during the lockdown?
Aside from Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no limit to how far you can ride elsewhere in the UK. For Northern Ireland, there is still no hard and fast answer to this question, and it will depend on individual circumstances.
With social distancing measures still remain across the whole of the UK, it is still worthwhile thinking about some of the following questions to help guide you to a sensible decision on how far and how long you should ride for while the measures are still in place:
How far were you cycling before the lockdown? It makes sense to be guided by what you’re used to. And be honest – if you’ve taken up cycling again after a long hiatus, then don’t kid yourself that you’re “used to” riding the distances you rode several years ago. Be honest and be sensible.
Are you likely to be able to solve problems out on the road? You don’t want to compromise social distancing by asking someone to “rescue you” if you’re stuck by a roadside. The more tools you carry and the more expertise you have, the longer you can ride for.
How likely are you to encounter other people on your ride? Scientists are only just beginning to understand all the ways that coronavirus can spread from person to person, and there are ways it can travel when you’re not obviously close to anyone else. Nevertheless, the most common way is via close contact with an infected person, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to ride on deserted lanes then the time outdoors is less likely to be harmful to you or others.
Can you stay close to home? One of the arguments against longer rides is the possibility of an accident or other problem when you’re far from home. Therefore there is a strong logic to riding loops or figures-of-eight that minimise how far away you are if you do need assistance.
Ultimately, only you can decide on your individual circumstances, balancing the physical and mental benefits of cycling with the potential to spread the virus or place strain on emergency services.
Remember, though, that these laws and regulations are in place for a reason, and an extremely serious one at that. Lives are at stake, so be honest with yourself about the potential risks that go with your behaviour, and don’t try to justify any unreasonable activity. Ride with extra care – as British Cycling neatly summarises, “this is a time for calm recreation, not for challenging yourself”. No one wants to take up a doctor’s time or a hospital bed at a time when they are in such short supply.
Don’t forget, too, that any outdoor activity needs to obey social distancing and hygiene guidance. You should never go out while you are in isolation due to having symptoms or being in contact with someone who has. Read our guide to cycling and coronavirus for the full advice.
At the time going to press, the UK is still reporting substantial numbers of new cases and deaths due to Covid-19. Regulations are in flux, and are being altered and improved all the time; therefore please take all sensible precautions you can on your rides to keep you and others safe.