Cycling and Coronavirus – Update from Cycling UK, 27th March, 2020

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By Lauren PurdyFriday, 27 March 2020

Coronavirus Q&A: is it safe to cycle?

How does the coronavirus outbreak effect cycling, and how can you minimise your risk as an individual?

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To help the cycling community and our membership understand what the Coronavirus’ impact is on their personal riding, Cycling UK has consulted experts such as Public Health England, Cycling UK’s Policy Director Roger Geffen, Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore, and Cycle Magazine’s medical expert and practising GP Dr Kate Hattersley of South Devon Cycling UK group to find out more.

With advice on how to stay safe during the Coronavirus outbreak changing every day, we will look to keep this article up to date with the latest advice.

Following the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on the evening of 23 March, announcing strict new curbs on life in the UK, Cycling UK has updated its advice on cycling.

Although people are now being told to stay at home during the pandemic, one form of exercise is allowed a day.

This means it remains advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being, but in line with our previous guidance, you should only do this alone or with members of your household unless any of them have reason to self-isolate.

Under no circumstance should you cycle or take part in any cycling activity in groups.

This does not mean all your cycling needs to stop though. We’ve put the below questions to our experts

Q: I’m a healthy cyclist under the age of 70, is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Dr Hattersley (KH): Yes. There is no reason for you to stop cycling, as long as you maintain guidance on social distancing.

That means avoiding unnecessary social contact, as well as keeping a safe distance (at least 2m) from other people. Visits to public places eg cafes should also be avoided to limit exposure to infection.

You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible.

Upon returning home, you must wash your hands. It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too. Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.

Q: I’m a healthy cyclist over the age of 70, is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

KH: Yes, but with particular caution. The latest advice is to remain at home for the next twelve weeks to protect yourself from infection.

Public Health England (PHE): If you’re from a vulnerable group but feel that you need to take a walk or go for a bike ride, choose a route where you are unlikely to meet any other people or take your exercise at a quieter time.

This will reduce the risk of exposure to other people. Exercise at home or in your garden is encouraged where possible, for example on a turbo trainer or an exercise bike if you have access to one.

Tissue use and hand washing advice is as above.

Q: I’m a cyclist with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or COPD, is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Roger Geffen (RG): The answer we received from PHE suggests that if your chronic condition is relatively mild, you can follow the same advice as that for the over 70s.

However the more serious your condition, the more strongly you are advised to stay at home to reduce your overall social contacts during the period in which the social distancing measures apply.  

Q: I’m a cyclist who is currently unwell with a new continuous cough or fever, is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

KH: No. Do not go out as you are a risk to others. Strenuous exercise is unwise while you are unwell. Consult the NHS 111 website for advice on self-management of your illness, but expect to be confined at home for at least 7 days.

If you don’t live alone, members of your household must self-isolate for 14 days from the time you first showed symptoms.

If they also become symptomatic, their period of isolation extends for a further 7 days from day 1 (day 1 being the day they started to show symptoms) regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period.

Q: I’m a cyclist who has been in physical contact / close proximity recently with friends or relatives with symptoms who are self-isolating, but I don’t live in the same household as them – is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

PHE: Yes. Walking, cycling or running outside is fine, as long as you are well and have no symptoms – and is probably more beneficial than ever for your mental wellbeing if you are working from home all day.

Follow the advice on social distancing.

Q: I’m a cyclist who has been in physical contact / close proximity recently with friends or relatives with symptoms who are self-isolating and I live in the same household as them – is it safe for me to continue cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak?

KH: No. You are high risk to others as you may be infected, although may not be showing symptoms. You should stay at home instead of going out, even if you feel well. 

However, if you feel well enough you may want to undertake light exercise on a turbo trainer or exercise bike (if you have access to one) at home or in your garden (if you have one). As much as possible, keep a safe distance from other people at all times.

PHE: If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for seven days, but all other household members who remain well must also stay at home for 14 days.

For anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they must stay at home for a further 7 days from when their symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period. See the ‘ending isolation‘ section for more information.

Q: I’m a cyclist in voluntary self-isolation because I returned from a high-risk country but I’m showing no symptoms, is it OK to go for a bike ride by myself?

PHE: Yes. Walking, cycling or running outside is fine, as long as you are well and have no symptoms – and is probably more beneficial than ever for your mental wellbeing if you are working from home all day.

Follow the advice on social distancing and contact and ride solo or with someone you live with.

Q: My workplace is still open and requires me being there, should I cycle to work?

RG: For those still needing to get to work, cycling is a healthy option (depending on the distance and your level of fitness) which avoids public transport, helping to reduce overcrowding for those who are more dependent on public transport services.

Q: What number of people are classed as a group?

Cycling UK: 2 or more people. Recreational cycling amounts to “unnecessary social contact”, which risks spreading infection. The longer the time you spend together, the greater the risk.

Q: Can I ride with my friend if we live in the same household?

PHE: Yes, as long as you are feeling well and neither of you are showing any symptoms. Follow the guidelines for social distancing. You should not visit cafes or pubs, to limit exposure to infection.

You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible.

Upon returning home, you must wash your hands. It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too.

Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.

Q: Can I ride with my friend if we don’t live in the same household?

Cycling UK: No, you should not ride with a friend if you don’t live in the same household as either of you may be infected, without showing symptoms. 

Q: Is it OK to go for a ride with my kids? 

KH: Yes, assuming you live in the same household as them. If you are all well and not self-isolating (because of symptoms of a cough or fever), then you are not a risk to each other.

It’s therefore safe to go for a ride together with the usual social distancing and hygiene precautions outlined above.

Q: What advice should I give to my children if they are well and want to go for a ride?

KH: Provided they are old enough to go out, they must demonstrate that they understand social distancing and observe the sensible rules of keeping two metres away from others and observing hygiene rules.

Encourage them to wash their hands and gloves when they get home.

Q. Is it OK for me to go for a ride in the woods?

Duncan Dollimore (DD): The advice from Governments across the UK, Forestry England, Forestry and Land Scotland and similar bodies is clear, and reflects the advice given by National Parks, National Trust and other large land owners and land managers.

People should not be getting into their cars to travel to the nation’s forests, woods and other outdoor spaces. It’s therefore incredibly irresponsible to ignore all that advice and travel unnecessarily to reach those destinations.

Of course, for those who live in or very close to such woods and forests, they may be a natural destination for their recommended and permitted daily exercise, which they can cycle or walk to and around from their front door.

Anyone doing so should observe recommended social distancing and hygiene advice and also take even more care than normal to make sure they don’t put further pressure on the emergency services.

It’s not a time for stunts or extreme downhill riding. However for those riders who might otherwise be driving to a trail centre, now is the perfect opportunity to open up an ordnance survey map and begin to explore the byway and bridleway network from your front door, taking the time to enjoy a different sort of riding.

Q: Does my ride have to start from home?

RG: Boris Johnson’s announcement of travel restrictions was not specific about this, and we are seeking further clarification from the government. However, several police forces around the country have been clamping down on unnecessary travel and telling people that their exercise should start from home.

In addition, land-owning and land-managing organisations, including the Forestry Commission, National Trust, the National Parks and many local have closed their car parks and are urging people not to travel to visit them.

We all need to resist the temptation to drive to ‘honey-pot’ locations – particularly over long distances – in order to get our daily dose of physical activity. Unfortunately, these are the places where we’re most likely to encounter crowds, and possibly place pressure on the emergency services too.

Instead, we should take the opportunity to seek out quiet and uncrowded places to cycle close to home, preferably places we can cycle to from our own doorstep. That won’t be possible for everyone, particularly people in inner-city areas or on fast and busy main roads, or even those in towns surrounded with a bypass that lacks a safe crossing-point into the countryside. In this case, do the best you can, and comply with instructions from local police or other authorities.

Q: How long can I ride for?

RG: The Prime Minister’s announcement did not include a fixed time limit: the rules simply say you can take one form of exercise per day. Therefore the answer is something of a balancing act, and striking that balance depends on the context. On the one hand, we are all being encouraged to go out once a day for some exercise, for the good of our physical and mental health and well-being.

On the other hand, we are being urged to avoid unnecessary proximity to or contact with other people, to minimise the risks of transmitting the virus. We all need to use good judgement in how to get exercise in ways that minimise unnecessary travel, crowds and possible pressures on the emergency services.

Cycling UK: Our advice is to go out for long enough to keep yourself in good shape physically and emotionally, but avoid doing more than this. Use common sense when planning your route: for example, ride a loop close to home rather than a long out-and-back route, so that in case of a mechanical you should be able to walk home unaided.

Try to avoid areas you know are likely to be busy, to make it easier to maintain social distancing of at least two metres from other people. Ride within your limits to reduce the risk of requiring rescue or medical assistance. Now is not the time to tackle remote, technical trails, go for a PR on that descent or try a new jump line!

What next?

It is our responsibility to try to avoid spreading this virus to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

In the light of the latest guidance Cycling UK groups should call a halt to organised group rides for the time being.

Stay in touch with your friends using phones and social media and support each other both practically and with moral support through this difficult time.

Maybe you can do some shopping by bike and deliver groceries to your elderly friends. This situation will not continue indefinitely, and we can expect to be back out riding our bikes together before too long.

Please get in touch with the team via publicity@cyclinguk.org if you have any queries about Coronavirus.