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Cycling and coronavirus self-isolation: GPs' advice for cyclists during a pandemic

Trevor Ward
14 Mar 2020

We spoke to GPs for advice on how to approach cycling and self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic

Countries in lockdown, thousands of deaths, and restrictions on travel and social gatherings – the headlines about the coronavirus pandemic make grim reading.

Millions of people have had to come to terms with the reality of self-isolation – cutting themselves off from the rest of society for weeks at a time.

To many, the idea of voluntarily avoiding contact with other human beings seems unnatural and yet to many cyclists is part of their regular routines. Going out to ride our bikes for hours at a time is the ultimate self-isolation.

'Being a cyclist means that you are often used to being on your own for extended periods of time which could mean you’re able to handle self-isolation a little better – providing you have access to your bike, of course!' says Dr. Jonathan Rial, a cyclist and GP in Overton, Hampshire.

I personally take this a step further when I have a magazine assignment such as a Big Ride or sportive imminent – I will self-quarantine to make sure there is no risk of picking up the common cold or any other potentially debilitating germs from other members of the public.

The last thing I want is to wake up feeling feverish on the morning of a 160km ride.

One of the world’s most popular cycling events, the Maratona dles Dolomites, this week reminded the 9,000 riders who have signed up for this year’s event on 5th July that whether it takes place or not will depend on their behaviour between now and then.

Responding on social media to concerns about coronavirus and the fact Italy is currently in lockdown, the organiser wrote: 'It’s all about YOU and your behaviour. YOU can make the difference. Don’t wait [for] others to tell [you] what YOU should do, as it might be already too late, act NOW!'

This echoes the World Health Organisation advice that declared the outbreak a pandemic and urged individuals to take more responsibility for their actions.

It seems not enough people have been paying attention to their personal hygiene, a fact that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has to regularly dodge the coughs and sneezes of public transport users.

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I always carry a handkerchief and always wash my hands after pushing a trolley around Morrisons or holding on to handrails on a bus or train. And yet so few of the population apparently do that we now need constant reminders and instructional videos on how to keep our own germs to ourselves and avoid other people’s.

Elite riders have been good at this for years – they never go anywhere without hand sanitiser and will avoid everyday social interactions such as shopping or going to the cinema as much as their spouses will tolerate. It’s drilled into them when they receive their Lottery grant that the world is full of germs.

Katie Archibald recounts how her fellow team pursuit rider and Olympic gold medallist Joanna Rowsell Shand would wipe down everything in her house with hand-sanitiser: 'She lives a sort of quarantined life because she doesn’t want to get ill.'

Self-isolation is a whole new level though. Until the start of this year, you only found the phrase in medical or sci-fi novels. Now it is an act of social responsibility that shows consideration to others. And cycling can help.

Dr. Rial, whose own plans to cycle in Mallorca this month look likely to be scuppered by the coronavirus, says that getting on your bike during self-isolation is helpful both mentally and physically.

'Being isolated is never good for anyone’s mental health, and cycling is well known to improve this and reduce the risk of depression,' he says. 'I see cycling as a good form of mindfulness, as when I’m out on the bike I’m in the moment, enjoying the scenery and not distracted by other things.

'There are risks if you're cycling with others as obviously lots of body fluids are produced and anyone riding close behind might bet a face-full, so this is not recommended. The most important thing is to be sensible – if you are feeling unwell, then don’t ride; if you are advised to stay indoors, ride the turbo.'

However, Dr. Geraint Preest, a former amateur racer who is now a GP in Pencoed, South Wales, says there are important things to consider when riding while self-isolating.

'Assuming the virus becomes widespread, then the safest option would be on a turbo at home,' he says. 'But if you are infected yourself this could spread the virus to others you live with, unless the turbo is in your isolation room.

'Riding outdoors – provided you have no symptoms and there is no official limit on travelling – would be good for body and soul, but there is a very important side issue to consider – the risk of injuring yourself in a fall or crash.

'If the Italian experience is replicated here – and, heaven forbid, it looks likely – then the healthcare system would be completely overwhelmed. The response and treatment time for you if you come off your bike would be significantly delayed and could add an unnecessary burden on a system under extreme pressure.'

This article was first published on on 12th March; coronavirus news and advice are changing daily. For the latest from the world of cycling click here; for the latest from the real world click here

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