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Cycling in lockdown part four: What is an acceptable distance and duration to ride during the new Covid lockdown?

Pete Muir
5 Jan 2021

New year, new lockdown. Cyclist editor Pete Muir revisits his own rules for riding in a time of Covid

Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate the start of 2021 than with yet another update to my musings on how to ride through a pandemic? This is update number four, or is it five? I’ve lost count.

When I wrote the first one of these, back in April 2020, I was convinced that we were looking at a brief period of restrictions to our freedoms.

We would hunker down for a couple of months and wait for the all-clear, after which the nation’s cyclists would pour onto the roads (now empty of traffic thanks to motorists having reassessed their priorities) and high-five each other as we pedalled into the sunny uplands of a Covid-free world.

How wrong I was. Here we are, almost 10 months later, staring down the barrel of yet another month-long lockdown while a mutated form of the virus rampages around the country.

Like Groundhog Day reimagined as a horror movie, we find ourselves turning on the telly to see a haggard-looking Boris once again entreating us to stay at home and protect the NHS. Don’t go out unless it’s to panic-buy loo rolls or visit Barnard Castle.

Or to exercise.

Yes, it’s still OK within the new lockdown regulations to leave your house, get on your bike and go for a ride. Hurrah! The question is: how far? And for how long? And who with? OK, that’s three questions.

At this point, as I have done with all my other updates on this subject, I refer back to my own set of rules that I drew up when the first lockdown appeared in March 2020. I won’t go over those rules in detail again, but the abbreviated version looks like this:

Keep it short. Keep it local. Keep it solo

In my opinion, it’s a simple and reasonable set of rules for riding during a pandemic, but when I have proposed this course of action on previous occasions I received a fair number of responses that felt I had overstepped the mark when it came to my suggestion that we should ‘keep it solo’.

The responses varied in their tone and vitriol, but the arguments were all along the same lines: ‘Dear sir/Hey idiot (delete as appropriate), the Government’s regulations say that it is acceptable for people to meet up outside with one other person, and therefore it is OK to go for a ride with one other person. Yours sincerely/Rot in hell (delete as appropriate), etc, etc.’

It is indeed true that we are free to meet with one person outside, but I don’t think the Government had cycling in mind when it came up with that particular rule. I suspect it was thinking about people standing in the street or walking in the local park, having a bit of a natter.

Certainly it is expected that anyone meeting up outside maintains a two-metre distance from each other and refrains from spraying the other person with gobbets of germ-infected spittle – something that is almost impossible to do when riding as a pair.

If you ride side-by-side, a two-metre distance would require one of the cyclists to ride down the white line in the centre of the road, which would quickly result in them being smeared across the tarmac by the first oncoming lorry.

If you ride one behind the other, all the microscopic droplets from your heavy breathing will be caught on the wind and directed efficiently into the face of the rider in your slipstream.

Of course, you may be certain that you don’t have the coronavirus – old or new variety – and you may consider the risk to yourself or others to be infinitesimally small, but that’s not really the point.

While this situation continues, for as long as it continues, we have a duty to do whatever we can to limit the spread of the virus. And if that means riding on your own instead of with your buddy, then so be it.

It’s hardly a major inconvenience; and it’s not like it’s forever – it just feels like it’s forever. To paraphrase Boris, we will get through this if everyone does their bit.

Until then, ride safe. I’ll almost certainly be back in another couple of months with part five. Or is it six?

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