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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

Lockdown changes: Can we ride together now?

As lockdown rules are relaxed slightly, Cyclist Editor Pete Muir considers what should now be the new norm for cyclists

14th May 2020

About a month ago, I wrote an opinion piece for this website considering the rights and wrongs of cycling during a pandemic. Back in early April – seems like a lifetime ago – we were all still coming to terms with life in lockdown, and debates were raging over how far, how frequently and whereabouts it was OK to ride a bike.

I came up with my own set of rules for what I felt was acceptable and I have adhered to it since. That has mainly meant sticking to short rides, on my own, around my local area.

But now things are changing. On Sunday 10th May, Boris Johnson appeared on TV to say that ‘Stay At Home’ has become ‘Stay Alert’. Rules about exercising have been relaxed and it now seems that it’s OK to meet up with other people under certain circumstances.

The message coming from the Government is fairly garbled – what does ‘Stay Alert’ even mean? – but from what I understand it is now acceptable (in England at least) to exercise as much as you like, not just for one short period a day.

Also, it is now apparently acceptable to meet someone from outside your own household as long as it is kept to one-on-one (no groups) and social distancing of two metres is maintained.

For cyclists, this all sounds like good news. Indeed, one colleague told me that the minute the announcement was made, friends from his cycling club were getting in touch to suggest meeting up for rides in the countryside.

For many, this is the green light to get back to the way things were: long rides; good company; no restrictions. Just don’t get too close to each other. Easy – let’s go!

Er… actually, let’s not go.

A quick glance at the figures suggests that we are a long way from being able to relax about spreading Covid-19. At the time of writing, the previous day’s death toll from the virus was 210, taking the overall number of deaths to over 40,000, the highest in Europe.

I can’t help feeling that the Government’s latest pronouncement has more to do with giving the impression that progress is being made than a genuine reaction to changing circumstances. And I fully understand why the authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have suggested that they will be sticking to the ‘Stay At Home’ message.

The daily death figures are on the way down, but it is certainly not yet time to roll out the bunting. Nor is it time to get together with our cycling buddies.

For starters, how realistic is it to maintain a two-metre distance from each other? If you are riding side-by-side, one of you will have to be in the middle of the road.

If you are riding in single file, the two-metre rule doesn’t apply. Two metres is the safe distance suggested for people standing still, such as in a queue for the supermarket. Droplets from breath shouldn’t be able to make it that far.

However, if you are riding behind someone, droplets from their breath will float back a lot further in their slipstream. For cyclists in single file, the suggested safe distance could be as much as 20 metres. That’s hardly what you would call ‘riding together’.

What’s more, as people take to the roads with their newfound freedoms, it is certain that cyclists will come into contact with each other, groups will form, droplets will be shared.

Is it worth the risk? I doubt that anyone working in hospitals or care homes would say so.

Of course, it’s easy to say, ‘I don’t have the virus. Neither do my friends. We’re not risking ourselves or anyone else.’ But I think that is to miss the point.

As I mentioned in my previous article, at times of crisis we have a social duty to do as much as we possibly can to help the situation.

It doesn’t matter that we’re convinced our actions will have no consequences. It doesn’t matter that we feel we’re within Government guidelines. It doesn’t matter that we feel entitled to a bit of extra freedom after weeks of lockdown.

We should aim to do the best we can to prevent the spread of the virus until such time as it is genuinely safe to resume contact with other people again. However long that might be.

As such, I am making only minor changes to my self-imposed cycling rules:

  1. Still keep the ride short (but maybe a couple of hours rather than just one)
  2. Still keep the ride local (but perhaps a little further than before)
  3. Still keep it solo
  4. Still keep to wide streets (no parks, narrow lanes or towpaths where people gather)
  5. Still keep away from popular spots (why join the crowds on or near Box Hill when so many roads are blissfully empty?).

As much as any other cyclist, I miss going for long rides, and I know how frustrating it is to see sunny days go to waste when I could be out putting in the miles. But I must be patient.

One day, the restrictions will be lifted because the threat of the virus will have been eradicated. Who knows when that will be, but on that day I’ll call up my cycling mates and suggest we all go for a ride far into the countryside – make a proper day of it.

But not today.

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