Coronavirus and cycling: everything you need to know

Can I still go out and ride? Can I still cycle to work? What races have been cancelled? All your key Covid-19 and cycling questions answered.

Postman work courier with bag on bike delivering correspondence

Updated 31 March 2020

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With the global coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic sweeping across the planet, we take a look at its effect on recreational cycling and professional racing.

The situation is developing very rapidly and cancellations and restrictions are being announced daily, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on the current advice and news for changes.

Each country also has its own regulations regarding cycling and the freedom of movement. Again, please ensure you adhere to the relevant advice for your location.

Can I go cycling during lockdown?

Recreational cycling is still an option in the UK providing you adhere to the government’s guidelines on social distancing.

Exercising indoors is encouraged, but walking or outdoor exercise is still permitted once per day providing you stay more than 2 metres from others.

The UK goverment also updated its guidance on 27 March to say people should “stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily.”

There has also been some confusion as to the length of daily exercise.

On March 29, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told Andrew Marr: “Well, obviously it depends on each individual’s fitness, but I would have thought that for most people a walk of up to an hour or a run of 30 minutes or a cycle ride, depending on their level of fitness is appropriate.”

Ultimately, common sense should be used.

Otherwise, exercise should only be undertaken alone or with members of your household. If you do go outside, government advice is to “wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors”.

Cycling is also still considered an appropriate form of transport for shopping for essential food or medicines.

Advice for other countries will vary, so please refer to your government or regional website for the latest guidance.

British Cycling, despite its own measures to postpone or cancel all sanctioned events (below), has asked the government to add cycling to its recommended activities during the outbreak.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday 18 March, Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “Taking exercise is always a good thing to do. The thing that we’re trying to avoid is people meeting up unnecessarily or having unnecessary social contacts.” 

He continued: “The key thing is that it’s in the open air and people are keeping their distance.”

Please remember to take extra care if you do choose to cycle, the last thing our hospitals needs right now is an influx of injured cyclists.

“Exercise is important for physical, mental, and emotional health, that truth does not change despite the current Covid-19 pandemic,” says Professor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science, Greg Whyte. “Cycling is safe as long as the same precautions for reducing the risk of infection are adhered to.”

Joe Norledge with delicious piping-hot coffee.
A mid-ride coffee stop may be traditional, but you’ll now need to make it a takeaway
Oli Woodman/Immediate Media

Group rides are not allowed – UK government advice permits only lone riders or those who live in the same household to cycle together.

With pubs, clubs and theatres and coffee shops now closed – except for takeaway orders, in some cases – a mid-ride coffee stop shouldn’t be a part of your ride. You also certainly shouldn’t be showing up to any cafe, takeaway or otherwise, in a group.

The UK government has issued the following advice to stay safe when exercising outside:

  • Stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily
  • You should only go outside alone or with members of your own household
  • Keep at least 2 metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times
  • Gatherings of more than two in parks or other public spaces have been banned and the police will enforce this
  • If you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air
  • Take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors

Visit gov.uk for more information and the latest guidance.

Can I cycle to work during the coronavirus pandemic?

Commuting by bike
Commuting by bike has not been banned, and is even being encouraged, in some countries, but it’s best to check local advice first.
Andi Weiland / EyeEm / Getty

The UK government is encouraging those who can do so, to work from home during the pandemic to increase social distancing and reduce the opportunities for the disease to spread.

But if it’s essential that you need to get into work, cycling is an ideal way to avoid the close quarters, touching of surfaces and mixing with other people inevitable in mass transit systems. 

This is especially the case following Transport for London’s announcement on 19 March that up to 40 London Underground stations would be closed, and services reduced, until further notice.

Should you choose to cycle to work then it is vitally important that you adhere to the government’s guidelines on social distancing – this means doing so only alone or with members of your household and keeping yourself a minimum of two metres from other people.

GoCycle GXi folding electric bike
Bike shops have experienced an unexpected boom.
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

Dr Ashok Sinha, Chief Executive of the London Cycling Campaign said: “As the coronavirus outbreak in London is unfolding so quickly it’s important to stay up to date with the latest advice, but it is likely that cycling will play its part in helping London’s journey through this crisis.”

With that in mind, the organisation has launched a chatbot and advice line that can be accessed via Facebook Messenger for those considering cycling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many have taken to their bikes, with Halfords reporting a 30 per cent increase in its sales of folding bikes. 

The New York Times initially reported a surge in cycling in its home city too, with a 67 per cent increase in the use of New York’s bike-sharing scheme and 50 per cent more cyclists crossing bridges into Manhattan. It’s a pattern repeated in other US cities such as Chicago and Seattle, and globally.

UK bicycle industry body the Bicycle Association has urged the UK government not to order the closure of bike shops or restrict cycling, as it’s a way for commuters to avoid public transport and for companies to deliver goods, while maintaining social distancing.

Indeed, bike shops are among the few businesses exempt from the current UK shutdown.

Are bike shops still open?

Bike shops in the UK are currently allowed to stay open if you need essentials but we’d recommend calling the shop in advance of your travel to ensure the business remains open and what social distancing steps they are taking to protect staff and customers.

Am I okay to cycle indoors?

Cyclist riding on a turbo trainer
Many cyclists may turn to riding indoors during the crisis.
Dave Caudery/Immediate Media

If you’re feeling healthy and want to keep active, taking to the indoor trainer is a good option. It’s something that some continental pros are now doing to keep up their fitness levels, while cycling outdoors is banned.

Turning to Zwift or other training apps will be the obvious option for many to keep indoor riding interesting.

The Bkool platform, a Zwift competitor based in Spain where all outdoor cycling is banned, has also announced the Stay Home Cup, an indoor competition running until 17 April which lets you ride six stages from events in the pro calendar, so you can still get your competitive fix.

Road Grand Tours has also announced that its platform will be offered free during the crisis. 

Can cycling make you more susceptible to illness?

Pros tend to be prone to getting sick, with the hard effort involved in competition and rigorous training regimes being blamed for putting a strain on their immune systems. 

It’s something that we all need to be careful of if we’re planning an extra-strenuous event or training regime.

The first recognised coronavirus case in Italy was a 38-year-old marathon runner, who was in intensive care for 18 days after his diagnosis.

Italian doctors suggested that a contributing factor might have been immunosuppression as a consequence of the exertion involved in long-distance running, although scientific evidence for this effect is inconclusive. 

Paul Robson feeling sick
Overtraining can make you more susceptible to illness.
Andy Ward

If you do continue to train, Whyte recommends paying particular attention to your nutrition.

“Nutrition to optimise immune function is important at this time of increased infection risk,” he says. “There are a number of ways to support a healthy immune system and reduce the risk of infection.

“Maintaining hydration is important as mucus (mouth, nose, respiratory tract) is the body’s first defence against foreign invaders. Dehydration leads to a reduced mucus production which can increase susceptibility to infection.

“Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in colour (eat the rainbow; fruit and veg) will support a healthy immune system. Take care with calorie restriction/weight reduction at this time.”

How has coronavirus affected professional racing?

The WorldTour cycling calendar has already been severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The UAE Tour was cancelled mid-race in late February, with a number of cyclists held in quarantine in Abu Dhabi until very recently.

Following this, a number of teams did not take part in Paris-Nice in early March, which finished early on its penultimate scheduled stage. No spectators were allowed at Paris-Nice stage finishes either. 

That’s without counting cancelled early season one-day races such as Strade Bianche. 

The pack climbs during the 166,5 km, 7th stage of the 78th Paris - Nice cycling race stage between Nice and Valdeblore La Colmiane (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP) (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)
The 2020 edition of Paris-Nice was cut short and closed off to competitors due to the ongoing public health crisis.
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

That pattern will undoubtedly continue, with most of the classics, including Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix postponed or cancelled. 

Early-season stage races including Tirreno-Adriatico have also been cancelled, while the Tour de Yorkshire at the end of April and the Giro d’Italia in May have been postponed. 

As of 24 March, the Olympics have also been officially postponed until at least summer 2021. Many riders will have shaped their season and training around the Olympics, throwing an already chaotic season into disarray. 

If the entire WorldTour season ends up being cancelled, pros nearing the end of their careers may decide to retire, rather than kick their heels for a year. The outbreak may also trigger a change of the guard in pro teams. 

Will coronavirus cancel the Tour de France? 

Tour de France
Christian Prudhomme is confident the 2020 edition of the Tour de France will still go ahead.
HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

As reported by French internet radio station RMC Sport, Christian Prudhomme, boss of ASO, which runs both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour, was still optimistic that the latter would start as planned in late June/early July, pointing out that it’s still more than 100 days away. 

However, the Euro 2020 football tournament, which covers an overlapping period, has been moved to 2021.

Most experts expect countermeasures against the Covid-19 epidemic to stretch out over many weeks, and on 19 March cycling was banned completely in France. 

It’s far from certain that the French government will have eased restrictions such as this or on mass gatherings by that time, throwing the Tour into further doubt.

What effects will Covid-19 have on UK domestic racing?

Following advice from the UK government, British Cycling has said all activities that it sanctions will be cancelled. That includes competitive events at all levels, sportives registered with it, recreational rides and its programme of courses.

Announcing the suspension, British Cycling chief executive Julie Harrington said: “We fully understand and appreciate the financial, social and community impact that this suspension could have, and we are working now to ensure that cycling is in the best possible health once the suspension can be lifted.”

On Tuesday 17 March, Cycling Time Trials – the body that regulates all time trial racing in the UK – stopped all events too.

Will sportives and other amateur events still take place?

Sportives and other mass participation cycling events have also been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Tour of Flanders sportive has been postponed. Rapha has already announced that all its rides and events have been cancelled around the world, and its clubhouses in Europe, the US and Australia are closed too. 

At the moment, headline sportives later in the year, such as l’Etape du Tour and the Maratona dles Dolomites, both in July, are still slated to take place, though.

Most UK-based sportive organisers have cancelled their early-season events, following the UK government advice that people should avoid gatherings and crowded places.

As reported above, British Cycling-registered events will be cancelled. Most say that they will offer a refund if an event has been cancelled.

Will my training camp take place?

Italy, Spain and France have banned all recreational cycling outdoors..

In France, the advice had been that you could take brief exercise, including cycling, close to home – within 2km – provided you keep your distance from others. Unfortunately, cycling was banned completely on 19 March.

The Spanish police are enforcing their ban, stopping even commuters, while pros training in Italy have reportedly been subject to abuse.

Meanwhile, the German and Belgian governments are encouraging people to use their bikes if they have to get to work.

Will bike makers be affected by coronavirus?

Early spring until the Tour de France is peak time for bike and equipment manufacturers to gear up for their new product launches. 

Many bike companies are based in northern Italy and other areas of Europe already hard-hit by coronavirus, and some have now had to halt final assembly and distribution. 

A number of launch events BikeRadar was planning to attend have already been cancelled. 

Pinarello Dogma F10
Italian bike makers, such as Pinarello, have been particularly hard-hit by the crisis.
Colin Levitch / Immediate Media

With the significant lead time for new tech, it may not mean that cycling products slated for launch this year won’t appear, but any launch may be delayed and is likely to be a lower-key affair than normal. 

There’s likely to be a knock-on effect longer-term too, with disruption to bike companies’ research and development, and supply and delivery chains.

However, with cycling manufacture concentrated in Taiwan, which has been relatively unscathed by the outbreak so far, product availability may not be too impacted in the longer term.

Finally, keep safe

We all love to be out on our bikes, but a few weeks without a ride or just riding indoors on the turbo is a sacrifice worth making to help get the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

Finally, ride safely; the last thing hospitals need now is an injured cyclist to treat and you may not be a priority for overstretched staff.

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Do you have any further questions about cycling and coronavirus? Leave your thoughts in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them.