COVID-19: the age of the cyclist

The World Health Organisation has advised walking or riding bicycles as a method of transport whenever feasible to allow physical distancing and to help individuals meet minimum requirements for daily physical activity. Cyclists around the world have been enjoying traffic and pollution-free roads provided by lockdown rules, for both commuting and daily exercise.

As most retail businesses desperately struggle to survive government-mandated closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cycle shops have remained open and are enjoying bumper sales. In April, the Association of Cycle Traders put out a call for bike builders, reporting that there was ‘extreme demand upon the industry’ from ‘essential workers and the significant adoption of cycling for exercise, travel and family leisure during the pandemic, further fuelled by the unseasonably good weather’.

Not only as a doctor, but as a pedestrian I had witnessed enough bike versus car accidents and near misses to be deterred from cycling in the capital. However, as my hospital started to fill with coronavirus patients in early March – and the ease at which it could be transmitted became clear – I was concerned about unwittingly passing the virus onto others and so abandoned public transport in exchange for two wheels. When lockdown was imposed on 23rd March 2020, what was usually a vehicle-congested route from home to work became blissfully quiet.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has announced that large areas of London will be closed to cars and vans, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to travel more safely as we emerge from lockdown. Grant Schapps the Transport Secretary announced a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to boost cycling and walking, promising £2 billion of investment that has started with a £250 million injection for a ‘pop-up’ cycling and walking infrastructure.

With its increasing investment and popularity, it would be good to see an uptake of cycling in all groups of people as a healthier, and cleaner, mode of transport. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that before the pandemic, men made up 74% of those who commuted to work by bike. Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine reports that cycling in London is disproportionally enjoyed by white, affluent men. 

After feeling the physical and psychological benefits of biking to and from work, I hope investment in cycling infrastructure drives a lasting switch to cycling as a healthier, economical and less-polluting transport method for the benefit of all society. What are your thoughts? 

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. Simon Deacock Dr.

    Safer cycling has been long awaited.
    Still too scary to cycle through large Cities.
    Drivers need to leave a metre distance at least when overtaking.
    Secure bike parking needed at work.
    Clean shower available upon arrival.

    June 6, 2020 Reply
  2. Matthew Bultitude Consultant Urologist

    Completely agree Hannah and a real opportunity to change our roads for the better. I do have to say that hospitals have to respond as well with increasing the availability of secure bike parking as well as shower and changing facilities for staff which is often woefully inadequate.

    Its been a challenge with bike shops being so busy but have finally managed to buy a new bike (my old one was beyond repair) so may well be joining the cycle to work brigade in the near future.

    June 6, 2020 Reply
  3. Michael Kirby Professor

    Absolutely agree, bikes are best but safely! In 2018, 99 pedal cyclists were killed, 4,106 seriously injured and 13,345 slightly injured in Great Britain.
    2% of Brits had access to or owned a bicycle in 2018.
    In 2018, only 29% of Brits had been cycling in the last 12 months.
    British households on average spend £1 a week on cycling.
    Household spending on cycling therefore totals more than £1.4 billion every year.
    Prior to COVID 19 whether it’s to commute to work or just get out on a sunny day, 71% of Brits reported to never cycling, while just 3% cycle every day – So plenty of room for improvement!!

    Regarding safety:The typical social distancing rule which many countries apply between 1–2 meters seems effective when you are standing still inside or even outside with low wind. But when you go for a walk, run or bike ride you have to be more careful. When someone during a run breathes, sneezes or coughs, those particles stay behind in the air. The person running behind you in the so-called slip-stream goes through this cloud of droplets.

    Recent research suggests: On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. Also, when passing someone it is advised to already be in different lane at a considerable distance e.g. 20 meters for biking.

    June 6, 2020 Reply
  4. Roland Morley Consultant Urologist

    A great way of staying healthy and doing it with all the family from very young to very old … although there have been leaps and bounds in improvement for cyclist there is still some way to go and the government must qct quickly with it’s promise so that cycling remains safe and available to all and help with the effort to bring pollution down . Joining a club is also a good way to start as they are welcoming and many will take in all standards including beginners !

    June 6, 2020 Reply

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