While cycling is banned in France, in order to stem the coronavirus pandemic, cycling as an alternative to public transport is booming in several metropolises around the world.
Read also: Using electric bikes as an alternative to public transportation during COVID-19 outbreak – in this article.
French government’s announcement of general containment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has reduced the scope of outdoor physical activity to simple single-person running, whether you are a professional runner or just a casual jogger. The French Cycling Federation confirmed this clear-cut position, explaining that the cycling activity would be constituting an “offense punishable by a fine”.
Asked about cycling outings, the reply still was very clear. “You are invited to follow the main rule: stay at home and do not go out, even for training,” said the French Sports Minister. “Staying at home means staying at home. Doing physical activity means going out close to home to stretch your legs, with your family only, and reducing the length of these outings so that you can get home very quickly.»
Already shared by Spain, where all outdoor sporting activity is now punished, this position is still being discussed in the United Kingdom. On 17 March, an open letter signed by 32 French researchers (source, source) called on the government to authorize cycling trips, as long as they comply with safety regulations, to protect the nation’s health.
Elsewhere in the world, the COVID-19 has had a positive impact on cycling. This was done in order to avoid overloading public transport. There are many examples. The American, Danish, Argentinean and German authorities have encouraged their citizens to take out their bikes and use them, instead of taking metro, busses, trains or taxis.
50% more cyclists in New York City
“In order to reduce overcrowding in public transport, the city suggests that companies and their employees give priority to teleworking as much as possible. Those who have to take the metro at rush hour should consider using alternative means of getting to work, such as walking or cycling. “This is the advice given by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to his constituents on March 8.
De Blasio himself confessed that he had “a little work to do before getting back on his bike”, before he could start doing this regularly.
The figures speak for themselves: Citi Bike, the US equivalent of the Vélib in Paris, saw its number of users increase by 67% in March compared to last year, with more than 500,000 trips recorded in the first ten days of the month.
Read also: Velib of Paris promises 50% of electric bicycles in its fleet – in this article.
The iconic bridges across the East River, which connect Manhattan and Brooklyn, recorded an increase of more than 50% in bicycle ridership. The phenomenon was repeated in the same proportions in Chicago, one of the most “bicycle-friendly” cities in the United States.
Similar advice in Argentina and Denmark
In other corners of the world, the bicycle has also been invoked to “smoothen the curve”. The Danish government has spread the word that cycling should be preferred to overcrowded public transport.
12,000 kilometers away, the mayor of Buenos Aires invited everyone to take their “bicicleta” to “avoid close contact with others and leave more space for those who have no other choice for travel”.
There is no guarantee that the behavior instilled by the pandemic period will persist over time. But several studies published during major strikes, such as the one at Oxford University in 2017, have shown that users who were forced to adopt more optimal means of locomotion in exceptional circumstances tended to keep them once the crisis had passed.
In New York City, the increase in use has already allowed residents to attest to the quality of its network of bicycle paths, the largest in the country. The city council spent $58.4 million on a major bicycle safety plan during recent mandates.
Germany: bikes provide double protection against COVID-19
While in France, the authorities limit outings to a maximum of 2 kilometers from home. In Germany, on the other hand, the use of bicycles is recommended by the Minister of Health, Jens Spahn. Der Spiegel magazine describes the benefits of the cycling activity in times of pandemic.
With the exception of a few municipalities in Bavaria, Germany has not decreed any confinement in the country to date. In times of “social distancing”, the use of bicycles is preferable to public transport, notes Der Spiegel, because “not only does the cyclist automatically distance himself from others, but he also has a lower risk of being contaminated by contact with surfaces of various objects”.
The Hamburg magazine refers to the explanations disclosed by Gerd Antes, former director of the Cochrane Centre at the University Clinic of Freiburg im Breisgau, and by Ulm’s lung specialist Michael Barczok, representing his professional federation. For Gerd Antes, a bicycle is “perfect personal protection”.
Read also: In the Bavarian Alps electric bicycles are not always welcome – in this article.
Breathe, put more oxygen through your lungs!
The second advantage of the bicycle is its effect on the respiratory system. For people who already suffer from a condition such as hypertension or diabetes, riding a two-wheeler can minimize the effects of CCOVID-19: “If you cycle regularly, even at a slow pace, your blood pressure drops. This is great if you suffer from hypertension,” says Der Spiegel.
Read also: Here is how electric bicycles help fight coronavirus – in this article.
For healthy cyclists, it is also a very good way to maintain their respiratory muscles: “When you cycle at a steady pace, the respiratory system is well oxygenated and better irrigated,” the magazine continues. You’re breathing more intensely, which means you’re cleaning your lungs well,” says Barczok, a lung specialist. In other words, it’s the best protection against the virus.”
For those for whom the physical activity of traditional cycling is a bit complicated, Der Spiegel advises riding an electric bicycle. E-bikes use the power of electric motors to make cycling much easier and to aid cyclists with climbing hills or going against the wind.
Easy update: Some recent studies have shown that as cyclists breathe faster when cycling, they leave a plume of breath behind them. This could increase the risk of contamination for people around them. Still, this risk is much smaller than that in closed areas (such as restaurants, metro, or shopping centers).