Author: VicHealth, a Victorian Government Agency that works with experts, evidence and research in health promotion. Last updated: 09 Jun, 2020

Make the most of your essential exercise outings during the coronavirus pandemic with these tips for cycling and walking while staying physically distant

First it was toilet paper, then it was flour, and more recently bicycles and social walks.

The latest pandemic popularity trends tell us that people are keen to get the exercise they need to feel healthy and well.

There’s a shiny new allure to getting out of the house for some active recreation. And it’s put the old saying “it’s like riding a bike” to the test, with many people on a bicycle for the first time in years.  

Woman riding a bike

As the saying goes, it may be true you never forget how to ride a bike. But did you learn to cycle while having just about every neighbour and their dog out exercising at the same time as you? And were physical distancing measures in place?

To help you (and your neighbours) get as much enjoyment as possible from your essential exercise, we asked some active recreation experts and enthusiasts to share their tips.

Top three tips to get started again when it’s been a while

We asked some experts and enthusiasts in active recreation what advice they have for anyone getting back into walking or cycling for the first time in a while.

1. Start small

Woman walking with her bike

A 10-minute walk is a fine start, according to Ben Rossiter, CEO of Victoria Walks.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Stop and smell the roses. Remember the benefits of walking to mental (not just physical) health,” said Ben.

The same goes for cycling, according to Craig Richards, CEO of Bicycle Network Victoria, who said it’s OK to get on and off a bike as you need to.

“If you have to walk up a hill, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal!”.

The same goes if you come to a busy road: “just head back or hop off onto the footpath and walk for a bit,” said Craig.

Tina McCarthy, one of VicHealth’s This Girl Can – Victoria campaign ambassadors, who also runs the cycling group Wheel Women, agrees on starting slow.

“Start with small rides on days with nice weather, so it’s a really nice experience,” said Tina.

 

2.  Make it a mission

Friends exercising together on shared path 

Finding a way to create some structure can help.

Ben recommends finding a walking buddy, someone who will depend on you to meet them and go for a walk (while maintaining 1.5 metres physical distance, of course!).

Tina recommends making it a ‘mission’ – whether it’s going to the shops or going to “stand outside a friend’s place and wave to show them what you are doing.”

Find the mission that motivates you best.

 

3. ABC bicycle check

Hand on bike break 

For cycling, it’s a good idea to ensure your bike is safe to ride.

Craig recommends a quick ‘ABC check’: “Make sure there’s air in the tyres, that the brakes work, and the chain goes around smoothly,” he said.

And if you don’t know how to do this, Tina suggests getting some help: “Ask a friend who rides if you can’t get to a bike shop at the moment,” she said.

There are also lots of tips and resources at www.bicyclenetwork.com.au

 

Top three tips for cycling and walking while physical distancing

So you’re all set to head out for a walk or hop on your bike for a cycle, but what about keeping a wide berth from others?

Here are some tips on doing your bit to slow the spread of coronavirus while getting the exercise you need to stay healthy and well.

 

1. Pick your time and place

Friends walking with their bikes

“If you can, get off the beaten track and walk grassy areas in local parks or sport ovals rather than choosing crowded trails or footpaths,” said Ben.

“Now is the perfect time to experience the joy of discovering local streets and green spaces on foot, or even to get a bit lost! You’re guaranteed to notice things at walking pace you have never noticed previously. Your neighbourhood is at your feet, so step out and explore.”

Ben recommends searching for ‘walks nearby’ on your phone or using the Victoria Walks walking maps.

According to Tina, local neighbourhood houses, cycling groups or BUGS (Bicycle User Groups) can also be great resources.

Tina also recommends thinking about timing: “Early in the morning or later in the afternoon the paths are less busy,” she said.

 

2. Be predictable on shared paths

Woman riding on shared path

While it’s always important to be predictable and considerate of others on shared paths, with even more people out exercising at present, it’s vital.

This goes for everyone, whether you’re on foot or cycling.

“Bike riders must legally keep left and give way to walkers on shared paths, while walkers can walk together,” said Ben.

“However, we might need a bit more give and take at the moment and walk on the left if possible.”

“If a bike rider rings a bell (hopefully from a distance so it doesn’t startle), give a little wave to let them know you have heard”.

“Be predictable rather than making sudden movements and keep dogs and children close by you,” said Ben.

Tina said the same goes for cycling: “There are lots of inexperienced riders on the paths at the moment, so being predictable is essential ‑ it helps people understand what you are doing.”

Tina recommends getting some lessons to understand various scenarios on shared paths and build confidence but the key thing to remember is to let other people know what you’re doing.

“Use your bell intermittently, not incessantly. Call out ‘passing’ when going past walkers from behind, smile and be friendly, not annoyed if they don’t know what to do when you pass,” said Tina.

Craig added that cycling at a considerate speed is also important: “The best advice on a busy shared path is not to ride faster than a human can run. Just be patient – you’re not riding in the Tour de France,” said Craig.

 

3. Be kind and considerate

Woman riding a bike on shared path

An emergency situation  like coronavirus is an opportunity to show others you care  - including how you behave when you’re out exercising.

It’s inevitable you’ll cross paths with others at some point, and Craig suggests being understanding and pleasant about it.

“Many families and couples are spending quality time together out in the fresh air. When you see other people out there, just smile and wave but make sure you keep 1.5 metres - or two arm lengths - apart,” he suggested.

Ben points out the importance of looking out for others who need extra consideration.

“Be aware of older walkers or people with disabilities who might be unsteady on their feet – give them room and get off the footpath if necessary so they aren’t forced onto the road or uneven surfaces,” said Ben.

Tina hopes for more education around sharing paths and recreation spaces.

“We’re all in this together, so that requires that we share the spaces we have available…be kind, be patient, be friendly!,” said Tina.

So if you go for a walk or cycle to get some essential exercise, looking out for others, keeping your distance and being friendly will make it more enjoyable for you and everyone around you.

 

Getting back on your bike or out walking during the coronavirus pandemic is a great way to form healthy, long-lasting habits, and as Craig said: “when the restrictions are over please don’t just send your bike back to the shed. They love to be taken out for a spin”.

 

Have a coronavirus question?

For all coronavirus questions visit www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au or call the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) hotline on 1800 020 080.

Staying apart keeps us together