The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the demands of social distancing has significantly increased the popularity of cycling from being just an option, to one of the "must-use" forms of transport.
Cycling has always been a great form of transport for people either travelling to work, shopping, or for those just enjoying their leisure. The attraction of cycling is that it is accessible and resilient, partly because bikes are affordable and the fact that most of us had a bike when we are growing up means that many of us know how to ride a cycle. The success of international cycling events and the success of the British cycling teams in competitions has further increased its popularity as a form of exercise over the last 10 years.
Cycling during the pandemic
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the demands of social distancing has significantly increased the popularity of cycling from being just an option, to one of a must use forms of transport for those needing to travel to work and importantly as a means of exercise for those working remotely or on furlough. Over the last week (1st – 5th June 2020), as lockdown has began to ease, there has been an increase in the use of public transport as people have started using it to get to work. With non-essential retailers opening from the 15th June, the Government has announced that from 15th June, face coverings will be required on public transport and in areas where social distancing cannot be accommodated (1). This change underlines and strengthens the safety aspects of cycling as a means of transport both for the short and long term.
Benefits of cycling
Adequate exercise improves your body’s immune system and thus better protects people against COVID-19. As gyms are still closed and outdoor group sports are restricted, many people must look at alternatives of “how do I get enough exercise?” The answer is simple, cycling. The immune system benefits are that whilst cycling, your airways are well ventilated, the blood supply is better, and the deep breathing required as you cycle helps to cleanse the lungs and this in turn improves virus protection.
Therefore, we have been finding at Busy Bees Benefits that our cycle2work scheme both on our benefits platform and as a stand-alone scheme is proving to be increasingly popular with employers and their staff. Businesses that sign-up for the scheme can support their employees in helping them to keep socially distanced when travelling to and from work and help safeguard them against the risk of catching COVID-19 by avoiding the use of public transport.
The introduction of more e-bikes, also makes cycling accessible for a greater number of people, by taking away some of the hard work and will help employees arrive at their place of work cool and refreshed.
How does the cycle2work scheme work?
The cycle to work scheme is an affordable way to purchase cycles, as it a Government-backed initiative which helps employees save 25-39% on the cost of bikes, e-bikes, cycling accessories, clothing and bicycle components by spreading the cost interest-free (typically over 12 months) through a salary sacrifice arrangement.
New guidance released by the Department of Transport in June 2019 removed the previous budget cap of £1,000 on any purchase. Which means that cyclists can now get bikes through the scheme over £1,000 which makes e-bikes fall easily within the scheme. This means that employees can save on the total cost of the package, not just the first £1,000 as previously.
Employees can choose from a vast range of bike brands available in the UK market. The employer will then provide employees with their chosen bicycle and take an equivalent amount of the employee’s normal salary as a salary sacrifice. Unlike the salary, employees do not pay any tax or National Insurance on the value of the bike so they can save between 25-39% on the costs, a significant amount of money to save. Employers save too! Not only will they recover the full cost of the bike, they also have a NICs saving up to 13.8% of the value.
In summary here are five reasons as to why cycling is good for people and why it helps protect people against COVID-19:
Cycling has a positive effect on the health of almost all people. Whilst cycling, your airways are well ventilated, and the blood supply is better. Deep breathing helps to cleanse the lungs better and this in turn improves virus protection.
Being outside when sunny also exposes your body to more vitamin D, which also helps to strengthen the immune system. According to national surveys in the UK, across the population approximately 1 in 5 people have low vitamin D levels (defined as serum levels below 25 nmol/L). Low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of poor musculoskeletal health such as rickets, osteomalacia, falls and poor muscle strength (2).
Whilst cycling is a good means of transport, it is also a very good form of cardiovascular or high intensity exercise, especially for those employees who are working remotely and are not as active during the day. By cycling people can increase aerobic fitness, remembering that gyms are still closed and outdoor sports in groups are not possible.
Cycling also decreases body fat levels, improves joint mobility, and improves posture and coordination. New research has also found that cycling to work is associated with a 45 per cent lower risk of developing cancer and a 46 per cent lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute (3).
Cycling not only keeps people at a distance from others but also reduces the risk of contamination by the touching of surfaces and being in confined spaces with others on either public transport or a shared car. The virus can survive on surfaces for a longer period than in the air and can still be contagious, so touching the surfaces on public transport puts people at greater risk.
Cycling means that people can keep their distance from others on their bicycle. The chance that someone will breathe in the micro-drops that transmit the virus while cycling is very low. According to the health guidelines, venturing outside is no problem, if people follow the guidelines that have been drawn up.
Cycling helps people relax by allowing their body and mind relax. Being outdoors lets people enjoy the space and the sun.
Now, with many people stressed out from everything that comes with the COVID-19 virus, ensuring that people have time for relaxation is very important. Perhaps the last tip is, therefore, the most important: by cycling outdoors, people have time to relax their body and mind and so they can destress. And the best part is this: the happiness hormones, endorphins, are released during cycling.
The important thing to remember at this time when we are trying to manage our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that riding a bike is healthy, fun and a low-impact form of exercise for people of all ages.
Managing Director, Busy Bees Benefits
Provider of the SmartHive Platform
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