Flashback Friday: Can You Ride Two Abreast?

Cycling behaviour regularly seems to come into the public firing line; what’s often interesting is whether the perception of what riders are doing “wrong” actually matches the reality of the law (often not). Cycling two abreast is one of those common hot-topic issues and in this post, first published in June 2013, we explore what your rights actually are…

There’s been a lot of correspondence in the media lately about cyclists’ versus motorists’ rights. One item that has been frequently raised is the issue of cyclists riding two (or more) abreast (i.e. side by side), when motorists have been approaching. It’s not surprising when cycling is such a social activity that you should want to chat to your mates while riding!

Recreational or competitive bunch riders tend to be singled out the most for claims about riding 3, 4, or more abreast – “I came around the corner and they were all over the road!”. While I’ve no doubt that there is some less than desirable behaviour from some of the roadies out there, I have a sneaking suspicion that sometimes it’s an optical illusion – a platoon of double-file cyclists from a slight angle could look like they’re just a random pile of riders all over the place.

Optical illusion: they're actually only riding two abreast
Optical illusion: they’re actually only riding two abreast

Many cyclists believe that the law is completely on their side with this behaviour, as the Road Code (and the underlying legal Road Rules) allows cyclists to ride two abreast. However the rules do not give cyclists the right to ride two abreast in all circumstances. For example, they must resume cycling single-file when passing to the right of another vehicle, including a parked vehicle. Technically this makes it rather hard to ride next to your mate on many urban streets; you’d be constantly switching back and forth between one and two abreast.

Also, when the slow speed of cyclists impedes the normal and reasonable flow of traffic, they (like any other slow vehicles) are required “as soon as it is practicable” to move as far left as practicable to allow following traffic to pass. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to move over immediately, only when you feel it is safe for you to do so and safe for motorists to be able to pass you. All road users in/on a vehicle (that includes bikes) also have an obligation not to be “careless or inconsiderate”. Ultimately, the golden rule is “don’t be a d***k” (insert word of choice here); if you’re unnecessarily holding up traffic move over.

{Note that for a controlled cycle race, where traffic management is in force, riders are usually exempt from these requirements}

In some situations where there is no shoulder and you have to cycle in a narrow traffic lane, then it is reasonable to “take the lane” so that a motorist doesn’t try to overtake you unsafely. If it is actually a multi-lane road where motorists can use the other lane to pass, then there is even less reason for a driver to get grumpy about you holding them up. And in that situation it would seem reasonable that riding two abreast is no more of an impedance than a single rider taking the lane.

Two abreast but there’s another traffic lane – seems OK to me

It’s not all on the person cycling of course; motorists also have certain obligations when sharing the road with cyclists. For example, ideally, motorists should allow at least 1.5 metres space when passing a cyclist, and wait for a clear space before passing a cyclist on a narrow road (unfortunately the law isn’t specific on these requirements, other than the above “careless or inconsiderate” requirement). Motorists must also not drive at such a speed that they are unable to stop in the length of road that is visible to them, which is particularly crucial near blind corners. So, while they may legitimately have cause for concern about “suddenly” encountering cyclists spread across the road, the law says that they should be able to safely react to it as well.

Suffice to say that whole area is not well understood by people driving or cycling. So I certainly wouldn’t just rely on having the law on your side to get you home unharassed. By all means ride alongside your colleague where the circumstances allow it. But be mindful of following traffic that may be unduly impeded by your progress, and switch to single file when it makes sense.

What’s your view about riding two abreast?

1 thought on “Flashback Friday: Can You Ride Two Abreast?”

  1. Nice write up. I’ve had many a discussion with a cyclist about illegal cycling 2x past parked cars on narrow roads. I understood the rule was specific to ” Parallel” parked cars. Can you clarify. I ‘ve noted this now no longer found on internet searches

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