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You may have seen cyclists riding side-by-side on country roads or in towns, and wondered if they’re legally allowed to. Not only is the issue fraught with misconceptions, but it’s also a frequent source of tension between drivers and cyclists.
According to polls, around 50% of motorists claim that ‘sitting behind’ cyclists riding two abreast is one of their biggest frustrations. And the sound of angry honking horns at the rear can deter cyclists from riding side-by-side before they’ve even considered the advantages.
So, let’s quash any doubt or misinformation – obtained perhaps, from one of the 50% of frustrated drivers who arrived at the red traffic light a few seconds later than they wanted to.
Can Cyclists Ride Two Abreast?
The short answer is yes. Cyclists can ride two abreast in any traffic lane on single or multi-lane roads, except motorways. They must also be no more than 1.5 metres apart.
The current wording for Rule 66 of the Highway Code reads: “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”. It is not legal to
ride more than two abreast, but cyclists may legally overtake two people who are doing so.
Do Cyclists Have to Ride Single File?
No, they do not. The Highway Code ruling is advisory and it is up to the individual cyclist to decide when and where they feel it is appropriate to ride in single file. There is no law stating that it is compulsory.
That said, there is a proposal at the moment for a revision to the wording of the Highway Code – subject to approval from parliament when MPs return after the summer break. This is because the current wording is problematic, encouraging drivers to overtake on dangerous bends.
The proposed new wording reads: “[cyclists should] ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so.” This is certainly safer guidance – allowing drivers to pass when there is sufficient space and visibility. It might also help to change the motorist mindset that cyclists ride two abreast simply to annoy.
When Should Cyclists Ride Side-by-Side?
Cyclists should ride side-by-side on single lane roads which are not wide enough for motorists to pass without moving into the lane of oncoming traffic. This ensures that drivers overtake when it is safe to do so and there is no traffic coming in the opposite direction.
Statistically, cycling on the road is one of the safest ways to travel. However, most accidents that do happen are because the cyclist has not been seen, with an estimated 70% of collisions being caused by driver error.
Riding two abreast, along with following common safety rules and wearing suitable clothing, increases visibility and is therefore safer. Drivers should give cyclists the same amount of room as a car when overtaking – and will do so if the cyclists are two abreast. Also, the length of the obstruction for the car passing is shortened.
Not only is it safer to ride side-by-side when cycling on the road, it’s also much more social! But the bottom line is cyclists need to use their judgement and common sense.
If traffic is stacking up behind and it’s safe to let them overtake, then it’s courteous to do so. Not only will it take the pressure off, but it could also nurture respect between cyclists and drivers. And as nobody enjoys riding in front of a furious honking horn, this can only be a good thing.