Why do people on bikes ride two abreast?

Why do people on bikes ride two abreast?

By Patrick Morgan, Cycling Action Network

When we were in kindergarten, we learned a few basic rules on how to get along with each other.

First, follow the rules.

Second, be kind.

Now that we've left kindergarten, this advice still holds.

So how do the overtaking rules apply when we're riding our bikes or driving?

For those on bikes, the law is clear: it is permitted to ride two abreast. There's also a responsibility not to unreasonably hold up other traffic.

And for everyone on the road, there's a duty of care not to endanger others. This means you can't overtake when it's unsafe, such as on a narrow, winding road where you can't see ahead. You can be prosecuted for unsafe overtaking.

Why would people on bikes ride two abreast? Are they being selfish, or could it actually be safer for everyone?

While it is a common gripe of motorists when they come across a bunch of cyclists, it’s quicker and safer to overtake a group riding two abreast than it is to pass a long line of riders in singkle file.

Cyclists can ride two abreast to indicate to a following driver that it's not a safe place to pass.

This is also why people on bikes sometimes ride in the middle of the lane, away from the gutter or the car door zone. Cyclists need space to stay safe, and the law supports this.

So much for the law. How about being kind?

When it is safe for others to overtake, people on bikes should go in single file. That's good manners

For drivers, wait a few seconds, indicate, and overtake when it's safe. Thta's what most drivers do, and it's no big deal.

Revving your engine, overtaking on a blind corner, and yelling at people on bikes is a dumb move. Don't be that person.

I can speak from experience: it's scary and dangerous when someone passes you too close. People on bikes deserve the protection of the law. That's why Cycling Action Network is campaigning for a Safe Passing Rule. This would require people overtaking to allow at least 1.5 metres between them and the cyclist.

A safe passing rule was recommended by the NZ Cycle Safety Panel in 2014. Safe passing rules are common in Europe, the US, and most Australian states. They also protect people on foot, law enforcement and road workers.

You can sign the petition here.

To make our streets safe for everyone, our government and councils are introducing safe speeds, adding median barriers, and building more bike lanes. Police are upping speed enforcement, getting unsafe vehicles and drivers off the road, and monitoring red light cameras. We all have a part to play in reducing harm on our roads.

With more and more people discovering the fun and convenience of biking, we all need to get used to sharing the road

So when you are driving or riding your bike, keep those kindergarten rules in mind, and we'll all get home safely.


Patrick Morgan is a project manager with New Zealand's national cycling charity, Cycling Action Network (CAN). He is also a qualified cycle skills instructor.

UK Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman's advice on why it can be safer for cyclists to ride two abreast.