A group of cyclists from the Surrey Cycling Club ride in a single-file line on a sunny road, followed by a yellow car bearing the plate "SCC RT".

Understanding Two Abreast Cycling: Legality, Safety, and Myths

Written by: Rafal Kukla | Published on: August 2, 2023 | Edited on: July 1, 2024
Discover why cyclists ride two abreast and the legal framework behind it. This comprehensive guide explains Rule 66, dispels the road tax myth, and highlights safety and respect on the road. Learn the facts and join us in creating harmonious road culture.
Surrey Cycling Club
Surrey Cycling Club

Why Cyclists Ride Two Abreast?

Cycling brings joy, fitness, and community to many people, but it can also spark confusion and misunderstanding among road users. One common source of contention is the practice of cyclists riding two abreast. Why do cyclists ride side by side, and what does the law say? In this post, Surrey Cycling Club aims to demystify this practice, explaining its legality, safety, and logic.

Single File vs Two Abreast: A Closer Look

Cyclists may choose to ride in single file, one behind the other, or two abreast, side by side. Both arrangements have their place, but misconceptions abound, particularly concerning two abreast cycling. Here's an in-depth examination:

Single File

Riding one behind the other may seem like the most logical formation. It's seen as less obstructive and possibly more courteous on narrow roads. However, this formation can stretch the group, making overtaking longer and more dangerous. It also limits communication between cyclists, which is crucial for safety.
Surrey Cycling Club
Single File Formation

Longer Overtaking Time: Riding in single file extends the length of the group of cyclists, making it more time-consuming and challenging for drivers to overtake, especially when it's a larger group.

Limited Communication: Single file inhibits communication between cyclists, as it's more difficult to converse when riding one behind the other. This can reduce the enjoyment and camaraderie of a group ride.

Potential Safety Risks: Although it may seem counterintuitive, single file can sometimes be less safe. The extended length of the group can make it more challenging for drivers to gauge the size and presence of the group.

Perceived Courtesy: Some drivers prefer cyclists to ride in single file as it seems more considerate. However, this perception doesn't always translate into practical benefits on the road.

Two Abreast

Riding two abreast may appear to take up more road space, but it actually offers numerous benefits. By making the group more compact, it allows drivers to overtake more easily and quickly. It facilitates communication between cyclists and increases the group's visibility.
Surrey Cycling Club
Two Abreast Formation

Quicker to Overtake: Riding two abreast makes the group more compact, effectively halving its length. This allows drivers to overtake the group in less time, often in a single manoeuvre.

Enhanced Visibility: A two abreast formation is more visible to drivers, allowing them to identify the group more easily and plan their overtaking move more safely.

Social Interaction: Riding two abreast facilitates conversation and camaraderie among cyclists. Imagine walking with a friend; you wouldn't naturally walk in single file but side by side. This social aspect enhances the enjoyment of cycling together.

Safer Control: Riding two abreast can provide better control over the lane, discouraging drivers from attempting to squeeze past in the same lane, thus promoting safer overtaking behaviour.

Legal Compliance: As clarified by Rule 66 of the UK's Highway Code, riding two abreast is legal and often recommended. It acknowledges the practical and social reasons for this formation.

Balancing the Approaches

Different situations may call for different formations. On narrow or busy roads, it may be more appropriate to ride in single file to allow for easier overtaking. Surrey Cycling Club members are well-versed in these considerations and adapt their riding formation to the specific context. Communication is key, and riders often use voice commands to coordinate formations, ensuring they ride courteously and considerately.

Understanding Two Abreast Cycling: A Comprehensive Guide

A Natural Way to Communicate:

Imagine going for a walk with your friends. Naturally, you'd walk side by side, engaging in conversation. Cyclists often feel the same way. Riding two abreast allows them to chat, share experiences, and communicate vital safety information. This social interaction is one of the joys of cycling, and it enhances safety by enabling immediate sharing of road conditions or potential hazards.

Easier and Safer to Overtake:

Contrary to common perception, two abreast cycling can make overtaking easier and safer for drivers. A group of 12 cyclists riding two abreast will take up less road length than 12 riders in single file. This means drivers spend less time in the opposing traffic lane when overtaking. For example, overtaking a group of cyclists riding two abreast might take 10 seconds, while the same group in single file could take 30 seconds or more. That reduced time can make a significant difference in safety.

Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle and Environmental Benefits:

Cycling is not merely a form of transportation; it embodies a move towards a healthier and greener lifestyle. Practices like riding two abreast contribute to the social enjoyment of cycling, encouraging more people to take up this beneficial activity. By understanding and respecting these practices, society can better embrace cycling's role in reducing traffic congestion, pollution, and fostering community well-being.

Safety Considerations in Two Abreast Riding:

Riding two abreast can increase safety through better group cohesion, visibility, and communication. Consider a scenario where a pothole or other obstacle appears suddenly. Cyclists riding two abreast can communicate this hazard quickly, preventing accidents.

Addressing Road Rage and Abuse:

Respect and understanding are vital for harmony on the road. Education about practices like two abreast cycling can alleviate misunderstandings that lead to road rage. By appreciating why cyclists use this formation, drivers can foster a more cooperative spirit, recognising that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road.

Surrey Cycling Club's Respectful Approach:

Surrey Cycling Club is committed to fostering a respectful and harmonious relationship with other road users. Unlike some other clubs that might openly aggravate drivers, our Club Officers, Ride Leaders and our members understand and appreciate the concerns of both cyclists and motorists. Many of our members are drivers themselves and pay careful attention to group formations, always considering the needs of others on the road.

If we slow you down for a moment, please be patient. We use voice commands to alert our group to approaching cars and, if possible, will adjust our formation to facilitate safe overtaking.

A Broader Perspective on Road Congestion:

According to statistics, the average British driver spends around 115 hours a year stuck in traffic due to other drivers and road works. Comparatively, any delay caused by cyclists is minimal and often misunderstood. Recognising the broader context can help foster patience and understanding between cyclists and drivers.

International Perspectives on Respectful Road Sharing:

In many European countries like France, Italy, and Spain, a culture of respect and cooperation between cyclists and drivers prevails. Drivers often give cyclists plenty of room and exhibit patience and courtesy. These countries demonstrate that peaceful coexistence is not only possible but normal. Surrey Cycling Club believes in embracing these positive examples, promoting respectful road-sharing practices right here in the UK.

Rule 66 and the Legality of Riding Two Abreast

Rule 66 of the Highway Code in the UK specifically addresses the practice of riding two abreast. This rule is fundamental to the sport and pastime of social and performance road cycling. It recognises that cycling side-by-side is legal, enjoyable, and often the safest and most efficient way for a group to ride, and for drivers to overtake safely.
Riding two abreast is naturally protective, especially when cycling with children or less confident riders.
Rule 66 includes advisory statements, and while it advises to "never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends" this guidance is flexible and context-dependent. The use of the term "you should" rather than "you must" reflects this flexibility, recognising that insistence on strict adherence would not always be appropriate.
Surrey Cycling Club
British Cycling

British Cycling has long advocated for this practice, acknowledging that the previously unclear wording of Rule 66 was not fit for purpose. The current understanding of the rule supports the legality and responsibility of riding two abreast, especially in a group setting like a club ride.

Riding two abreast is also recommended by British Cycling, emphasising its validity and importance within the cycling community.

The Road Tax Myth Debunked

A common misconception perpetuated among some road users is that cyclists should not be on the road because they do not pay road tax. This belief, however, is based on a misunderstanding.
Firstly, what is commonly referred to as 'road tax' in the UK is actually Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). VED is not a fee for road usage but a tax based on the emissions produced by a vehicle. Since bicycles do not emit greenhouse gases, they are exempt from this tax.
Surrey Cycling Club
Single File Formation

It's important to note that the maintenance of roads is funded through general taxation, which everyone, including cyclists, contributes to. Therefore, the argument that cyclists do not have a right to the road due to not paying road tax is not valid.

By spreading awareness about the true nature of VED and road funding, we can dispel this myth and encourage a more inclusive and respectful attitude towards all road users.

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Final thoughts

From debunking the road tax myth to understanding the legal framework provided by Rule 66, Surrey Cycling Club is committed to educating both cyclists and drivers on the reasons behind riding two abreast.

The practice of riding two abreast, along with other misconceptions like the road tax myth, often stems from a lack of understanding. We are devoted to education, respect, and lawful conduct on the road, advocating for a cooperative relationship with all road users.

Join us in promoting safe, legal, and respectful road usage. Explore our engaging community through informative posts like 10 Benefits of Joining a Cycling Club.

Together, we can create a positive and understanding road culture in Surrey for everyone.

Author Rafal Kukla
🚴‍♂️ Pedaling the path of passion, I'm the founder and chief cycling enthusiast at Surrey Cycling Club. When I'm not steering the wheel of our vibrant community, you'll find me navigating the world of tech, offering bespoke Managed IT Services to the Apple users and WordPress aficionados. Balancing work and wheels with family fun makes my life a thrilling ride! Let's cycle together, shall we? 😊

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