Are club rides under threat from Highway Code changes?

Backslide on Rule 66 reform puts right to ride two abreast in jeopardy once more

Group ride Rule 66 Highway Code
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A revised version of the Highway Code, due to be published this weekend, is set to create the expectation that groups of cyclists should stop to let cars pass.

While most of the changes to the Highway Code that have been announced are very positive for cyclists, including the creation of a hierarchy of road users which will put more responsibility for safety on those using heavier and larger vehicles, the Department for Transport’s final wording could threaten the viability of cycling club runs up and down the country.

The wording on the rules on group riding has been a source of controversy since the proposal was first announced in July 2020. A government response last year appeared to indicate the plans had been dropped.

But now Cycling Weekly has learned that the proposed wording will say groups of
cyclists must: “Be aware of drivers behind you, and allow them to overtake (e.g. by moving into single file or stopping) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.”

Sources familiar with the changes fear this will create an expectation that groups of riders should stop to let cars pass and could lead to antagonism between cyclists and drivers, making riding in groups extremely difficult.

The changes form the latest chapter in an ongoing battle over riding in groups that started when the government unveiled its initial consultation on the Highway Code in July 2020. Then, the government proposed to make changes to the now infamous Rule 66 to mean cyclists had to ride in single file when “drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so".

It would have made it almost impossible to ride two abreast on many larger roads - a formation cyclists choose because it makes it safer and easier for drivers to overtake, when appropriate.

However, after an outcry from CW readers, MPs and campaign groups, the government appeared to have listened. In its response to the consultation in December last year, it said the amount of feedback on the plan among the 21,000 respondents was “significant".

The government said: “It was felt that the wording needs to be clarified to emphasise that cycling side-by-side is not dangerous or wrong and can be an important part of building confidence for people new to cycling. It was also pointed out that it can often be quicker and easier for vehicles to pass a compact group of cyclists riding two abreast, rather than a long line of cyclists in single file.”

It added: “All rule changes will be implemented to take account of feedback.” 

That indicated that riding two abreast would be protected under the new Highway Code, which is due to be implemented on 29 January. But the new wording is the first time any version has suggested riders in groups stop riding to let cars pass.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, world championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the middle east. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.