'Why do cyclists ride side by side?' - you asked Google, and we've got the answer

One of the most common questions people ask about cycling on Google is why do cyclists ride side by side, so we've got the answer

If there's one (legal) thing that cyclists do that can annoy motorists more than anything else, it's riding side-by-side, otherwise known as riding two abreast.

For motorists who may not have experience of riding a bike in a group or knowledge of the laws surrounding cycling on the roads, this can be seen as dangerous, illegal, or just downright rude and inconvenient.

However for cyclists, the reasons for riding side by side are clear, and in fact it is often better for motorists that cyclists ride in this way.

What the law says

The first thing to say is that riding side by side is perfectly legal, with Rule 66 of the Highway Code only stipulating that cyclists should ride in single file "on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends."

>>> Chris Boardman explains why cyclists ride two abreast in safety video

Of course, the fact that cycling side by side is legal is not a reason in itself for cyclists to do it, with riders instead choosing to ride like this for the benefit of themselves and drivers.

Why ride side by side?

The main reason that cyclists ride side by side is for safety.

First off, a group of cyclists riding two abreast will be easier to see for drivers, making it less likely that they will be hit from behind, but the main reason is to make sure that drivers give them enough room when overtaking.

Riders are easier to see from behind when riding two abreast
(Image credit: Andy Jones 2014)

Although the Highway Code says that motorists should give cyclists "at least as much room as when overtaking a car" (which we would suggest to be 1.5m), not all drivers abide by this.

If a group of cyclists were riding down a road with oncoming traffic in single file, then drivers may be tempted to overtake too close to the cyclists, potentially causing an accident if the cyclists have to move out into the road to avoid a pothole or other obstacle.

>>> Top tips for cycling and training in the dark (video)

However, if the cyclists are riding side by side, then the motorist will have to wait until there is no vehicles approaching in the opposite direction, meaning that there is enough space to safely overtake.

Watch: group riding - how to use hand signals

This may sound frustrating if you're a driver who doesn't ride a bike, but one of the other reasons that cyclists ride side by side is that it can be more convenient for motorists.

For example, if you have a group of ten riders riding in single file, then even if every rider is riding very closely to the rider in front, the group will be 20 metres long.

>>> How to get started in road cycling

But if the riders are riding two abreast, then the group will only be 10 metres long, meaning that it will take less time for vehicles behind to overtake.

Riding two abreast lets riders have a good chin wag and enjoy the ride

The final reason is that riding two abreast makes riding more enjoyable as cyclists are able to talk to each other.

Think about how hard it is to have a conversation with someone in the back seat of a car. Now imagine doing that in a convertible, with both people being out of breath, and you've got some idea of what it's like for cyclists trying to talk to each other when riding single file.

>>> Eight reasons why riding in a group is better than riding alone

It's not very fun sitting in a car for a few hours with no one saying anything, so there's no reason why cyclists should not be allowed to talk to each other with the same east that drivers and passengers do.

Also in this series:

How cyclists look out for drivers

With all that, it is still important that cyclists are considerate of other road users and adjust their riding appropriately.

When a car is behind that could get past if riders are in single file, but not when riding two abreast, then riders at the back of the group should shout "car up" which will then alert the other riders, who should move into single file when it is safe for the car to pass.

As a final point, it's worth remembering that the vast majority of cyclists also drive a car, so understand why being stuck behind a group of cyclists might be frustrating.

A group of cyclists is much more likely to quickly move out of the way and signal that it's clear to pass when a motorist is sitting patiently behind rather than revving the engine and sounding the horn.

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