Riding side by side on bicycles often becomes a contentious point between drivers and cyclists. Many cyclists and drivers don’t know that bikes are able to be ridden side by side in many states or cyclists think they can ride side by side when they actually can’t.
Either way, riding side by side is often clouded by confusion on the part of drivers and cyclists alike because it seems like a nuisance to drivers and a necessary thing to be allowed to do for cyclists.
In order to figure out the etiquette and the legality of riding side-by-side, it’s important for both sides to understand why cyclists would want to ride this way and what protections they have under law.
Which States Legally Allow Riding Side by Side?
In the United States, the majority of states allow riding side by side right in the laws. There are several which don’t have it down in the law, but it is implied that it is legal, so long as there is room (California for example).
There are only a few states where it is not legal to ride side by side or it is only legal in very specific conditions such as riding on the shoulder or enough lanes on the road.
The following table breaks down which states it’s legal to ride side by side in and which states it is implied or only legal in certain conditions:
|State||Ride Side by Side?|
|Arkansas||Yes, as long as it doesn’t impede traffic|
|California||Implicitly legal, as long as the bike lane is wide enough.|
|District of Columbia||Yes|
|Iowa||No law prohibits or allows it (implying it is allowed so long as it is safe and doesn’t impede traffic), but some cities may prohibit it|
|Massachusetts||Yes, but must facilitate passing traffic|
|Montana||Yes, but only if there are at least two lanes in each direction on the road|
|New Hampshire||Yes, except on laned roads|
|North Carolina||There is no law stating that riders have to ride single file, so being allowed to ride side by side is implied|
|Oklahoma||Yes, except on laned roads|
|Oregon||Yes, as long as vehicles can pass safely and the cyclists are within one lane of traffic|
|Texas||Yes, except on laned roads|
|Virginia||Yes, except on laned roads|
In all these cases, you can only ride two abreast and only in such a way that traffic will not be impeded. It’s also important for cyclists to ensure that they remain alert to other bikes, pedestrians and vehicular traffic which may also use or need to use the bike lane for whatever reason.
In particular, cyclists riding two abreast are often chided by other cyclists for not paying attention to their surroundings and blocking other riders from passing safely.
Why Do Cyclists Want to Ride Side by Side?
There are a few reasons why cyclists choose to ride side by side:
- Cyclists riding side by side are more visible to traffic, cutting down the risks of a crash
- Drivers are forced to give enough room to cyclists when passing them. Many states still do not have safe passing laws, so riding side by side may force the issue
- It’s also better for drivers (even if they don’t see it that way). Large groups of cyclists take up less space riding side by side than riding single (50% less space on average in fact!). This means that it takes a lot less time to pass the entire group which is safer and less frustrating.
- Cyclists will have more fun on the road because they can talk to each other rather than talking over their shoulders. It’s also easier to pass information about the road around and keep an eye on each other
Again, it’s important to note that in the majority of states which are fine with side by side riding, it is usually stipulated that no more than two ride abreast and that they do so in such a way to not impede traffic.
You should also note that municipal laws or county laws may prohibit side by side riding even if the state allows it. (Or vice versa), so make sure to check local law before riding side by side, just in case.
Side by Side Riding Etiquette
While almost all the states allow side by side riding in one form or another (the only exception is Nebraska which does not allow it no matter what), there is still some etiquette to observe. You may have the law on your side, but you don’t want to be annoying everyone around you!
The most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings and make sure that if cyclists are trying to pass you, that you allow them to, usually by falling back into single file for a brief time.
You should also make sure to watch for pedestrians, other vehicles, and anyone else who may end up straying accidentally or deliberately into the bike lane to minimize the risk of crashes.
You should also make sure to use a bell or another auditory device to warn other cyclists that you are passing and fall back into single file when passing to make sure everyone has room.
If the road you are riding on is busy, you may have the legal ability to ride two abreast, but it’s probably a better idea to go single file. That way, you and your buddy aren’t competing with busy traffic.
The same goes for cycling traffic-if there are a lot of cyclists riding, it’s probably best to ride single file so that people can sort themselves out by speed.
Riding side by side is legal in almost all of the states in the US, though a few of them have exceptions such as only being allowed to ride two abreast if the road isn’t a laned road or if there are double lines (Montana).
Riding abreast can cause problems though if the cyclists aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, particularly with traffic which causes a lot of complaints. Be a good ambassador for cyclists and if you are going to do it, ride two abreast safely at all times!