How and when to ride side by side, legally
By Bob Mionske
For many cyclists, riding with others, whether on an outing with a friend or an organized ride, is one of the fundamental pleasures of our sport. But if legally bikes are vehicles, like cars, the question arises: Is side-by-side riding legal? The laws on twoabreast pedaling vary by state, but can be classified into three general types:
EXPLICITLY ALLOWED In 39 states, the law specifically allows cyclists to ride two abreast. In 21 of these states, cyclists may ride two up only if they are not impeding traffic. Three states–Massachusetts, New York and Virginia–specifically require cyclists to roll single file when being overtaken by a passing vehicle. Even if your state allows riding two abreast, be aware that there may be nuances to the law, and that local and state laws might differ: Some cities or municipalities prohibit two-up riding, even though it is legal elsewhere in the state. And if your ride takes you through an Indian reservation, tribal law trumps state law. Be sure to check the laws in your area before heading out.
GENERALLY PROHIBITED A few states still restrict riding two abreast, generally prohibiting the practice but allowing some exceptions. In Nebraska, cyclists must ride single file, except when on the shoulder. In Hawaii, you must ride single file except when a bicycle lane is wide enough to permit riding two abreast and traffic flow is unimpeded. In Montana, you can ride two abreast in a single lane, but only if there are at least two lanes in each direction, and only if you are not impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic any more than you would be if you were riding single file.
IMPLICITLY ALLOWED Finally, eight states neither explicitly prohibit nor permit riding side by side. Because the activity is not prohibited by law, and because the vehicle codes of these states contemplate that cyclists will be sharing lanes when it is safe to do so, riding two (or more) abreast is implicitly allowed by these states. Sometimes, law enforcement officers in these states will cite two-abreast riders because one of the cyclists is not riding as close to the right as is practicable. However, when officers do so, they are misinterpreting the law.
If you ride solo, the legalities of riding two abreast will not be an issue for you, even if you are involved in a pass with another cyclist–passing is legal everywhere when it is safe to do so. And, legal considerations aside, when contemplating riding two abreast it is important to remember common courtesy. Helping motorists safely pass your group by singling up when you can will go a long way to improving cyclist-motorist relations. It’s a small courtesy worth extending.
Research and drafting by Rick Bernardi, JD.