A group of cyclists riding on the road can take various formations depending on riding conditions. When hammering perhaps a single file paceline will be favoured because only one rider wants to take the wind. On a casual coffee ride, everyone will want to ride two-abreast to hold a conversation while on busier roads with a shoulder single file may suit the group best to stay out of the way of fast approaching traffic.

But what is the safest formation to ride in? That depends on a lot of different factors including the layout of the road you are riding on. Being predictable and obeying the road laws will help keep the group ride fun and incident free. So here are some guidelines for cyclists on when they should ride single file and when they should ride two abreast.

Is riding two abreast against the municipal road laws?

The first consideration on how to ride with a group is what local road laws mandate. In most places, it’s legal to ride two abreast but in some municipalities, cyclists must ride single file while on the road. On group rides, be aware of the local laws and choose how to ride accordingly. If it’s legal to ride two-abreast, it’s often smart formation to adopt.

When two abreast is smarter and safer

There are many good reasons to ride two abreast. It’s arguably in many situations safer and it’s much more social. Apart from it being more pleasant to keep a conversation, riding two abreast will also ensure cars can pass a group safely.

The driver still needs to move into the lane of oncoming traffic to safely pass the single file group

Riding two abreast is safer when a group of riders are travelling on a road with one lane in each direction which are not wide enough for a motor vehicle to pass even a single rider while staying in the lane. When the driver already needs to move into the lane of oncoming traffic to make a safe pass, riding two-abreast will take up less distance on the road so once the way is clear the pass of a group of riders can be made quicker.

The distance to pass the group is smaller if they ride two abreast

On roads with two lanes in each direction, slower moving vehicles including cyclists should always take the right lane. In this situation, riding two abreast is once again safer because vehicles already need to change lanes to make a safe pass. Even if you are riding single file, on roads like this moving towards the center of the lane to encourage drivers to pass in the other lane is the smart move.

One quiet country roads, riding two abreast shouldn’t be an issue. However, you’ll want to be prepared to move into a single file formation if a vehicle approaches to pass the group or the road narrows.

When to ride single file

On roads with one lane in each direction with shoulders and oncoming traffic that is quite heavy, cyclists should consider riding single file. This way, a driver making a pass will have space to move by the group at a safe distance without needing to move into the lane of oncoming traffic which might not even be possible. However, if the road is narrow or the shoulder disappears, cyclists should be prepared to take the lane to avoid situations where drivers are staying in the lane to overtake cyclists at an unsafe distance.

On roads with one lane in each direction where the lanes are wide (~5 m) so a vehicle can safely share a lane with a cyclist while passing, riding single file is once again the right thing to do because slow moving road users like cyclists must ride as far to the right as is practical. You should not ride two abreast impeding traffic when there would otherwise be a safe space for a vehicle to pass a single rider.

One meter passing law

While ultimately, cyclists need to trust passing drivers to move by them responsibly and at a safe distance, making smart decisions on when to ride single file versus two abreast can make sharing the road clearer and easier. Cyclists should try and give drivers safe opportunities to make passes and ensure their group is not impeding traffic when they don’t need to be. Sometimes riding two-abreast gives drivers a clear signal that to safely pass the group they need to move into the other lane of traffic.

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8 Comments

  • Ron Josey says:

    I have to disagree with riding two abreast on any road where vehicles tend to drive as being safer than single file. Also, I do not know of any province in Canada where it is legal to cycle two abreast and I’ve been across this country twice on a bicycle. Certainly not in the Maritimes.

  • Andrew Penrose says:

    You may think that the car driver will get the signal, in my experience the only message they get is you are on a bicycle and you don’t belong on the road!!!

  • Robert R Milthorpe says:

    Single file please. Two abreast is illegal and consumes too much roadspace. This infuriates Motorized traffic and causes issues.

    • RHP says:

      It is not illegal in Ontario.

    • Doug says:

      “Roadspace” as in width. However two abreast is no different than a car in width, but reduces length by half.

      The problem is most North Americans see vehicles or people they pass as a width, and try to pass with as minimal room as possible. This needs to change

    • Jeff says:

      It’s not illegal in Ontario. Only certain municipalities have bylaws against it.
      Also, even when riding single file cyclist legally have the right to use the entire lane.

  • John Hiley says:

    The point that many car drivers are making is they don’t care what is legal or what makes sense to the cyclists safety, they really do not want to slow down for one second for somebody blocking the road. So with this in mind what should we as cyclists do? I sure don’t believe it is telling car drivers, by our actions on the road that infuriate them, that we don’t care what they feel or think. We will get nowhere in this argument until we can convey to car drivers that we care about them. It doesn’t take a PhD to figure it out.

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