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When should cyclists ride two abreast?

Recent video advises cyclists to ride in single file to allow cars to pass

A recent video uploaded by the Global Cycling Network (GCN) has given rise to debate about when cyclists should and should not ride two abreast. How To Ride Safely On The Road has been produced in partnership with British Cycling as part of the Ridesmart series aimed at sportive riders.

Some YouTube users feel the video advocates riding in single file rather than two abreast, but presenter Matt Stephens simply quotes the Highway Code, which says: “Never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.”

Expanding on this, Stephens adds: “Ensure you’re aware of traffic building up behind. If it does, single out in a safe place and let it pass.”

In contrast, Chris Boardman quotes the same passage of the Highway Code to justify riding side-by-side in a recent public safety video produced to tackle common misconceptions about riding two abreast.

“Rule 169 of the Highway Code says slow moving vehicles should not hold up a long queue of traffic and often it’s quicker and safer for a motorist to overtake a shorter group of side-by-side riders,” he points out.

The key here is ‘often’. The better formation will of course vary depending on the road, other traffic and the number of riders in the group.

One commenter on the GCN video says that in Germany you are obliged to assume a two-abreast formation if you are in a group of eight or more. This in itself highlights one of the challenges of producing such films when you’re catering for an international audience. Even if riding on the left-hand side of the road draws only mock outrage from viewers, the fact remains that different countries have different rules and guidelines.

Another issue for some is the recommendation to “keep to the left-hand side so that traffic can overtake you.” A number of people point out that this shouldn’t always be the case.

As road.cc’s own Laura Laker said in a blog for the Guardian, taking the centre of the lane is recommended by government-approved cycle training scheme Bikeability. The thinking is that cyclists are safest where they can see the road and be seen, so if in doubt, this should be the default road position.

A blog on the CTC website about what’s legal while cycling and what’s not expresses a similar sentiment.

“Ride in the middle of the lane – this is one of two riding positions you can take. If you can keep up with the traffic, then it is often safest to do this and “take the lane” as you will find it easiest to see and be seen. It also helps you avoid being hit by opening car doors if you're riding alongside a row of vehicles. Riding in the middle of the lane can also help prevent dangerous overtaking – the Highway Code says road users should give cyclists as much space as they would when overtaking a car. The alternative position is about a metre to the left of the traffic stream, so long as that doesn't bring you too close to the kerb. This is sometimes called 'the secondary position'.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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