When is it Legal to Ride Bikes Two Abreast?

Golden’s Cyclist-Lawyer Megan Hottman explains the often-confusing question, When is it OK for cyclists to ride side-by-side and when is it advised to ride single file?

Originally published in Road Bike Review

 

Drivers get mad when cyclists ride side-by-side, but what does the law say

A friendly bike educator sent me the following inquiry:

“Hi, Megan: We have been teaching the Bicycle Friendly Driver course to hundreds of people in Northern Colorado and it has been really well received. A student in a class the other day brought up a point about side-by-side riding. He went away and did some research and then wrote the following to me. I’m hoping you might be able to provide some clarification so that we are providing accurate information.

Here’s what the student wrote:
-One of the behaviors cyclists do that upsets car drivers the most is riding side-by-side. I felt the way this was conveyed in the class was a bit confusing and might fuel the contention.

-What I heard you say was that if cyclists are being overtaken by faster traffic, they need to ride single-file.

– What I learned was that if cyclists were impeding the flow of traffic from behind by riding side-by-side, they needed to merge into single-file. In other words, if there is a clear view ahead to allow cars to stray out of their lane to give a pair of cyclists a minimum of three feet, then it was okay to ride side-by-side.

-In reading the Colorado statute it says, “Persons riding bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.”

I’m not sure what that means. If one cyclist is on the shoulder and their buddy riding next to them is just inside the traffic lane, are they riding within a single lane? When is it okay to ride side-by-side?

First let’s start with an analysis of Colorado’s statute and its actual language. We don’t get to question why the legislature does what it does, we have to live with the actual words contained in the law. Often, a strict reading of the law can provide answers, but not always.

C.R.S. 42-4-1412(6) addresses when cyclists may ride two abreast:

(a) Persons riding bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

(b) Persons riding bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

Reading the two sections together, I conclude the following:

-Cyclists may not ride MORE than 2 abreast, unless they are somewhere exclusively for bikes, which would really only be a bike lane. Anywhere else, two-wide is the absolute legal max.

-Cyclists may only ride two abreast IF they are not impeding the normal/reasonable movement of traffic. If the cyclists riding two abreast ARE impeding traffic, the implication here is that they ride single file.

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