GLC: Single vs Double

single vs double group length

Riding two-abreast makes group riding more enjoyable. The social aspect of being able chat with your partner is the biggest draw, but riding double has other advantages. It makes the group more visible from a distance, resulting in early lane changes and better traffic flow. It also reduces the length of a group, making passing on two-lane roads easier.

The decision to ride single vs. double is based on two factors:

  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it appropriate for the circumstances?

That depends on your state laws. Nebraska or Hawaii require single file, always. In Arkansas, California, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina and South Dakota, there is no restriction on how many cyclists may ride abreast in a lane. Forty-one states limit cyclists to no more than two abreast. Twenty-five of those states require bicyclists to ride single file if riding double would impede traffic.

The impeding clause can only apply if:

  • The lane is wide enough to safely share with single file riders
  • Or there is a usable bike lane present
  • And the group is travelling at less than the speed limit or speed of traffic
  • And traffic cannot otherwise pass due to a median or steady oncoming traffic

Some states have pull-over requirements if traffic stacks up behind a slow vehicle. So regardless if a group is single or double, this may apply. In any case, it is good practice to release traffic that collects behind you when safe to do so.

When is it appropriate?

There are situations where it’s legal to ride double, but might not be advisable.

It’s best to stay single in a very narrow lane, or lanes where the right side of the road is hazardous. If the riders on the left are too close to the lane line, motorists may not be able to give sufficient clearance even when changing lanes. Also, these bicyclists may obscure the view of the oncoming lane, making it more difficult for motorists to pass.

If the road has continuous pavement hazards requiring bicyclists to constantly need to move laterally to avoid them, it will be easier and safer to keep the group single file so no one gets trapped into riding through a hazard.

On a wide bike lane or highway shoulder, keep in mind that riding single file is best to allow enough space to avoid the occasional pothole or other road hazard. If you’re on the edge of the pavement, or the left edge of the bike lane and shoulder-to-shoulder with another cyclist, your options for avoiding a hazard are not good.

Never ride double or single in a door-zone bike lane. If someone opens a door into the group, the whole group is going down like dominos.

On bike paths, it is not a good idea to ride in a double line due to the need for passing other path users. In general, group riding should not be done on crowded paths. We’ll talk more about paths in a future lesson.