Yes, cyclists can ride two (or more) abreast, but not always. That’s about as clear as it gets. California law doesn’t say that riding two abreast is prohibited, but it doesn’t say it’s legal either. To answer the question, the circumstances of the riding is crucial.
Bicycle as Vehicle
California Vehicle Code, 21208 states that a cyclist has all the rights and responsibilities of a motorist and is subject to the enforcement of the rules. This means the law considers a bicycle as a vehicle for purposes of riding on the streets and highways and can get a ticket the same as a motorist (CVC21200).
This also means that a bicycle can ride two abreast on any street or highway the same as other motor vehicles. Practically speaking, there is no room for two average size motor vehicles to drive in one lane, but motorcyclists do it all the time.
Not Keeping Up with Traffic
Another law states that when a cyclist is unable to keep up with traffic, then it is required to ride on the far right of the right-hand lane as practicable or in a bike lane if one exists. This means that when a cyclist can’t go the speed of the other vehicles on the road, the cyclist needs to move over and right on the far right of the right-hand lane.
(CVC 21208) states that:
Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:
- When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
- When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.
- When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
Riding Two Abreast on Right Side and Bike Lane
Now here’s where the disagreement comes in. This section doesn’t explicitly say that a cyclist can’t ride two abreast, but it does say it must ride to the far right of the right-hand lane as “practicable.” So what does that mean? Many cyclists have received a ticket because often police say that when two bikes are riding side-by-side, then the one on the inside can move farther to the right if he or she quit riding two abreast.
However, the word is practicable, not possible. So some argue that it’s not practicable to ride farther right when already riding two abreast because the other cyclist is there. So we’ll leave that one to you. Hopefully, you won’t get a ticket from a cop that thinks otherwise.
In a bike lane, there is no restriction that cyclists ride single file. However, it may not be safe because of blocked bike lanes and dooring. If the outside cyclist sees a hazard and moves to the left, there might be a collision if riding two abreast.
Lane Too Narrow
Ironically, when the lane is too narrow, to be pushed over to the right—keeping in mind the law requires 3 feet for a car to pass a cyclist when riding on the right—then the cyclist can ride in the middle of the lane, and the motorist has to wait. This is for the safety of the cyclist.
So, when this happens, then it makes sense that two (or more) bikes can ride in the middle of the lane during the time that the lane is too narrow. Since the law doesn’t prohibit it, then it’s legal to do so.
Rural Highways/Shoulder Riding
When riding in the city, a cyclist can often keep up with traffic and take over the middle of the lane which includes riding two or more abreast. However, out on the highways were the speed limit is 45+, riding at that speed is next to impossible, and even if it were, it can’t be sustained.
Following the law, the cyclist is required to move to the right, and then the debate over whether it’s practicable for two riders to ride abreast. To be honest, it’s often unsafe to be riding two abreast and having cars whizz by at 55 mph.
Under California law, riding on the shoulder while on the highway is allowed. This is one of these exceptions for bicycles because a car is expressly prohibited from traveling on the shoulder, but the law explicitly allows bikes to be ridden on the shoulder (CVC 21650.1). Two abreast on the shoulder isn’t prohibited in any California law.
Bottom line, you can ride two abreast when riding with the flow of traffic, and you aren’t expressly prohibited from riding two abreast when you can’t keep up and are required to ride to the right—depending on who’s interpreting the law.
Also, you can ride two or more abreast when riding in a bike lane or on the shoulder if there’s room.
Northern California’s Bicycle Accident Lawyers.
We represent bicyclists because we are bicyclists. When a bicyclist is injured, we will serve as their advocates and fight for their rights. If you were injured while riding side-by-side, call us for a free consultation.