Rules of the Road
by John Allen and Eli Post
Massachusetts passed new bicycle laws in 2009. One important provision affecting cyclists legalizes riding side by side (two-abreast), which places Massachusetts's laws in agreement with those of most other states. The two-abreast law has, however, raised questions, and a review might help to clarify how to handle various situations.
The law basically boils down to three things:
• it is not legal to ride more than two abreast,
• you must allow faster vehicles to overtake when they safely can—singling up as necessary, and
• don't occupy more than one lane on a multi-lane road.
To explain further:
- If you ride more than two-abreast (other than when overtaking a slower pair of cyclists) you are breaking the law. While we frequently see cyclists engaging in this behavior, it's simply not legal in Massachusetts.
- A paceline is legal, but a peloton (a large group clustering together) is not. Pelotons may be fashionable on international races, but are not legal on Massachusetts roads.
- The law does not spell out all the circumstances under which you should get single file. We suggest getting into single file whenever:
- a motorist approaches from behind and could safely overtake you if you single up.
- when sight lines to the rear are restricted (hillcrests, curvy roads lined with vegetation). Under these conditions, move to the center or left side of the lane so that you are visible farther to the rear. You'll want to be single file so that you have the freedom to maneuver. Be courteous and don't make motorists wait unnecessarily—move to the right as soon as it's safe for motorists to pass.
- Whenever riding two abreast, check frequently for traffic (motorists or other cyclists) approaching from the rear. A rear-view mirror can be very helpful in this situation.
On a road with an open lane to your left, riding side by side can actually make it easier for motorists to overtake, because the group is shorter. Whether riding single-file or side by side, keep group size small (4 to 6 long at most) and leave gaps between groups.
Please remember these guidelines for riding side by side, and, for safety's sake, single up when sight distance is short or when on a busy road.
Acknowledgement: David Watson, Executive Director of MassBike, assisted with this update
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