Because I know those of you reading this blog may just want the answer, and want it fast (Mark Cavendish fast), I will start with that.
YES, IT IS LEGAL, AND THE LAW IN WISCONSIN, THAT BICYCLISTS MAY RIDE 2 ABREAST. THE WISCONSIN STATUTE THAT GRANTS BICYCLISTS THIS RIGHT IS WIS. STAT. §346.80(3)(a).
Ok, there you go. Memorize that statute. Write it down and stick it in with your spare tube or in your jersey pocket. If you really are gung ho, tattoo it on your arm. That way you can reference it when someone pulls along side and tells you that it is the law for bicyclists to ride single file and get out of the way of cars.
For those of you who wish to keep reading, a short story and a little more nuanced review of the law on “2 abreast” will now ensue.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I joined others for a group ride leaving from Pewaukee. Before we set out, two fellow riders told the group about their ride out to Pewaukee. They mentioned how they were riding 2 abreast (I use 2 instead of two because 2 is used in the statute, and it is quicker to type) when a man in a truck pulled up along side them and took issue with the cyclists riding 2 abreast. Those cyclists informed the man that it was their right to ride 2 abreast, and that the driver could easily move around them.
This man disagreed, sped off, and visited the local sheriff to discuss the matter. The man then located us in Pewaukee and pulled into the parking lot where we had gathered. He then informed us that he had talked to the sheriff and the sheriff informed him that cyclists COULD NOT ride 2 abreast. We informed the man that not only was he WRONG, but the sheriff was wrong as well. (Side note, if that sheriff ends up reading this, I am more than happy to come by the office and give a presentation on bicyclists rights in Wisconsin, or if he/she has free time, I suggest picking up Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 346 for a quick and good read). A friendly discussion ensued, but one which was going nowhere because the man had “the law” on his side. So, off we rode, 2 abreast for the next 30 miles or so, and we had a wonderful ride, even with some rain.
So, did the man in the truck have “the law” on his side? Heck no! At least not in the situation described above. But, there are limits written into the statute when riders cannot ride 2 abreast. So, let us take a look at the wording of the statute.
Wis. Stat. §346.80(3)(a)- Persons riding bicycles or electric personal assistive mobility devices upon a roadway may ride 2 abreast if such operation does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic. Bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device operators riding 2 abreast on a 2-lane or more roadway shall ride within a single lane.
(b)- Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than 2 abreast except upon any path, trail, lane, or other way set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles and electric personal assistive mobility devices.
What does the language of the statute give us? 1) Bicyclists may ride 2 abreast on a roadway; 2) Bicyclists can do so if they do not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic; 3) If the roadway has 2 lanes or more, bicyclists shall (must) ride within in a single lane; 4) Bicyclists cannot ride more than 2 abreast unless the path, trail, lane or other way is set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
The third and fourth points do not need much explanation. It is clear that if the roadway has 2 or more lanes, bicyclists shall (meaning “must”) ride within a single lane. It is also clear that if a roadway is set aside exclusively for bicycles, you can ride more than 2 abreast.
The first and second points need slightly more explanation. The law uses the word “may”, which implies at times you can ride 2 abreast, and at other times you cannot. (Of note- 2 abreast means riding “side by side”. If one cyclist is slightly behind and off to the side of another cyclist (not directly behind), then this is not “riding 2 abreast” and Wis. Stat. §346.80 would not apply.)
Whether you can or cannot ride 2 abreast is contingent on whether riding 2 abreast will “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”
Well, what the heck does that mean? Really, it means that “normal and reasonable movement of traffic” can be a defense if you are cited for a violation of this statute (or if you need a defense to a driver who has pulled along side you to have a “friendly” chat). For instance, if a car is behind you for a short time, but the road is so busy the car would not have been able to go any faster if you were not in front, then you are not impeding traffic. You may not be impeding traffic if you just started to move again after a stop sign or red light and have not had sufficient time to get up to speed. Also, if a driver does not have a minimum of 3 feet clearance between the car and the closest cyclist to the car, the driver must wait until he/she can move safely past (meaning wait until he/she has a minimum of 3 feet to move past the closest cyclist), and thus the cyclist(s) is not impeding traffic.
The gist of this post is, it is your legal right to ride 2 abreast in Wisconsin, subject to the limitations in the statute. But, be smart. While you have the right to ride 2 abreast, at times the best (and most courteous) thing to do may be to ride single file, pull or move over and allow cars to pass, or choose a less busy road to travel. I’m not saying you have to, but the best thing is to be safe, and that may require us cyclists giving up our right to ride 2 abreast for a brief moment on a ride to allow a car to pass by so that we may safely continue on with the ride.
I think if cyclists continue to educate drivers about the rules of the road, in a nice and informative way, and continue to be courteous to other vehicle operators, even the most anti-cyclist drivers will come around eventually and be patient, wait until it is safe to pass, and maybe even give us cyclists a waive as the driver goes by, instead of the bird.