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Bicycling in Loudoun County is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, see the roads around Leesburg and get some exercise. While many people ride just for leisure, if you spend time out on the roads around here, then you’ll note that we also have our fair share of competitive bikers. Whether you are cycling just for leisure and want to ride alongside your companion, or you are training for competition and need a pace lane, you should know your rights and obligations as cyclist. Specifically, can you ride 2 abreast—or more—on the roads in Loudoun county?

While there isn’t a perfectly clear answer to this question, information related to bicycling that is provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation, provides some guidance. That information indicates that in general, bicyclists are obligated to “ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway”. This indicates that there is a preference for all cyclists to ride in a single-file line. However, exceptions to this preference are allowed when the bicyclist is passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

In addition, that same information states that, “bicyclists cannot ride more than two or more abreast on highways”, and that when riding two abreast, they cannot impede the flow of traffic. This information seems to indicate that it is generally okay to ride two abreast, even when not passing. However, cyclists should move into single file when another vehicle is approaching from behind. Loudoun County cyclist, triathlete and bicycle crash injury lawyer Doug Landau has seen some unfortunate bike accidents when riders did not keep to the right and when large vehicles were travelling too fast, were distracted or were failing to pay "full time and attention" to their driving.

This rule does not apply when the bicyclists are riding on a bike path or a lane specifically set aside for bikers. These general guidelines are based on Virginia state laws on bicycling.

Other sources, such as Sharing the Road in Virginia, back up these general guidelines, also telling cyclists to: stay as far right as possible, to not ride more than 2-abreast, and to ride single file when moving slower than motor vehicle traffic.

All of this taken together seems to indicate that there is a preference for single-file riding and an out-right ban on riding more than two people side-by-side. Riding two-abreast is definitely permitted when passing, and may be allowed in other circumstances.




  1. Gravatar for Mike

    I guess a better question is, should they? I see so much irresponsible riding on rural roads that it is a wonder someone hasn't been killed in Loudoun. Yes drivers must respect the cyclists but cyclists need to follow the same laws as auto drivers. There was a crackdown last year in Lovettsville because so many riders ignore stop signs.

    Two wide on a rural road is too wide!

  2. Gravatar for Allen Muchnick


    Since you are an actively practicing traffic attorney, I'd expect you to expertly cite and correctly interpret the relevant statutes in the Code of Virginia and not rely primarily on derivative sources, such as the sometimes mistaken "Sharing the Road in Virginia" website.

    Section 46.2-905 of the Code of Virginia

    [ ], which does state that bicyclists "shall ride as close as *safely practicable* [NOT "possible"] to the right curb or edge of the roadway" explicitly permits two-abreast bicycling whenever doing so does not "impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic".

    Moreover, Section 46.2-905 states several explicit conditions when bicycling near the right edge of a roadway is NOT "safely practicable" and thus the stated "far right" requirement does NOT apply.

    These are:

    1) WHENEVER the bicyclist is NOT traveling appreciably slower than "the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing"; e,g., in congested, stopped, or slowing traffic; on slower residential or urban streets; traveling downhill; whenever no motor traffic is present;

    2) "When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction";

    3) "When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway";

    4) "When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right curb or edge";

    5) "When avoiding riding in a lane that must turn or diverge to the right; and

    6) "When riding upon a one-way road or highway, a person may also ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as safely practicable."

    Furthermore, the exception cited under #4 above for a "substandard width lane" is defined as "a lane too narrow for a bicycle...and another vehicle to pass safely side by side within the lane." Since bicyclists, who are about two feet wide, generally need a four-foot wide travel envelope; typical autos are about seven feet wide, including both side mirrors (and SUVs trucks, and buses are even wider); and at least a two or three foot gap should be maintained whenever a bicyclist (or any other vehicle) is overtaken, it is NOT "safely practicable" for a bicyclist and a four-wheeled motor vehicle to travel laterally within any lane narrower than about 14 feet.

    In Virginia and many other states, two-lane rural roadways are typically 20 to 22 feet wide, so the travel lanes in each direction are only 10 or 11 feet wide. Such lanes are clearly not wide enough for a bicyclist to share laterally with an overtaking auto, so bicyclists are entitled to control the entire lane on such roadways, since this is *essential* for the bicyclist's safety.

    According to Section 46.2-905, "persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, shall move into a single file formation as quickly as is practicable when being overtaken from the rear by a faster moving vehicle, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride in a single lane." This statement does require bicyclists to promptly single up on two-lane roadways whenever faster traffic approaches from the rear, but it does NOT require bicyclists to move to the right edge of the roadway or travel lane. Moreover, on roads with two or more travel lanes in each direction, bicyclists may generally ride two-abreast in the right-most travel lane, provided that motorists can readily overtake in one or more same-direction travel lanes on the left.

    You state that you've "seen [sic] some unfortunate bike accidents when riders did not keep to the right." Except when bicyclists are poorly visible from the rear (e.g., poor or no rear lights or reflectors at night, fog, sunlight glare), a bicyclist practicing lane control in the rightmost travel lane of a roadway is at very low risk of being rear-ended by faster traffic. If you have evidence to the contrary, I'd like to know about it.

    Allen Muchnick

    LAB-certified traffic cycling instructor (LCI) # 538

  3. Gravatar for Doug Landau


    I hear what you are saying about the stop signs in Lovettsville, and I do stop by the 7-11 when riding. However, the cyclists who were ticketed during the MS-150 Charity ride present a different set of facts. The officer who appeared to be waving them into the published rest stop on that day should perhaps have been making his point at another location.

    Everyone sharing the road should obey the rules. However, it should be pointed out that cyclsits have more to lose than motorists: cyclist are more likely to sustain serious permanent injuries in crashes with cars than the drivers, and, cyclists can lose their driving privileges if ticketed on their bikes, whereas motorists will not lose their biking privileges if they receive a citation. The Asymmetry here is interesting. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Gravatar for Doug Landau


    Thanks for the direct quote from the Virginia Code.

    As for those I've known to have been hit, you are correct in surmising poor visibility as a culprit. Not everyone wears bright colors like I do, and one cyclist only had a small frog light, no reflectors and no blinking lights in poor sighting conditions.

    Another example involved a very large SUV with those wide sticking out side mirrors that the driver either did not correct for or simply did not know the dimensions of (or lastly, did not care about any bikers on the road !), and clipped the cyclist, knocking him off the road. There are the cars that pull close to the curb, even on wide roads so that cyclists are "pinched off." This is counter productive (not to mention dangerous), as I know many cyclists that will get off their bikes, go to the light for the traffic signals and push the button for everyone going in their direction before getting back on their saddle.

    Safety, courtesy, being aware (and not distracted) are all important considerations for bikers and motorists. "Sharing the road" means sharing responsibility.

  5. Gravatar for Allen Muchnick


    The instances you cite of bicyclists being side-swiped or "pinched to the curb" likely were facilitated by the bicyclist riding too far right on the roadway, rather near the center (or even left of the center) of the rightmost travel lane.

    You are correct that distracted driving is a serious and growing problem, but bicycling near the center of a typical (e.g., 12-foot wide) or narrower non-sharable travel lane is often the best way for bicyclists to make themselves more cognitively visible (i.e., recognized as being relevant) by motorists who are not devoting their full time and attention to the task of driving their vehicle.

    Finally, as I hope you're aware, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles should never assign demerit points to drivers licenses for convictions of violating any traffic law while bicycling. Under Section 46.2-382 of the Code of Virginia [ ] , Virginia courts are only authorized to track and report convictions for violating traffic laws while operating a *motor* vehicle.

    I'd like to know how often, how, and why bicyclists who are convicted of traffic law violations are receiving demerit points, so that such errors--if they are indeed fairly frequent--are permanently prevented by either effective administrative action or legislation.

  6. Gravatar for Doug Landau


    I will contact one of the cyclists that I did not represent, who was in a vulnerable position vis-a-vis points, to see how his situation turned out. (His case was not heard with the others who were cited during the MS Ride.)

    As for "how often," a survey by WABA, Potomac Peddlers & other local bike, touring and triathlon clubs could prove very interesting.

  7. Gravatar for Allen Muchnick


    I plan to follow up on your excellent suggestion to survey Virginia bicyclists on whether they've ever received points on their Virginia drivers license for convictions of violating a traffic law while bicycling. We must document that a real problem exists before pressing for a solution.

    We also need data from the courts on the numbers of Virginia bicyclists cited for, and convicted of, traffic law violations each year. Do you know an efficient way to collect such data?

    An Arlington Police officer recently reported to the Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee that roughly half of the citations they issue to bicyclists are in response to a traffic crash, so the enforcement of bicycling infractions is evidently infrequent, at least in Arlington.


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