On Friday November 10th, the Galway City Tribune reported on a Joint Policing Committee meeting from the previous Monday night.
A portion of this meeting was dedicated to cycling matters.
While it’s hard to gauge the mood of a meeting from a newspaper article, it looks like something more akin to that of a Salem witch-hunt than what one would expect from a Joint Policing Commitee meeting.
Among the topics discussed were,
2 abreast cycling,
The perceived lack of law relating to cyclists &
Cyclists and the rules of the road.
This offers us an insight in to some, all too common, cyclist related, misconceptions and misinformation that may in turn help normalise dangerous driving habits directed towards people who ride bicycles.
I wish to address three of them in this and one further blog.
This first blog is an attempt to address the first point of cycling 2 abreast.
At this meeting, a member of the public asked Chief Superintendent Tom Curley what the law was when it came to cycling. This then led to a direct question about whether cyclists can travel 2 abreast.
“No” replied the divisional Garda Chief, “one”
Chief Curley then went on to say that it was hard enough to pass one bike. “But multiples of 2, you’re definitely risking life and limb passing one or more…”
Another member of the public said that Judge Mary Devins had thrown out a prosecution in Westport District court in connection with a cyclist. This was followed by a quote “It was announced by Judge Devins that we are the only country in Europe which hasn’t a law in place regulating bicycles” (Will deal with this in blog 2)
Another contributor from the floor said that each cyclist should be given a copy of the Rules of the Road from the bike shop in the same way as a motorist has to know them to get a licence. (Will deal with this also in blog 2)
Cycling 2 abreast
Let’s first of all clarify what the law states regarding cycling 2 abreast, what it means, why people might get annoyed by it and lastly why riders sometimes ride this way.
(To be fair to the article writer, Denise McCormack, she fact checked the superintendent’s statement saying that it would appear to be at odds with the Statute Book).
SI No. 182 of 1997, s. 47 – (1)] this states:
47. (1) A pedal cyclist shall not drive a pedal cycle on a roadway in such a manner as to result in more than two pedal cyclists driving abreast, save when overtaking other pedal cyclists, and then only if to do so will not endanger, inconvenience or obstruct other traffic or pedestrians.
(2) Pedal cyclists on a roadway shall cycle in single file when overtaking other traffic.
My understanding of this is that cyclists are therefore permitted to cycle two-abreast. (Indeed it could be argued that cyclists could actually momentarily be 3 abreast in the event of a single cyclist overtaking 2 cyclists riding side by side). However when they come up to parked vehicles for example or to overtake other cyclists they must revert to single-file until past the obstruction.
This means cycles are perfectly legal to cycle side by side on all roads (apart from motorways) in Ireland. At times common sense will mean that riders should fall in to single file to allow cars access on some roads and situations and to allow following vehicles to overtake when conditions are safe to do so.
If someone in the cycling group hears a car from behind, a simple call can be used to get the other riders to slip into single file, when it is safe to do so..
Why do some drivers allow themselves to get frustrated and angry?
Without wanting to delve into the minds of the motoring public here are some of the possible reasons:
They think it’s illegal
They think it’s harder to overtake
They think it’s dangerous in general
They think it means cyclists are not paying attention to the road
So why do cyclists cycle two abreast?
There are many reasons why cyclists choose to cycle two abreast so I’ll give you the reasons that I know of.
Simply put, it’s safer for cyclists to ride two abreast, it means that drivers usually have to overtake properly rather than skimming past the rider in the same lane. If a group of cyclists are in single file, motorists will often assume they can overtake in places which are not safe and will not leave the cyclist enough room. Drivers of motor vehicles should give cyclists 1.5 metres when overtaking according to our rules of the road (page 53).
This means they probably should at least wildly straddle the median line or be on the other side of the road, to do this safely means they would to wait until there are no oncoming cars. Being in double file forces this scenario.
Another safety reason is that of increased visibility.
Two riders side by side can be seen much further away and will look like a bigger vehicle. This is even more evident when running flashing rear lights, so to catch the eye of the approaching drivers. Two abreast in this situation will aide the driver in seeing slower moving objects in front and giving the driver more time to prepare to safely overtake, timing his approach with vehicles approaching on the opposite side of the road, or allowing the vehicle time to move into the adjacent lane.
It allows motorists to overtake quickly.
This is a clip that the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign shot with Wexford Co Co, explaining one of the reasons why it can be quicker and safer to overtake a bunch of cyclists riding 2 abreast.
Riding two abreast also allows the motorist to overtake the group of cyclists quicker as the line is only about half as long. This allows the vehicle to pass the group in just over half the time (giving for moving in and out to the correct location on the road). A good over take is safer for everyone, the other vehicles on the road, the driver and their passengers and all the riders on the road in the group.
It’s also a social activity, so why should cyclists not enjoy the ride?
Cyclists that ride like this are usually training, participating in an organised activity (charity rides etc.), keeping fit or just out having fun with friends. The rides can be from a few kilometres to an all-day event, so it makes it much more enjoyable ride if you want to have a chat, it moves along the hours and the road under the bikes. Most cyclists prefer to have someone to chat with but this does not mean that they are not riding safely, most car drivers will talk to their passengers and this is not regarded as unsafe driving.
But what about..?!!
The issue of 2 abreast cycling is one of the most misunderstood rules in relation to cycling. Over on our Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 Facebook page, this is one of the most hotly discussed topics.
With good reason too I believe…
This is a subject matter that is at best, glanced over as part of the driving test, so knowledge of its existence in the first place outside of those who cycle seems scant.
A section of the 2013 RSA video entitled ‘cyclists – we all share the road’ covered this topic advising road users that riders may travel 2 abreast but this is a point missed by the chief superintendent.
“When overtaking large groups, take particular care, as they may travel 2 abreast.”
(Full video available at link below)
I’m a relative newbie to cycling and to be honest, I understood very little about it prior to this. Indeed it is only when you begin group riding that you realise how important cycling 2 abreast can be as a safety measure.
In the context of the report from the Tribune, what is being referred to are groups of cyclists riding on rural roads.
Rural roads have accounted for close to 75% of cyclist fatalities for the years 2016 and 2017 (to date) combined, with 16 riders out of a total of 22 killed rurally.
Since Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 came in to existence around 4 and a half years ago, we have shared media reports of 44 bicycle rider fatalities.
From their associated media reports, NONE of these riders were cycling 2 abreast at the time; they have mostly been lone riders or riding single file at the time.
In relation to the chief superintendent’s comment, of life and limb being risked in overtaking one or more people on bicycles, well it’s certainly not the life and limb of the driver..
We also get many video clips sent in to us of near misses from dangerous overtaking maneuvers. Again the overwhelming vast majority of these are of single file or lone cyclists.
This leads us to the uncomfortable question: If some drivers get annoyed at cycling 2 abreast so much, then why are they also not content and take such chances when pedal cyclists are in single file ?
(as in this clip…)
The Unintended consequence of misinformation.
When we hear misinformation from a garda Chief superintendent, we need to be aware of the unintended consequences of making such a claim.
This is best borne out by a comment made on our Facebook page on this matter.
“This goes far beyond the ignorance and incompetence of a Garda Chief Superintendent… Does this mean that Gardai in his region will now hassle cyclists on group outings while legally cycling two abreast? More worrying… Is this going to result in misinformed drivers executing punishment passes on cyclist cycling two abreast believing the cyclists are “breaking the law” and deserve to be taught a lesson”
We are not alone..
Of course like many such matters, we are not alone in this. Across the pond in the UK, over half of 2,000 drivers questioned recently by Confused.com (54 per cent) said that cyclists riding side by side along country lanes is the most annoying thing about rural driving. The survey found that this entirely legal activity narrowly edged out drivers speeding dangerously (53 per cent) as the top annoyance, followed by dangerous overtaking (48 per cent).
This might indeed give us some insight into the plight of the much maligned rural road MAMIL (middle aged men in Lycra) or MAWIL (middle aged women in Lycra).
To think that DRIVERS, from the safety offered by a ton and a half of metal and all of its safety features are finding the prevalence of speeding and dangerous overtaking as being the most annoying on rural roads really says a lot about driver behaviour.
Now let’s imagine what this feels like from behind the vulnerable position a bicycle rider finds him/herself from behind the handlebars.
Many of you reading this of course, will not have to imagine it; You’ve already experienced it.
In fact, a survey that the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign conducted with the Dublin Cycling Campaign last year, revealed that indeed 97% of respondents had experienced it.
Being overtaken too closely and at speed is one of the most unnerving near misses that a bicycle rider can be on the receiving end of.
Is it really any wonder why a bicycle rider might do all that they can to increase their safety and lessen the risk of a life changing injury…or worse..
But what about the cyclists?
Firstly it’s important to realise that bicycle riders are not collectively responsible for each other.
There may be riders who are not as adept at riding 2 abreast and keeping to a nice steady and tidy bunch as others might be.
It is not uncommon to hear experienced riders commenting on other random groups who are not as ‘tidy’ on the road as they themselves might be and there’s no harsher critic than other riders who themselves have taken the time to learn the craft of group riding.
At times singling out allows all road users move better together but a rider should remain aware that singling out on a narrow road might invite dangerous overtaking.
Cycling Ireland is the governing body of cycling in Ireland, and promotes Road Racing, Touring & Leisure Cycling, Track Racing, Off-road Racing, Cycling for the Disabled.
They have seen a dramatic increase in membership over the last few years and now has around 30,000 members. Such is the popularity of cycling however, that there are many more who are not members of Cycling Ireland or any cycling club for that matter and they may not have had the benefit of instruction from more experienced riders or access to some of Cycling Ireland tutorials or documents in relation to group riding.
Indeed some registered clubs themselves can seem a bit scattered sometimes and perhaps we need to have a conversation around mandating 2-4 Cycling Ireland on road instructors as part of a club’s membership. Maybe we need to clarify exactly what Cycling 2 abreast means to those who don’t cycle. We often hear of cyclists being 4/5 abreast on roads that are simply too narrow for this amount to fit but it can look that way when viewed at different angles.
2 abreast means handlebar to handlebar.
Then maybe we need to clarify this further.
In Australia for example, 2 abreast is allowed and is defined as being no more than 1.5metres apart.
Cycling Ireland guidance.
This paragraph contains an excerpt from Cycling Ireland’s go-to document that deals with group riding: (full document link attached).
“Cyclists should NEVER cycle more than two abreast on the public roads and should always be prepared to single out to facilitate the flow of traffic and other road users while remaining aware that singling out on a narrow road might invite dangerous overtaking.
Limit the group, consider keeping the group to 20 riders of similar standard. Larger group sizes may make it difficult for other road users to safely pass.
As part of a large group on the road, cyclists should always be ready to split into smaller groups of 6 to 8 riders, with approximately one hundred metres between sub groups, to facilitate overtaking traffic.
Cyclists should be conscious that leaving large spaces between riders to the side or in front is frustrating for following traffic as the length of the group is widened and lengthened – one metre to the side and fifty centimetres to the front are good working measures.
Cyclists should also be conscious of organising group spins at times and on routes that will not inconvenience other road users unduly (e.g. rush hour).”
Ultimately though, the decision as to whether to ride single or double needs to rest with the riders themselves, because they alone have a full understanding of the situation. They alone can properly assess the danger posed by the condition of the road ahead, or the debris or the upcoming traffic island that would prevent a car from passing safely.
Yes, sometimes riding two abreast is used as a signal to drivers that they need to change lanes completely to pass, or that it is not safe at all to pass at that point. But more generally, riding two abreast makes drivers more likely to notice the riders in front of them, and from further away.
If there are issues around this, then they are best left to the Gardaí (hopefully an informed one) rather than taking misconceptions out on the road where one pot-hole or a momentary distraction can lead to an unthinkable outcome.
Most riders will be courteous to drivers behind. Nobody wants to annoy a person operating a potential deadly weapon, any more than they have to. The notion that some drivers harbour of riders going out of their way to cause this annoyance is nonsensical. The vast majority of adult riders (around 90%) are also drivers and ‘get’ what it’s like to be held up behind slower moving traffic and as soon as a safe opportunity presents itself will single out. This may not happen when the driver feels it should but for the riders, their safety is paramount.
There will be many other instances where a driver’s journey can be inhibited but for some reason these don’t seem to create the same angst as ‘Lycra clad cyclists’ do.
This was recently summerised in a comment section on a UK local paper by D. Gordon from Ormskirk…
I trust that they will inform everyone each time they suffer a temporary delay.
Heaven forbid, they get stuck behind a jodhpur – clad horse rider, or some hi-viz clad bin men or an overall clad farmer in a tractor or a white and red clad level crossing.
Or a fur clad dog being lead across a zebra crossing, a chino clad Sunday driver dawdling down a country lane or indeed a beige clad pensioned confused at a busy junction.
Or a leather clad teenager on a 50cc scooter, or school uniform clad children crossing the road with a lollipop lady.
Or the handcuff clad driver being arrested after crashing into a lamppost. Suit clad office workers rubber necking at a motorway pile up.
Or the paramedic tending to the Lycra clad mother of two still in the road having been knocked down by a reckless car driver with a dangerous attitude towards other human beings because of their choice of transport or recreation.
We in Ireland need to get rid of this notion that a small minority of drivers have, that they can simply pass at will. There are times when this is not a safe thing to do and I believe that we have got to stop trading off one road user’s safety for time savings of others, if we are serious about reducing our increasing cyclist fatality road toll.
Let’s look out for each other.
We all have loved ones to get home to.