Bunch Riding On Australian Roads Is Illegal

In 2009 the Editor, Jenni Gormley, of the Push On cycle website (sponsored by Bicycle NSW) published the following four risk management articles written by Philip Johnston, President of Muggaccinos BUG which has conducted a >100km hilly endurance road ride each Sunday for 16 years, where ride participants do not Bunch Ride: 

1.       Change road rules to enable increased cycling

2.       RTA Handbook contradicts NSW Road Rules

3.      “Is riding in a bunch illegal?”.

      4.       Don't risk losing your house!

Each of the above articles challenges the norm.  No one ever disputed the facts asserted, or recommendations made, therein.

Philip Johnston, in his third article, Is riding in a bunch illegal?, hypothesised that Bunch Riding is illegal under NSW Road Rules 2008 because a bicycle is a vehicle, and Bunch Riders generally do not provide sufficient distance behind the rear wheel of the bicycle directly in front to ensure that the cyclist behind can, if necessary, stop, or divert its path safely, to avoid a collision with the bicycle(s) ahead, thereby in patent breach of Regulation 126 “Keeping a safe distance behind vehicles” of the NSW Road Rules 2008, as explained hereunder:

  • Regulation 15 of NSW Road Rules 2008 “What is a vehicle” states that a bicycle is a vehicle.

  • Regulation 17 of NSW Road Rules 2008 “Who is a rider” states that a rider is the person who is riding 'inter alia' a bicycle which is a vehicle.

  • Regulation 19 “References to driver includes rider etc” outlines that in the context of the road rules reference to drivers includes riders unless otherwise expressly stated.

  • Regulation 126 “Keeping a safe distance behind vehicles” notes that  “A driver (includes a rider) must drive a sufficient distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of the driver so the driver can, if necessary, stop safely to avoid a collision with the vehicle.”

Section 4 “Crash Avoidance Space” of the RTA Road User Handbook stipulates a Three Second Rule in order to pull up a vehicle: “A total of three seconds crash avoidance space is needed to respond to a situation in front of you.”  At 35kph this equates to approximately 29m. for a motor vehicle which enjoys up to 3 times the Coefficient Of Friction than a road bicycle, as the motor vehicle has -

a)         tyres that are approx 6 times as wide as a 23mm (mode) road bicycle tyre; and

b)         materially more efficient disc brakes than narrow, small single pivot side-pull calliper rim brakes.

Due to a road bicycle's inferior braking equipment (small calliper brake pads pressing against narrow light wheel rims) which materially diminishes the Coefficient Of Friction and because a bicycle is “top heavy” at any given speed, a bicycle needs multiples of the braking distance than the average motor vehicle.  With its short wheelbase and high centre of gravity, a bicycle becomes unstable above a breaking speed of 0.6g (on a level road), and is likely to send its rider over the handlebars.  Hence, a bicycle will require over twice the “Distance To Brake to Stop” than the average motor vehicle.   See High Speed Bicycling and Sight Distance.

Under wet conditions, bicycle braking capability is greatly reduced, and operating space requirement is increased even further.

Sub-clause (1) or (2) of Regulation 151 "Riding a motor bike or bicycle alongside more than 1 other rider" limit the number of cyclists that may ride side-by-side to two cyclists riding abreast.

Regulation 255 “Riding too close to the rear of a motor vehicle”, notes “the rider of a bicycle must not ride within 2 metres of the rear of a moving motor vehicle continuously for more than 200 metres.”

There does not seem to be any regulation which notes a minimum distance that a rider must ride behind another bicycle having regard to the Eight Bicycle Variables To Stop which permits cyclists to Bunch Ride.