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Paceline Guide

Paceline Guide

Riding in a paceline is an act of shared trust.  With multiple cylists all riding inches from each other, one mistake can take the entire group down.

When carried out properly, a paceline is an effective tool for a group ride: It enables cyclists to share the work of pushing through the wind. When performed poorly, the formation becomes counterproductive.

KEEP THE PACE: The number one mistake riders make is picking up speed when they get to the front. As you’re riding through the line, pay attention to the group’s average speed and effort. When you get to the front, do your best to maintain those levels. The goal is to keep the pack together, not blow it apart or shell riders off the back.

SIGNAL WHEN LEAVING THE FRONT: This alerts the next rider and allows him or her to move up smoothly.

SIGNAL BEFORE STANDING: Your bike will slow in the transition, making it appear to move rearward toward the following rider’s front wheel.

MICROADJUST: It’s nearly impossible for everyone to put forth equal amounts of effort, especially on undulating terrain.  Make adjustments  to prevent the Slinkyeffect, where the line alternately bunches together and becomes strung out, with big gaps.  To do that in a paceline, try one of these techniques:

  • Soft pedal: If you feel like you’re getting sucked into the rider in front of you, take a light pedal stroke or two to adjust your speed accordingly.
  • Air brake: An easy (and safe) way to trim speed is to sit up and catch some wind. It’ll slow you down a notch without disrupting the rhythm of the line.
  • Feather brake: Gently squeeze the brakes while continuing to pedal. You can scrub speed while shifting up or down as needed to alter your pace.
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DON’T STARE: Focusing on the wheel directly in front of you is a natural instinct when riding in a line, but it gives you zero time to react should something go awry. Keep your head up and check about 10 meters down the road.

KEEP AN EYE AND EAR TUNED FOR TROUBLE: Look through holes in the leading rider—over his shoulder, under his arm or through his legs—and ride proactively instead of reactively. This will help keep the line moving smoothly.

MAKE ALLOWANCES FOR REGROUPING: The paceline can get broken up by traffic, traffic lights. Soft pedal in the lead group to allow riders gapped to rejoin.

DON’T RIDE ON AN AERO BAR IN A GROUP OR PACELINE: This means even when you are at the front of the group.  When using your aero bars, you are basically steering with your elbows and have a lot less control.  In addition, it takes longer to react and brake (there’s a reason you don’t see any aero bars in the peleton).  Instead, keep your hands on the brake lever hoods or the handlebar drops.

DON’T MAKE SUDDEN MOVES: Nothing bothers other riders in a paceline or group more than a uneven rider.  This includes movement side to side, and sudden changes in speed.  Your riding should be as steady, fluid and predictable as possible.

DON’T LET GAPS FORM: Once you lose contact with the person in front of your wheel, you are going to have to waste substantial energy catching up, or maybe face not catching up at all.  Stay focused in the paceline.  This means pay attention at all times and, and keep constant, close distance with the wheel in front of you. Once you see a small gap opening, spend some extra energy closing it before it becomes a problem.

DON’T OVERLAP WHEELS: Touching wheels is the number one cause of crashes in a pack.  Worse yet, it’s the person who has their front wheel touched that is almost always guaranteed to go down.  Protect your front wheel at all costs.  Never give the person in front of you the opportunity to swerve and take out your front wheel.

NO ROCKET STARTS: Rather than accelerating when you pull, try to ride in the line at a steady pace and decelerate as you pull off and drift to the back. This provides the right work-to-recovery ratio without all the punchy surges that tend to blow the weaker riders off the back.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE: Pacelines are designed to share the workload, so limit your pulls to a few minutes to stay fresh and give other riders a chance.

CONSERVE ENERGY If you feel tired, sit out a few turns until you’re ready to take another pull. Simply open a spot for riders to rejoin the line in front of you, or come to the front and immediately pull off and drift to the back.

Adapted from Bicycling Magazine and other online sources

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