What is a Paceline?
A pace line is a group of riders who trade off the lead to share the effort of riding in front so that the other riders can rest in the draft that is created. Some of the benefits of a paceline are safety, efficiency, and speed. By working together in a paceline, the person in the front works the hardest while everyone else can recover but not lose speed. By rotating out the front position, you can share the effort as a team and as a result move together at a faster pace, with lower effort, than you would otherwise individually. The person in the front is often described as “pulling” the group. As you learn to feel the draft and understand what you’re feeling this will make much more sense. The cyclists greatest enemy is the air, even when not windy as you move at speed you need to push all the air out of your way. This slows you down significantly. In a paceline, only the person pulling feel the full force of pushing the air away. Others behind him can benefit from the leaders effort.
Pacelines that lack discipline can be a least annoying and at most extremely dangerous.
If the rider in front of you is predictable, then you are in a good position to understand what is about to happen.
Constant Energy Output
Riding the paceline is not about constant speed; it is about relatively constant energy output. Using constant pedal pressure is an effective way to produce constant energy output. Riders put out more energy uphill than downhill, and leaders work harder than others in the paceline. Non-leaders work less, so that they have energy to “pull”. Overall, the group goal is uniform intensity, moving as one, without undue speed variations in the paceline. As you are approaching the front of the paceline, take a mental note of how fast you are pedaling and then maintain the same cadence after the rider in front of you pulls off. There’s an implied contract with the group that you are the caretaker of the group’s speed when you come to the front. Fast and slow riders alike should pay particular attention to detail here.
Safe and Smooth Paceline
Best behavior in the paceline is to maintain a constant distance between you and the rider in front of you. Make all your speed changes and moves smoothly, so that you are easy to follow. Pay attention and think about your effect on the group. Constant pedal pressure helps to maintain a steady speed and makes it easier for other riders to pace with you. Steady pedal pressure at a higher cadence is efficient, stable, and allows you to be more responsive to group speed changes that may occur. If you are drafting so well that you need to “feather” your brakes for long stretches, you may want to stop pedaling to let the rider behind you know that you are not putting energy into the pedals. Random speed changes have an “accordion-effect” that that is disruptive to the paceline. Unnecessary side-to-side weaving is disruptive to the paceline. Movements either by random braking or sudden movements to the left or right are detrimental to group interaction and can lead to crashes. Don’t be the reason several of your friends need their collarbones surgically set!!
Distance to Rider in Front
A tighter paceline is a lot more efficient. The distance between the rear wheel of the rider in front of you and your front wheel depends on trust and experience. If you are inexperienced and don’t know the rider in front of you, stay within 2-5 feet of the wheel in front of you. This distance can be 1-2 feet if you trust the movements of the rider in front of you. If you and all the riders around you are very trustworthy and experienced, that distance can shrink to 6 inches, maybe less. Once the distance is established, it is best to maintain it by watching the front hub area of the rider in front of you. When doing this, you can see earlier the path the lead rider is taking as well as potential obstacles. For safety on fast descents, the distance can grow to a couple of bike lengths. In most situations, if you are two or more bike lengths back, you will not be in the draft.
- The leader decides what happens – for better or for worse.
- Maintain a relatively even pace.
- Give visual and/or verbal signals regarding road hazards.
- Pull on descent. On descent the front rider should still maintain moderate pedal pressure. If he doesn’t, then the riders behind will be using their brakes too much.
- In a single paceline, the leader pulls off to the left.
- Short pulls. Pull to the top of the first hill.
- If you are tired when you come to the front, do not pull. Rotate to the back of the paceline. This is the best behavior for the group. Pulling when tired risks slowing the group. Save your energy – stay with the group and don’t get dropped.
- Look ahead; pay attention; if you must brake at all, brake gently.
- Stay in sync with the person immediately ahead of you.
- Maintain a straight line while riding in close quarters.
- Remain attentive to what’s going on, even in “safe” situations. Pacelining requires constant focus.
- Make others aware of individual / mechanical problems with verbal signals.
- Ride on the brake lever hoods for best and quickest control, unless you are in the lead.
- NOT use heavy braking unless you are slowing or stopping for traffic or traffic controls – then alert riders with voice and/or hand signals.
- NOT make sudden movements either by random braking or sudden movements to the left or right.
- NOT make random speed changes while participating in the paceline
- NOT overlap the wheel of riders in front of you. Wheel contact in this situation will often cause you to crash.
- NOT EVER ride on aerobars in the paceline
- NOT zone out while staring at the wheel in front of you. Look up every few seconds and look at what’s happening 20 or 30 feet ahead.
- NOT let your bike kick backward when you stand. Do a couple of progressively harder strokes right before you get out of the saddle, then an even harder stroke as you stand. It takes considerable concentration to stand without letting the bike kick backward. When exhausted, rookies and veterans alike have a tendency allow their bike to kick back. The rider in front of you who stands well early in the ride may not stand well later in the ride. Especially if you are tired, you should say “Standing” just prior to standing – not during or after.
The paceline works best with trust, tight discipline, and cooperation. At higher speeds, these elements become even more important, as do riding basics. Riding the paceline is a learned skill, because it involves the good of the group, which is not intuitively obvious to all individuals. The individual naturally thinks of himself. When you are riding at your limits, please do not forget the importance of working with the group, for your benefit and for the benefit of others. The majority of paceline rides work best if conducted like a team time trial, keeping the group together at a higher speed. There is often an explicit or implicit agreement that the ride becomes a race in the latter stages.
By convention, the ride host specifies the course, start time, and start place. The host also specifies the pace and general rules; the rules may be tightly or loosely defined. The host may also make requests during the ride, in the manner of a director or coach. Examples of requests:
- Riders off the back – wait and re-group
- Leader – give us momentum into this next hill
- Pick up the pace
The paceline achieves higher speeds due to group efficiency through teamwork. Individuals should be concerned about group efficiency as a means to speed. This efficiency is achieved when individuals are consistent and predictable. The individual needs to make sure that all other riders (sometimes to their own detriment) are able to ride in an accordion-effect free paceline. Constant pedal pressure, constant distance to the rider in front, and straight riding enforce this concept. Small actions like short pulls, coming off when favorable to the next rider, no accelerating around corners, and not attacking hills, reinforce this concept.
Consistent Distance to Rider in Front
Use pedal pressure modulation to maintain a consistent distance to the rider in front and minimize using your brakes. Feather your brakes if you need to. Sometimes you may need to feather your brakes while pedaling at the same time in order to maintain a consistent distance. While this is not efficient for the individual, it is more efficient for the group as a whole. The paceline is about using the efficiency of the group for the benefit of all individuals. This type of teamwork sometimes requires small sacrifices of individual energy. Stay directly behind the wheel in front of you. Do not swerve from side-to-side to prevent wheel overlap; it makes it hard for rider behind you.
Last in Paceline
If you are the last rider in the paceline, when the rider who has just pulled off the front drifts back, say that you are “Last Rider”. If he is especially spent, this may help him take his place behind you.
The paceline is subject to the accordion-effect when individuals are not behaving smoothly in the paceline. The longer the paceline, the more pronounced is the accordion-effect.
All gaps begin as little gaps. When a gap occurs, everyone behind the gap is subjected to the accordion-effect. When gaps are frequent, the riders in the back must do extra work to stay with the paceline rather than resting.
When gaps form, strong riders need to fill gaps to preserve the flow. If a gap opens in front of you or a rider in front of you, accelerate smoothly and slowly to close it if you are able. Do not “attack” to close a gap, as this makes it harder for the riders behind you.
If you hit a hill and can’t climb with the group, stay in line and say “Gap.” This is an invitation to the riders behind you to pass you on your left. Peeling off to the left is risky here, since riders behind you may already be moving up to pass you.