How to ride a paceline, and not fall down.

This time of year everyone is getting outside and re-discovering cycling. There are some fundamental skills that caused us to create Cycle University, and this partial outline of our Road 101 curriculum will give you safe fundamentals for your next group ride. Be safe and “Get Ready to Ride!”

Welcome to Road 101: Paceline & Group Riding

Why Ride in a paceline?
-Riding in a paceline is the most efficient way of cycling in a group:
-Riding 3rd wheel or further behind saves up to 30% of your energy. Since you get to rest a little, you can go longer at a faster pace than is possible riding solo.
-Riding in a fast moving group is exhilarating

Before the Ride:
At the beginning of the ride, discuss safety rules for the ride and what the pace/effort level will be on flat roads: For example, “We’ll be riding at 20mph on the flats.”

There are two kinds of group rides:
Rides where people try to rip each other’s legs off
Rides where people work together
We generally do the second kind of ride.

General Group Riding/Paceline Skills
As a general rule, ride 1-2 feet off to one side of the rider in front of you. The exception to this is when riding at higher speeds you will often be directly behind the rider’s rear wheel to maximize draft, but in this case you need to be ready to move to the side if the pace slows down.

Be predictable: Even minor changes in your speed or direction can disrupt the riders behind you or even cause a crash. Maintain the flow of the paceline even if this means riding over small obstacles like sticks or pebbles. If you suddenly swerve it could cause a crash behind you.

Look past the rider in front of you, not at their wheel. Look further ahead in the group to anticipate upcoming obstacles, see condition of road surface or changes in pace.
When in a paceline, move to the left when dropping back, unless the group has agreed to do otherwise.
High Performance Cycling

Pass other riders on the left and call out “Passing” or “On your left.”

When the group passes pedestrians loudly announce: “Bikes passing!”
Stay as close as is comfortable to the rider in front of you, starting with about a bike length.
Posture: Keep you hands near the brakes with arms loose and elbows bent.
Know and use hand signals:
Point down = hole or object.
Pat your butt = moving over away from hazard at body level on that side.
Hand fanning back and forth = glass or gravel.
Hand flat back = slowing/stopping.

Paceline Skills
When you are in front, you are the leader. Anticipate hazards by leading the group away from holes or debris. Ride smoothly with no sudden turns or slowing. Communicate all obstacles you encounter at the front end of the paceline. —

The leader is responsible for everyone behind him. The key is smoothness, as any jerkiness in pace is amplified down the line. Safety is the leader’s #1 priority, and he or she must point and call out hazards. It’s also critical that the leader doesn’t ride in such a way as to inadvertently guide people straight into a hazardous condition on the road.

If possible, the first person in line should swing wide enough of surface irregularities, etc., in order that the following riders have a clear view of what they are approaching.

When you are in the lead, maintain the agreed-upon pace and effort level

When you are done with your pull, look left to make sure it’s clear (this is also your turn signal) then flick your elbow to signal to the next rider that you are done, and pull over to the left about 2 feet, keeping the same pace.

After you are off the front, slow down enough to get to the back of the line.
Last rider in line says “last” to rider dropping back.

Drink and eat while at the BACK of the group, not the front.

If you encounter a hill, keep the momentum of the group as you start the hill. Pull over the top of hills, get the group back up to speed, and then drop back. Do not end your pull at the start of a hill (or other major terrain change), as this will create chaos within the group.

As a general rule, regroup at the tops of hills.

As the second in line assumes the lead role, once again, the key is smoothness. Do not increase the pace. If you do, you may wind up dropping the person who was just on the front providing you a draft. The key is to maintain the effort level (not the speed, which will vary according to wind, road surface and gradient), so that when the ex-leader reaches the rear, he doesn’t have to dig deep to stay in a line that is now going much harder.

There are two ways for a rider to show strength when riding in a paceline, but only one of them will make you a hero. Nobody will thank a rider for stepping on the gas when it’s their turn on the front and dropping half of the group. Everybody should thank a rider who takes a really long pull and maintains the pace that the line has been travelling.

Prior to the start of the ride, agree on the maximum pace/effort level the group will be doing on flat roads.
Don’t sprint or “attack” off of the front (except on hills). If people attack, the following riders have no idea as to what is going on, and don’t know if they should try and catch up or stay put, and this can cause the group to split up.
Not everyone has the same fitness level. Depending on the group and the agreed-upon pace the ride will be easier for some folks and harder for others. To keep the group together we suggest that stronger riders take longer pulls at the agreed-upon pace, rather than increasing the pace.

Ideally everybody equally shares the work on the front, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Other Things to Know

Emphatically signal when you slow down or stop.
We stop at stop signs and lights (especially critical for the riders in the front to do this, so riders in the back don’t feel like they have to blast through so they don’t get dropped). The goal is to demonstrate courtesy and respect for car drivers. This will help cycling’s image, as well as make the ride safer.
Riders at the front should slowly roll away from stops so everyone can come together as a group before the pace is raised.

Riders on the back shouldn’t lollygag, but should catch-up quickly and let the front riders know when the group is together with a call of “all on.”

We announce hill re-groups and try to keep the group together on flats. If we have a large group, we will often break it up so that cars can pass more easily

When a car approaches from the rear yell “car back!” and ride single file until the cars have passed

DO NOT RIDE A BIKE WITH AEROBARS IN A PACELINE. There is no better way to make your riding companions more uncomfortable than to show up to a paceline ride with handlebars that place your hands nowhere near the brakes. Well, maybe if you show up with an iPod plugged into your ears.

The leader should ride about 2-3’ left of the edge of the road, so that following riders can be offset to either side of the leader, as well as have a clear view ahead.

Riders should ride slightly off center behind the rear wheel in front of them. You still get most of the draft, but you can see hazards better, and you get an earlier sense of when the line may be slowing. If all you are staring at is the tire tread in front of you, a rude surprise may occur if the group has to slow without warning.

When the person rotating off of the front is near the rear of the line, it’s helpful if riders will let him know that there are “two more” or call out “last one”.

Efficient Group Riding:
Does the group want to stay together? If so, the pace should be the pace that the “least strong” rider can sustain. Dropping riders and having to re-group slows the whole procession down, as does cracking riders who then must struggle on at lower speeds.

If everyone knows each other, consider discussing roles before the ride starts. The most efficient line would be one where every rider is of roughly equal strength. Failing that, the strongest riders should take the longest pulls, and weaker riders should take short (or no) pulls in line with their relative strength in the group.
Avoid the “slinky” by rolling off of stops and letting the group get back together. Leaders should roll easy until they hear the call “All on” from the back.

After class it is time to go practice! These skills take time, dedication and a willingness to challenge oneself a bit to become proficient. We have described, demonstrated, and coached you on the correct way to perform these skills, now it is up to you.

© Cycle U LLC 2013

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