view from in a paceline

While a flowing paceline looks like a lot of fun, you can’t just jump in and go for it. Riding in a paceline successfully requires multiple skills and constant alertness; if you’re not ready for it, you’ll endanger yourself and others.

But it is doable with some practice and these tips (which should be considered rules not meant to be broken.)

Here’s what you need to know to successfully ride in a paceline:

1. Stay Close

The purpose of a paceline is to conserve energy by drafting. Riders in the draft will expend around 15-20% less energy than the rider at the front.

But to make use of this benefit, you have to ride close to the wheel in front of you! Ideally you want to stay within 12″ of the wheel in front of you. (Experienced riders may even ride about 4″ off the wheel in front of them!)

The goal is to consistently stay close to the wheel in front of you for the whole ride. Whatever you do, don’t let gaps open up. If there is a paceline where everyone is 6″ from each other, and you are only comfortable sitting about 24″ behind someone, you are bound to let gaps open and screw up the rhythm.

At best, you’ll get yelled at. At worst, you’ll cause a crash as riders try to pass you.

So make sure you are ready to ‘stay close’ if you are entering a paceline.

2. Hold Your Line

The second thing to do to ride consistently and predictably is to hold your line. Not only do you have to worry about the distance between you and the rider in front of you, you need to follow the same line.

You can’t just weave side to side and have a jolly good time. You need to pick a line and stick to it. Typically the paceline will ride parallel to the white line on the shoulder of the road, keeping perhaps 6″ to the left of it at all times.

Of course, during turns and when avoiding obstacles, that line will change. The key is to take the same line as the rest of the group.

Where this can really cause problems is in a turn. See, even if you have a single paceline, chances are you have some riders riding side-by-side at any given time. (And if it’s a race situation, there will be riders completely surrounding you.)

Obviously, if there is a rider to your left or right, you can’t use an outside-inside-outside line around a turn. You need to stick to your outside, middle, or inside curve or you’ll take someone down and probably get run over.

3. Don’t Overlap Wheels

If you’re following the first two rules, overlapping wheels should be a non-issue, but it’s so dangerous I have to mention it. Never overlap wheels!

Here’s what happens: You start riding a few inches to the left of the person in front of you to get a better view of the action up ahead. Your mind gets sidetracked, and next thing you know, your front wheel is overlapping the wheel ahead of you.

Everything is fine until the rider in front of you swerves just slightly to avoid a piece of gravel. In doing so, his rear wheel nicked your front wheel, twisting your handlebars and sending you to the pavement.

While the rider in front of you is partially to blame for his erratic riding, you could have avoided the spill had you not overlapped wheels!

4. No Sudden Movements

Another thing you never want to do in a paceline is make a sudden movement. With riders so close, it doesn’t take much of a movement to wreak havoc.

For example, don’t swerve at the last second. If you didn’t see the pot hole until it was too late, your safest option is to ride through it. Swerving around it is bound to take you or the other riders down.

Also, hard braking would be considered a sudden movement. If you need to slow down, slow down gradually. In most cases, sitting upright to catch more wind and feathering the brakes slightly is enough to slow down.

Even standing up is a sudden movement if you don’t think it through. When standing, you need to stand at the same time as you are powering through the front of a pedal stroke. Otherwise your bike will actually drift back underneath you a few inches, possibly hitting the rider behind you.

5. Communicate

Finally, communication. Even if everyone in the paceline follows the other rules and rides excellently, if you don’t communicate, you’ll have problems!

You need to use your voice and hand signals to relay information to all the riders in the paceline. If there are obstacles ahead, cars behind you, it’s time to slow down, etc., you need to communicate that to everyone else.

(Signals vary between groups so check on that before joining a new group ride.)

Now go practice, and when you’re ready, get in a paceline!

Photo Credit: Frank Shapiro

2 Comments
  1. Hello Levi, your blog content is very valuable. I forward some of them to friends. Good one on pace line today especially the action steps to ride it effectively!

    Have not jumped to running in the slippers yet, just Five Fingers for now 🙂

  2. Glad you could stop by Wayne! Thanks for the feedback.

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