How to paceline

A few weeks ago, I was doing a road ride with the Wednesday night group. We were rolling down the road with a rotating pace-line. As we got to a slight downhill, I noticed that some riders that I hadn’t seen at the front suddenly hopped into the pace-line – but instead of keeping things smooth, it suddenly got all messed up. Riders were either pulling too hard through the pace-line or riders were pulling up to the front rider, and NOT pulling through.

It was like they got themselves to the front of the group ride and suddenly realized they were in a little over their head, and didn’t know how to get themselves out of it. So, I attempted (in a helpful tone) to get them to move over to the left and allow the rotation to continue again.

I have read several articles that tell you how you are supposed to do a paceline, but I think they all miss the mark for 1 important reason:

The paceline is an ever changing thing, and you have to adapt accordingly.

There isn’t always a proper rotation.
1) The lead rider should gradually pull off the front – no sudden side motions. (also, there is no need to point if you make your movements gradually and steady).

2) The lead rider should pull off into the Headwind.

3) Once the lead rider pulls off the front, they should also gradually and slightly reduce intensity and speed to allow the next rider to pull in front of them and then draft off the next rider (assuming a consistent rotating paceline) – think of it from an over-head view, the cyclists going through the paceline should draw an oval, not a rectangle.

A good video example:

4) If there is no headwind then it doesn’t matter which way the paceline rotates. Sometimes you will pull through and no one will be behind you, and suddenly the pack is single-file with you at the front. You can continue your effort if you like, and wait until someone pulls through allowing you to draft, or you can simply flick your elbow and ease back to the other side of the road, hoping that the rider who is now behind you will pull through. If he does, then the paceline has just switched rotation.

There isn’t always a specific amount of time on the front.
Generally in the U.S. we keep a steady rotating paceline, so as soon as you are at the front, you gradually begin to slide over in front of the next rider – this allows the rider being passed to adjust speed to get into your draft, and it allows the next rider in the paceline to adjust intensity to keep the pace steady.

If your group wants each rider to ride at the front for a longer period of time then the intensity of the effort will have to be your gauge for how long you stay on the front. This should allow the weaker rider to rotate off the front sooner, and the stronger rider to stay on the front longer.

All of these things may change on the fly – and being able to adapt is what is important. And always remember that your actions will cause reactions to those behind you, and visa versa, so be steady and as predictable as possible.
When pacelines run smoothly it is the Faster Cycling way for a group to ride together!

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