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Understanding Pace Line Cycling; a few How To and Where to Be Tips for Cycling with an Advanced Group!


October 2016

I had a very interesting scenario unfold last night at the club ride that was the impetus for this post.

An older woman who has been a cyclist for some time and is currently the stoker on my buddy, Brad’s tandem (and a good one at that), rode with us last night for the final club ride of the season.  With her years of experience and riding with Brad on the tandem, I expected that she’d fit right in.

My expectations were clearly too high.

She was all over the place.  Hanging out in the wind half the time, to the left side, to the right side… trying to horn in on someone else’s draft when she started tiring out…  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Now, it gets better because I ride a lot with Brad… she slid over next to me and started carrying on a conversation (we were in a single file pace line).  As she starts to tire out, she began crowding me out of my spot in the pace line.  Befuddled (and with plenty of gas in my tank), I opened up a gap and said there you are, if you want my spot so bad, take it.

I stayed away from her the rest of the time she was with us, which wasn’t very long the way she was riding….

Being me, I want everyone to fit into the group.  I want to be welcoming, as others were with me, and to be accommodating wherever possible.  That makes my pet peeve, having someone in the group who doesn’t understand how they fit into a group, a little difficult.  It’s a struggle, though I’m glad to have the problems I do.  Everyone should be so lucky.

In any event, before I get into this simple post, please allow me the dalliance of an explanation:  I am not talking about the old ladies’ no-drop 14 mph average ride here.  We’re talking about the big boy and girl “you’d better keep up or we’ll see you later” ride.

With that out of the way, something occurred to me before I was able to get upset about the way things were unfolding:  The woman in question was used to riding with the 15-16 mph average C group, where hanging out side-by-side is not a big deal.  With the 22 mph average B crew, especially when you’re jumping up a group, there’s simply no room for that – even I have to be careful to pick and choose when I want to ride up alongside someone for a chat.  Too long doing that and I’d drop too – which is exactly what happened to the subject of this post.  She was off the back within ten miles, and we didn’t wait for her (my wife went back and rode her to the parking lot, but even my wife noticed small issues, like she was often on the wrong side of the wind to get a good draft).

When I see people riding like this, I assume there are others, and unlike the government, I actually am here to help.  If you’re new to a group, try these simple suggestions (oh, and just because I call them suggestions, it doesn’t mean you should choose to be a punk and ignore them…  When you jump out of an airplane they “suggest” you pull the ripcord before you hit the ground.  Go ahead and try to cheat that one):

The first lesson of cycling club is:  Do as the others in cycling club do.  If you see a perfectly smooth line of cyclists executing a perfect pace line, don’t try to show everyone how awesome you are by riding next to someone else.  Get in the pace line and wait until there’s a break and others sit up.  You won’t look awesome as you’re fading off the back over the horizon, so don’t try to be cute.

The second lesson of cycling club is:  Don’t ever, if you’re in a double pace line, ride in the middle of the two lines.  The only exception is if there is an odd number of cyclists and you’re the last one in line.  As soon as the two at the front come back, either make a gap for them if you’re too weak to pull through or pick a side.  If you try to stay in the middle with cyclists behind you, you will hear about it and it won’t be pretty.  Expect lots of cussing and talk about the social status of your mother.  And know this; You deserve it.


The third lesson of cycling club is:  The goal is to make it to the finish line with the group.  If you’re struggling to hang on, stay at the back and out of the way so the others can work.

The fourth lesson of cycling club is:  Be someone the others want to have around.  Be selfless as you can without getting yourself dropped.  Ride well and be considerate of those riding with you…. this is the best way to not only be invited back to ride with the group on the scheduled night, it’s the best way to get yourself invited to the weekend rides as well.


The fifth lesson of cycling club is:  Don’t try to pull too long at the front when you do pull through.  If you’ve paid attention to the first four lessons, the group will want you to ride with them.  You do no good off the back and on your own.  We were all once where you are, just doing your best, struggling to hold on.  We know for a fact that your time up front will improve as the months roll on, so be smart about it…  Ten, twenty or thirty seconds up front is plenty for noobs.

These tips are all for advanced pace lines.  When you’re in the no-drop rides, they’re social events.  When you’re in the advanced rides, the socializing happens before and after – and between hyperventilating breaths while your out on the road, whilst (and at the same time) trying to keep from getting your tongue wrapped up in your spokes.  Don’t try to do too much, just your part will do nicely.

This has been a cycling public service announcement brought to you by Fit Recovery.


  1. Archetype says:

    Very good insight and info Jim. I have witnessed this in many a 18-20 mph B group type rides myself. (can’t claim to be riding in the 22+ avg group!)
    But for me, it ALL goes back, or stems from the LACK of skills that most cyclists have/implement or have NOT been taught. Even at high speeds, there are those who are just all over the place. I think because most have ridden a bike when they were kids/younger, etc, there is an inherent belief that it’s just riding a hard can it be? Well…plenty hard in fact!

    Again, I will get on my soapbox. Most shops, mechanics, coaches, pro’s, ex-pro’s and so-called experts rarely if ever tough upon the handling-awareness skills that are mission critical to riding. The thee most important, number ONE skill is being able to ‘handle’ your bike. Meaning;
    Implementing Situational Awareness and executing Visual Perception at any given velocity (time/speed/direction)

    The emphases IS on aerobic fitness. Pedaling style. Climbing technique. TT technique. Which is all well and good, in fact great stuff. BUT…only after a rider is very well adept at bike handling (at a range of varying speeds AND situations- I.E. wet, dry, pavement, gravel, wind, dawn, dusk, etc.) should these skills be taught or emphasized. It’s the Ol’ learning to walk- but properly, before you run…

    Admittedly, I am lucky in the sense that before I began road cycling, my motoracing background, taught me ALL the handling skills needed. Two wheels are two wheels, push or motor. Because inline, single-track two-wheeled vehicles ALL steer the in the same manner- with counter steering. Albeit with a light tough on a bicycle, because of its lightweight. But without my prior experience, I probably would have been riding a bit ‘squirrely’ years ago. And perhaps even still. Though my MTB riding would have most likely corrected my potentially ‘bad’ road riding habits.

    Which leads me to this: There NEEDS to be more of an emphases on handling skills. (Situational Awareness and Visual Perception techniques)
    This must come from within the community first and foremost. Forget trying to climb like Alberto or Sprint like Cav. FIRST, you need to emulate Sagan or Nibali in regards to bike handling (well, at least try to anyway…lol)

    If shops, personnel, coaches, etc are unwilling to focus on handling FIRST and a rider is unwilling to practice their skills in parking lots or park paths…then I would say everyone who rides on the road, at some point should get out on the trail. Whether that’s on a mtb or a cyclocross bike…it does not matter. Buy or borrow a bike and hit the dirt! Riding in loose, rocky, rooted terrain exposes a rides weakness very quickly. ( I’ll be the first to admit, that I practice my mtb skills and need to on every mtb ride)

    Riding in terrain or on surfaces that do not offer the same level of grip or ‘friction’ that roadies are typically used to, will be the perfect training ground to enhance their bike handling skills. Learning to utilize the rear brake as much, if not more than the front brake. Learning that it’s okay to ‘break’ traction because you normally will not fall. Learning to modulate the brakes, the steering and the inputs that so heavily influence the bike. (physics 101) Plus, it’s just really fun to get dirty! : – ) and the ancillary benefits are being immersed in nature and it’s solitude. Meditation if you will…

    We tend to assume that because a rider is ‘fast’, (a relative term anyway) they are ‘good’ riders. A ‘good’ rider is not specifically fast, though would most likely be. A ‘good’ rider is someone who can handle their machine in nearly every given situation, at nearly any given speed, regardless of conditions.

    A good rider has awareness, not just of what they are doing, but of what others around him or her are doing as well. A good rider Anticipates, Recognizes and Reacts accordingly.
    ( ARR© ) This is what pilots do and are taught. We fly… though just a bit lower…This is what I teach in my Brake. Steer. Turn.
    ( BST© ) methodology at Leanin Cornering Concepts.

    Good is not just fast, good IS efficient. And efficiency breeds speed, not just raw, in your face speed, but speed with control. And that makes ALL the difference…


    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks for the well thought out comment George, I loved that post when I read it a while back. I couldn’t agree more with mountain biking to improve road skills, it helped me immensely.

      As far as helping others learn to do what we do, this is why I write. Aside from that, I’m very active with my local club (I’m not just a member, I’m the president – chuckle) and I definitely take an active role in helping newbies acclimate to our group, because the better they are, the safer we are. Great comment.

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