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The Finer Point of Pace Line Cycling; The One Thing Every Cyclist Needs to Know to Ride Well with Others

September 2018
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There exists one main point to pace line cycling that encompasses all other points. There is one “thing”, if done correctly, will endear you to those you ride with. Done incorrectly, and you’ll merely be tolerated at best, shunned at worst.

I’ve been the subject of scorn in the past because there was a time or two I’d simply stop pedaling at the front of the group if a turn was missed or if we needed to slow for one reason or another. The first time I didn’t know how bad this was. The second time it happened, I just froze when there was hollering at the back to hold up. Both times I almost caused a wreck. I was told, rather sternly, what I did wrong and I learned.

A friend of mine is a strong rider but he’s horrible in a group. He leaves gaps and sometimes he expects others to fill them. Usually, though, he becomes offended if you pass him up when he makes a gap. You simply never know when he’s going to get you dropped or when he’s going to make up the gap he created. One thing is for certain, riding behind him is twice the work as riding in front of him.

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This is not the guy… Just a photo I had of a friend with a bit of a gap… I don’t have a photo of the actual guy because I’m not dumb enough to ride one-handed anywhere near him.

Another close friend likes to play “dodge the draft”, though not in the military sense. He likes to push too hard a gear so he’s constantly reefing down on the handlebar for leverage. This causes him to push and pull to one side of the lane and the other. To add to the mess, he likes to check traffic in his helmet mounted mirror so, without warning, he’ll dart to the yellow line to check what’s going out behind him. If you ever overlap his wheel, there’s a fair chance he’ll take you out.

Over the weekend, we met a new kid who had a $10,000 Orbea with Zipp wheels, clip on aerobars and an Ironman 140.6 tattoo on the back of his right calf. You could tell he rode a lot. Just not with other people. My buddy, Chuck, was up front and after a decent turn, waived the new kid up… The new kid stayed on Chuck’s wheel, then when I told him that Chuck was done, that it was his turn to pull, he launched around Chuck at a sprint, about ten miles an hour faster than the pace we’d been going. I asked where he thought he was going, whether he was late for a dentist’s appointment. Then he slowed to 18-mph, five below the pace we’d been riding at. We all went around him at pace and left him. I later learned that we’d made him mad because we had too many rules and he didn’t like us telling him what to do… Of course, we didn’t like the way he rode his bike, so I guess we were even.

We had another kid join our group who liked to coast downhill at the front. Dear God, that’s a no-no if ever there were one. The guy up front pedals his ass off. Everyone behind him coasts. There’s no coasting at the front unless you’re over 40-mph. At that point, you’re close enough to escape velocity that you can coast.

Also this weekend, we had another triathlete join us, this time on a Cervelo time trial rig. He rode to the right of the group (in the USA… in other words, on the wrong side of the group) and was so squirrely, the group was more nervous than a longtail cat in a room full of knitting grandmas in rocking chairs. Time trial guys; at the front in the aerobars, off the back in the aerobars, in the group on the horns (by the brakes, which means you’ll be in the wrong gear unless you have electronic shifting and can shift from the aerobars or horns). You don’t EVER get to ride in the group in the aerobars. You’re not good enough. Even if you’re sure you are. You’re wrong. And arrogant. Cut it out.

So, there’s one rule in pace line riding that encompasses everything: Ride predictably, well.

Or don’t and suffer the wrath of the group. Just stay away from our group if your little BS feelings are easily hurt… We’re not afraid to let you know you’re messing up. Better, if you don’t want to learn to ride well in a group, stick to solo cycling. That works, too. Riding with others, you’ve gotta know that it’s not about the individual. It’s about the group.


9 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    Damn feckin’ useless triathletes. They will probably argue that they have to avoid ‘drafting’ in case they get disqualified. Twits. And I think you should probably have a blanket ban on anyone with an Ironman tattoo anyway. πŸ˜‰
    (Let the games begin!)

  2. theandyclark says:

    Ride predictably – good rule for commuting too. Two things you want from cars – you want them to see you (light yourself up) and you don’t want them mad at you. Talk about a fight you can’t possibly win! Nice predictable riding helps a lot, particularly when your commuting and the same drivers are going to see you quite a bit.

  3. Archetype says:

    Predictability. A skill that is coveted and always respected. You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest, or have the greatest endurance, but if you’re a predictable rider, you are safe rider. And, a safe rider is an efficient rider. Predictability means, holding a line, keeping up the agreed pace, utilizing situational awareness and anticipating all potential outcomes.

    Group riding/pacelining requires a rider to possess and implement good riding skills, period. No excuses. Newbies (to paceline riding) should have to learn the appropriate skill-set before venturing out in an experienced fast group.

    https://leanincornering.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/group-dynamics/

    • bgddyjim says:

      Indeed. We usually put noobs in the slower groups so they can get an idea of how everything works before we put them in with the sharks. Thanks for the addition (and the link).

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