10 Steps to Mastering the Art of the Paceline

Increasing your paceline skills will help you ride faster, and with less effort. Here’s how. – By Jason Sumner

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While on a group ride or in a race, sharing the pace with others allows you to ride faster and with less effort. But it does take some practice, and the keys are working together, building trust, and paying attention.

At the elite level, pacelines become art forms. Riders move like a squadron of fighter pilots in a constantly flowing rhythm. Recreational riders may not be as graceful, but they can certainly enjoy the benefits of riding in a paceline, too. In a century ride, riding in a group will allow you to finish faster and fresher. Busting a headwind isn’t much fun alone, but with a few others to help, the kilometres pass quickly. If you’re new to pacelines or would like to get better at riding in one, these tips should help take you to the next level.

First, there’s the form: Rotating pacelines contain two lines of riders side by side, continuously in motion. This motion is achieved by one line going slightly faster than the other. Let’s say that you’re the lead rider in the faster line. You should cross over to the slow line after passing the front wheel of the rider beside you. Then you drift back with the others in the slow line. When the final position is reached at the back of the line, you drop in behind the back wheel of the last rider in the fast line (see tips to follow). When done right, this formation looks like a constantly rotating elliptical chain.

If you’re confused, gather several friends and walk through the fundamentals in your living room. Try a single paceline first. Lead for 10 seconds, then pull off either to the right or left, then slide to the back of the line. Stay close enough to bump elbows, then move in behind the last person. Now try the double paceline. Form two lines, side by side. March up the faster line, pull over to the front of the slower line, then drop back with it. Practice both clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.

Finally, go one step further and adjust for a crosswind. Wind direction determines which way to pull off. You always want to move into a crosswind. This way the advancing line, which is already working harder, gets some protection from the wind. In strong crosswinds riders become offset like geese on the wing. They also overlap wheels, which means a mistake can take down the whole bunch. The width of this type of paceline typically requires a completely traffic-free road.

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10 Tips for Paceline Success

By walking through the basics, you have already started to form some trust with your group. But before you try these skills on the road, here are 10 tips for becoming a master of the rotating paceline.

  1. Put weaker riders behind stronger ones.
  2. A paceline is a team. It’s only as strong as its weakest member, so help that person out by both encouraging them and by not letting them get upset if they need to sit out a turn from time to time.
  3. Start by riding slowly in lower gearing to get properly warmed up.
  4. Get used to following closely to get the benefit of the draft. Skilled riders feel comfortable riding within inches of the wheel in front. In a rotating paceline, stay just as close side to side.
  5. Ride smoothly and predictably. Never accelerate or brake quickly. If you are running up on the wheel in front, slow down (without braking) by moving into the wind slightly.
  6. Maintain a constant speed when you get to the front by glancing at your cycling computer or GPS device. The tendency is to accelerate, but this will break the rhythm of the group.
  7. If the rider at the front charges off, let that person go and hold your speed.
  8. If you tire, sit out as many turns as necessary by staying at the back. Let riders coming back know that you are resting, and give them space to move in ahead of you.
  9. As the speed increases, gaps may develop because riders can’t hold the wheel ahead, or they miss the last wheel as they try to get back on the end of the paceline. Strong riders need to fill these gaps in order to preserve the flow, even if it means jumping across and moving back up the line early.
  10. Though it’s a natural instinct, don’t focus on the wheel in front of you. This gives you little time to react to problems. Instead, keep your eyes up and scan about 30 feet ahead, looking through and past the riders in front of you.

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