Master the art of the paceline with these wind-cheating secrets. – By Jon Marcus
If you spend most of your time pedaling solo, you may not fully appreciate the concept of a pace-line. Cyclists rotate through a line, taking turns riding up front (pulling) before peeling off and latching onto the back. When you draft like this, by tucking in close behind another rider, you expend less energy, to the tune of up to a 27 percent reduction in wind resistance. But even pace-line regulars may not understand how to work it to their greatest advantage. Researchers in the Netherlands used data from wind-tunnel testing to pinpoint the benefits of drafting for everyone in the group. Here’s what they found.
Pulling is not a thankless job. The first cyclist enjoys up to a 3.1 percent reduction in wind resistance courtesy of a low-pressure air bubble between riders, which pushes the leader along, says Bert Blocken, PhD, professor of physics at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led some of the research. Keep a steady pace on the front to avoid surging away from the boost—and splintering the group.Stay Close
To get the maximum benefit in a paceline, keep your wheel as close as possible to the one in front of you. Ideally, ride in a staggered position with your front wheel just overlapping the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you. If you’re not okay with taking that risk, don’t worry—you can be as far back as about 3/4 of a wheel length and still save some energy.Sweet Spot
The benefit of drafting gradually increases from the second rider to the fifth before starting to level off. In groups up to five, the last rider enjoys the most aerodynamic benefit, Blocken says. But in a group of six to eight (roughly the number in a team time trial), the next-to-last position feels the least wind resistance. In a big, hard-charging pack, the best position is between fifth and eighth. You get a large aero benefit, Blocken says, and you’re less likely to get into a crash.The Bungee Effect
The end of a paceline can get sloppy as riders accordion forward and back to stay on, Blocken says. Because there’s no one behind the last cyclist to push the low-pressure bubble, it sometimes feels harder to bring up the rear. As you drift back, spin a little faster starting at least two people before the end so when you’re ready to slide in, you don’t have to play catch-up.Size Matters
The bigger a rider, the more wind he or she blocks and the bigger the benefit. Your move: Stay close to the Clydesdale.