Louisville Bicycle Club
July-August 2007 Newsletter

Paceline Tips

by , LBC VP Touring, and David Ryan

From the time you start riding with the club, you will more and more often find yourself in the middle of what is called a paceline. A paceline, a line or double line of cyclists following in close order, is a very efficient way to increase everyone's speed with less effort. That is because the rider in front cuts the air to an extent, creating vortices for following riders to be pulled into. And if several riders take turns at the front, there is always a fresh rider against the wind who can go harder while others rest to an extent.

But pacelines can be dangerous if you have not had a lot of experience riding with other cyclists close together. So, with that I wanted to include a few tips for riding in pacelines safely and considerately.

THE BASICS: Be sure you know what type of paceline you are in and what you are supposed to do to cooperate with the other riders.

If it is a single paceline, the rider in front will periodically pull off to the left and drift to the back. Before pulling off the front or out of the middle of a paceline, look back to make sure that no cyclist or car is coming up where you intend to drop back. Then move well over to the left, until you can look back and see the following rider's opposite pedal, before slowing so you don't interfere with the rider coming up to fill in your place. NEVER pull off to the right unless you are getting off the road entirely.

If it is a double line of cyclists, they may be doing one of several things:

Average or a mixed group of touring riders will most likely be doing a simple double paceline. That works like two single pacelines except those in the righthand line will pull off to the right to drift back. Generally, both riders in front will agree to pull off at the same time, regardless of which is tired, as a courtesy to the riders behind who have paired up in conversation so they move up together.

More advanced groups may agree to a rotating double paceline. In that case, one line will be moving forward and the other back relative to each other. Riders will spend only a few seconds at the front before moving to the receding line. Such lines may be rotating to the left or right (counterclockwise or clockwise).

Everyone getting into a double paceline must be clear, by observing or asking, what is going on.

  • If you find that you cannot hold with the paceline or you are unsure what to do, then pull out of the paceline and back off. You may get back on at the rear and take a break or observe the others. Usually everyone takes a turn at the front. But if you are at your limit to stay in the paceline at all, then it is the better part of valor to ride near the back and let those coming back from the front get back in line in front of you. Just ease off a little and let a space open wide enough for the retiring rider to get in and let him and those behind you know that is why you are letting the space open up (so those behind don't think you are splitting the line and try to come around you.)
  • NEVER pass a paceline on the right until you are absolutely certain there is plenty of room and that all the riders in front of you absolutely know you are coming around, by calling out “On Your Right” and seeing a visible reaction. A paceline (or single rider for that matter) may snake to the right at any time and cut you off but that won't be their fault if you haven't warned of your presence.
  • NEVER pass a paceline closely on the left until you are sure that all the riders in front of you know you are coming around, by calling out “On Your Left” and seeing a visible reaction. That is because riders at the front or in the middle who are pulling out to their left to drop back will not be expecting an advancing cyclist in that space. If you give them a wide berth, you should be okay.
  • Avoid overlapping wheels! Overlapped wheels are a formula for disaster. Unless you are an exceptional bike handler riding behind a remarkably steady and predictable rider, the advantage gained by following too closely is not worth the risk of crashing. Two feet between your front wheel and the next rear wheel is a good separation for a novice, or even for a good rider when a novice might be in front. More space is advisable when the speed is high, as on downhills, to allow more time to react to changes of pace.
  • Always keep an eye on the rider in front of you. Be prepared to back off, especially when approaching a challenging rise in terrain or jump in pace. Some riders have an inconsistent speed that causes the bike to yo-yo back and forth in the line. Other people brake suddenly or excessively. If the rider in front of you rides erratically, stay farther back from them.
  • When on the front, keep your head up, call out the obstacles, rocks, gravel, potholes, metal plates and grates etc., and watch the lights. You are responsible for the safety of everyone behind you: Don’t let them down. Don’t worry about looking down for what gear your are in or any other trivial detail. Anticipate stoplight changes and announce when you are stopping. Don't try to beat the light if it appears the entire group will not get through. It is your responsibility to get the entire group through the intersection safely or stop them at signs and signals.
  • When talking to someone else in the paceline, keep your eyes on the rider in front of you along with the traffic on the road. While on the front, you shouldn’t be talking as you have too much responsibility and your extra energy should be used fighting the wind anyway.
  • Ride in a straight line at a consistent and predictable pace. If you have to wipe your tires, don’t slow down or stop pedaling. Remember, there are a bunch of riders behind you. If you need to make adjustments to your clothes or bike while riding or dig for food or anything else that diverts your attention, drop to the back of the line to do it.
  • When moving from a seated to a standing position, stay on the power so you do not fall back into the bike behind you. Also be sure to call out “Standing!”
  • If you must spit or blow your nose — the Cyclist's Blow, into the air — move out of the paceline enough so no one is directly behind you. The riders behind you do not want your snot or spittle all over them.
  • Finally, if you see someone behaving erratically in line, politely inform them what they are doing wrong. If that doesn't work, then ease yourself around in front of them (and never rotate behind them) so that when they cause a disaster, you won't be involved in it. And if everyone does that, they will be on the back where they can do no harm to anyone else. You can even let a gap open in front of you and then sprint back up to the group and hopefully drop them altogether. Message delivered.

The important thing is to ride in a steady, orderly manner. Think ahead and if you have to do something that takes your attention momentarily off the road and the riders around you, take care of your responsibilities toward the riders around you and their safety first, remove yourself from the others and then take care of your business while riding in the rear. Some of the road rash and broken bones you save may be your own.


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web posted: 3 Jul 2007
last updated: 4 Jul 2007