Pacelines significantly reduce a group’s wind resistance, allowing travel at higher speeds and longer distances with lower pedaling effort. However, riding in the draft of another bicyclist requires skill and constant attention. Following are some important things to keep in mind about paceline riding.
Always maintain safe distance when drafting in a paceline; don’t overlap wheels. If your front wheel overlaps and touches the side of the rear wheel in front of you, you will most likely fall. But if you get too far away, you may have trouble keeping up.
- The aerodynamic benefit of drafting drops off sharply with distance.
- At close distance, pedaling effort is reduced by about 30%.
- At two bike lengths there is no draft benefit.
- Following at close distance requires skill, focus, trust, cooperation.
- ½ bike length is a good beginner following distance.
- Ride closer with experience and trust of other riders.
- Increase distance when descending hills at high speed or when extra room for maneuvering is warranted.
- Do not use aerobars when following other cyclists, and do not ride no-handed. Always be ready to maneuver and brake. When drinking from a water bottle, be cautious and give yourself some extra room to maneuver; the back of the line is the safest place to do this.
- The main speed objectives in paceline riding are to maintain steady level of effort, minimize braking and acceleration, make it easy to stay together, and avoid surprises that can cause collisions.
- When pulling at the front of a paceline, you affect the entire group. Try to maintain the same pace as the previous leader(s) when they rotate out. Don’t surge ahead (creating a gap) or slow down (forcing everyone to brake). Remember that you’ll be working harder when pulling than when following. If you feel tired and can’t maintain the pace, rotate out and let the next cyclist lead.
- A speedometer and a mirror can help you monitor your speed and what the rest of the group is doing.
- When following, pay close attention to the cyclist in front of you, and follow at a steady pace. Don’t let large gap grow and then accelerate to catch up, and don’t brake suddenly. Make subtle decelerations by reducing pedaling effort or by coasting if needed. Proper technique is to continue to pedal, albeit softly, so your momentum stays the same.
- The lead bicyclist in a paceline works harder than the following bicyclists due to greater wind resistance, so bicyclists take turns riding at the front.
- Rotation is the process of changing leaders in a paceline. The leader drops to the back of the paceline and the next person in line “pulls” the group for a while.
- Note that some paceline rotation techniques require more pavement width than others. It is important to allow adequate recovery distance from the roadway edge and a few feet of shy distance to traffic in the adjacent lane when selecting and executing a paceline rotation. Failure to do so can result in falls or dangerous interference with overtaking or opposite-direction lane.
Single File Paceline Rotation
- In a single file paceline rotation, the lead bicyclist looks back to the left for overtaking traffic, yields as needed, then moves left when clear. (Don’t initiate rotation when other traffic is overtaking the group. If traffic is waiting to pass and a safe passing opportunity arises, give waiting drivers an opportunity to pass as a courtesy before rotating.)
- The former leader reduces speed to drop to the back of the line, then accelerates to slip directly behind the last cyclist at the same speed.
- Leftward (counter-clockwise) rotation is a convention that avoids requiring the entire group to shift left to pass the former lead bicyclist. Only the lead cyclist must look back, yield, and shift left when rotating leftward. Leftward rotation is predicated on group understanding and cooperation. When passing any other road user who is not part of the group, the group should pass that operator on the left at a safe distance.
Double File Paceline
- Single Sided Rotation – Both leaders rotate to the same side at the same time. This is preferable on most roads, particularly if the lane is narrow. The left side lead cyclist accelerates slightly and moves to their left after indicating their decision to get off the front, as well as checking traffic. That cyclist then drops back in a straight line while staying inside the lane and not crossing the centerline. The right lead cyclist accelerates forward and to the left in front of the left lead cyclists and drops back in the same line. The cyclist in the rear is responsible for dropping back at a faster pace and maintaining a safe distance between themselves and the front cyclist.
- Double Sided Rotation – The left hand cyclist rotates left, and the right hand cyclist rotates right. Rotation of each line can be done independently. Double sided rotation requires adequate lane width to avoid potential encroachment into the adjacent lane.
- Continuously Rotating Echelon – This is an advanced technique where the right hand line moves faster than the left hand line, and the right hand leader rotates into to the left hand line immediately after reaching the front. The group never appears more than two cyclists wide. This can also operate in the opposite direction depending on wind and road conditions.