While cycling in a group is fun, it can also be challenging. Earlier this summer, a group I ride with had a close call because of one rider, new to the sport, who was cycling in a pace line for the first time. His erratic speed—shooting out in front of the pack at a speed he couldn’t maintain for more than a few minutes—followed by sudden swerves onto the shoulder of the road when he needed to make way for the rest of us, almost caused a group collision, reminding me that one inexperienced rider can put an entire pack at risk.
If you cycle in a group it’s important to learn how to ride in a pace line correctly. To do that you need to be predictable, stay alert and practice pace line cycling skills.
Make sure you can ride in a straight line before riding in a group. That sounds easier than it really is. To practice, cycle along the white line at the side of the road while riding solo. Don’t do this when the pavement is wet. The painted white line is slippery then.
One of the benefits of riding in a group (besides socializing) is the energy you save by drafting behind other riders—it adds up to at least 15 percent of your energy output—allowing you to go faster and further than you could go riding alone.
To draft, your front wheel should be between 1 to 3 feet behind the rear wheel you’re following. Closer is better but that requires a lot more attention and experience. Don’t stare at the wheel in front of you. Look ahead and be alert to what’s coming up on the road. When drafting, don’t brake suddenly. If you get too close to the rider in front of you, slow down by sitting up (your chest becomes a wind break and will slow you down) and coasting to create a gap. If you need to use your brakes, do so sparingly, and only lightly feather them.
Be Alert and Predictable
▲ When riding in a pace line, always remember the riders behind you. They’re not mind-readers, so you must cycle in a predictable way. That means no sudden braking or swerving. Use hand signals to show when you are slowing down or stopping and to point out debris on the road or potholes.
▲ Never allow your front wheel to come into contact with the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. If you do, you’ll have an unavoidable appointment with the pavement, and you may take a few of your buddies down with you.
▲ Take your turn at the front (called pulling). You’ll find this requires a lot more energy than cycling in a drafting position. After you’ve taken your turn, pull off to the left side (depending on wind conditions, your group may have decided to pull off to the right) and spin easy until you’ve dropped back to the end of the line. Move over behind the last rider. This is a good time to take a drink of water and have a quick snack if you need one.
▲ Allow extra space when riding up hills. Cyclists approach hills at different speeds and cadences. Some slow suddenly, and stand to pedal out of the saddle. This can break the momentum of the pace line. Follow too closely and there could be a crash.