Paceline Riding

Safety Corner logoYou’ve certainly noticed cyclists riding in close formation who seem to maintain an awesome pace with relatively little effort. These cyclists are riding in a paceline, which can significantly reduce aerodynamic drag (i.e., block the wind), thereby lowering exertion levels for a given riding speed by up to 30 percent. Even the lead rider gets a little “push” from the riders behind. Want to join in on the fun? Here are a few tips to keep in mind. There are three essential characteristics of safe paceline riding—be smooth, be predictable, and be courteous.

First, practice on your own. Being smooth and predictable means, among other things, riding in a straight line without swerving or wobbling. Try riding on the white line at the road’s edge. Relax your upper body, keeping a light grip on the handlebars. Keep your focus out front—use your peripheral vision to track the white line. Remember, where your eyes go, so goes your bike.

Second, practice drafting one other rider. Position yourself 3 to 4 feet behind the rider you are following (who, of course, is an informed and willing participant in this activity). Try to maintain a uniform gap. If you drift back, gradually accelerate to close the gap. If you get too close, reduce pressure on the pedals, but don’t stop pedal rotation (called “soft pedaling”). If necessary, use your brakes lightly—just enough to do the job. Sometimes simply sitting upright will slow you enough without applying the brakes. Take great care to avoid overlapping wheels (i.e., allowing your front wheel to come alongside the rear wheel of the lead rider). Overlapping wheels greatly increases the risk of wheel-to-wheel contact, which may make you to crash. Don’t stare at the lead rider or his/her rear wheel. Rather, look past him/her, so you can see what he/she sees. As you get more proficient at this, try to close the gap, shooting for 1 to 2 feet between wheels.

Now you’re ready for the real thing. There are many types of pacelines--we discuss only one here: the single paceline. This is the one you’ll use most of the time on public roads. As the name implies, riders in a single paceline ride single file. Every 30 seconds to 2 minutes or so, the lead rider (after checking carefully for traffic approaching from the rear) pulls to the left while maintaining a steady pace. He/she then slows slightly to allow the other riders to pass on the right. (This is one of the few situations in which it’s OK to pass on the right.) As the (former) lead rider approaches the end of the paceline, he/she gradually accelerates to the speed of the line and drops in behind the last rider. If traffic should appear from behind during this process, the rider pulls into the middle of paceline, with the cooperation of the other riders. And so the process repeats itself.

Some tips to keep in mind.

When at the front: Avoid the tendency to accelerate. Keep track of the pace, and maintain this pace when leading. Remember, you are the eyes of the group. Pay close attention to what’s ahead, and pick a smooth, safe, and predictable line. It’s helpful to signal your intention to drop back by lowering your right hand and waving the next cyclist forward. (Do this before you pull to the left, or the line may simply follow you to the left.) Pull to the left before slowing so that the line can maintain a steady pace. Don’t pull too long—drop back before you get tired.

When at the back: Keep a careful eye on traffic, and announce “car back” whenever a vehicle approaches from behind. It’s helpful to announce “last rider” as the rider dropping back approaches. That way, the rider dropping back knows that it’s time to accelerate to catch the end of the line. If you’re tired and don’t want to pull, rest at the back of the line. Let the rider dropping back know that you’re resting, and open enough space so he/she can pull in ahead of you.

General: Try to avoid standing on hills. If you must stand, warn the riders behind you first. It’s difficult to maintain an even cadence while standing and the rider behind may bump your wheel. Drink only when you’re at the back of the pack If the paceline gets stretched out on curves or at intersections, back off the pace a bit to allow folks to catch up. Be nice, and don’t drop your fellow riders (unless someone specifically asks to drop out of the paceline). Allow more space between riders on fast downhill runs.

For more information on paceline riding, see: http://www.westhillshop.com/paceline.htm; http://www.goldinc.com/gcbc/practical/pacelinepage.html; http://www.planetultra.com/training/rbr/paceline.html; and
http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter7a.htm.

Acknowledgements: The content for this article came straight from one of the experts, CRW Member and Ride Leader Rich Taylor. Rich, in turn, credits all his paceline riding knowledge to Peter Mason and Kim Shire. Many thanks to all!

Remember--safety is about choices. What choices will you make?


Please send corrections, additions, comments and praise to

© 1997- CRW, Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: