Riding in a Paceline

Why should I learn to ride in a paceline?

Riding in a paceline is the best way to save energy. Experts say the savings in energy is somewhere between 30-40%. As a result, you can increase your speed without using additional energy which translates into the ability to survive longer rides. Depending on the number of riders, you can choose to ride in single, rotating  or double pacelines.

A. Single paceline

In a single paceline all of the riders are following each other in a single line. It is usually used in small groups (5 or 6 riders) but it is also used when the road is not safe enough to accommodate a double paceline. When the front rider (the puller) has been out in the wind for either a set amount of time or they are getting tired, they move to the side and go to the back of the line.

How do I change?

1.     Check for traffic then give a signal (such as a flick of the elbow) that indicates you will be moving off the front.

2.     Move smoothly out of the line (without slowing down initially). Only move over far enough to give the line room to continue past. Do not move too far out into traffic, you will lose the side draft and it is unsafe in traffic.

3.     Slow down and the line will move past you. Some riders achieve this by dropping down one gear and then they are able move back at the same cadence.

4.     When the last rider in the line moves is beside you, speed up to match your speed to the paceline and move smoothly back into line.


                            Single Paceline Animation

Single Paceline

Single Paceline at Speed


B. Rotating paceline

If the group has a large number of riders a single paceline may become so long that you do not get a good workout. You are rarely on the front and it exposes you to traffic for a long period of time as you move to the back. The solution is to have riders continuously rotate onto and off of the front, creating two lines. In effect it is just a rapidly changing single paceline. However, with riders constantly changing you end up with one line heading to the front and one heading to the back.  

A rotating paceline is more energy efficient than a single paceline because you are shielded from the wind while you are moving to the front as well as to the back. Rotating pacelines leave riders exposed to the wind for very small amounts of time which means the whole group can go faster and further. The rule of thumb is that you should not ride to exhaustion before you move over to the slow line. Typically you put in 10 to 15 seconds of hard work before you move over. You do not have to signal that you are moving off the front because the lead is expected to continually change.

The drawback is that a rotating paceline requires you to be smooth and focussed all the time. You are responsible for keeping your distance from the wheel of the rider in front of you on the way to the front as well as on the way to the back. You must move smoothly and consistently, especially on the way back so the rider behind you is not negatively affected by your movements.


                           Rotating Paceline Animation

Double Paceline (fast) 

Life Inside a Rotating Paceline

C. Double paceline

** watch the video below to see it in motion

A double paceline can be used when doing a long slow distance ride or during a slow warm up. Riders do not change as often as they would if the line was going fast. The advantage of riding this kind of paceline is it's a great way for riders to socialize. When the line changes the front riders split and move to the side while the double line moves through between them. This results in the group being four wide as the front riders move to the back. Obviously, for safety reasons this should only be used when the road is wide and free of traffic.

Note: **If the gap in traffic in either direction is too small then DO NOT CHANGE!**


Ten Common Errors That Disrupt Pacelines

1.  The front rider slows or accelerates as they move off the front of the line. Hold your speed until you are out of line then slow down. Don’t wait until you are exhausted to change. Also be sure to move off to the side in an assertive, safe manner.

2. When the front rider moves aside, the second rider speeds up or slows down rather than maintaining a constant pace. Being in the wind will require more energy but it is very difficult to determine this by feel … check your speedometer to avoid causing surges in the line (yoyo effect).

          Note: **Check your speedometer before the rider in front of you leaves the line and then maintain that speed when you are on the front.

3. The front rider does not move quickly and smoothly to the back of the line. Some riders stop to chat on their way to the back, affecting the safety of the line. Other riders go to the back so quickly that they cannot accelerate fast enough to get back onto the line, which results in getting dropped, … and that’s just no fun at all!

4. Riders do not maintain a straight line or leave too much of a gap to the next rider. When you move out of line the rider behind you is exposed to the wind causing them to work harder. If you let a gap develop and it becomes too great for you to recover, everybody behind you will get dropped as well as you, and that’s no way to make cycling friends. Don’t become the dead wheel.

5. Riders eat or drink in the middle of the paceline. Doing this without affecting the line requires a high degree of skill and focus. A dropped water bottle is a recipe for disaster in any group of riders. Experienced riders may be able to do this successfully but generally the rule of thumb is to eat and drink when you get to the back of the line.

6. The front rider does not point out road hazards or the information is not passed down the line. Remember, safety can only happen when everybody plays an active role.

7. The puller at the front coasts down a hill rather than keeping the speed up. The draft allows other riders to move with less effort than you so keep pedalling!

8. Riders use brakes in the paceline. In an ideal line braking should never happen but if it becomes necessary “feather” the brakes to avoid sudden changes in speed. Other methods used to slow slightly are, floating the pedals, sitting more upright or putting a shoulder slightly into the wind. You will learn to use these methods as you gain experience. 

9. Riders mistakenly focus only on the back wheel of the rider in front of them.  An experienced rider will look up and gauge the speed by watching the riders in the line. This also gives you a chance to react to any hand signals passed down the line.

10. Riders stand up to pedal to stretch their legs or apply power. This action is very dangerous and is something to avoid. Moving to stand on the pedals causes the bike to lose speed, which in effect moves the bike back onto the front wheel of the rider behind you, dramatically increasing the chances of a crash. If you need to stand up, do it only at the back of the line!


What do I do if I want to be in the paceline but I'm too tired to rotate through?

This situation happens to most riders especially as the pace picks up. It is not a bad thing to sit out (on the back) for a turn or two to catch your breath, especially if the alternative is getting dropped. Riders new to faster pacelines are welcome to sit on the back ... don't panic, we won't hate you. We know that as your fitness level increases you will soon be taking the occasional turn at the front. 

So how do you stay on the back without disrupting the line? Some people suggest just opening a gap in the line to make space for the person coming back, but that can lead to problems. The biggest issue is that you have to move yourself out of the draft as you make the bike length space ... and you will be tired enough already. Also, the rider coming back may not be certain that the opening gap is meant for them, they may think you are just falling off the pace.

The best way is to accomplish it safely is to move off the line into the draft of the rider moving back. You should start to move in behind them when they are a couple of riders from the back. This puts you into their draft which saves a lot of energy.

Continue to move back as a pair until the rider in front of you sees the end of the line. The two of you move in as one unit rejoining the line. It may be helpful to say "Up,Up!" as the rider nears the end of the line. This lets them know you will be staying on behind them. As always it is the rider rejoining the line that has the responsibility to be sure it is safe enough to move back into line.

Cars and Pacelines

One problem with any paceline is trying to maintain a happy coexistence with other traffic. Many drivers will find the double paceline to be (at least) twice as annoying as a single one. Drivers believe that the double paceline occupies too much of the road and therefore it must be harder and more dangerous to pass. However, the reality is that although a double paceline is two riders wide it takes only half the time to pass it because it is half the length of a single line. 

Of course, if the road has high traffic volume or the road is very narrow, the preferred line is a single one. Under these conditions, changes should be done only when it is safe … and that means not on curves and be sure you take a look before exposing yourself and your friends to the danger involved in making a change.

If you practice riding safely every time you are out with a group, it will soon become second nature. Please respect the traffic and your fellow riders and they will respect you. These techniques allow is to return home safely so we can gear up and do it all again tomorrow!

Remember, riding safely in a paceline requires thought and focus

... but, it's a ton of fun!