BEST / EASIEST Way To Ride a Pace Line


Have you ever had a moment in life where you saw a new product and thought, ‘why didn’t I think of that?”.  I know I have.  Sometimes, it’s the most simplest thoughts that can make the biggest difference.  Keep that in mind….and read on.

When it comes to riding in a single or double pace line, one of the hardest things (it seems) is for cyclists to ride a continual straight line, especially when following that wheel in front of them.  Let me paint you verbal picture, which I guarantee you have experienced but probably never thought anything about it…until now.

You are riding in a pace line and the cyclist you are following continues to swerve sideways (mainly to the left) throughout the ride.  The problem is that they are probably not the only ones who are doing this; I see this on every single ride I do.  In other words, that seems to be accepted universally, as what you should do if you are getting a bit too close to that wheel you are following.  OK, let’s peel back the onion, so to speak, and I want to spotlight a few layers that you probably have never thought of before.

  1.  when that cyclist you are following swerves, they are breaking up the draft that has been created.  That means, since you are following them, all of the sudden you get a face full of wind.  Isn’t that what drafting is meant to avoid?
  2. when the swerving starts, especially when you are riding in a double pace line, now the guy next to them has to become very keen on their swerving, because they don’t know when or if this guy is  IMG_2202going to swerve too close to them.  You will typically see the guy riding next to his swerving partner, begin to slow down by either stop pedaling or actually using their brakes, every time they think the swerving might come too close to them.  Now, the actions of the swerving cyclist (in the other pace line) is now beginning to directly affect the other pace line.
  3. Especially swerving in a single pace line, you have to realize that this now can impact motorists who would be passing the group.  If they see this cyclist swerving, even though the others are not, it creates a hesitation for them to pass, since they have no idea when or how severe this cyclist will swerve.
  4. when you are the one riding behind someone who continually swerves, then it can actually impact you the exact same way as the cyclist nest to them.  The reason they are swerving is because they are getting too close to that wheel in front of them.  That means their momentum is slowing and now you HAVE to respond the same way in order not to run into them.  Therefore, if you have to slow down, then so will everyone behind you. There’s your accordion affect.  It takes VERY little to create this affect.
  5. When a cyclist begins to swerve to the side, it also creates a potential for overlapping wheels.  If you keep your wheel behind the wheel you are following, then you can never overlap.  But, if you begin to ride to the side of that wheel you are following, then you just created an overlapping scenario.  I was recently on a 70+ mile group ride when I noticed the cyclist to my right, riding slightly to the left side of the wheel in front of them.  I can guarantee you that they were not conscious of the fast that their wheel was overlapping that rear wheel in front of them for a long period of time.  If that cyclist in from of them had had to slow down OR move to either side, then the possibly of touching wheels would have almost been guaranteed.  Nothing good would have come out of that.  Bottom line, don’t overlap!!!

Want to know how to IMMEDIATELY and COMPLETELY ELIMINATE  every single explanation above?  Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.25.27 AMGet ready, because its very complicated.  Actually, it’s incredibly simple…just like the ‘why didn’t I think of that’ thought.  I call it Braking Straight.  If you have participated in my annual Atlanta Winter Bike League, then you know exactly what I am talking about.  This single skill has allowed countless cyclists to ride in a double pace line, when before they were paranoid….or at the very least…very nervous to do so.

Braking straight is exactly what you are doing.  You   It amazes me that cyclists will swerve first to slow down vs. actually using their brakes.  Hmmm.  Isn’t that what brakes are for?  The key is to continue to pedal AND brake at the same time.  This allows you to continue two key things:

  1.  keeping a consistent straight line.  if you use your brakes to avoid getting too close to that wheel in front of you, then there is NO need to swerve.  Riding a consistent straight line is what every cyclist needs to be able to do.  Pick a line a stick with it.  The only reason you would need to change directions is to avoid some hazard in the road.
  2. keeping a consistent pace (effort).  When you drive your car and you are about to approach a stop sign, do you slam your foot on the brake, or do you begin to lightly apply your brake over a long period of time?  OK, the answer is obvious (I hope).  You should do exactly the same on your bike.  If you are getting too close to that wheel in front of you, lightly apply your brakes but KEEP pedaling at the same time.  This way, you are adjusting your pace (effort) in such a slight amount that it is almost undetectable for that cyclist following you.  This skill also allows you to easily maintain a consistent distance from that wheel you are following.  

By the way, you noticed I used the words ‘pace’ and ‘effort’ above.  I didn’t use ‘speed’ for a reason.  Speed constantly changes because the terrain does.  Unless you are on a flat stretch of road, your speed ‘should’ constantly change….IF you ride by pace or effort.  This means the effort in your pedal stroke never changes, no matter what the terrain is doing.  This will be the topic for my next post, so I highly recommend you watch out for that one.  Of the literal hundreds of cyclists I’ve ridden with over 19 years and 205,000+ miles, I can count those who can and actually know how to ride like this on one hand.

OK, back to braking straight.  I want to give you a perfect example of this that I’ll never forget.  I was in Jacksonville, FL for family vacation, when I showed up for a very popular monthly local group ride.  It left south of the city heading north and eventually ran out of dry and.  We jumped on a ferry that took us across this body of water and dropped us off the other side, where we rode to Amelia Island.  Very cool ride, by the way.  Anyway, on the way back, the group stayed in a pretty consistent double pace line the Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 5.49.47 PMentire ride.  I happened to be in the ‘hammerhead, ride as fast as you can’ group but after some shuffling from a stop sign, I found myself behind a new cyclist.  It took about 15 seconds to realize they kept pedaling to stay right on that rear wheel so they wouldn’t lose the draft, but in doing so, they kept getting too close for comfort and continued to swerve to slow down and avoid a collision.  After about 5 miles of this, I was tired of getting slammed in the face with serious winds so I popped up next to her and asked if I could give her a tip.  She said “Sure“.  I explained the braking straight principle to her but it was her response that is what I’ll never forget.  She said “I’ve been riding for over 20 years and I’ve never heard of that…but it makes perfect sense.”   What a beautiful experience for me, as she immediately rode a straight line and all that continual swerving literally vanished.  After the ride, she came up to me, thanked me over and over and said she would have never thought about doing something like that.  I specifically mention the skill level of this group (based on speed) and how long she and the majority of others in the group had been riding, to emphasize that just because someone has been riding bikes for a long time, doesn’t automatically mean (or that you should ever assume) that they know the best way, the correct way or even the safest way to ride a bike.  It just means they can ride a bike really fast.  This cyclist was dumbfounded that she had never thought about something so simple before.

If you practice this little skill set, you will be amazed at how much easier it really is to ride in a pace line, whether single or double.  Every cyclist needs to be consistently predictable and braking straight will absolutely do the trick.

Something so simple.  Now, go out and affect positive, consistent change in the rides you participate in.

Coach Robert…

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