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Pace Line 101

Every Tuesday morning, there is a pace line workout here in San Diego. At six laps around Fiesta Island, it’s a good way to get 24 miles of quality riding in. Depending on who shows up for the workout, the speed of the ride ranges anywhere from quick to painfully fast. Unfortunately, riding in a pace line seems to be a lost art. Only a handful of riders understand the rhythm and dynamics involved in keeping the line of riders moving at maximum speed with minimal effort. I guess minimal is a relative term here, but you know what I mean. Here are some tips to make the most out of a pace line workout.

pay attention to the order

Regardless of how many riders are on the ride, there are only a handful who are actually pulling through. It’s important to not only know who your lead rider is, but their lead rider, and the rider in front of that person. In other words, the three riders who you will rotate behind when it’s time to move back through the line towards the front. 

Be sure to check over your shoulder or under your elbow to see if one of the wheel suckers in the back has decided to take a pull. Sometimes the vampires like to jump in for a pull, but they never seem to say anything. This is where gaps form, and gaps are the enemy of an effective pace line. 

take a smooth pull through

The objective of pulling through is to give the rider in front relief as quick as possible. You do not want to accelerate past the rider who is in front. This means they have to close the gap you have now opened up. This puts strain on the entire pace line, and everyone will curse you under their breath. As you pull through, look to see where the lead rider is, and that you aren’t riding away from them with your pull.

The time to up the tempo in a pace line is as you come through the top of the line. You still don’t want to ride away from the lead rider, but you can speed up while coming around. This will cause the rider giving you relief to accelerate as well, or risk opening a gap. If everyone follows the wheel in front, the line will increase it’s speed organically. 

don’t let gaps open

Watching gaps form in an otherwise well orchestrated pace line is frustrating. It means someone along the line is either pulling too hard or allowing the rider in front of them to get away from them. There are a few riders at our local ride who are notorious for this. In the first instance, the relief rider rides away from the lead rider of the line. The second instance is revealed when the group comes by on the sheltered side. Certain riders allow a bike length between them and the rider in front. It may be due to nerves, but if you can’t ride close, don’t ride in a pace line.

know the wind direction

The wind is never constant. It doesn’t matter if you are riding around an island as we do, or just out on a flat road. We have the benefit of knowing where the wind will change direction, as we are doing laps. Unfortunately, that doesn’t alway equate to the rotation changing direction to counter the wind. Keep in mind, if the wind is coming from the left, you need to rotate into the wind in a counter-clockwise direction. If the wind is coming from the right, you need to rotate clockwise. 

Next time you find yourself in a pace line or echelon, I hope these tips help out. It’s much easier said than done, especially considering there may be riders of varied experience and fitness in the field. The best you can do is lead by example, and hope others notice and learn from your technique. Remember to pull into the wind, and as always, keep the rubber side down!

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