Disclaimer: If you’re baller like me, you don’t need these tips.
The rest of you dingleberries better shape up. Let’s talk about riding in a paceline. There’s some basic shit that needs to be addressed, speed first, safety second. Yes, I said it, safety second. Why second?? Safety FIRST!! No, sorry. Safety second. Speed first. How can this be? Well, let’s get it straight.. Cycling is inherently dangerous.
There risk of failure. Getting smeared on the asphalt by a car, dog, bike, pedestrian, stroller, squirrel, turtle, goose, piece of metal, pothole, texting, sexting, halfwheeling, etc…. So let’s assume safety needs not be mentioned. None of us want to be smeared. We all want to stay upright and not die. To speak of safety is a waste of time.
Speed is our first priority. Why? Because speed is fun and it feels good. Speed is our WHY. Going fast. All the fancy carbon and wind tunnel testing is for that reason. Don’t listen to Lazy Larry when he says take it easy. He’ll be off the back, right out the damn gate.
Tip number One.. Know what you’re doing.
Know Thyself. Wandering through the life jungle without a clue? Not good. It’s wake up time! No space cadets. In a paceline, you need to be sharp. Your purpose is to “take a pull”. You’re setting the pace and providing a draft for the riders behind you. Don’t mull shit over, don’t muse. Get your head straight. Ride smooth and clean, maintain speed and stay off the brakes. You have to rotate out before fatigue sets in. Don’t be a hero. Nobody cares how long you pull. They’re thinking about when their turn is coming, they want to pull. Everyone likes to pull. Even when they’re tired, it’s still fun. Take your pull, rotate out. Your purpose is to work as a unit, that means do work, share the work and go fast.
Number Two.. You’re Not A Fighter Jet
It’s exciting. Being up front. It gives you adrenalin. Everyone is following your line, you’re setting the pace. Suddenly, you pull off the front like you were shot from a cannon. Why? Are you a fighter jet? No, you’re having a moment of glory. You don’t look for other riders, cars etc. It’s super dramatic. Ya need to stop that shit. Keep ya head together.
Don’t be a fighter jet. Be an old Jaguar V10. Move to the left in a civilized manner. You can’t check your mirrors because bike mirrors are for commuters. Just be cool, move over. Keep it civilized. Just move over normal.
Number Three.. Replicate, don’t innovate.
This means don’t surge. You’ve been waiting patiently for your turn to pull. Things are going well. The roads are smooth, your bike is all shiny and lubed up, socks are good height (6″), matching your fancy kit. It’s all puppies and rainbows until OMG!! IT’S YOUR TURN!! GO!! GO!! GO!! Full Power NOW!! DIE DIE DIE!!!
Dude, take a pill! If the pace is 26 mph, don’t punch the throttle when you see daylight, hold the damn tempo. You just burned all your matches. That was dumb. Be smooth and concentrate on leading the paceline.
Save your juice. At the front, everything you do is transmitted back like a caterpillar walking on a stick. When you surge, everyone else will surge, it’s hard on the guy who is rotating out. If you do it habitually, the group lets you go. Nobody wants to hold your wheel. You aren’t doing it right. Hold speed consistent, build gradually. Replicate, don’t innovate. Go fast but get there without hurrying, like coach John Wooden said, hustle, don’t hurry.
Let’s get one thing clear. Addendum. If you are looking to smear the group, showboat, prove something, then by all means, get it on. The hammers will love it. Do it in a gentlemanly fashion, build up to a crescendo. Sprinting through your rotation is dumb. Give us a chance to adjust. At the end of the day, it’s all good. Better to overdo it than bore the shit out of us.
Number Four.. No Half wheeling
Half wheeling comes in a couple varieties. The standard definition is “Let’s ride side by side and allow me to always be a half wheel ahead of you, no matter what, to the death”. That’s one version. It’s a weird thing, the half wheeler is never aware of it. The guy is constantly trying to stay a half wheel ahead. As the speed increases, the half wheeler will reach zone 5 catabolic effort. To maintain half wheel. Funny shit. Hey, it can be annoying or you can use the bad habit to bury yourself and build fitness.
Don’t halfwheel others in the traditional manner. It’s basically annoying. If you do it, once you become aware of it, you’ll naturally stop, unless you’re kind of a douche. In either case, at least you’re out riding.
The paceline version is flirtation with death. Picture this: 12 guys riding 28 mph, in a straight line, about 4-8 inches of space between the wheels. Except for Mike. Mike’s front wheel is overlapping to the side of Joe’s back wheel. Joe is following Steve. Steve swerves, Joe swerves, Mike’s front wheel rubs, Mike is dead.
Drafting is very effective at 4 inches gap to the rider in front. The drafter does 30% less work than the draftee. This fraction exponentially decreases with every inch further back. Half wheeling places you to the side of the draft, dramatically reducing the advantage. The upside is after you faceplant, your workload decreases by 100%, because you’re dead. Halfwheeling is bad, never halfwheel in a paceline.
Why do riders halfwheel in pacelines? They are scared. They don’t trust the rider in front of them. They want to see the road. In a tight draft, visibility is very limited. Grow a set of testicles, choose your draft wheel wisely, a rider with a reputation and experience. Get on his wheel, trust his line and avoid halfwheelin’.
Number Five.. Don’t Sink Like a Stone
Taking a pull has a few components. After you know your purpose in life, realized you aren’t a fighter jet, replicated without innovating, survived halfwheeling Mike, you are feeling like it’s cake.
It isn’t. Maybe you made a hero pull. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe your brake is rubbing, maybe you had a Honeybun and soda for breakfast. Maybe you picked the wrong day to quit PED’s. Whatever the reason, at this moment you can’t find the watts to push out a yam. You rotate out.
The paceline whirls by as you choke on oxygen, much faster than you expected. Planning to jump into that last spot, get in the draft and recover? Good idea. But something goes horribly wrong. You just got dropped. A five foot gap becomes 8 feet, 15 feet, shit. This is embarrassment.
You sank like a stone.
You took a pull and didn’t save a single watt to jump back in. Don’t sink like a stone. Allow the paceline to pull through as you gradually drift back. If you see the slightest gap start to grow, guess what? Time to hit the turbos. Empty the tank, burn matches, grab that last wheel and draft it. Getting dropped is the most frustrating thing. It’s embarrassing. Pray for a stop sign or break in pace because regaining a draft with smoked legs isn’t easy. Dig deep as shit, get back on asap.
Don’t let gaps open up. Close gaps with patience. You don’t have to sprint. Build power and tempo over the course of 20 strokes. Bring everyone back together gradually. Be smooth!!!
Number Six.. Stay Seated
Pacelines are environments where individuality is shunned, banished. There is more potential for speed when everyone is compact, moving in unison, drafting and rotating frequently. Stay seated! Your leg and back muscles will get sore, your butt will feel like there’s a hatchet instead of a seat. Staying seated saves you additional watts. Staying seated in the drops saves you additional, additional watts. All temptation will arise to stand and get some blood flow into your grundle. Resist! Most, not all, but most cyclists will drop wattage at the moment of transition from seated to standing. This is bad. It causes crashes. The correct time for standing is after your pull, drifting back, not sinking and whilst riding the tail gunner position. This is basic shit. Don’t stand up when riders are drafting your wheel. It’s surprising, annoying and causes you to suddenly drop speed.
Number Seven .. Stay Involved
Be a jabber jaw teenager with ADD. Why? Because it’s supposed to be fun. And we need to communicate. Why So Serious?
There’s nothing more fun than bike riding. If you can’t get the stick out of your ass long enough to crack a smile, at least be involved. That means point out rain gutters, manhole covers, gravel, potholes, pedestrians, use signals for turns, slowing, stopping, approaching and passing cars from behind and ahead. When guys take pulls and rotate out, tell them “nice work” or “good pull” or things like “good tempo, Stan” or “dude you were flying”. Cyclists can be tough nuts, so lighten up the vibe with some toilet humor, dick jokes, play the straight man, ham it up, be a clown. Most people get 8-10 hours a week to enjoy riding, that’s a lot for some. It’s best to make it memorable by having fun and staying involved. Pacelines require a lot of communication, so don’t be muted, robotic pack filler. Get to know the guys but don’t start a therapy session.
Number Eight, Be aggressive.
It’s more fun when you mix up the rotation. If you have the watts, jump out of rotation and take the lead. Keep it honest. If you have some juice, showboat a little. Contrary to what Lazy Larry thinks, the other guys will like a little excitement. Attack the pace here and there, show everyone who’s in charge, they might follow your lead and turn it into a real barn burner. Go fast, get faster, be faster. If you’re strong and fast, show ’em.
Number Nine… Choose your Destiny
A paceline is a mix of people. Some suck at cycling, others are rock solid. Depending on your own place in the food chain, choose wisely your position in the line. If you’re the local stud, don’t follow the new guy in the sleeveless jersey and clip on bars. If you’re weak, having a bad day or simply new, don’t follow the guy with the gigantic quads. Find a wheel to follow that you trust, could learn to trust or looks like a decent rider. Some days you’ll find yourself following an absolute monster and get shelled in the first 2 miles. Your fault!!
Pay attention to the others’ form and decision making. Follow guys who ride with a brain. Learn good habits, recognize the local goof balls and avoid. This is self preservation at work.
When in doubt, jump out.
Number 10… Relax. Relax your shoulders, your facial muscles. Concentrate on form and cadence, holding a straight line. Keep your head clear. Find a flow. Let the Zen take over. Trust the guy in front of you. Follow his wheel. Pay attention to speed. Pay attention to cars. Stay in your limits, keep your ego in check. Have fun. Put in work. Survive, do well and get experienced.