by Larry Goldsmith, PFW Ride captain
PFW membership comes with many benefits. One big advantage of riding with a group of bicyclists is riding in a pace line. A pace line is one of those neat lines of bike riders racing in the Tour de France, often with the fastest & best racers BEHIND the front riders! Indeed the purpose of a pace line is for the person in front of the line to do most of the work, breaking through the wind for the benefit of those behind. In our case, everyone follows the ride leader because he (or she) knows where to go, but as a follower you also significantly benefit from the draft they create. The draft can extend as far back as 6 feet for regular bike and 8 feet behind a tandem. Naturally the closer you get behind the rider in front of you, the greater the benefit. The decrease in wind resistance at 3 feet distance is 34%, 2 feet 38%, 1 foot 42% and ½ foot 44%! However, before you decide to get 6 inches from my rear wheel, you must understand the efficiency of riding in a pace line comes at added risk.
Riding in a pace line is not as safe as riding alone. If the rider ahead or behind you does something unexpected, one or more riders could end up on the ground. The key to a safe pace line is to stay a comfortable distance from the wheel in front of you, communicate changes, no sudden moves, keep your hands on the brake levers & please don’t reach for food or water except while rotating to the rear of the pace line. Concentrate on the rider in front of you and try to look at the road ahead by looking past their shoulder.
This is easiest if you don’t get directly behind the wheel ahead of you. Ideally you should be a few inches off to their side but still behind them. In the event the rider in front of you slows unexpectedly, your front wheel will go along side their rear wheel (in front of you). Basically, if you can view what the rider in front of you sees, you’re not likely to be surprised by what he does.
Once you decide to try riding in a pace line, start at 3 feet distance from the wheel in front. As your confidence grows you begin to relax, then try getting closer. It is very important to be smooth & maintain the pace. When the lead rider finishes a “pull” [taking a turn at the front] into the wind, the lead rider should look over his left shoulder to ensure no motor vehicles are behind, signal the rider behind he is “coming off” of the line (to the left) & then drop to the back of the line. A good signal is your left hand out briefly will do.
When doing your pull, maintain the same speed as the rider who just came off the front of the pace line. Do your share of the work, but don’t stay so long you become totally exhausted. Remember, your trip rotating to the rear will be without benefit of the draft.
It’s especially important to call out hazards when you are in front of the pace line so EVERYONE can prepare & avoid the problem. Remember, two or more riders in a pace line will ride with much less physical effort than any one rider. When you want to start a pace line, just let the rider in front know. Feel free to ask more experienced riders questions. When pulling, it’s best to ride with your hands on the bottom of the handle bars (drops) as you’ll be more aerodynamic. Gradually your confidence will increase & you’ll quickly learn it is better to get behind someone tall or big as they make a great wind draft. Most importantly remember to have fun and :
Lead, Follow …or move out of the Way!