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Greater Arizona Bicycling Association
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HomeBasic Drafting, Paceline and Group Riding
Basic Drafting, Paceline, & Group Riding Skills

Drafting is riding closely behind the rider(s) who is (are) in front of you, to gain aerodynamic advantage.

  • Develop your drafting skills by starting out approximately one bike length behind the rider ahead. Once you feel confident in your bike handling skills and know the riding habits of the person you are following you may close the gap more, until you are riding within one foot of the person ahead of you.
  • Drafting saves you energy - this is very important over long distances! A person riding in a paceline will use at least 25% less energy for the same speed compared to someone riding alone. Riding in a pack boosts this energy savings up to as much as 30 to 40%. So, drafting will allow you to ride 2-4 mph faster than you can alone, for about the same energy output.

Drafting/Paceline 'Etiquette': Because a paceline is several cyclists drafting each other in single file at higher speeds, often with less than 12 inches between their wheels, everyone in the paceline has responsibilities to everyone else in the line.

  • The lead (front) rider gives hand signals (mostly) or calls out verbally to point out road hazards to those behind her. Each following rider sees the signal and repeats it for the riders behind him, on down through the end of the line.
  • The lead rider maintains a steady pace, one that keeps the line moving briskly and prevents it from breaking up (they do not coast, or otherwise quit pedaling).
  • The lead rider 'pulls', or rides at the front, for as little as 10 seconds, to as long as 5 minutes, depending on pace, terrain, purpose of ride, and lead rider's strength. Do not pull longer than is comfortable, or so long that the group's pace drops!
  • When the leader is ready to "pull off the front of the line, she looks over her shoulder to see that the road is clear, signals left, and moves to the left of the line. She then (and only then) slows down slightly, drifting to the back of the line. As she approaches the last rider in the line, she begins to pedal more strongly, to pick up speed. When her front wheel is even with the last rider=s rear wheel, she begins moving toward the last rider, and as the last rider passes her, she quickly and smoothly moves behind him, into his slipstream.
  • The rider assuming the lead checks his speed as the old leader pulls off the front then maintains the same speed. He does not speed up or surge forward to replace the old leader - doing so disrupts the line. He may also check his clock or cyclometer to know roughly how long he should pull.
  • Everyone watches the shoulders of the person ahead of them. This will help keep you aware of potential problems or changes ahead of you in the line. Do NOT watch their rear wheel! 
  • Everyone rides a steady pace. Do not abruptly accelerate or decelerate with someone riding just inches behind you. If you slow suddenly and someone brushes your rear wheel, you will stay up but the rider who touched your wheel will fall. Don't be a dufus by bringing down the rider behind you! If you must slow a little, keep pedaling, and move to the side just a bit, so you catch slightly more wind resistance, and slow very slightly. You can also 'feather' your rear brake, while continuing to pedal (my preference) - just barely applying the brake.
  • Everyone must signal slowing or stopping to the riders behind them (arm down and back with open palm toward the rider behind), or if you can't take your hands off the bars, call out "slowing!" or "stopping!" Signal all turns as well (straight arm pointing in the direction of the turn, either right or left). Everyone in the line behind you should repeat your signal as they too slow, stop, or prepare to turn. Cattle guards are always called out verbally and loudly.
  • Everyone in the paceline should separate a little as they prepare for cattle guards, turns, or stops. Cyclists should separate enough so everyone can see for themselves where they=re going and that there is no danger of hitting a gap in the cattle guard grate, touching wheels, or otherwise running into someone or some thing.

Pack Riding: Virtually all the rules for a paceline apply when riding in a pack. Two important differences include position awareness and position in turns. 
Position awareness means there will be cyclists on all sides of you, not just ahead and behind. This requires that you also (in addition to those in front of and behind you) watch those on both sides of your position and their movements.

  • Position in turns. When turning in a pack, it is critical that everyone 'hold their line' in turns. What does this mean? If you have been riding in the center of the pack (and traffic lane) that is the lane position you will maintain as you go through the turn. If on the outside, that lane position, and so on.
  • Steadiness - Remember, it is important that everyone in a paceline or pack ride a steady, and straight line. Steadiness is best described as smooth, continuous, and predictable. Do Not Stop Pedaling!! Use one of the two methods described above, and you will be more secure in the line/group. If you want to practice straight riding and become steadier at the same time, try riding the white line on a street when there is no overtaking traffic, or a large empty parking lot.

Riding in pace lines and groups is exciting, FAST, and fun! Once you master it, you will be prepared to ride a distinctly faster El Tour time, and to really know the joy of cycling!

Click HERE to view video on paceline