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Paceline Skills

Today was one of those days where the weather is giving you a perfectly reasonable excuse to stay inside and relax while your fitness conscience is saying HTFU.  Unfortunately, when you are a ride leader and you post a ride, your choice is much more limited.

Joel and I had posted a Gruppetto Graduate ride going up to Newcastle and targeting climbs on Callison and Indian Hill roads. The intent is to allow riders who recently completed the Gruppetto training series to transition into Peloton group rides. These rides also allow riders looking for a more casual pace to join.

Another purpose of these rides is to help newer riders practice group riding skills and offer constructive feedback to improve these skills.

Today’s ride finished with a long jaunt down AF.  This is a great road for working in a paceline.  At a stop light, Joel took the opportunity to talk to a rider and pointed out one of the more subtle skills in group riding that can make a big difference in a paceline’s dynamics – soft pedaling.

When you are in a paceline, I find that it is important to keep your head up and pay attention to your surroundings.  I tend to “look through” the rider in front of me instead of locking my focus on his rear wheel.  However, when that rider stops pedaling, my attention will shift immediately to that rider. A lack of pedaling is like a caution light that alerts you that something is wrong and braking may soon follow.


If you are a rider that tends to pedal – stop – pedal – stop, you are likely sending confusing messages to the rider behind you: go – caution – go – caution.  This can be disconcerting.

Rather than stop your pedaling when you need to slow down, there are a couple of techniques to use.  One is to soft pedal.  Soft pedaling simply means you are pedaling slowly without adding any power to the drive train.  The rider behind you will see your pedaling being constant and stay more relaxed.

Another technique is to catch more air by sitting up taller or moving to the side slightly to get partially out of the draft of the person ahead of you.

The important point is to control your speed AND do so in a deliberate fashion that keeps the paceline in a calm state.  So, think about the value in soft pedaling to “communicate” to the rider behind you.  She/he will appreciate it.

Want to learn more about paceline skills?  Check out some of the instructional videos at cyclefolsom.com.

By the way, if you want some CF gear like the shirt shown above, you can buy it here.

8 Comments

  1. Aaron on March 5, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Jim, great stuff, and if I may add to your comment about catching more air (in reverse). Being in paceline is a great way to conserve energy, recover and most faster as a group, than you can do alone. Often new riders don't realize how much energy they save staying tucked in and on a wheel, and will often ride sitting up in the wind, arms out, knees out or off of the wheel in front of them.

    DRAFTING TIPS:
    Keep your head down, but looking forward
    Keep your elbows tucked in out of the wind
    Practice getting more aero on your bike with your forearms parallel to the ground and your body lower out of the wind.
    Keep your knees in.

    Doing this will be vital to not just conserver energy, but help you not get dropped when you are out of energy, or the group is moving faster than what your fitness is used to. These tips allow you to get stay in a draft and get pulled and not get dropped. If you start to get dropped, fight to stay on that wheel, because getting back on may never happen and its harder to ride on your own, than with a group.

  2. Unknown on March 6, 2016 at 12:11 am

    Beginner cyclists tend to turn much larger gears than necessary. Work on increasing your cadence and soft pedaling becomes natural.

  3. Jeff Stine on March 6, 2016 at 12:12 am

    Great blog post, by the way.

  4. cmumma13 on March 6, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Excellent points, Jim. I find that this practice is something that gets forgotten about by even our more seasoned riders. This is an important reminder for all of us.

  5. Jim on March 6, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Aaron, excellent points. I can definitely see that talking about these types of skills can be valuable to many riders.

  6. Stan Schultz on March 9, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Note: This comment requires careful reading.

    In pacelines, using your breaks to control speed is an artform. Jim's suggestions for reducing speed are good ones, but the other option is to feather your breaks—ever-so-slightly—to reduce speed. It's REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT that you catch the "ever-so-slightly" part of that. We're not talking "tapping" your breaks. It's less than that. It requires a very gentle touch and finesse.

    If you tap your breaks or actually press your breaks, there's a good chance the rider behind you will ride up into your wheel and go down. If you find this to be challenging, talk with a seasoned member or ride leader.

  7. Aaron on March 9, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Beautifully said Stan. Feathering your breaks can be a skill important to learn, which can used in many situations. Sometimes when my wheels get wet or dirty in bad weather or after a storm, I may feather the breaks while riding to help clean off the water / dirt (because I am too lazy to pull over). Helps to make the breaking surface better.

    Its also important to learn when scrubbing speed before a turn, so you don't break and crash or lose too much momentum.

  8. Jim on March 10, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Stan – excellent point. I use this braking method as well. The important point is to keep soft pedaling WHILE you are feathering your brakes. Remember the message you are sending to the rider behind you.

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