Question: When non-racers ride in pacelines, they often stop pedaling when they are getting too close the rider in front of them. Experienced riders usually admonish them to “soft pedal” instead, but I find that the pause is useful rather than dangerous. It tells me that there may soon be someone braking (much like the brake lights on a car). What do you think? — Lynn W.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Soft pedaling means turning the crank without applying force. You’re actually coasting but with the pedals still going around. One benefit is that it helps you make a smoother transition to applying power again.
Technically, riders should soft pedal in a paceline because it’s more consistent. It prevents abrupt stops and starts in pedaling rhythm. The problem with coasting is that a gap will open, the rider will spin like mad to close it, run up on a wheel, then stop pedaling all at once and maybe even grab the brakes. This sort of herky-jerky presence in a paceline drives experienced riders nuts.
A soft pedaler, on the other hand, can smoothly apply power or back off abit, feathering speed to keep a nearly constant distance from the bike in front.
Of course, it’s good to know that a rider in front is slowing. Soft pedaling can signal that almost as well as coasting if you’re as observant as you should be in paceline conditions.
So soft pedaling is best, but I think coasting is OK as long as the transition from pedaling to coasting and back to pedaling again is smooth and consistent — the way everything in a paceline should be.