You’ve ridden by yourself and feel your fitness increasing. You want to join group rides and jump into pacelines. But you’re uncertain how to learn to draft, and you feel intimidated by more experienced cyclists. (This is also good info if you’re a seasoned rider asked to teach a newbie how to draft.)
Learning to ride with others is relatively easy, although picking up the nuances may take several years of experience. The trick is to learn in sequence, starting with simple drafting on one other rider.
Some Initial Steps to Learn Drafting
First, learn to draft one rider. To get the hang of paceline riding, pair up with an experienced rider. Ride at a moderate pace on a safe road. Put your front wheel about 3 feet (1m) behind his or her rear wheel. Learn to feel comfortable in the draft. As your confidence increases, reduce the gap to 2 feet (66cm).
Notice how the draft is stronger when you’re closer to your partner’s wheel, less as you drift back. Notice how the draft improves when speed increases. Feel how the draft moves slightly to the side in a crosswind. You’ll feel more protection to the right of your partner’s rear wheel when the wind is from the left, and vice versa.
Learn to pedal and brake smoothly. Drafting on your partner also emphasizes the importance of smooth pedaling. If your pedaling is herky-jerky, you’ll run up on the wheel in front and have to brake, which will open a gap. You’ll pedal furiously to close it, then need to slam on the brakes again. This vicious cycle can be eliminated by concentrating on pedaling smoothly at the same speed as the leading rider.
Braking smoothly is also important in the draft. Instead of braking abruptly by applying too much pressure, learn to “feather” the brakes, or smoothly and lightly apply just the right amount of pressure needed. This technique will be invaluable to you whenever you have graduated from drafting with just one partner and advanced to a paceline with several riders. Braking abruptly in a paceline is dangerous both to you and any riders behind you.
Practice rotating the lead. The front rider checks over his or her shoulder to make sure traffic is clear, then moves carefully to one side (determined by wind direction, road conditions and traffic) and begins to soft pedal.
This means turning the crank but without applying enough power to maintain current speed. Doing so lets you come through by riding straight ahead at the same speed you’ve beenriding. No acceleration is necessary because you’ll automatically be going faster than your soft-pedaling friend.
It will feel a bit harder to pedal now because you’re out of the draft and catching the wind. When your partner drops far enough behind, s/he’ll move over into your draft.
Stay close as you pass each other while rotating the lead. The closer your shoulders come, the less wind each of you will have to push and the narrower your combined width — important on narrow roads so motorists can get past. Of course, start out with a comfortable, safe distance between riders, then move in as your confidence and ability grow.
Tip: When you pull off the front, don’t slow down too much, or you’ll struggle mightily to get back on your partner’s wheel — or the wheel of the last rider in the paceline once you’ve graduated to the group.
Kenneth Pierce says
You can also sit up slightly and the wind can slow you without the need the apply the stoppers. I use this technique often when I need to slow just a wee bit while in the paceline.
Bike Fitness Coaching says
KEY: The rider in front needs to pull over into the direction the wind is coming from
R. Groves says
Be careful, especially in mass group rides and fondos. They contain many inexperienced riders that are not apparent to the eye. Don’t go by looks. I’ve seen people while on ridiculously expensive bikes and kitted out to the 9s do the most stupid, dangerous things that even first time Cat5 riders wouldn’t do.
Mr. Versatile says
It’s also important to keep the speed (pace) the same or close to it, when you take over the lead. Speeding up will open up gaps & may drop some riders. Slowing too much might make some riders want to pass, and worst of all, speeding up, then slowing down, then speeding up will upset the whole pace line. Assuming you’re not racing, keep the pace steady.
steven berube says
With inexperienced riders drinking while pedaling is also a required skill. Learn to drink and continue pedaling at the same pace and track. When your on a particularly long ride riders in the front can wave their bottle before drinking to remind all to keep drinking and stay hydrated.
I usually get my drink after pulling off, while dropping back, or while sitting on the back.