You’re comfortable and competent when your usual group of 3 or 4 buddies decides to hammer into a headwind in a single paceline. All of you know the rules and you’re confident that no one will mess up. But now you’re going to ride with a big group from a nearby city. You’ve heard stories of their fast double pacelines and echelons. You don’t feel confident just jumping in.
Same with joining the fast-moving pacelines that form in century rides. And your secret dream is to race — but race packs look so disorganized and helter-skelter that you’re intimidated. How does anyone survive in all that mayhem?
It’s easy to ride with a couple of like-minded friends. But it gets more complicated when you’re with a big group of people you don’t know, maybe fighting a strong crosswind. And in a racing pack or the random groups that dominate centuries, it often seems like there are no rules at all.
That’s not true, of course — big groups operate according to the same principles as small, single pacelines. Only the specifics are different. So let’s look at how to handle these advanced group ride techniques. This week we’ll cover double pacelines and rotating double pacelines. In Part 2 next week, we’ll cover echelons and racing packs.
A double paceline is an excellent technique for maximum speed. And with a slight modification they’re great for leisurely-paced conversation, too. Here’s how:
Form a double line and roll along side-by-side at a moderate pace, chatting with your partner.
The lead pair pulls for several minutes. When they’re ready to relinquish the front, the rider leading the left line pulls off slightly to the left and the rider leading the right line drifts to the right.
As the 2 riders soft pedal, the double paceline comes up between them. The former lead pair drifts back along their respective sides of the line and latches on behind the last pair of riders.
Remember, as the 2 riders drift back, the formation becomes 4 riders wide. This is why a double paceline should only be used on low-traffic roads or on a wide shoulder.
Want to go faster? Stow the chatter and have each lead pair take hard, short (30-second) pulls. You’ll fly.
Rotating Double Pacelines
Double pacelines can go even faster if they rotate and the lead riders don’t spend much time on the front.
Form 2 parallel lines like just described. However, the 2 front riders don’t pull off in the same manner. Instead, one line moves slightly faster than the other, and no one dwells on the front. That is, the riders in one line are moving forward while those in the other line are dropping back. It might be easier to picture by explaining it as a long oval rotating counter-clockwise. The “faster line,” on the right side, is moving forward, with every rider working hard until he or she reaches the front. At that point, he or she simply rotates to the left and joins the left side, and then begins rotating back through the left side of the line.
Suppose you’re in the middle of the faster line. Follow the rider directly in front. When she gets to the front of the line, she’ll stay there only until she’s safely ahead of the front rider in the slower line. Then she’ll carefully cross over to the front of that line and reduce her speed about 1 mph by soft pedaling.
Now you’re on the front of the faster line. Don’t linger. Keep your speed steady until you can do exactly what she just did — slide over as soon as you’re in front of her in the slow line, then reduce speed.
As other riders come through the fast line and move over, you’ll migrate back to the end of the slow line. When you’re the last rider, slide over to the rear of the fast line and begin rotating through to the front again.
Caution! Pay attention when you’re nearing the end of the slow line. Don’t move over until you’ve glanced behind to be sure you’re the last rider. If you move over when someone is still back there, you could get tangled up. Even though you know who is behind you in the rotation and you see that rider begins to come past in the fast line, someone may have tagged on from behind. The last rider in the line should announce their presence as you rotate back (a good way is to simply and forcefully say, “last”), but always make a quick check just be safe.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.