QUESTION: What is “hold your line” in cycling? I was riding with a group last week and someone yelled that out to another guy. —Mike G.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: “Hold your line” applies to both bike racing and group rides — even when the group is only two riders.
In bike racing, “Hold your line” is a command from another rider for you to maintain your position, relative to other riders and to the edge of the road. A rider may shout it at you because you are drifting out of your “lane” — perhaps toward the road edge when going through a corner — and if you do so, you would squeeze the other rider off the road.
Holding your line is especially important in racing because competitors often bunch together riding a fast pace in the slipstream of the rider in front of them. If one rider makes an unexpected swerve or drifts, not only might the riders immediately beside and behind the offender go down, but like dominoes, several more may fall. Some of those bike race crashes that end with many riders on the ground are triggered by someone failing to hold his or her line.
Of course, in racing, the rider behind may shout this to gain room to zoom past you, but the matter of avoiding collisions is the same.
In noncompetitive group rides, the same principles apply, but the call to hold your line can be understood as a plea to be predictable and remain situationally aware. Thus, you should avoid stopping abruptly without warning fellow riders. But even without stopping, it’s easy to unintentionally move off your line if you’re wobbling, looking over your shoulder to gauge where other traffic is, grabbing your water bottle, waving to a friend, reading data from your odometer or GPS device, shaking your fist at a careless driver or just gawking at scenery.
I’ve been guilty of that myself. My brother Scott pedaled with me on the western leg of my ride across America. One morning in Idaho, we were leaving a campground where we’d spent the night. I was slightly ahead of Scott, riding without much attention to what I was doing, just looking at the sights. I failed to notice that as Scott drew up on my right, my bike was meandering into his path of travel.
In a split second we collided. I managed to stay upright, but Scott’s bike flopped over. He flew over the handlebars and somersaulted into the bushes. For a terrible instant, the thought, “I’ve killed my brother” grabbed my mind. After a few seconds, however, Scott got to his feet, dusted himself off, and said dryly, “I could have done without that.” A sense of relief washed over me, followed quickly by annoyance at my carelessness. We remounted and continued on our way, but glancing at Scott, I noticed some scrapes on his helmet. My failure to stay aware could have ended in disaster.
Here are some tips for holding your line.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.