Riding in a paceline
by Jørn Yngve Dahl-Stamnes
Last modified: Wednesday the 01. of September, 1999
Much has been and will be written about the theory behind the paceline and how to
ride in one. Some may have other opinions about this than I have. But this information
is based on the way we (the team I ride with) rides in a paceline during training
and long races.
Why should I ride in a paceline?
Riding in a paceline is the best way to save energy, which let you increase your
speed without using more energy. This is very usefull when doing longer rides together
with other riders. And there is also the social aspect, it is much more fun to ride
together with other than riding on your own. For me it is boring to ride on my own
on longer rides (a few hours is OK). So if you want to take a longer ride, try to
get some of your friends with you. Depending on how many you are, you can ride in
a single or in a double paceline.
A single paceline
In a single paceline all are riding after each other, as shown in the figure above.
When the front rider (1, the puller) has been pulling for a time, he/she need to go
back to the end of the line. This is done by moving out of the line and reduce the
speed a bit (see figure below). The line will slowly pass him/her. When at the end
of the line, he/she move into the line again and adjust the speed to the same as the
In a single paceline, only the front riders face the full effect of the wind resistance.
The rider will create a wind drag, which the following riders can draft in and in this
way save energy. The closer the second rider is the front rider, the more energy the
rider saves. The wind drag can be reduced by 30 - 40% by being the second rider
depending on how closly they draft . A single paceline is used when 5 - 6 or fewer
are riding together, e.g. in a team time trial.
If there is enough riders in a long single paceline, it can be cut into two groups. And
when the two groups ride side by side, where one of the lines rides a bit faster than the
other line, then you have a double paceline. A double paceline is more energy efficient
than a single paceline (assuming that there are enough riders in the two lines). The
problem with a single paceline is that when the front rider has done his/her part of
the work and want to go back to the end of the line to rest, he/she face full wind
resistance while going back. In a double paceline, all you do when you are finished
with your part of the work, is to move from the fast line to the slow line. Soon after,
the next rider will do the same and then you have a rider in front of you, and you save
energy. The time you are in front of the slow line is much shorter than the time you
would have been using if you was going back in a single paceline.
A double paceline
A double paceline looks like in the figure above. The line closest to the side of the
road (rider 1 to 5) is riding a bit faster than the other line. It may be opposit
depending of the wind direction. If the wind is comming from one of the sides, the slow
line should face the wind so that the wind drag is kept to a minimum. The riders in the
slow line will then use a bit more energy, but the riders in the fast line will save more
than the slow line is using extra.
A rider in a double paceline will change position more often than in a single paceline.
As soon as the back wheel of front rider 1 (the puller) in the fast line are clear of
the front wheel of the front rider 10 in the slow line, he/she moves over to the slow
line and slow down (without using the brakes). And when rider 6 is behind rider 5,
he/she shift from the slow to the fast line and slowly accelerate to get the same speed
as the fast line.
When in a double paceline, you do not pull as long as in a single paceline. The rule of
thumb is that you shall not get exhausted before you move over the the slow line. Typical
is 10 to 15 seconds hard work. The most efficient way of doing this is to do it smooth;
you pull, you move over the the slow line, and you slow down a bit.
Double paceline and long slow distance
If the riders in a double paceline are doing long slow distance training (LSD training),
they do not need to change as often as they would do when going fast. Since the effort
in general is lower, the front riders may pull the paceline for a longer time. This can
be done by locking the paceline for several minutes before changing position. And when
they change position, both front riders go back as shown in the figure below.
A double LSD paceline
The rider will benefit from this type of riding in several ways:
The problem is that the paceline occupy more of the road when the two front riders what to
draft to the back of the line. But if there isn't much traffic on the road, it should not
be any problem chaning this way. Before changing, the riders should take a look behind and
check if it is safe to do the change.
- The pull time is longer than in a regular double paceline. So is also the rest time,
which is good for long distance training.
- Since the riders do ride side by side for a longer time, it is possible to talk with
Hills and double pacelines
When going up a long steep hill, the speed will reduce and the wind resistance will be less,
unless there is a strong headwind. Under these circumstances, the riders can lock a double
paceline, which mean that they don't rotate anymore. This will not exhaust the pullers,
since the speed is low and most of the energy is used to get up the hill and not to overcome
the wind resistance. The drag force for the first rider is not much more than for the
following riders when the speed is low (less than 15 km/h ).
Keeping a close distance to the rider in front of you may not always be safe. Sometimes
the distance has to be increased, like when going down a hill in high speed or when riding
on a rough road with potholes. Many new riders find it difficult and thinks it dangerous to
ride closely after another rider. For most of the riders, the fear will disappear after some
time when you know that you can trust the one in front of you. And trust is the keyword -
you must trust that the other riders don't do anything stupid, such as applying the brakes
There are several errors that a rider can do when in a double paceline. These are all kind
of errors that will cause more energy to be used (and the race time to go up). A serious
error may also cause a crash for one or more riders. And the larger the number of riders
get, an error in front of a line will grow through the line. Some of the most common
errors when riding in a double paceline are:
- When you become the first rider in the fast line (rider 1), you begin to
accelerate. This cause the riders behind you to do the same, and the accordion
(a therm we used in Norway) begins - the space between the riders increase, decrease,
increase... You should not accelerate since you already got the right speed.
- When moving over the the slow line, you take it too easy and you slow down the
whole line too much. The order riders must use their brakes and it force the back rider
in the slow line to accelerate more when he/she shall change from the slow to the fast
- The back rider in the slow line is not attentive enough and change from the slow
to the fast line too late. To compensate this he/she have to accelerate to keep up with
the fast line. A good rule is that when you change line at the back, give the rider who
where in front of you (in the slow line) a signal that he/she soon have to change line.
- When changing from the fast to the slow line, some riders use to much time time
to change (they slowly slides over). This cause the next rider to be exposed to the
wind resistance too long (up to 50% longer time is not uncommon). When you change, do
it fast, but without compromising with the saftey of the riders behind you.
The more you practise the better you get. The most important thing is that you should
ride together with friends (team-mates) so that you can get to know you cycling buddies
better. Then you know how they ride in the line and they know how you ride. Some advices:
- Accelerating and braking is waste of energy. Keep it to a minimum. The main issue
is to maintain constant speed.
- Don't make gaps in the lines. If you need to close a gap, don't do it with two to
three strokes. Close it slowly and save energy. If you try to close the gap fast, you
and your friends behind you vaste more energy compared to if you do it slowly. A good
way to avoid gaps is to look forward so that you see what is happening in the line.
Don't lock your eyes on the backwheel to the rider in front of you.
- When in front, you are the one that covers the rest of the riders from the wind.
You are the one that have the best view of the road in front, and therefore you must
keep a good eye at the roads. If there is any pothols or other obstuctions, shout
out to warn your riders behind you and/or use signals. Before the ride, make sure
that all riders know the different signals.
- When going downhill the speed may get high and the airpresure is high for the
puller. But don't relax. Remember that everyone behind you will have to brake if you
don't keep the speed up. As long as you are in the front of a paceline keep
- The gap between the two lines are in most cases too wide. The gap is mainly
controlled by the two riders in front. The riders will use more energy when the gap
is wide, espessialy in strong head- and sidewindwind. To save energy, keep the gap
between the lines to a minimum.
- Some riders are stronger than other. If you get tired when in a double paceline,
you can stay behind and rest for a while. If you do so, you should stay behind the
slow line and tell the other riders that you need to rest for a while. This can
also be done when someone need to eat, take on/off your rain gear etc. while riding.
- When reaching a small hill, the puller must not slow down at the bottom of the
hill, but keep up the speed while going up. The riders at the end if the paceline have
not reached the hill yet. So if the puller slows down too early, the rest of the riders
have to brake (which is a waste of energy) and the gap between the riders may get too
small (which can cause accidents). And when going down again, don't accelerate too early.
If you do so, you create gaps in the lines, which again is a waste of energy.
- Keep your place in the line if the paceline have to slow down. Do not attempt to
move on the inside or outside of the rider in front of you. Your front wheel should not
overlapp the back wheel to the rider in front of you. It may be the last thing you do
before hitting the ground. In such cases use your brakes. It is better to waste some
energy than creating an accident.
When a paceline becomes large, it may be a problem for one rider to give a message to
all the other riders, e.g. when the front rider has to warn the other riders about
something dangerous ahead. Shouting a message may not be the best way; the last
rider will probably not hear him/her. Therefore signals are much better because
when the front rider use them, the signal is visibly for all the riders in the
paceline. In Norway we got some few common signals. A rised arm (straigt up) means
that I'm gonna brake because there is an obstruction, an intersection or whatever
ahead. Left or right turn is shown by a arm to the left or right. If the paceline
have to pass other riders, a parked car or people walking along the road, we wave
with our right arm behind our back indicating that we are going to move left to go
clear for some kind of obstruction ahead. This signal is, in most cases, only
visible for a few riders behind, so you should pass the signal to the riders
What should the riders do if one rider get a flat or some another kind of malfunction?
First of all, he or she that is in trouble must not hit the brakes and try to stop as
fast as possible. There might be other riders behind. When you get a flat, shout out
that you must stop to change tube or tire and the slowly stop while steering out of
the paceline (to the right or to the left depending on which line you are in). What
about the rest of the group? If the group are training, there are no reason not to
stop and wait until the flat is fixed. It's nice to get help from your friends when
changing a flat, and it saves time. But what if it is competition and not a training?
This is among the things that your team must agree about before the race. My teams
policy is that on long races (more than 200km, like the Great Trail of Strength),
we stop and wait until the problem is fixed before continuing. Somethime the
problems can be fixed much faster if one or two team mates help the poor
rider with his/her problem. This is what team spirit is all about - helping
each other to finish the race together.
Double pacelines and cars
One aspect with the double paceline is the coexistence with the cars. Many drivers
will find a double paceline to be (at least) twice as annoying than a single one.
They think that the paceline occupy to much of the road and therefore make it harder
and more dangerous for the car to pass. The reallity is that a double paceline will
be twice as fast to pass for a car the a single one. And on a two lane road (without
shoulders), the car must over in the other line in order to pass a paceline, single
or double (at least if the car shall do it safely). Therefore, the double paceline
is to prefere both for the riders and the drivers.
In Norway, both the traffic authority and the Norwegian Cycling Assosiation advice
that everyone, if many enough, shall ride in a double paceline and not a single one.
And, if possible, try to keep away from the main roads.
- : Science of Cycling by Edmund R. Burke, PhD US Cycling Federation.
- : The Aerodynamics of Human-powered Land Vehicles by Albert C. Gross,
Chester R. Kyle and Douglas J. Malewichki (Scientific American).
Thanks to Christer Folkesson for making the animations.
Back to my Cycling Homepage.
I made this! Jørn Dahl-Stamnes