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  CyclingSite > CO Collected Wisdom > Touring Info > On the Road > Drafting & Pacelines
    What should I know about drafting and pacelines?
    Note: The following info is handy to know even if you have no intention of drafting or participating in a paceline.

Drafting – Following another cyclist closely so you are in the air pocket behind them. If you experiment following behind someone you trust you can actually feel this effect. You can even be a few feet back and get some effect. You should ask before doing this as some people do not like being followed this close.

Pacelines – Several people drafting each other and taking turns in front. This requires concentration, precision, and good communication or you end up with a chain reaction accident. However, it is faster and easier riding.

Rox Heath

'Bents will work well if you're relatively small (though a fairing probably increases the size of the "bubble"), but tandems are a sure bet for wheel-suckin' pleasure!

That said, I always try to do my bit on point, even with a tandem around. Sometimes you don't know if you're being a help or a hindrance, though, if the tandem team is a strong one.

For those who have professed an allergy to pacelines in the past... nobody's saying "you gotta", but on some days on some roads, knowing how to ride well in a line can be a skill that could just save your riding day.

Scott Saulsbury

What I adopted was a stance to start a brief conversation with anyone I drafted from to get them to feel at ease and actually ask if they minded me drafting behind them and if I made them nervous. Not one said he/she was nervous. I try to be considerate when at all possible to others and I think that is where the key would lay in drafting with others.


For those new to drafting or being drafted. If a front wheel of the drafter hits a back wheel of the draftee, it's the drafter who is going to go down and possibly those drafting the drafter. This is mostly because the steering of the drafter's bike is effected by the contact but also due to the direction of wheel rotation (front wheel is pulled up by read wheel) and more weight on the rear wheel than the front.

Team Tangerine turns down no drafters. It's hard to move the rear wheel of a tandem :-) We are a bit more particular about drafting others. We give more space due to account for the extra time it takes to stop the tandem and the unfamiliarity with the person being drafted. Also it's harder for a tandem to draft a single than a single drafting a tandem or single. This is because it takes a very steady single to give a tandem a draft. Tandems do not make lots of small speed changes easily (it is very tiring). Tandems are like a truck that rolls up to a speed and holds it for long periods of time or slowly changes speed. This is because of the greater mass of the tandems and the coordination of the riders required. The slower changes in speed is why singles like drafting tandems so much. It make it easier to stay in the draft.

Mike "We never met up with the ABA on the road" Buondonno

>> For those new to drafting or being drafted. If a front wheel of the drafter hits a back wheel of the draftee, it's the drafter who is going to go down and possibly those drafting the drafter. This is mostly because the steering of the drafter's bike is effected by the contact but also due to the direction of wheel rotation (front wheel is pulled up by rear wheel) and more weight on the rear wheel than the front. <<

As someone who has, after 20 years of accident free cycling, twice this year touched the wheel of the bike in front, I can endorse this! In neither case did the bike in front feel a thing -- they just wondered why there was suddenly this heap of metal and flesh in the road behind them.

It _is_ possible to say up once you touch the wheel in front, but it takes practice. Racers actually do practice this (on grass :-). The trick is to push back against the rear wheel of the bike in front. Then, as you slow down and come free, you will turn very suddenly in the direction that you were pushing, and you must be able to deal with that.

My story from the Peach of a Century, for those who have not heard, is that I was drafting Craig and Jeanne on their tandem for several miles out of the first rest stop. I was riding pretty close in, but not too close, I thought. In fact, for about 15 miles going into the rest stop, I had been riding with a "bunch" from the Salem Bike Club, and I had found that a lot more nerve-wracking -- it was kind of like swimming with a school of fish, and you had to be continually aware of the movement of the bikes around you. So, I was really enjoying chatting with Jeanne and getting the draft from her tandem; as Mike says, tandems are very steady, compared to a single, and make great "pulls".

I'm not quite sure what happened when I crashed. There was a rider behind me who may have seen more than I can now reconstruct, but I didn't think to ask him what happened before he went off. I believe that Craig slowed and pulled left a bit, as we came up to a bridge parapet at mile 31, and I was not paying attention. We were slightly overlapped, and my wheel touched the tandem's rear wheel. I think that I pushed back, to the right, but that when my wheel came free of the tandem I veered right into the dirt and grass on the edge of the road. This is confirmed by the tracks in the dirt. Then the tracks just stopped. Jeanne says that I hit the guard rail, and this seems quite likely, but it would have been a glancing blow, based on the tracks.

The next thing that I remember, I was endeavoring to dig a groove in the tarmac with my left hip, left elbow and chin. This was only partially successful. I rolled over onto my back, and remember hearing the sound of liquid running, and thinking "I sure hope that is water coming out of my Camelback" (which fortunately it was).

Andrew Black

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Andrew's right - we didn't really feel his wheel touch ours - I recollect something that I thought was a small rough patch in the road right at the bridge approach - that may have been when it happened. I've since come to understand some things about drafting tandems that I hadn't realized before either: the captain is a long way from the drafter. Any verbal warnings might get lost in wind noise or take awhile to get transmitted back via the stoker, or there might not even be time to give a warning. The drafter's visibility of the road ahead is limited because of the length of the tandem. And the stoker, being right behind the captain and usually not as tall, has even less view of road hazards, etc. In this case, Craig didn't give a warning - he said he did move a little to the left to avoid something, though not enough that I even noticed. It was unbelievably quick: Andrew & I having a great time chatting away, when he went down in mid-sentence.

Maybe part of the message, Andrew, is to test the ability of other folks to "get it" without having to go through it. It was a rotten interruption of an enjoyable conversation and pleasant acquaintance that I hope we'll be able to take up again someday before too long.

Jeanne Gostnell

Paceline crashes are no fun - I was involved in one once where the person in front of me touched a wheel and went down...and I couldn't avoid it. Ever since I've been careful who I draft with. If somebody is erratic or "squirrely" I slow down and go by myself. Better slow than scraped in my book. When you're in a paceline, you're literally trusting those people with your life. You depend on them to let you know about traffic, potholes, everything that they can see and you can't. Pacelines are fun with people you can depend on.

Debi Toews

How very odd that this topic would come up at this time on the list. My boss (also a CO rider) and I were just discussing it before I left work today.

He's quite new to pacelines and was having similar experiences and asking similar questions.

Lots of good stuff has been said already... Basically, don't assume that it's OK to draft without asking, and once in the line, BE CONSISTENT. Hold a steady line, and don't start an "accordion" effect by drifting up and back. Make sure that you pass along signals communicated by the front to any riders behind you.

Some of the best hours that I've invested on my bike were in free racing clinics given by what was then the Oregon Cycling Association (they changed their name a few years later... the "OCA" abbreviation tended to turn people off). These used to be held in the spring before the start of the Portland International Raceway racing series... if they're still held, almost any rider can benefit from them. They're not about win races... they're about how to exist in a group: single pacelines, doubles, echelon riding. All in very close quarters but with good supervision on a flat, smooth, closed course.

Oft-overlooked nice things to do (or avoid) when in a paceline:

YES, share the work, but don't cook yourself for a mile at a pace you can't keep just because the guy/gal in front of you did. Pull off before you start to burn.

When you're coming to the head of the line, DON'T SPEED UP. Hold the speed of the rider you're relieving (who should be soft-pedaling, not coasting, to slow down very slightly). If you speed up, the line behind you has to, also, and they person you just relieved will have to crank it up a notch just to stay in the line, which kind of defeats the purpose of the rest period.

If you're in a long line (five or more riders), and you're on the tail, let the next person off the point know that you're at the end ("I'm last", "Last man", whatever), as they settle past you so they can prepare to smoothly tuck in behind you. This is especially true with big and changing lines where people might be jumping in or getting dropped.

If you feel you can push the pace a little while on point, increase your speed very gradually. In fact, do everything gradually. Don't make your line-mates worry about you panicking.

Don't let the pace vary by too much, even if you are careful. Depending on the strength of the riders behind you, even a 1-2 mph change could cost you your help if everybody's tired or already near their limit.

It's been said before and very correctly... pacelines only work if all the riders are confident in one another. I usually will not join a line or fall in behind a tandem without riding alongside and talking for a while first. It gives people a chance to check out your style and size you up. This isn't a macho thing (usually). People need to know if they can trust with their continued good health.

A few times this year, Nat (the other "LeMond Brother") and I had to intentionally (though subtly) break up pacelines that had formed behind us because of erratic riding on the part of the hangers-on. We didn't say "get off" or anything... we either pulled off to the side or just pulled away on a hill.

Another time a fellow on a mountain bike was plenty steady and consistent while in trail, but once out front the wind smacked him hard and he couldn't keep the pace without weaving. Got pretty scary for a while, so we told him we could take the point and he could just sit in... soft tires and barn-door aerodynamics were just too much to fight against.

MTB/hybrid riders, please don't take offense, but your mounts do have a tendency to "mark" you as someone to keep a close eye on. Flat or upright bars and fat tires on long events can be viewed as rookie badges. It might not be fair, and I certainly know it's not always right, but it's frequently true. Probably the best way to overcome the stigma is to talk first, draft later.

Scott Saulsbury

Haven't seen what I feel is a major point about drafting. Basically, drafting is a great way to get from point A to point B, assuming that you can ride a pace line safely and are comfortable physically with the effort. However, riding in a pace line takes total concentration, because things can happen in less than a blink of an eye. Therefore, a pace line in NOT the best way to experience CO, if you want to leave with any image other than asphalt flashing past your front tire. Sometimes it is much better to ride slower, and work harder, just to enjoy the scenery. Oregon is an incredible state, and the CO's are a great way to witness the diverse landscape, if one takes the time to actually look around.

Sten "temporally in California for 26 years" Mawson

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I'm not sure that I'm still qualified to comment on this ("Assuming that you can ride a pace line safely"), but I will anyway!

I agree totally with Sten's premise, but not completely with the conclusion. Yes, riding in a pace line takes total concentration. If not your life, then at least your health, is dependent on the behavior of other in the group. In that way it is rather like rock climbing.

The result of this is that when it works, riding in a good line can be a peak experience. The group, as a group, can move along more smoothly, at a higher speed and with less effort than any one of the riders can do by him or herself. You bond to the others in the line, because you are relying on their technique, signals, etc., and they are relying on yours.

I would not want to spend all day in a pace line on CO. But a couple of hours in a pace line can knock perhaps 40 miles out of an 80 mile day, at the same time melding you with a great group. Last year, in CO XI, I fell in with a group from California and rode in a line with them for some part of almost every day. We had a blast! We also had enough time in camp to have some fun together. This year, it didn't happen so much, but I will remember for a long time riding in the line of Bag Balmers led by Team Tangerine Dream on the last day out of Joseph.

Sten is right, you don't see the scenery this way. But you do get to experience part of the group dynamics. And the "group thing" is the other reason that Cycle Oregon is so great. In fact, that's the reason I did CO XII, rather than just planning my own tour in an equally beautiful area.

I guess the bottom line is that every mode of travel has its advantages. Riding casually with one individual gives one time to talk to that person, learn a little about them, before perhaps moving ahead or dropping back and meeting someone else. Riding by myself, I find that I am more attuned to the countryside, the weather, the air, and so on than when I am with others. Riding in a line can be a real physical thrill, as well as a bonding experience and a way to move rapidly from place to place.

Perhaps that's why I love cycling -- however you do it, there is always something to be enjoyed.

Andrew "who wishes that his forks had taken greater part in that bonding experience" Black

A few years ago, while riding in a paceline with two others, I had a pretty bad accident. The lead rider signaled he was slowing by holding his arm down, hand near his hip, palm facing back. Perhaps some of you saw this motion used on CO as folks approached stop signs. Well, the signal was not relayed back in the line quickly enough, and thus I ended up clipping the rear wheel of the person in front of me. I don't exactly remember flying through the air, or even landing, but I do remember that I came to on my back, hands and forearms trying desperately to hold my helmet and head together.

Two lessons I learned that day. Both visual AND verbal cues are very important to both the draftees and the draftors, as using only one cue can cause an accident. Had the lead rider shouted "SLOWING!" I would probably have heard him. Second, the value of a good helmet is limitless. My head wasn't really coming apart, though that was the sensation I had at that moment. My helmet, however, sustained a lot of damage. The back of the helmet, upon slamming into the asphalt, cracked three or four inches straight up the back.

I don't know how much is marketing hype, and how much is hard science, but since this hard head of mine is still in one piece, and I prefer to keep it that way, I will replace my helmet every few years. I also ALWAYS WEAR MY HELMET - even to go to the grocery store.

Susan Otcenas

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
    CyclingSite > CO Collected Wisdom > Touring Info > On the Road > Drafting & Pacelines  

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