Paceline - A group of riders drafting off of each other.
Riding in a smooth rolling and coordinated paceline is one of the great joys of cycling. It becomes an important skill to have as the distance, speed and wind conditions of your ride become more challenging. When you draft behind another rider it saves you about 30% of the effort compared to riding at the same speed on your own. When it is your turn to pull, you get a great workout and a sense of accomplishment from helping your paceline. Riding in a paceline can help cover distances quickly, so that means less saddle soreness and more time for fun and camaraderie off the bike. Staying with a group also improves your safety and fun on the road. Riding safely in a paceline is an acquired skill. It is important to have some basic knowledge about riding in groups as you begin to acquire this skill.
Drafting - Riding closely behind another rider to cut down on wind resistance.
Draft behind cyclists whose riding style and experience you trust. Try to keep your front wheel within between 6 and 18 inches of the wheel in front of you. Don't overlap your front wheel with the back wheel of the bike in front of you. Overlapping wheels is the most common reason for falls within a paceline. If you join another cyclist or paceline on the road, always announce yourself by telling the rider in front of you that you are on their wheel. It is polite to ask if you can draft.
Leading a paceline: The leader of the paceline sets the pace. The lead rider should keep a steady pace without too much slowing or speeding up. Also, the current leader should maintain a speed within the agreed range unless circumstances call for changes (dogs, wind, stop signs, mechanical problems, etc.). The leader watches out for obstacles and hazards, communicates about them to the rest of the paceline and steers smoothly around them. The leader also announces stops and turns. The leader is also said to "Pull" the paceline because the rest of the riders draft behind him or her.
Rotation: All riders in a paceline take a turn leading or riding in front of the line. This is called taking a pull. When the leader is ready to move from the front of the paceline to draft, the leader checks traffic, moves to the left and slows down while patting their right thigh. This signals that the second rider is now the leader and will be pulling the rest of the group. The length of time a rider stays at the front of the paceline can vary depending on road and ride conditions, rider ability and other factors. It is good to decide an agreed period such as a number of pedal strokes, minutes or miles for each rider. This keeps everyone fresh and everyone is able to contribute according to their own abilities. It is normal and expected that within any group, some riders will naturally ride faster and others slower. Some will naturally pull longer and others will not pull as long. The riders who are riding slower shouldn't worry too much about that. The faster riders benefit greatly from being able to tuck in and draft for a while, even if the pace is slower. It is also natural for a fresh rider to want to speed up when they take their turn in the lead. Keep that adrenaline in check and keep the agreed pace as much as possible or you might drop (leave behind) the rider who just pulled for you.
Riding in a paceline: All riders should pay close attention to the riders in front and in back of them. Don't stare at the back wheel of the rider in front of you. This actually decreases reaction time because you are less aware of hazards and other riders. Be able to react quickly and safely as conditions change in the paceline. All riders should watch for hazards and call out to the rest of the group when helpful. The last rider in the pack watches out for traffic coming from behind and signals the paceline's intentions to following traffic. When you are first learning to ride in a paceline, it is o.k. to ride at the back and observe how it works. It is not as difficult as it seems and your comfort level will increase quickly with practice. It may be best to learn your group riding skills with a group that rides slower than you are accustomed to.
Good communication greatly enhances safety and enjoyment while riding in groups. Communication in a paceline is done using hand signals and a unique cycling lingo.
Hand Signals: Signal right turns by pointing with your right hand – arm straight out. (The left arm up at a right angle was created for cars and is impractical for cyclists). Signal left turns with your left hand – arm straight out. Signal slowing or stopping by holding your right arm straight down with your hand facing backwards. Point to hazards as well as calling out about them.
Common terms include Slowing, Stopping, Turning.
Call out hazards: Gravel, Bump, Pot Hole, Grate, Debris, Road Kill, Tracks (for rail road tracks), etc.
If a rider falls, call out: Rider Down.
For any hazard in front of the line use the word UP as in Car UP. Likewise, hazards in other directions may be identified as in CAR BACK, LEFT, RIGHT, etc.
To notify the paceline that an intersection is clear and to proceed on through, call out CLEAR.
You can also combine terms. For instance, to let the line know it is safe to move left for a left hand turn, the last rider will call out CLEAR BACK while the leader may call out, TURNING LEFT, CLEAR.
When passing another rider - always do so on the left and call out On your left.
Intersections: This is a special note on intersections. The greatest number of bicycle/automobile accidents happen at intersections when cars turn left into the path of an oncoming cyclist. Be extra careful at intersections. Also, the larger the paceline, the more difficult it is to manage intersections as a group. While it may be safe for the lead rider to go through an intersection, by the time the back of the group gets there, a car could be approaching. It is important to be aware of traffic at intersections wherever you ride in the pack. You are responsible for safe and courteous riding behavior even if others in your group don't always practice appropriate technique. Stop at stoplights. Don't cross an intersection unless you are sure it is clear and you have the right of way.