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Bicycle Pace-line Etiquette

Updated on November 12, 2009

Pace-line Etiquette

Major Taylor Club climbing toward the "Wall" near Townsend, TN.
Major Taylor Club climbing toward the "Wall" near Townsend, TN.
Buckeyes and New Yorkers ride River Road near Burnsville, NC
Buckeyes and New Yorkers ride River Road near Burnsville, NC
Brothers and sisters from Asheville, NC head toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Bicycle Inn on highway 80.
Brothers and sisters from Asheville, NC head toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Bicycle Inn on highway 80.


Ride at an even speed (constant effort).Be predictable with all your actions. Maintain a steady, straight line and avoid braking or changing direction suddenly, especially if contesting a sprint. Remember that there are riders following you closely from behind. Be smooth with your turns at the front of the group. Avoid surges unless trying to break from the bunch. A group will travel faster when turns are completed smoothly. It is each rider’s responsibility to maintain the smooth flow of the group. When riding in a pace-line, sudden movements, of any single rider, can be disastrous. This means that abrupt braking, swerving, and any type of erratic riding is always a dangerous, poor technique. When the lead rider is careful to make all the followers aware of what's coming, sudden reactions are seldom necessary.

Try not to use your brakes. Sit up or move out of the draft some, to catch some air to slow your speed. Think of your body as a kite that catches wind when more surface is exposed, then more drag. To slow down, gradually move out into the wind and slot back into your position in the bunch.

If you must brake, feather your rear brake to slow you smoothly. Do not panic-grab your brakes as it effects the integrity of the paceline which trails behind you.

Never brake when at the front of a paceline.
And the most important consideration is the responsibility of the lead rider to make all following riders aware of any impending danger. This means that the lead rider, of any group, should consider the lack of unobstructed vision behind, and therefore, the slower reaction time of the following riders. The lead rider must attempt to avoid all potholes, cracks, rocks, and road debris by taking a wide berth around these hazards. The lead rider should also make the followers aware by pointing toward the location of the obstacle and/or yelling (this is necessary to be heard over wind noise) a warning as well. Of course, these hazards may include any other vehicle, on the roadway, or entering the roadway, from side streets and driveways. When the lead rider is careful to make all the followers aware of what's coming, sudden reactions are seldom necessary. Due to sand, potholes, cracks and other road debris, as well as the potential for vehicles to pull out suddenly, it is recommended that as a group we ride farther out from the edge of the road than we would while riding alone.

Do not coast or soft pedal at the front of a paceline.
This causes a ripple in the “train” behind you.

Wiggle your arm to signal that you are moving off the front. The arm that you wiggle indicates the side that you wish the following riders to pass you on.
Awareness regarding traffic flow is invaluable. When pulling-off the front of the paceline, always take a quick look back over the shoulder to check for passing cars. If there is a vehicle coming up fast, or at all, wait to swing off (move to the back of the line). When riding on open public roads, a single file formation is the only acceptable way to move as a group. Of course, there are times when we would all like to form a nice double paceline (side by side formation) but this can only be done when we know there are no vehicles passing. However, a double pace line or two riders abreast can and may be necessary to "take up the lane" in a curve or another dangerous situation.

Keep pedaling as you move off the front. Don't stop or slow your cadence until the following rider has begun to pull through. Don’t drag race the overtaking rider. When the overtaking rider has pulled up adjacent to you, then drop your cadence not your gearing.

When assuming the front of a paceline, keep your speed constant. Do not accelerate rapidly!
Riders tend to let a much larger gap open up between cyclists when cornering, so with each position back from the lead rider increased proportionally, the total distance from engine to caboose can double or even triple. This means that the further back you are after the corner, the harder you will have to work to "get back on" the back of the paceline. If the goal is to keep the group together, the leaders should compensate and slow, to avoid large gaps.

Don't open Gaps! Keep the paceline tight. Avoid leaving gaps when following wheels. Cyclists save about 30% of their energy at high speed by following a wheel. Each time you leave a gap you are forcing yourself to ride alone to bridge it. Also, riders behind you will become annoyed and ride around you, especially if the bunch is working together to break away or catch a break in a race.

If someone accelerates to open a gap, do not jump to close the gap (except when racing), close it slowly, the riders behind you will appreciate you.

Keep about a 1 to 2 foot gap between you and the leading rider.
Distance between riders should be a spacing of one to two wheels length between riders normally and much more distance on very fast stretches or downhills. The drafting advantage of a lesser distance than this is negligible, but the risk of overlapping wheels is substantial.

Don't overlap wheels. If the rider you are following moves to hit your wheel, you will crash, not the other rider.

If you contact wheels, turn your wheel towards the wheel of the rider in front. If you turn away you will go down quickly.

If your handlebars or bodies touch a rider next to you, don't turn away; relax and keep your bike straight.
Do not panic if you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider. Try to stay relaxed in your upper body to absorb any bumps. This is a part of cycle racing in close bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction.

Don't make any sudden moves.

Don't ride too close to the edge of the road, Leave about a foot to eighteen inches to the right side when possible.

Look at the middle of the rider's back in front of you and toward the front of the paceline. Do not stare at the wheel in front of you. If you stare at the wheel you can't react to things around you.

When re-entering the paceline from the back, begin pedaling when about 2 or three riders from the back to increase your speed and move smoothly into the line. Don't wait until you're at the back. If you wait, you'll have to jump to catch the group.

Don't pull too hard at the front when racing or riding fast. Save enough energy to get back on the paceline.
While leading the paceline, each rider must make his or her own best judgment regarding how long to lead. The proper way to pace yourself is to maintain the same speed as the former rider at the front, pulling longer if you feel strong, shorter if you can't keep the pace. If the speed is obviously beyond your capability, then you should stay at the back and tell each rider to 'pull-in' in front of you as they move toward the back of the paceline for their wind-break.

When standing, don't throw your bike back. Very often a rider just standing will be as if the rider "threw the bike back". You may hit the rider behind you. Make an audible (ie – Standing!!) or visual cue (thumbs up signal) that you are about to stand out of the saddle to warn the rider on your wheel.

When climbing hills, avoid following a wheel too closely. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. This can often catch a rider who is following too closely, resulting in a fall from a wheel touch.

If you are too tired or weak to do your turn at the front of the paceline, don’t pull at the front. Just rotate smoothly through without disrupting the group's pace. Then sit at the back about 1 bike length and let others fill in the space. This is called sweeping or being a sweeper. When a rider in front of you is clearly getting dropped, a quick decision is required whether to stay where you are, or "jump-across" the gap before it gets too big. If the group is moving very fast, the latter may not be an option. This is known as the "crunch" time in bike racing terminology - when the pace is so fast that the paceline string breaks, the riders who can keep the pace end up in the lead group, and those that can't are "off the back." The rider who is "going backwards" (struggling) and perhaps letting the gap open up has no obligation to tell those behind that he's "losing it" perhaps because if he's really doing all he can to hold on, oxygen is at a premium, and speaking is not an option. It's the responsibility of the riders behind to assess and respond to the situation in this case. Each rider in the paceline is responsible for maintaining his or her place in that line. Be kind to those riders who are not as strong.

Learn to trust the wheel in front of you and ride that track. Too often riders will sit off to one side or another. This makes the pace line inefficient and look ragged.

Don’t use your aerobars in a paceline. Save them for a solo ride or time trial.

Point out and call out any road hazards ahead. These include potholes, drain grates, stray animals, opening car doors, sticks or stones, parked cars, etc.

Never spit when other riders are too close behind you.

The echelon is for crosswinds. This is the best draft for wind and is obtained by moving laterally from directly behind the wheel ahead, to the downwind side. How far 'off center' depends on the exact direction and speed of the wind. The front wheel may be even with the cranks of the rider ahead. Communication is the key to establishing this maneuver with the rest of the group.

It's generally best to match gearing/cadence in a group, but sometimes the experienced rider will gear "down one" to save energy while drafting and gear "up one" when they "hit the front" for extra power and top end speed.

Ride defensively and with a group mentality.
If an intersection is only clear for a moment, don’t lead the group to believe it is safe to go across. Try not to do anything that wouldn’t be in the group’s best interest. Be aware of what’s around you and have a plan for what to do in any circumstance.

A cyclist should ride as far to the right as possible barring parked cars, gravel and those pesky drainage grates being in your path. When passing other riders, do so on the left. If you are a slower rider, move to the right so others can safely pass you. Staying out in the lane on a hill, for example, forces faster riders to move further into the lane to get around you. Riders should never cross the yellow line putting themselves in the way of oncoming traffic.

Communication is key on group rides. If you see an obstacle such as a hole or glass that might endanger another rider behind you, it is important to call it out or motion for riders to move out of the way. On group rides, the riders are often close together and need a warning. When not in the front, it is difficult to see everything in the lane. A parked car can be especially dangerous for a rider who is tucked into the group. Use hand signals to let other riders and motor vehicles know where you plan to turn. If new riders are with a group, they might not know the route or be prepared for riders braking for a turn.
Know your ability
. Establish what you are capable of doing. Determine what ride category suits you best and go to rides which are your level.

Be on time
. The group shouldn’t have to wait for you. Plan on having enough time before the ride to get yourself together so you are ready to go at the prescribed time. Don’t wait until ride time to remember that you need sunscreen. Be prepared.

Your bike should be in good mechanical shape, your tires pumped and your water bottles filled. Your flat fix bag should have a spare tube, patch kit, tire levers and an inflation device. If you don’t know how to fix a flat, take a class or ask someone who knows how if they will teach you. Be responsible.

While fixing flats or waiting for groups to regroup, stay off to the sides of the road. Don’t “mill around” chatting and slowing autos down.

If something happens on the ride and you need emergency medical attention, other riders should be able to get that info out of your flat fix bag. If there is a sign-in sheet at the ride, be sure to get your name and emergency phone number written down before joining the ride.

Make sure your helmet fits well, is correctly adjusted, and doesn’t have any damage. Helmets should be replaced every few years even if they haven’t been crashed and should be replaced immediately if they have.

Show your respect for other cyclists and the drivers with whom we share the road. A smile and a wave go a long way if a driver has waited for a cyclist to get through an intersection. Say hello to other cyclists on the road as you pass. We are kindred spirits, connected by our passion.

Pacelines are one of the ways we travel faster.
Sure some will say, "but I don't want to go faster".
Oh but yes, you do.
When you know how those port-a-johns fill up at the next rest stop,
or a moment such as when that semi is bearing down on you and there is no where to go,
you may at that very moment wish that you were faster.
You might wish you had done your home work better, eaten better, etc.
Maybe you might wish there was a faster wheel to take.
However, for those who wish to bow out of the paceline gracefully, I have a few tips below.
These also work very well, of course, with shirking your turn at the front of the paceline.
How to Shirk the Work
(or How to Get Out of a Paceline)

Keep pedaling as you move off the front. Don't stop or slow your cadence until the following rider has begun to pull through. At this point you might pull an object such as a bandana, phone, fake phone, or other devices to distract. It doesn't have to be very visible at all. Remember these guys are probably going 20, 30, or, may as well be, 100 miles an hour anyway. They won't notice what exactly it is you're doing. However. just pulling the bandana out explains quite a bit.
Today the young people have it much easier than we older folks did. It was harder for us to come up with fresher excuses. Today there are so many distractions, reasons, and excuses for falling off the paceline. The obligations to one's cell phone alone can absolve a person of so much. "I got out of the rotation because my wife/husband wants me to pick up some Celestial Seasoning's Lemon Grass Tea". Perhaps.
You might have even had a flat, fake or real. Always carry a good tube and a tube with a small hole in your repair kit. Even though you don't stop or slow down, you can claim, "I repaired it really quickly". It's not really necessary to actually puncture your tube as some riders have. You could just let the air out.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Walt, a couple of thnigs are at work here.1. A large group can move faster than a small one because there are more people taking turns on the front, so everybody gets more time to rest in the wind shadow of the guys up front. That's how they pull back a break away they just raise the pace to the point that the break away group can't go any faster, and wait for the break away to tire.2. There really isn't a chance to the big men of the tour to make time on the other big men on flat stages, because their teams can drag the break away back. That's why you see the biggest changes in the GC happen on mountain stages where the big men's teams have mostly dropped away and it's one on one.3. The Discovery Team has huge depth, and they're not wasting their efforts trying for sprint points, mountain jerseys, team standings, or anything other than helping Lance Armstrong, nor on intra-team rivalry. I think T-Mobile has only managed to make a few good stages because half the time Vinokourov and Kloden and Ullrich are more concerned with beating each other than Discovery. The other teams just don't have the depth to be attacking day after day after day.I've got to say Vinokourov is one of the most impressive riders this year. Sure he gets dropped on the big climbs, but he gets it back and goes on the attack on the very next climb. And he's attacked every day.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great post! Very helpful for a newbie roadie!!! Thank you :-)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Per Ralph's comment about road hazardss, it's a good idea to become familiar with the roads on your personal training runs. I often don't see a pothole until I'm on it. When I drive car, truck, motorcycle, I try to note bad stuff in the road, particularly descents. Snow plows pick up sheets of amacite; difficult to descern to be a repair, water or hole.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Don't worry about many rules! Ride and notice how the rules make the rides more safe, efficient, easier and more fun. It's not a time for chit-chat and viewing the scenery. You can do that with your buddy on training rides. Riding with a group, particularly in a pace line, is a separate sport. Do it and you'll love it.

      Danger arrives, however, when one rides according to the rule of lawlessness or without rules.

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      8 years ago

      Didn't know there were so many "rules" but they all make sense! I enjoyed my first ride last weekend. If you have a chance to visit my hub . . . I mention you!!

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Yo Tony! Easy peasy! It's just like riding a bicycle. God bless you Tony!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks my brotherman for sharing these important rules. Don't know much about pace lining and so this is helpful stuff for me.

      Love and peace


    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Yes Ralph! No need to point potholes out unless it does some good. If I'm on the front that's the way it is. Thanks.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Don't wait to point out the pothole et. al. until you are beside it. Point it out AHEAD of time. Pointing under your bike at a pothole just lets the next rider know that you knew it was there and you didn't warn him!

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Yep Doug. You can't just recruit riders to conform to paceline etiquette if there is no paceline.

      Great additions for sure Wingkeel! When we ride over our heads (I do it all the time) we get tired and we're more prone to mistakes too. Keep that rubber side down.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great post! The most important thing to remember if your new to paceline riding is to let people know. They'll keep an eye out for you. It may seem they're on your case a lot but believe me, it is the fastest way to learn. Two hours of informal paceline riding will give you enough in-the-seat time that all the above rules will begin to make sense. At first, you'll just hang off the back till you get comfortable with trusting the guy in front of you. All of us have gone through it and all of us 'old guys' have a lot of crash stories to tell. Don't just jump in and pretent you know what you're doing. Let everyone know and someone will take you under their wing. One more thing...Don't jump into a group that rides at 22-24 MPH till you're ready for it. You'll just blow-up and get frusterated when you get left behind. There are lots of informal riding groups to get into. Try several till you find the one you enjoy the most. Keep the shiny side up.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Please remember if riding on the road and not in the race these rules don't apply. I had somebody ride me off a trail this year for not following these rules as he was drafting me. I didn't know him, didn't want to be drafted and was just out on for a nice quiet ride.

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      I love you Dear Peggy! God bless!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is very interesting and I'm sure vitally important to those who ride with groups of other bicyclers. Thanks for the primer, Micky.

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      God bless Samuel Hodges! We live in a great are to ride. Ride on and write on!

    • samuel hodges profile image

      samuel hodges 

      9 years ago from Winston-Salem NC

      Great stuff! I have a "Le' Tour," racing bike. I don't have a bike team to ride with. This hub gives me tips on biking with the pack. This info is very good. Thank you. I will read more later.

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Get that bike Origin! It's a beautiful way to go. There are a lot of rural roads here to enjoy. Ride on Bro! Thanks!

    • Origin profile image


      9 years ago from Minneapolis

      This makes me wish I was into biking, a lot of great scenery!

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Alright dobsc400! Most hubbers don't realize the intricacies of cyclists riding together. I'm glad you can empathize! Keep that rubber side down!

    • dobsc400 profile image


      9 years ago from Wellington

      Fantastic Hub Micky, possibly the best on hubpages. Very nice of you to use poliet terminology, I can imagine that Phil Liggett would say "off the back" but every one else I know just says "out the a**"

    • Micky Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Yo Chris Eddy. You're right! There are too many rules and not enough music! I'll get on it! Thank you Love!

    • Chris Eddy111 profile image

      Chris Eddy111 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      "Dem's a whole heap a rules and regulations", but I guess very necessary to keep everyone in the know and flow.

      What type of music would be good here? Nice hub Micky Dee.


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