There are few things in cycling more gratifying or more productive than a group of riders (peleton) organized and riding for the common good. Assuming all riders being equal it stands to reason that several cyclists riding together and sharing the work at the front will outperform the individual rider. This is not always the case. If a group of riders do not work together properly they are likely to work harder, become frustrated and lose focus of the ultimate goal, peleton integrity and/or possible victory. The irritation of riding in an unorganized rabble has been the undoing of many a fine rider caught in it, and the benefit of the rider who has broken away. Personally, over the years I have posted many individual breakaway victories simply because the chasing peleton couldn’t get organized. Here are a few principles, definitions, descriptions and observations that I hope you find helpful in understanding the dynamic of and proper behavior in the peleton. 

Trust and Predictability These are the basic tenets for riding a bicycle, especially when riding with other cyclists. Your riding skills must elicit trust from other riders and to get that trust you must be predictable. You should ride a straight and predictable line, make no erratic moves, never overlap wheels and be completely attentive to the ebb and flow of those around you. You should look at nothing, but see everything. Use your peripheral vision and keep your head up. Don’t stare at the wheel in front of you or the back of the rider’s head. If you have a focal point it should be in front of the rider in front of you, much as you do when you are driving a car. Adjust your speed gradually. Don’t jump to fill a gap, because it will create a gap behind you and affect the rhythm of the group. On the other hand, if you must slow, feather your brakes and continue pedaling. Eat or drink when you are at the back of the group or rotating to the rear in the recovery line (to be defined below).

Slip Streaming or Riding on the Wheel This is the basic principle of and reason for riding in a group of cyclists. Following in another rider’s slip stream or draft allows you to achieve the same speed as the leading rider with less work. This is simply due to the fact that you do not have to punch the hole in the air or wind, that is you have less wind resistance than the rider in front of you.

Here is a video that explains the concept of Slip Streaming, the basics:

Single Paceline This is the most common formation of a smaller, sub-group of riders who are working at the front or are off the front of the peleton. It may look like a double paceline, because riders appear to be riding two abreast at times, but it is very different. In the single paceline the riders are actually not two abreast, but two columns. One column, let’s say the riders in the column on the right (shoulder of the road), are advancing (moving forward), while the riders on the left are recovering (moving back). As the rider moves forward in the advancing line they will eventually arrive at the front of the group. The rider will then do their "turn" at the front (maybe 5 - 10 seconds) breaking the wind for the group following. At the end of their turn they will swing over to the left in a gradual and predictable manner to the recovery line (column) to start their drift back until they are the last rider, then swing over once again to the advancing line. Done properly the single paceline looks, from above, like a revolving oblong. Here are two good videos.

Rotating Paceline, the basics:

Paceline perfection. In this video notice riders of different teams working together for the common good, no undulation in speed, the ebb and flow, and the rider drinking while at the back:

Double Paceline This is the most common formation when riding in a large group of riders. In this formation you ride two abreast. In traffic the group should be as close to the right shoulder of the road as is safe. If in a "rolling enclosure", such as in a race, the group may take the entire road, shoulder to shoulder. Riders should also be riding in a tight formation, close to the rider next to them and wheel-to-wheel slightly staggered, dependent upon the direction of the wind. The riders in the front should be taking the wind head on and riders behind sheltered, so the stagger would be away from the wind or following riders being somewhat on the lee side of the rider in front of them. This is referred to as riding in an echelon. At a reasonable interval, possibly on the minute or so, the riders at the front will peel off to either side, the left rider moves left and the right rider moves right to allow the next two riders to advance to the front through the opening they have created. Thus the next two riders are now the nose of the formation, while the previous two leaders drop to the rear of the group.

Another paceline link with an illustration of the double paceline, as well as the single paceline and echelon: /wiki/Road_bicycle_racing

Riding in an Echelon As in a Single Paceline riders will rotate through, take a turn at the front and pull off into the recovery line. The difference is that in an echelon the direction of the wind is taken into consideration. In the Echelon the advancing riders will be on the leeward side (protected from the wind) and drop back on the windward side (the side receiving the wind). The reason you will "recover" or drop back on the windward side is because while recovering and falling back you are riding a bit slower than the advancing riders who are coming through. The riders coming through need to be sheltered so that they can overtake the recovering line as well as rest. Important Note: When riding in an echelon you want to keep things smooth and together.

Paceline Riding in Summary This is a good PDF outlining Do’s and Don’ts of pack riding :

Half-Wheeling Ever been on a ride when it’s a gorgeous day, a "smell the roses" kind of day, no wind, no need to hammer, but the guy next to you is riding just ahead of you? No matter how you try to stay abreast the rider remains just a half wheel or half bike length ahead. Well, he or she has placed you in what is know as "Half-Wheel Hell". Are they just trying to show you and the trailing pack how strong they are or are they intentionally trying to humiliate you? Either way, it is not cool.

Half-wheeling is a semi-aggressive act of riding just ahead of the rider next to you. The object of the half-wheeler, whether intentional or not, is to maintain this dominant position, show how strong they are and make their partner (in a two by two formation) work(hurt). In most cases(unless you are intentionally trying to disrupt the peleton for, let’s say, a teammate who is up the road in a breakaway) this is inappropriate and not cool. The main purpose of a peleton is to protect the riders behind the lead riders while, through rotation, sharing the workload at the front. Any unnecessary undulation in effort or pushing of the pace will jeopardize the integrity of the peleton. Half wheeling will eventually lead to either the partner being dropped, the partner trying to match the advance, or the partner getting pissed off and attacking the half-wheeling offender. Any of these responses to half-wheeling will effectively jeopardize the integrity of the peleton.

I can honestly say I can’t recall being half-wheeled by a top amateur or professional rider. Half-wheelers are generally riders who are inexperienced in the etiquette of group riding.

So, how should you respond to half-wheeling. Here are a couple of scenarios:

1. Slow your pace, drift back and slide over onto the offender’s wheel, thus riding in their draft.

2. Increase your speed and ride slightly ahead of him until he cries, "Uncle!"

3. Just ask him to stop half-wheeling.

The first two will also have a disruptive and negative effect on the peleton. The third option would be the correct choice, as it will bring the offense to his or her attention more directly. If this doesn’t work then swing off the front, drift back and find another partner. Sooner or later the half-wheeler will realize half-wheeling is not cool.

Pushing The Pace Let’s say you’re in the paceline of a peleton, or in a breakaway, or in a chase group and you want to increase the pace of the group. There is a right way and a wrong way. The wrong way is to pull through with a dramatic increase in speed. This action will open a gap between you and the rider on your wheel. This rider will be forced to increase their speed to match your’s or ride unprotected into the wind in the wide gap you opened. He will now spend a much longer time fighting the wind then necessary. Your acceleration will not only increase the following rider’s workload, but will reduce their recovery time , as well. This will reduce their, and probably your, effectiveness in working for the group or peleton.

The right way to push the pace is to come through at the speed of the paceline, stay on the front for an extended period and gradually increase the pace while riding at the front. If the paceline does not match your speed, then swing over to the recovery line and work with the group at their speed.

A third option would be to jump hard or attack the paceline, get up the road and see who gets across to you. If it is a couple of strong riders you want to work with, go to work and get another smaller, faster paceline going.

Glossary of Terms

Advancing Line - This is the single-file line of riders in a paceline who are moving toward the front to do work at the front breaking the wind.

Cry "Uncle" - Word you use to announce defeat, surrender or submission.

Extended Pull - This is where a strong rider rotates to the front and takes an exceptionally long turn at the front before rotating to the rear, thus giving those behind an extended time to recover.

Hammer - To ride very fast.

Leeward (lee side) - The side of the paceline that is protected from the wind

The Line - A group of cyclists riding in a line, such as a paceline

Paceline - This would be a rotating group of riders in formation to share the work at the front of the group. The rider at the front will protect those behind for a period of time. Before he is exhausted he will gradually swing to the left or right and slowly drift behind the advancing riders and take his position at the rear. This action will allow the rider on his wheel to come to the front and do the work of protecting the riders behind.

Peleton - A large group or pack of riders.

On the Wheel - Riding behind another rider.

Recovery Line - This is the single-file line of riders in a paceline who have done a turn at the front and are moving to the rear to recover from their effort.

Rolling Enclosure - A group of riders usually in a race being escorted by police and official vehicles on a closed portion of road. Approaching traffic must pull off the road as the peleton passes and following traffic must stay behind the peleton. Therefore, the rolling enclosure is actually moving at the speed of the peleton through traffic. . .very cool. Special Note: Always keep your head up for the errant motorist who may inadvertently wander onto the course.

Slip Streaming - Where a rider rides in the draft or slip stream of behind another rider

Through and Off - This is a paceline where riders rotate to the front taking the wind and doing the work for a short time before rotating to the back to recover

Windward - The side from which the wind is coming

Work - To ride at the front of the peleton, breaking the wind and allowing the following riders to recover. The rider at the front of the peleton will use up to 20 - 30% more energy to ride at a certain speed than the rider who is sheltered behind him "on his wheel."

Steve Lehman Tours, Ltd.
648 West Spring Street
Fleetwood, PA  19522