The following article is reproduced from the print newsletter of a cycling club.

This is about riding in a group. A happy, social, gabbing, shleping along the road group. I believe a paceline is the essence of group cycling. It allows a cyclist to travel fast with less effort than if traveling alone, due to the decrease in wind resistance. When I ve been in a well-organized paceline I ve had the feeling that my bike and body were one and we were functioning as part of a smoothly operating unit, doing more than we ever could individually. The feeling is hard to explain but wonderful to experience. However, pacelines are inherently dangerous and the need for communication is heightened since a small miscommunication can cause a multiple crash, normally at a pretty high speed.

    Pacelines operate simply, cyclists are arranged closely behind one another to take maximum advantage of the "drag" effect of the cyclists to the front. The cyclist in the front travels at the group pace, when no longer able to do so, pulls off to the left and drifts back to the end of the paceline. The new lead cyclist increases effort SLIGHTLY to maintain the group pace. The hallmark of a good paceline is smoothness. A good paceline is built on trust. All the riders have to be confident that the others in the group will communicate well and ride safely. Not slowly, safely. 

    Two cyclists can function as a mini-paceline, taking turns at the lead. This is a great technique to use if you are dropped by a larger group and trying to get back. If you find yourself in this situation, ask the other cyclist(s) if they want to take turns pulling up to the group. If they do, take the lead and allow the other cyclist(s) to draft for a short time, then let them know you are going to pull off to the left. Drift back to the end of your group, pull in to the right and increase your effort to stay with them. Above all, communicate with them, by working together you can almost always get back to the main group. 

Types of pacelines

Four types of pacelines. The two at the left are relatively easy, but the two at the right require a well-coordinated group of expert riders.  Image take from: http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter7a.htm

    A person who won t take a turn at the front is not so affectionately known as a "wheel sucker . While this may be a valid team tactic among competitive cyclists, it s not the thing to do on your local group ride. If you start riding with a group doing pacelines, you ll learn the protocol. Take your turn at the front and maintain the group pace, then "peel off" to the left. If you re not as strong as other cyclists, your turn may be much shorter than the norm. Two mistakes to avoid are: 1) staying in front so long you slowly decrease the group speed ( they ll tell you) or 2) staying at the front so long you re cooked by the time you pull over and as a result can t keep up when you get to the back of the group.

    Riding in a well functioning paceline is one of the joys of cycling. It takes extra care and effort but is well worth both. Enjoy!