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Rotating Pace Lines

The Gliders and A Riders use pace line formations to enhance their safety and to move faster as a group. The safety part only works when everyone knows what they are doing in the formation, and are not trying to ride above their ability level. Those who do not know what they are doing will do things that violate pace line rules, and could easily lead to a crash. Those riding above their ability level will have trouble executing all of the necessary maneuvers and as a result may cause a crash. Of course, those who know the rules but disregard them are as bad as those who do not know them in the first place.

A more advanced formation that is used by the A Riders but not the Gliders is the Rotating Pace Line. Generally, this is a two column formation where one column moves faster than the other. The lead rider in the faster column will always be moving over to the slower column, and the last rider in the slow column will always be moving over to the fast column. Ideally, the line most sheltered from the wind will move faster than the other line.

An important point about this formation is that everyone in it must operate at the SAME level. A strong rider will have to back off to not put too much stress on the weakest rider participating in the rotation. The group MUST operate at the comfort level of the weakest rider to avoid dangerous conditions. This formation is best for groups of from six to sixteen well matched riders. The formation is not a good idea when there is a wide range of abilities in the group.

The skills needed to properly participate in a Rotating Pace Line are perhaps the most delicate you will be called on to use in group riding. Pulling off the front of the fast line is tricky. You must clear the fast line and slow immediately to the slow line speed in order to not leave a gap in the slow line. Start your move before the lead slow rider has completely dropped behind you, and begin slowing as soon as you have started the move over; once you learn the timing you will arrive on the front of the slow line at the slow line speed. The most common error made by newcomers to rotating pace lines is to continue pedaling hard for a few revolutions after leaving the fast line. Since the slow line is going slower, this rockets the rider several bike lengths in front of the slow line, leaving a gap, depriving the slow line of your draft, and forcing the slow line to accelerate to catch you.

Ideally, the difference in speed between the fast line and the slow line should be 1 to 2 mph. Rotating pace lines are not very efficient when there is a big speed gap. A big speed gap is an indication that riders that do not belong in the rotation are participating.

If you find yourself in a group that is going into rotation, and you feel that you do not have the necessary skills or that the speed is too high for you, try to “sit on” off the back of the rotation. Do this in back of the slow line, preferably even a bit to the outside of the slow line. As the last person in the slow line comes back, he should not see another cyclist over his inside shoulder; if he does he may continue backing up expecting the rider to be in the rotation. While sitting on, you will constantly be catching up to the last person in the slow line, with a one bike length gap forming as each rotator moves to the fast line. Until the line becomes accustomed to you being there, you may need to give audible signals to the other riders to tell them you are not rotating.

If the group encounters a wind shift that dictates that the line should change the direction of their rotation, be very careful about how this is done. Pick a point up the road and pass the word that the direction will shift at that point. Make sure that everyone knows what will happen before doing the change. There should be a lot of loud yelling. If the group is large, it may well be better to just live with the situation as letting everyone know may not be possible.

If you are new to Rotating Pace Lines, the best way to learn is to go out with a small group and a coach and practice at slower speeds. Once you have learned the technique, increase speeds to experience the thrill of this formation when it is done properly; when done improperly, this formation is dangerous and not much fun.

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