Paceline Tips for Life


SOL: 30 out of 31

Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge


Chillin’ at a Rest Stop, Bike South 2000

Guess what I did over my summer vacation in the year 2000?  I celebrated the new millennium by leaving post-planning a day early to embark on a bike tour of 2,000 miles, sleeping on gym floors, in hallways, and even on a home ec counter. I had done a few organized rides before this trip, but I was in no shape for this ride covering 65 miles per day 6 days a week.

I struggled in the beginning in Florida–giant flies, hills that I did not know Florida had, and shaking and burning legs. When I was climibing the Blue Ridge Parkway and nearing the end of my journey, I was thriving, though exhausted, and even though I couldn’t rest for longer than 5 minutes, I knew what I had to do to make it to the end. I survived and thrived and found I could do more because I had found a community of cyclists.   We journeyed together 2,000 miles from Tallahassee, FL to Charlottesville, VA oftentimes in a paceline.

I definitely did not have a lot of experience with pacelines. Riding with friends I had basically learned how to draft off someone, and I learned how drafting good give me a bit of a break.  On this tour, I learned how a paceline works, how cycling can be a team sport, and how choosing the right paceline was very important.

Last night I was thinking about the paceline, how the social norms of the paceline apply to working together in the real world, and how I cannot choose all my pacelines all the time–sometimes I need to just jump in and figure it out.


In a paceline, the cyclist up front is the one doing the most work, but he/she doesn’t stay up there the whole time. Every now and then, even a leader needs to refuel by drafting off others. As very much an amateur on this tour, I still had to make my way to the front and contribute to the team. The thing is I might not be able to pull others with me for as long as the pros, I might not have the skill to make it up the difficult hills, but as a contributing member of a team, my job is to do my best.

There were some pacelines I never joined–why–because I knew I couldn’t keep the pace, I knew they were elitists all about going the fastest, and I knew they would drop me (sometimes on purpose). Well, there’s a lesson in perspective there. Sometimes I think we become elitists, myself included, and we expect people to give more than they can, more than they have, and more than they are capable of giving. At the front of the paceline, pulling more than my share of the load and working tirelessly, that, too, can be frustrating.

At the same time, as someone drafting off others, I can take a different perspective. I can be a freeload drafter and drop when I get to the front. That’s not right either. I can let others carry me and not to my part. To do so, though, is to deny the etiquette of the line, and in certain lines, the cyclists will plot to drop you. The rules are basic:  pull your part of the load, work together, and communicate with each other. These rules are not just for pacelines, are they?

In a paceline, all are not equal in what they can contribute; however, all of us need to pull our load and give what we can. At the same time, we have to work together and communicate and let the team know when we can’t pull our share of the load. There can be a certain magic in a paceline with cyclists of varying levels. Each is contributing what he/she can (even when what they contribute may not be the same). Each is working for the good of the group, working together to make it to the next rest stop. There’s a rhythm, there’s a cadence, there’s a speed, there’s a synergy. We are like one bike on the road, a machine of efficiency.

When all the cyclists contribute as much as they can, I am strengthened and invigorated and capable of giving more. The tone is encouraging, and the ride is fun. Sometimes the ride is fast and furious; sometimes it’s a little more casual. Sometimes we are laughing and joking; sometimes we are deadset focused on just making it to our destination.  As we journey from one rest stop to the next, though, we know we are all members of a group working our hardest to meet our next goal. If one cyclist can only pull for 2 minutes because he/she is tired, than that is fine. Each of us contribute what we have to give, and each of us knows that we are working on a goal. Our communication is both unspoken and spoken, yet the synergy is palpable. We are all individuals with different strengths (hills, flats, speed), but at the same time we appear as one machine.

Yeah, that’s what I’d like to achieve working with others. Wouldn’t it be great? We are focused on what we’re doing yet still looking forward. We are all doing our part. When we feel like we can’t go on, we just ask for help, so we can draft to the next stop. We are aware of strengths and weaknesses, and we build on strengths instead of on condemning weaknesses.

In life as in the paceline what the synergy depends on is that  we all will pull our part of the load, we all our willing to tell another person working too hard to drop back, we all are invested in the task, and we all work hard–together without giving up. To me these sound like simple requirements, yet in life this paceline is so hard to accomplish.

Paceline Tips for Life

  1. Share the workload. Don’t be a freeloader–pull your part of the load.
  2. Keep the pace.
  3. Don’t lead and carry everyone else until you run out of steam. Drop back before you burn out.
  4. If your notice the lead fading, tell him/her to draft for awhile.
  5. Realize we can’t all give equal amounts at all times.
  6. Encourage one another.
  7. Focus on what you are doing, yet still look at the road ahead.
  8. Know your strengths–lead when you can use that strength (we aren’t all hill climbers).
  9. Know when to get help–when you need to draft.
  10. Communicate and collaborate to maintain the steady pace and reach your goal.
  11. If you don’t do your part, you might get dropped.
  12. Synergy is magic–try to create it.
  13. There is a rest stop ahead—work together to get there.

Yep, I knew the message of the paceline would resonate with me; I just didn’t know how much. All I know is that sometimes I don’t let myself fall from the front so I wear myself, and sometimes I am not listening to the people who tell me that it’s my time to drop back and draft off others.

And, yes, there is a rest stop ahead. Spring break should begin no later than 4:30 Friday–the next rest stop is just over the horizon.

Just keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling.



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