Paceline Riding in Small and Large Cycling Groups
The more I think about the group rides I have gone on over the years, the more I come to realize that the secret to success of the successful rides was the ability of the group to ride in a paceline. It really does not matter whether the group is small (2 to 5 riders) or large (20+ riders). If the group does not conform to a nice paceline, then there are bound to be problems. A small group that does not ride in a paceline will cover the planned ride a lot slower than if they had ridden in a paceline. Since their group size is small, they probably will not hog the road so much as to cause an accident with a car or truck. But they more than likely will not really benefit much from riding in a group. Another typical problem of a small group avoiding a paceline approach is that the stronger cyclists will wear out the weaker cyclists. And a rider who doesn’t feel up to the ride will eventually not continue to go for the rides. One thing that almost always makes a ride feel less than is having the lead riders continuously stop and wait for the slower riders. A paceline will make this problem go away.
A large group of cyclists on a ride has its own unique problems. Cyclists are supposed to share the roadway with cars and trucks. And the cars and trucks are supposed to share the roadway with the cyclists. But a large group of bike riders that does not ride in a paceline is a very unpredictable entity. Yes, I said "entity." And that entity has responsibilities, i.e. it is supposed to keep to the right of the road and out of the way of traffic. If in a paceline the riders will naturally stay to the right of the road. But if not in a paceline, they will tend to take up the whole road. Not good. A large group hogging the road does not give the cyclists a very good reputation. It also gives the cars and trucks an excuse for hitting the cyclists. Another "not good." So, the moral of the story, try to ride in a paceline when riding in a large group of cyclists.
I’ve just mentioned the problems associated with riding any which way except in a paceline. Now for the benefits. A paceline will equalize the abilities of riders on a ride. The strong will get just as good a workout as the weaker riders. The strong will take longer pulls at the front and get a certain target heartrate hit, and the weaker riders will take shorter pulls at the front and pretty much hit the same heart rate as the stronger riders. Of course their fitness levels are different, but they are still able to ride a good clean ride together. Another benefit from riding in a paceline is that you will really be riding your bike as a cyclist should. Riding any other way makes you look like a pure amateur when it comes to bike riding. I’d equate it to showing up for a group run with tennis sneakers and knee high socks on instead of running shoes and low cut ankle socks. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Paceline riding may keep you from socializing on the bike as much as you are used to when not riding a paceline. But are you on the ride so you can socialize or so you can get a good workout in on the bike? If the former, then you are probably just an amateur. If the latter, then you probably don’t want the amateurs on your ride. On every B-Level ride there is always going to be a potential argument between those who want a paceline and those that don’t. This is because the B-Level ride is famous for having some riders who know how to ride a bike properly and want to get a training effect doing it. While there are also those riders along who either belong on the C or C+ but want to say they rode in a B ride. They tend to be the socializers since they don’t know how to ride a paceline or they don’t want to anymore.
All I know is that I have ridden in my share of B-Level rides and I have more fun riding in the ones that use a paceline to keep the ride moving safely and in order.