Drafting’s going well, and you’re riding nicely in the paceline. You’ve experienced the wonders of speed and efficiency it has to offer. Now it’s time to go to work. No free rides on this train. Time to take some pulls.
Don’t be afraid. No one’s expecting you to be Superman. But even when you’re riding with exceptional riders, it’s good etiquette to take even a token pull before rolling off the front. This has two benefits: it shows you’re a team player, and it keeps the front-to-back rotation going smoothly.
When your second in line, the rider in front will usually signal one of two ways. Either they’ll make a “come here” motion (waving the hand forward, while the arm is pointing towards the ground), indicating they want you to take over, or they’ll signal that they’re pulling off the line. NOTE: This might not always be the case. Some riders will just pull off, especially at faster paces, but for now, practice signalling when you’re done with your pull, even if other’s don’t.
At this point, take a line from the British playbook: Keep Calm and Carry On. As the rider in front of you gives way, they’ll start to slow down. You’ll notice that you’ll be facing more wind (a lot, in a strong head wind), and you’ll have to work harder to maintain speed. Tip: before the rider in front pulls off, note the speed you were at. Try to maintain that speed when they pull off and after you’re in front.
If the pace is too faster for you to maintain, drop it a little, but do your best to keep if up. If it is too fast, you can always pull off quickly. If the pace isn’t too fast, don’t go to the other end and speed up the line. The paceline works best when you maintain consistent speeds. The more changes in speed there are, the harder everyone has to work to maintain a smooth line.
Keep your early pulls short. If not, you’ll wear yourself down and drop off the back of the line when you’re done. Try to aim for a 30-40 count in your head. This should be long enough to get the feel of pulling without wearing you down. As you get more comfortable with pulling, increase your time or the distance. At 15 mph, a mile takes 4 minutes to cover. At 20 mph, it takes 3 minutes to cover. So if you want to pull for a half-mile and your paceline is doing 20 mph, you’ll be up there for 1.5 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re starting out, that’s a long time.
When you’re ready to be done, signal to the next rider to come up and take your place. Tip: if you are moving off the line to the left, signal for them to come up on your right – use your right hand. To slow down, use the slowing techniques you practiced for paceline riding: light-pedal and sit up more. You shouldn’t have to hit your brakes, because the line has the benefit of working together. You’re off the line, so you’ll naturally be slower.
Stay close to the line as they pass you. This will help you maintain speed, even while not in the line itself. When the rider that was originally in front of you gets about half-way ahead of you, start moving over to join the line. The air bubble of the line will help you swing into place at the back. Don’t force it, or you’ll oversteer and end up past the line or running into the last rider. Do be ready to up your pace to match the line though.
Now you’re truly a part of the paceline, not just “sitting in” (getting a free ride). Enjoy!