Paceline Ride, Take 2... or How I Psyched Myself Out, Then Had Fun After All

After two weeks of cancellations due to inclement weather and a week skipped due to injury, I finally did my second paceline ride. Because so much time passed since the previous one, the whole thing had gotten completely blown out of proportion in my mind, and I was even more nervous than before. I was now convinced that it wasn't being on a touring bike that made the ride strenuous for me last time - it was just me, being hopelessly out of my league. Was I prepared to face the embarrassment of arriving on my 110% appropriate loaner Seven just to have the same experience as before?

But moreover, as time passed I began to question whether pacelines were really a good idea for "someone like me." Since my write-up about the first ride, I've been warned by readers and acquaintances alike about how unsafe pacelines are, how ruthless the members of this particular cycling team supposedly are, and how there was no need to go to extremes - why not join a nice social group ride instead? I've even received links to videos of paceline crashes, just to make sure it sunk in what sort of danger I was exposing myself to. Though I took it all with a grain of salt, I would be lying if I said it didn't get to me. When I arrived to the meeting point for the ride, I was so nervous that I had to practically shove myself toward the group of women sitting on the grass. I can't believe that I managed to psych myself out to that extent. I did the ride, and it was great.

To clear up a misinterpretation of my previous post on the part of some readers, I never meant to suggest that the atmosphere of the last paceline ride was anything but welcoming. The leaders told me I had the wrong bike not because they were being unfriendly, but because I did have the wrong bike for that type of ride. This was an introduction to a sport and I basically showed up with inappropriate equipment. This handicapped me in comparison to the other participants, and they were simply letting me know that. My description of doing the previous ride on a touring bike was meant to show the humour of the whole situation, and not to criticise the nature of the ride or its organisers - for whose guidance and time I am genuinely grateful.

This time around, the difference in speed was so obvious that it is hardly worth discussing. Yes, a Seven Axiom set up for racing is faster than a Rivendell Sam Hillborne set up for touring, and to frame this as some profound realisation would be absurd. Still, I was tremendously relieved to have real evidence and not just assurances that "the right bike" would make such a difference. The right bike does not have to be a Seven of course. But it needs to be a light, aerodynamically set-up roadbike with closely spaced gearing and modern combination levers. When that's what every single other person in the group has, then that's what you need to have in order to be on equal footing.

Our group was larger this time and by the middle of the ride it was evident that a gap kept forming in the same spot. So we split into two groups and I ended up in the faster one. This was fantastic. I was mostly in the big ring for the rest of the ride, took more turns in the front, and practiced rotating while going full speed downhill. One of the leaders made sure to pull up alongside me and cycle as closely on my left as possible on the descent, having noticed that I am scared of that kind of proximity. With no way of escaping, I thought I'd lose my marbles and crash into a tree out of sheer fear of sensing her elbow 1" away from mine. "Oh my God, you're too close to me!" I pleaded. "No I'm not. Keep going. You need to get used to this." And I guess she had the right idea for how to deal with me: I got used to it.

At this point I am probably horrifying some of you again and making you wonder what on earth attracts me to this type of cycling. Honest answer: I don't know. But something definitely does. I like the speed. I like being in a paceline. I like receiving straightforward feedback about what I am doing wrong. I am relieved to know that my speed and endurance are up to par. My technique needs a lot of work, because I am still somewhat scared of the bike, scared of downhill speeds, and not entirely comfortable with constantly shifting gears. But all of that can be improved if I am willing to practice. The funny thing about human psychology, is that we tend to do what feels good without really knowing why, then construct elaborate rationalisations of our actions after the fact. But right now I'm too tired and confused to rationalise. I don't fully understand why I like the paceline rides. But I know that I want to keep doing them.


  1. I really like these posts, V (no more attempting to spell it. I give up!). Lovely Bicycle has a certain tone and content, generally, that attract a certain type of rider: transportation-oriented, or C&V types, or just people who like aesthetically pleasing bikes. We're all in roughly the same area, you know? But with stuff like this, where you're trying something new and away from your comfort zone, we learn more about YOU. I like that I would HATE doing a paceline ride, because that makes this post about you and not about something I might like to do with my bike, if that makes sense. So it personalizes the blog, which is cool.

    I say: have fun with the paceline if you like the paceline. But now this means you're going to have to get another bike :). I look forward to hearing about that journey too!

  2. You rock, now I am intrigued by pacelines. I didn't even know about this phenomenon before your blog posting. Thanks!

  3. So, the $7,000 question is did they notice that you had a sweet new ride? Any comments on it?
    Glad that it was a successful outing!

    I had a friend who learned to drive in Mexico city. They way you did this was hired a guy from down the street, who after a brief education in the formalities would take you into the worst traffic you could imagine, and yell instructions at you: as in Merge left NOW! Pedal the to floor NOW! Hit the brakes NOW! Until you learned a certain amount of "traffic sense" this guy would tell you everything you needed to do in a no-nonsense way, and you just needed to stop thinking about it and do it. She said that it was pretty much the only way to do it in such a difficult environment. Not to compare a paceline to Mexico city traffic, but sometimes the best way to learn something difficult is to have someone absolutely tell you exactly what to do, and you can think about it after you've come out the other end.

  4. Gearing and indexed shifting make all the difference. As you changed so many components your test was not as scientific as it could have been but I'm glad of the result.

  5. Good for you! I'm delighted to hear you had a better experience this time.

  6. Ryan - Right. I think it was at least 50% the shifters and gearing, plus things like the wide saddlebag, dynamo lighting, and the 20lb weight difference.

    Cycler - Oh come on, its only a $5,000 or so scuffed up demo model question : ) My bike was a success, but mostly because of the pretty red saddle. Several women commented that they find the Campy brifters hard to use, while others commented that those are the only ones they can use at all. Big split on that one.

    I socialised more this time and paid more attention to bikes. There were a couple of IFs, a Merlin, a few Serottas, a Luna, and a couple of Sevens. The rest were mostly Specialized and Trek. There was a woman with a Seven Axiom in a slightly more advanced group and we talked about the bikes. She got hers two years ago and has been doing these rides ever since; she is very happy with it.

  7. 20lb weight difference? Wow. Even my city/touring bike is only 10lbs more than a racing bike. Honestly at 6'6" 190lbs I don't notice the 10 lbs but 20lb? Yes. I think that would make a difference.

    I love my bar ends for easy maintenance but trying to keep up with people with index shifting on unfamiliar routes is really difficult for me.

  8. Well, what are you going to do now? You're ruined! You'll just have to go out and buy a fancy fast bike. Then you'll start training more and more, and soon it won't be "Lovely Bicycle" anymore, it'll be "Eat Dust, M**********rs".

  9. Ryan - I had lots of stuff in my saddlebag when I did the ride on the Hillborne : (

    Jon Webb - Nah. More likely I will just "privatise" these experiences and keep the content here about "lovely bicycles." After all, I do lots of stuff in my real life that I don't post about here.

  10. snarkypup - It's a different spelling here vs on bikeforums, sorry if it's confusing : )

  11. I had no doubt you could do it. It's so fun to read about you pushing your cycling abilities to new heights. You are an inspiration to your readers, even though some may think you've gone off the deep end.

  12. I think you're looking for the word "exhilarating" :) It sounds like great fun. Don't give up writing about it-- I really enjoy it peppered in with all of the Lovely stuff. It's informative and inspiring.

  13. Velouria, I see that you are attaching a helmet to your head in the picture above.

    I know you don't like to discuss this topic (and I know why). But if you think you can alight on it just for a moment... can you suggest a threshold at which decide to wear a helmet? Is it based on speed? Are you only wearing one because of the nature of the paceline?

  14. Julia - I have no suggestions on this topic; whatever you're comfortable with. I am wearing one because the ride requires it, as do all competitive forms of cycling. I have a few friends in Europe who race (track and road), and I know that they will wear a road helmet when on a roadbike and dressed in lycra, but would never wear one when cycling for transportation in normal clothes on an upright bike - so that could be one way people make a distinction. It's a personal decision really.

    Just as an FYI, I would happily show pictures of myself road cycling in a helmet and would even discuss road helmets, but the last time I tried this I got comments congratulating me and comments calling me a traitor, and I just don't want to deal with either.

  15. Is that a chin strap you're adjusting in the photo??

    If so.......Great!! :^))

  16. Peppy (now feed me)June 9, 2011 at 2:39 PM


  17. Not sure the motivation behind "privatising" this kind of experience. Seems to me the journey is more interesting than bike products and helps people understand their bikes better.

    Speaking of which I have some non-psych questions: how different was your avg. speed from last time, overall, uphill, downhill, flats? The fast group was fantastic - more speed = more exhiliration? Were there any surges that had to be closed or did people get excited and try to ride off the front? Are you as comfortable on the Seven as the Riv now? Did you learn what it was about Shimano or Campag that bothered the women? What are you focusing on when you're in line, mentally and physically, riding-wise? Where do the ride leaders teach you to look when following a wheel?

    Feel free to ignore or answer any of the above.

  18. Also, GRJim, I agree! Good questions!

  19. You have me wondering what sorts of these exist in New York. STOP. :)

  20. The lady riding on your elbow sounds like a smart lady. Stick with the smart wheels, the smart wheels keep the rubber side down.

    Low gears. I've no idea which cogs you used with the big ring so this is only a general suggestion. Use a gear lower in a paceline than you would for the same speed solo. Your speed will be steadier, your pullthrough when you hit the front smoother. Pacelining is the best time ever to work on your spin so do it.
    Small gear is also safer. When/if things get exciting there's a natural tendency to kick the pedals hard. With smaller gears you are less likely to overcontrol the bike.

    And congratulations. And thank you. You are bringing back memories of when I learned this stuff half a century ago.

  21. GR Jim - Thanks, this is the kind of stuff I forget to write about unless prompted.

    I think speed was a bit faster than last time. I paid more attention this time, wondering how the hell a ride described as 12-15mph can feel strenuous. In practice, the average was prob 15mph at least, with the 12mph being the absolute minimum when ascending and trying to keep the group together. Glancing at my computer on flats, it was usually 15-18mph. Top downhill speed was 29mph.

    Fast group fantastic... I think this was because I got to pedal "for real" downhill as opposed to soft pedaling and riding the brake. I am realising that I find it less scary to pedal downhill than to coast, so I think this made it easier to control the bike and I was more confident, which in turn made me go even faster. I had never pedaled in such a high gear before; it was amazing.

    We weren't allowed to ride off the front, and I was told a few times to reduce my speed when I was first - oops.

    I have 320 miles on the Seven now and am pretty comfortable with it, but still not as comfortable as with the Rivendell. It just takes time.

    When in the line they tell us to train our peripheral vision and look past the person's in front left elbow at the road while also keeping track of where our wheel is in relation to theirs. I find this an oddly soothing experience.

    Re shifters and privatisation, will answer later cause it's a whole thing.

  22. as a fairly non atheletic person- I really dig jumping into atheltic worlds and getting pushed. I hate it sometimes in the moment but really like it. It's a strange thing.

    I'm taking Tennis right now and I am horrible. I keep at it though- my brain is being worked in ways it never has. I am not a team, dual sport person I am not a reactive sports person- I swim, bike and run ( walk really) and do yoga- it's all about physical meditation for me- so to have to react with form to a moving ball and a whole other person- it's freaking me out- but I like being uncomfortable for 60 mins a week.

  23. "We weren't allowed to ride off the front, and I was told a few times to reduce my speed when I was first - oops."

    Yep. Alternate universe blog: Fast Fiets.

  24. Anon - I am told that I have a high cadence, so I don't think I was in too high a gear. Plus, they will often tell us when to get in the big ring!

    MamaVee - In HS, we were told that we *had* to choose a sport if we were applying to certain colleges, so I played varsity tennis. My being able to play at all was only an extension of being good at ping-pong, which is to say that I was a passable tennis player at best, highly resistant to coaching or team spirit. I played 4th singles at the height of my "career," and we were the second worst team in the region : )) Haven't played since my early 20s though; f*ed up nerves in my hands and can no longer grip a racket. Thank goodness, because I kind of hated it!

  25. GR Jim - But I think that speaks more of my inability to maintain constant speed than of anything to be proud of? I think everyone makes the mistake of going too fast when in front at first.

  26. Well done, you! I'll resist my motherly urge to tell you to "BE-CAREFUL-FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD!!!" ; )

  27. I was going to predict coming from nearly getting dropped on the Riv to ride in the fast group on a fast bike at the front is a guaranteed recipe for surging off the front. Absolute speed corrupts absolutely.

    Some people never learn to maintain speed whilst there. I wish everyone I've ever ridden with, and me too, had done these rides as a sort of mandatory driving course. You are lucky to have this resource.

  28. Riding that close to other bicyclists sounds like it must be like flying in formation in a jet fighter - thrilling!

    Have fun!


  29. Okay, quick reply about the shifters:

    The women who dislike the Campys say that they have trouble using their thumbs when shifting. Before last night I would have said "What??" But now I finally get it. My right thumb got weak toward the end of the ride and I began to have trouble upshifting in the rear. I am a special case due to the nerve damage stuff, but I think many women have some degree of weakness in that area of the hands. Having said that, it is still easier for me to use the Campys than any other shifter, brake lever or brifter I've tried so far.

    The women who dislike the Shimanos say that the shape of the levers is weird, that it's difficult to modulate the brake in fine gradations, and that they get confused about the shifting. I don't so much get confused with the STI shifting, as I find the Campagnolo Ergo system more intuitive. But I agree 100% re the shape and brake modulation - I don't feel that I can confidently use STI brakes, whereas with the Ergos it was easy and smooth from the start.

    I think which system one prefers really depends on the shape of their hands, the strength of their grip in various parts of the hand, and a myriad of other factors.

  30. I just wanted to join in the congratulations, and also add that like many others, I'm really enjoying these posts. Your "sporty cycling" posts don't lure me in that direction in the least, but they're very engaging to read, especially as you describe that double vision involved in the unexpected pleasure.

    Vicarious speed for those of us who never take descents at more than about 8 mph, yay! (Actually I have no idea how fast I go, up or down, as I don't have a computer or any skill at estimating such things).

  31. I'm glad you cleared up the misinterpretations of your first ride with regard to the atmosphere of the group. Also, good to hear you're evolving in the ability to receive advice--all good. Congrats and please keep the information coming.

  32. ^ Evolving in the ability to receive advice? Holy smokes, listen to yourself much?.

  33. Which advice - To get a different bike? or that pacelines are dangerous and I ought not to do them? : )

    The thing about advice, is that there is all sorts. In the end, the person chooses which of the numerous pieces of advice they follow, so it still ends up being about what the person ultimately feels like doing.

  34. When riding in a paceline, I think it's important to have a bike that feels like an extension of your body. I raced long before STI and Ergo, so I am used to downtube shifters. (There were pacelines back then!) I use downtube shifters (and my randonneur bikes) in pacelines all the time. At other times, I ride racing bikes, and honestly, there isn't much of a difference. I suspect the performance difference between the 7 and your other bike has more to do with your position (power output, aerodynamics) and the frame (flex characteristics).

  35. Mindless tech blather:

    The thumb lever def requires more pressure than the paddle on Campy. Not sure why, but Euro pros are said to prefer a more defined, harder action. Incidentally, the Pro Tour is where Campy does their nth degree product testing, not sure where Shimano does theirs.

    Mrs. GR's womens-specific 10sp STIs have such a short reach that for me it's an on/off proposition. I can see how it's a good design for people who have small hands/weak grip strength, but not so good for the small hands/strong grip strength folks. Type of bar has a lot to do with brifter compatibility as well, not to mention hood angle, not to mention everything else.

    An important distinction when discussing STI vs. Ergo is the generational differences within each mfg. Your 11sp hoods & levers are way different from my old 10sp.

    Descents. Pedaling is certainly more "empowering" than soft pedaling and feathering. The fast bike just wants to run; when you let it big smiles.

  36. Jan - You are a stronger and more experienced cyclist than me, with probably 5000% better bike handling skills. I can readily believe that to you it simply would not matter where the shifters are located. But to me the Ergos made an enormous difference. On the last ride, I would quickly lose speed when fumbling with my bar ends, whereas this time changing gears was seamless and instantaneous. The closely spaced gearing was also a big help. On the Rivendell, I have a widely spaced touring cassette, which I now understand is not appropriate on these rides. I would shift just 1 gear and immediately lose speed in comparison to the others in the group. It was difficult to get my cadence in sync with theirs when my gearing was so different.

    Please don't misinterpret what I wrote in the post. It is of course possible to do paceline rides with any kind of shifters and on any kind of bike. Paceline rides are done on touring bikes and on single speeds all the time. But it is crucial that members of the group have similar equipment. What I wrote is that if every single other person in the group has brifters and a bike geared for racing and you have friction bar-ends and a bike geared for touring, than:
    a. you have to be a stronger cyclist than the rest of them to begin with (which includes better bike handling skills), or
    b. you will be at a disadvantage

    Do you disagree?...

  37. Most mechanics have strong hands. Many riders actually prefer a slightly stiff shift lever. From this end of the keyboard I can't tell how slick your Ergopowers are working, but I sure have seen a lot of variation on bikes whose riders reported "no complaints".

    If you have thumb reserve strength x while your mechanic has reserve strength 8x he may think that when the lever is set at resistance 2x it works just great, while to you it's a wall.

    The Campy system continues to function while really dry notchy & stiff. With careful cable routing and lots of grease the resistance on that lever gets real low. Campy allows several different cable routings over the 'bars and different wrenches do it different ways for their own reasons.

    Of course the lowest resistance can be had with the latest Super Record 11spd gear but you knew that.

    Ask the Ride Studio guys if there's room for improvement. It's at least 50/50.

    When your thumb just dies on a very long ride, use other fingers. Clumsy, annoying, but it works.

  38. "At this point I am probably horrifying some of you again and making you wonder what on earth attracts me to this type of cycling"

    Because it's FUN!

    Riding fast in a group is a great experience, and it doesn't have to be a competitive thing. While I've dabbled a bit in racing, I've also found myself pulling with a 25mph paceline during a charity ride, just "because we could."
    While cruising around at a casual pace with no particular need for speed is a great way to enjoy cycling, it can also be a "lovely" bike experience to fly along quickly on your human-powered machine. I think the rest of us are enjoying hearing about your forays into the speedy end of the cycling world.

  39. "...evolving in the ability to receive advice..." Wow. Umm...huh?

    A wise man once told me that "Opinions are like a$$holes. Everybody has one, and most of them stink."

    Were I in her position, I'd draw my own conclusions, too. I would filter all the input I received, as well as remain skeptical of things like "magic" ball bearings that defy gravity. Just sayin'.

  40. Christopher FotosJune 9, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    I love these posts and I love that you are doing this.

    It reminds me of when I entered mountain bike races last year, for the first time in my life, at age 54. I had no business doing it, but I found a way to do it that didn't endanger anyone else and it was exhilarating. The only reason I'm not doing it this year is that I'm trying to rehab a rotator cuff problem.

    Rock on V!

  41. Regarding shifters--have you tried SRAM double tap yet? Glad you're enjoying the paceline--I find pacelines addictive although it can be hard to find one that achieves the elusive flow that elevates the ride to a zen-like experience. This season I keep finding myself in a group with an overeager rabbit who breaks up the group when he rides at the front, or a few people who get dropped on every uphill. It's still fun though!

  42. JanHeine "At other times, I ride racing bikes, and honestly, there isn't much of a difference. I suspect the performance difference between the 7 and your other bike has more to do with your position (power output, aerodynamics) and the frame (flex characteristics)."

    Velouria: Glad to hear your second ride went better than your first.

    JanHeine: Twenty pounds lost between ride 1 and ride 2 is a big and easily understood difference that is directly related to the bike set ups. In Velouria's first ride report she said she was among the faster people on the flats, but would fall behind on the hills. Of course, hills are the place where excess weight hurts the most, and twenty pounds is a lot of weight, especially for a smaller (125 pound) rider.

  43. A big smile for Velouria from here in Santa Cruz. Herself and I knew you had it in you, and that you'd find it good fun. Thirty miles an hour pedaling downhill is a far cry from what you thought you could do. I bet you'll be hitting 40+ and liking it by the end of summer.

    Please don't go dark about this part of your cycling. It's just as enjoyable to read as the lovely upright stuff. Snarkypup has an excellent point.

    Now, are you going to see about grabbing that Seven, or....

  44. Lesson: Using the right tool for the job at hand makes a BIG difference!

  45. I love these posts too as I'm living vicariously through you at the moment. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. Just curious if the instructors discussed clipless pedals with you at all. Were the majority of the riders clipped in, or no? I know it's probably too early to ask, but just wondering if it's piquing your interest at all, and if you felt not being clipped in affected your performance compared to the other riders.

  46. Sue - Every single person except for me wore clipless. But they have no problem with my PowerGrips, as long as I can start and stop as swiftly as everyone else - which I can. This is encouraging and now I wonder how far I can take things while managing to avoid clipless.

    Corey - I am working on a more permanent bike solution : )

    David in Maine - I've tried SRAM once; didn't like. The double tap is confusing; I panic easily!

  47. "When your thumb just dies on a very long ride..."

    Ha! Yes, that is exactly what happened. It just "died" and wouldn't click anymore until I'd let it rest a bit.

    Hmm so you're saying the tension of the right thumb-click-thingie can be adjusted independently? Thanks, that is good news. I didn't think it was a problem until this ride, but now I'll definitely get that done.

  48. One thing to remember is that racing bikes like the Seven are designed to be more stable at higher than at slower speeds. Another thing--which you've probably noticed--is that the synchronization of the riders actually makes pacelines safer than other kinds of groups for riding.

    My point is: Trust the bike. Trust the group. And, most important, trust yourself.

  49. Thank you, I know you don't intend this blog to promote sporty cycling, but your recent posts on paceline riding has really inspired me to join a road riding club. I've always been intimidated by not having the ride gear etc, but I feel really motivated and emboldened to now. I look forward to the future occasional sporty cycling post!

  50. Velouria @ 11:42

    There's no tension adjustment. It's only that any cable run has friction. Bicycle cable runs can always be tuned,tweaked, coaxed.
    Since these systems basically work extraordinarily well, and mechanics have strong hands, there is little incentive for the mechanic to go the extra distance. Until someone asks.
    Campagnolo especially responds to human effort. Campy guys know how to do this. If you get a blank stare, try comparing your shift lever to others. When I work on these I am always amazed by the wide range of "normal". You might have good ones already. And you are asking the mechanic to do something at the edge of what his fingers can perceive.
    There's always room for improvement in Bowden cable.

  51. Justine - The Seven is stable at fast speeds, but I do not find it unstable at slow speeds either. I've ridden it at under 10mph around the neighbourhood. It could be that my bike handling skills improved too I suppose, but I think it's mostly the bike. The first time I test rode it, I remember thinking how unexpectedly "easy" it was to ride.

    Oh and yes, I feel safer in the paceline than in the more chaotic social rides. It is especially nice to cycle behind the experienced riders whose pedaling is smooth and predictable.

    Anon - Thanks for clarifying, I will talk to them.

  52. How fun. Sounds like you did great.

  53. So, Velouria - do any elaborate rationalizations come to mind yet, or are you still just enjoying yourself?


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