Paceline Riding, Hand Signals, Drafting, and Traffic


Being a first-time road biker and riding with a group can be a little intimidating at times.  There are confusing hand signals, different drafting techniques, and cars to worry about.  Here are a few tips to help increase you’re bike-riding IQ in these areas.

Hand signals:

Basic hand signals used for communication will help you stay safe and keep the rubber side down when riding in a group.


Too often there is debris on the road like rocks, gravel, sand, sticks, and even the occasional road kill.  Pointing these out can help save someone in your group from some road rash.  When riding in a pace line, or drafting, and a road hazard is spotted, the rider in front makes a pointing motion with his right hand if on the right side or with his left hand if on the left side to identify the obstacle.  The following riders each repeat the motion until all down the pace line are made aware of the hazard.

Hand signals combined with verbal warnings can help as well.  When mountain biking in an area where there is both uphill and downhill traffic on the same trail, always let the opposing traffic know how many riders are behind you in your group. It’s also good form to yield to the uphill riders and step aside. You have gravity on your side when it comes to gaining your momentum again.

There are many different styles of bringing attention to a hazard.  I personally like to point with my finger and move my hand in a circular motion.  Talk with your group and see what works best for them.


Drafting: How to Ride in a Pace Line

You have probably seen the guys in the Tour de France riding in large groups and in lines wheel to wheel.  That’s called drafting.

Drafting is common when there is a headwind, crosswind, or when an overall faster pace is desired.  Drafting in a group can be a lot of fun but also dangerous because it requires cyclists to ride within inches of each other’s tires in order to get the maximum aerodynamic benefit.  Most of the crashes I have witnessed were the result of someone clipping the wheel in front of them, or someone not pointing out a hazard, etc.

For general group rides, drafting, or riding in a pace line, can increase your average speed by 5-10 MPH, or even more.  When drafting the rider at the front of the group is doing 100% of the work while the person sitting behind his tire is doing 80% or even less.  This is because the front rider creates something called a slip-stream that the second rider can sit in and not be affected by wind resistance as much.  When riding, get used to following closely to the rider in front of you to get the benefit of the draft. You use much less energy following a cyclist than you do riding out in the wind by yourself. Top riders feel comfortable riding within inches of the wheel in front.   Here are some basic drafting techniques and tips for drafting:

  • Put weaker riders behind stronger ones. A pace line is a team. It’s only as strong as its weakest member, so help that person.
  • Ride smoothly and predictably. Never accelerate or brake quickly. If you are running up on the wheel in front, slow down by moving into the wind slightly. Avoid hitting the brakes.
  • The tendency for new riders is to jump and pick up the pace.
  • Maintain a constant speed when you get to the front by glancing at your bike computer.  (Click here to check out some great cycling computers). If the rider at the front charges off, let that person go and hold your speed, you can move faster as a group than you can riding alone.
  • If you get tired, sit out as many turns as necessary at the back. Let riders coming back know that you are resting, and give them space to move in ahead of you.
  • As the speed increases, gaps may develop because riders can’t hold the wheel ahead or miss the last wheel as they try to get back on the end of the pace line. Strong riders need to fill these gaps in order to preserve the flow, even if it means jumping across and moving back up the line early.
  • When coming off the front of the pace lane give a flick of your elbow to let the rider behind you know you are pulling off and for him/her to take the lead position.
  • When rotating to the rear of the line, stay close to the pace line coming up the side of you.  This will help you stay in contact with the group as you hook onto the back of the line.

Drafting can be fun, but also dangerous.  Practice with a riding buddy before you get in a large group.




Riding Your Bike in Traffic:

Riding in traffic is something all cyclists encounter whether it’s on a daily commute or getting to a favorite riding spot.  Be sure to obey local traffic laws when on a bike.  For the most part the same laws that apply to cars apply to bikes.  There are a few exceptions, so be sure to educate yourself on the bicycle regulations for your area.

When riding in traffic stay to the far right of the lane.  This will help keep you safe.  Also when riding in traffic be sure to ride in a single file line.  All too often I have seen group rides were a few guys ride 3 or 4 wide at the front of the pack while blocking an entire lane of traffic (not to mention police officers can and do hand out tickets for doing this).  Technically the bikers do have the right of way, but when a bike gets in a fight with a car the car usually wins.  Be smart and respect the heavier, faster moving objects even if you have the right-of-way.

Hand signals (see above) are a good way to let motorists know of your intentions.  Also, it’s not a bad idea to ride with a light on your bike.  This just helps motorists see you better. My favorite headlight/taillight for this is the Knog Beetle.

Hopefully these few tips can help you stay safe, ride more frequent, and enjoy the sport more.  Go ride your bike!

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