Ken wrote this after there had been some discussion in the club, on the discussion list and elsewhere, about the perils of paceline riding. This was a newsletter submission - May 17, 2005.
Tom Hocking's Pacelining for Dumbies is an excellent primer on riding in a paceline. I do it, you do it, we all do it, often without a second thought. However, pacelining is not without its dangers. Each time you join/form a paceline you should consider some of the downsides:
* you can't see hazards as well. Stones, glass, rough pavement, even oncoming or side traffic that you would normally see when riding alone, is suddenly upon you before you know it. At night the risk increases, add some rain and the risk of a flat tire or a nasty tumble increases dramatically. Won't happen you say? Ask the young lady from Florida who was flown to the hospital after a mishap on the last RM 1200; she will tell you it can happen in broad daylight. Ask me --- I broke a clavicle and 8 ribs as a result of riding at the tail-end of 5 riders on my 1st flèche; ask Henry Berkenbos who hit rumble strips on a rainy night Flèche ride ... he also was at the back of 5 riders -- result, a trip to the hospital -- broken helmet, broken handlebar and broken clavicle.
* sudden equipment failure of a rider in front of you can lead to disaster -- something (like a broken fender, loose fender stay, branch, stray piece of wire) jams a leading rider's wheel ... guess what, everyone goes down!
* riding with unknown brevet participants -- some haven't read Tom's article -- they accelerate and brake abruptly, they cross their front wheels with someone's rear wheel and you are behind them .... count on going down. On the last London-Edinburgh-London an Italian abruptly pulled across the German rider in front of me at about 40 kph. About 50 miles into the ride, 10 riders behind me, and the German went down right in my path. I thought my ride was over.
* when in the paceline, we all, including the lead rider, become complacent. At best, we just get lost together. At the worst we quit thinking about the world whizzing by us, counting on the lead rider to issue warnings. Unfortunately, s/he is likely to have gone into the "zone" of complacency. At BMB one year, a rider in a paceline rode into the end of a telephone pole lying on the side of the road, he had not kept alert to the world around him.
* watch out for the rider who is drifting from the front to the back -- sometimes they decide to "adjust" things on the fly ... in the 2001 RM 1200, at about 30 kph, a rider beside me decided to adjust his front fender that was rubbing against his tire. Suddenly he turned at right angles directly into my front wheel. I went down, cracked my helmet, buckled my wheel and was unconscious for a few seconds.
* fast downhills are risky --- break up the paceline. There is no time to react should something go wrong with the rider in front of you
* watch out for "paceline dependency" - symptoms are a feeling of depression and isolation when riding alone, or more seriously, being lost at night after you fail to keep up with the group with whom you are riding. On the last LEL, a group of us determined we were lost in the dark and rain. Someone announced they knew how to get back on the course and everyone followed .... except me, I discovered that my rear tire had a slow leak in it ... not having a clue where I was, my only hope was to stay with the group ... time-trialing for 30k on a tire getting flatter by the second, up hill and down dale, keeping my eye on the distant tail-light of the last bike is not recommended!
Pacelining is fun and effective, but take the time to think about these risks and how they might apply to you when considering paceline riding. Sometimes it is safer and easier just to ride by yourself at your own pace.