In a group ride, people typically ride in single file or two abreast. This group configuration is called a pace-line. The purpose of a pace-line is to conserve energy by drafting behind one another. Riders in the draft will expend approximately 15-20% less energy than the rider at the front. However, in order to take full advantage of a draft, each rider has to ride close to the back wheel of the one in front of them. Experienced riders may get as close as a few inches while others should try to maintain no more than 12-24 inches. It is important to maintain a constant distance at all times and avoid going back and forth and most importantly do not allow a gap to open up. Keeping a constant distance allows the group to work in unison and maintain a rhythm, thus conserving energy. Don’t be surprised if you get some dirty looks or hear some choice words, if you are the culprit in breaking the pack.
Don’t overlap wheels
One of the most common mistakes for beginners in group rides and pace-lines is overlapping wheels. If you overlap wheels, “bad things can happen” fast. Overlapping wheels means your front wheel is in such a position, that it is in front of the trailing edge of the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. This means that if the rider in front makes any slight adjustment in their line, your wheel will touch theirs and again “bad things happen”. In order to avoid overlapping, riders must focus and be aware of the rhythm of the group and specially the person in front of them. For example, if the person in front is coasting, then the person in draft should also coast, and if they apply their brakes, they too must apply their brake.
Hold your line
When riding in a group, all riders need to be predictable so the people behind them can react based on their actions. If each rider in the group holds a straight line, the riders behind them can follow that line and counter appropriately if the person in the front maneuvers around debris, a hole or other obstacles.
Riding in a group while your wheel is only a few inches from the person in front of you, and another one trailing a few inches behind requires focus and concentration. By being alert and aware of the surroundings, riders can ensure a fun and enjoyable ride as opposed to a potential pile up of carbon and aluminum with some bodies in between. Different conditions may force the rider in front to change pace or direction. If the person in draft is alert, he/she can react accordingly. For example, if the group is going up a hill, at some point during the climb the pace slows down and someone may get out of their saddle to pedal standing. This action further reduces the speed momentarily and if the person in the draft is not paying attention, they may actually overlap or touch wheels, which may produce undesirable results or in a best case scenario some dirty looks and words.
Take Your Turn
Finally, it is in good form for all members of the group to share the load by pulling (being in the front). The person(s) in the front is exerting a lot more energy and working much harder than everyone else and should be awarded with a "thank you" as well as relief when others can take over.