Cycle: A Triathlete's Guide On How Not to Paceline

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With the Arizona Ironman in town this past weekend, multisport mania was in full swing across the Valley over the last few months. Triathletes with their aero spaceship-like rigs moved from group to individual training to prepare for their 112-mile run up and down the Beeline Highway.

Make no mistake, these multisporters are often some of the strongest pedal turners around, especially while pounding out big gears on the flats. But because racing in triathlons is an individual sport and bans pacelining or drafting, that skill is often not grasped by these racers.

This lack of paceline etiquette and ability was demonstrated to great effect by a video that went fully viral just a few days prior Tempe's big Ironman. So in an effort to ensure that local triathletes properly integrate back into group riding now that they are ironmen and women, Cycle will do a video breakdown to show how NOT to ride in a paceline.

Pacelining is when a group of cyclists ride in a line and rotate in a circular pattern from the back to the front and back around again so that they can optimize their speed while no single rider gets overly spent. It's essentially sharing the load and an awesome experience if done right.

Before diving into the video, it's important to understand that cyclists should never, ever ride in a group while tucked on the aero bars. Even the best bike handlers in the world can be clumsy perched on these extenders because it places steering so incredibly out of balance.

There's a reason riding in the aero position is banned by most races and organized rides - it's dangerous. It's also why the cyclists at triathlons always look like a discombobulated mass spread all over the road.

0:00 - The clip begins with a typical view from a helmet mounted camera. The video description claims the riders are at 35 miles per hour (debatable by the look of the video, but we'll take their word for it). It's open road ahead with the cyclist gripping his Campy equipped bars in the drops.

0:05 - The first bike jumps in from the left, with clip-on aero bars protruding from the front. A key to pacelining is to not dive-bomb to the front of the line. The first mistake is that this dude clearly is dropping in from nowhere (supposedly at that 35 mph) from the wrong side.

While in a paceline, the lead rider should drop from the front to the left and ease back to the rear of the line with the new leader filling right in from behind. If these guys are just tagging onto the rider with the helmet cam, they should ride up behind and call to him to rotate off for a break or just ride around. The dive-bomb maneuver is bush league.

0:12 - It's pretty clear by the way the helmet cam guy looks to the left that these aero bar crashers are not with him and catching him off guard. Experienced group riders are constantly talking and these line cutters don't utter a word, but at least the first two are gripping the handle bars and not the aero bars.

0:14 - Ah, here's our idiot hero. Cardinal rule #1 is to not ride in a group or line while tucked on the aeros. Strike one. Cardinal rule #2 is to not half-wheel. This is when a rider's front wheel overlaps with the back wheel of the rider in front of them. This is supremely dangerous because if one rider swerves in the least, there's a high likelihood that they'll clip wheels and go down. Strike two.

And the guy is wearing a sleeveless jersey. Seriously, cyclists have never brought the gun show so unless you're racing, keep with the sleeves. Strike three.

0:16 - Oh, what a shock. Sleeveless couldn't hold his line and swerves right into the back wheel of the middle rider, causing some nasty snapping sound. The wheel immediately starts wobbling indicating a spoke or four were snapped by the quick release skewer on the bike that idiot-boy clipped.

0:18 - Helmet cam rider, clearly anticipating something was going to happen, eases off the swooping threesome while sleeveless is amazingly able to keep the bike upright. Of course, Sleeveless is so confident in his amazing bike handling skills that he only moves his right hand off of the aero bars making for excellent balance.

0:20 - As the lead dive-bombers begin fanning out across the road to regroup, Sleeveless inexplicably moves from the smooth tarmac to the unpredictable dirt and grass on the side of the road, amazingly still upright.

0:22 - Yeah, I guess we could see that coming. Endo-city, still with the left paw clenching that aero bar. Notice that helmet cam rider, who was always riding arrow straight, eases to a nice stop in the same space that Sleeveless explodes on the side of the road but Sleeveless' comrades are nowhere to be seen.

1:15 - After a couple super slow-mo replays, the clip cuts to sleeveless on the ground, apparently no hurt too badly, with one of his buddies (the one he clipped) finally circling back to check in.

1:23 - The damage is seen as four of eight spokes on one side of the wheel are gone. Two other riders have joined the crowd, clearly indicating that this was a group ride to start.

The moral of this story is to keep the aero riding for individual training. The second you grab onto a group, let go of those aero bars. Follow the flow of the group, and don't hammer once you get to the front.

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