This post is part of our Group Ride Pro Tips, an effort to build smoother, safer, and more enjoyable group rides.
Pacing is a fundamental tool where you control your power output in order to keep group rides together, save valuable energy for race winning moves, and ensure you are riding strong through the end of a ride.
The Group as an Elastic
Yes it can be hard on those days you are feeling strong to resist hammering the front of a ride, leaving the riders behind you scrambling to close gaps. But if the goal is to ride together then consider a group ride like an elastic where everyone is kept tight. When the elastic has nice constant pressure applied through the ups and downs of the route riders can more easily hang.
Stretch the elastic hard at the front and those at the back will quickly feel the pressure and have to close gaps. Or worse it snaps. Surges are often followed by sitting up and coasting on the downhills in which case everyone who was just chasing will soon be grabbing their brakes.
Consider this in a race situation where competing riders might sit back pacing themselves and watching you throw yourself onto the front of the group every chance you get. This early surging in a race often leads to blown riders getting dropped when things really heat up.
Technique 1: Master Your Output
Regardless of climbing, descending, wind, etc, maintain a consistent output when at the front of a group (not necessarily a constant speed). Remember you are trying to keep the elastic nice and tight. This measured output allows riders in a group to find a smoothness and rhythm with each other. Power meters, HR monitors, and even better just listening to your level of breathing are all excellent tools to measure ‘how hard am I going on the front’ relative to the rest of the group.
If you jump out of the saddle on climbs or gap the rider behind you, then no doubt you are snapping the group. Practice good group ride etiquette by glancing back to check how other riders are doing and make sure there is not a big gap behind you.
Technique 2: Keep It Smooth
When the rider in front of you pulls off the front and you pull through, don’t surge your output by mashing on the pedals, but also don’t coast slower than the group pace. Aim for a smooth tempo level effort and if the group pace is a bit harder than what you can maintain just pull off quickly. Likewise if the pace feels a bit easy ride the front a bit longer, but don’t hog the front.
If you want to turn the pace up, think of doing so in small increments or ‘clicks’ on a dial of ~10 watts and then see how the group responds. If your pace isn’t matched, a gap opens up, or more riders are sitting out of the pace line rotation drop the pace.
Technique 3: Take It Easy
It’s good to practice doing less work in a group so you can go harder when it counts or hang with stronger riders. It seems counterintuitive because we often show up to a group with the expectation we have to hammer and pull strong on our turn through the pace line, but consider getting better at shorter pulls, minimizing your output on a ride, and at times even sitting on the back of a pace line while others rotate through in front of you.
Typically there is no expectation you have to do equal work as other riders in a group and this approach can be key if you are in a rest period or just want to be fresh for a race winning move. In most of our group rides we absolutely want everyone to finish the ride together even if that means some riders pull through quickly or hang at the back.
Why it matters
Pacing is key when you want to ride as a group and win races, plus it will make you more enjoyable for others to ride with as your riding style will become smooth and easier to match. Another major pitfall of poor pacing on group rides is you will end up using the tendency to surge as your quasi intervals or ‘hammer’ mode, but these efforts likely will never end up being sufficiently hard or the appropriate duration that you need to get stronger.
Consider building intervals in before the group ride or even better finish the ride with your planned hard efforts which is perfect race simulation!
Signs the pacing might be off:
- If there is an immediate gap after you pull through because you surge. Or if you hear everyone coasting behind you because you pulled to the front and dropped the pace.
- You are out of the saddle on every hill spiking your power output or your power drops to zero on downhills.
- You get dropped at the end of races, ride races mostly alone unable to bridge with other groups, or you can’t match the pace on group rides finishing either off the front or off the back.
- The power output on your power meter jumps quickly up or down throughout a ride.