The Art of Leading from the Front – May 2014

I am not known for being particularly fast…and I am not known for being particularly slow. But what I am known for by those who ride behind me, besides serving as a great wind break 🙂 is that I maintain a leader’s pace that rarely causes the dreaded accordion effect to the riders at the same fitness and speed level behind me.

The accordion effect happens when the leader changes their pace often, first speeding up and then slowing down causing EVERYONE behind them to do the same thing. Besides frustrating the riders behind them, it becomes dangerous with over lapped wheels, and sudden braking and accelerations. Before long the only result can be someone in the pace line will go down and possibly take others with them.

Here are some tips on what I do when I am leading from the front on a typical club ride:
If I know the group can maintain an 18-20 mph pace and stay together I simply set my body speedometer on 19mph, 1 mph faster than the 18 MPH average we want to maintain. This way the leader is always pulling away and the riders behind must pedal to stay at the same pace while still having room to coast as they benefit from the draft.

I resist the urge to speed up going up hills, preferring to keep the same constant speed and gradually slow down as the grade and effort increases. When going down hills I continue pedaling (also using the soft pedal technique at times) as the leader must descend quickly enough to allow riders behind to also accelerate for safety. Descending at 24-25 mph is quite reasonable and safe if the group is capable of 18 mph on the flat.

That’s the physical part of how to do it, now the mental part. The leadership of the pace line rotates often with different riders pulling through. Each may have different ideas on how fast to pull through or how fast to lead. Sometimes you will find riders who think the faster they can take off when the leader pulls off, the better…

I let these riders go…literally.

When I am third in line following a good leader at an 18-19mph average and the second rider in line becomes the new leader and speeds the pace to 22 or 24 mph, I let the rider gap the entire pace line and I keep the pace line at a steady 19mph.

Sooner or later the rider who sprinted out will turn around and see no one is following them and usually slow down and tuck to the pace line again or lead at a more reasonable speed. I also never increase my speed when taking over from a good leader up front; I stay on plan and come through at 19mph so no one behind me has to increase their speed. That’s why I call it the mental piece; you have to be mentally tough enough NOT to follow a faster rider, or speed up if that is not the plan!

Lastly a leader must know when to pull off… if the avg pace is 18 mph the leader must pull off the front when they can no longer maintain that magic 19 mph number. If a leader’s pace drops because of being on the front too long and fatigue has set in, guess what starts? The accordion effect! Communication in a pace line is key; knowing what pace everyone is comfortable with and working together to maintain it is will make for an enjoyable ride.
Try it next time you are leading from the front, the riders behind you will appreciate it!

Author’s Caveat: This article does not apply to racing, training for racing, or spirited individual competitive riding. What this article addresses is a typical club ride with riders in your group at the same fitness and speed level, whether that average speed level is 20 mph or 10 mph.