Why I hate pacelines…

Cycling to me is not about high-speed exercise; it’s all about the experience. I enjoy seeing the world from my saddle–slow-motion compared to car–and I like to stop to smell the roses on occasion, pausing to take pictures and admire the view. Even in flat, boring terrain like Toledo, I enjoy the journey more than the destination. Pacelines, in my opinion, totally ruin the whole experience of cycling for me.

In a paceline, you stay within a group of people. The only thing you look at is the back tire of the guy in front of you because you’re trying to ensure that your front tire doesn’t hit. You have to control every movement about your bike, constantly, because you know there’s a cyclist behind you trying desperately not to hit your back tire. It’s a very wearing process. I often get headaches trying to ride in a paceline–or even just drafting off a friend–due to all the eye strain and concentration. In a paceline, or simply drafting with one or two other people, you don’t get to see the scenery at all. Your entire ride consists of looking at someone’s back tire. I mine as well be in a spin class in the gym. Totally not fun.

Occasionally, you have to take the turn to pull the group, which is great because you’re finally free from looking at some other cyclist’s tire, but you’re too busy to enjoy it because you’re working your ass off to pull the entire group at the same rate of speed at which you’ve been pulled. And that’s really, really hard. Every paceline I’ve been in and attempted to pull, I’ve brought the speed down by at least five miles per hour. I spend my entire time spinning in front, ridiculing myself for not being as strong of a rider as the people who were pulling me for the last twenty miles.

The pressure of having to take breaks when the group wants to take a break and then having to end the break when the group wants to start again also removes the fun from the ride for me. Like I said, I’m a “rose-smeller.” I also know my pace and my strength and my own body. I don’t want to have to force myself to push harder than I am used to. I know my condition, I know how to manage my energy and my TPL, I know when I need breaks and for how long. When people force me to exceed my normal levels of exertion, I totally bonk. And I don’t like the peer pressure of having to conform to other people’s standards.

I also admit that I’m not wholly comfortable riding for long periods of time in such proximity to other cyclists. Watching the Tour de France and other races, I’ve seen what can happen when one cyclist goes down. A cyclist can fall for a variety of unforeseen reasons–pot holes, accidentally hitting the wheel of the forward rider, road obstacles, equipment malfunction. If you’re by yourself, you only chance hurting yourself. In a group, it’s like a line of dominoes. The likelihood of being causing worse injuries runs higher.

I particularly hate riding in big groups when going up hills. On hills, I need to maintain my own pace–any speed more or less what I can comfortably do could cause me to fall. If I’m behind a slower rider on a hill, I need to pass them. I can’t just hang back in a lower gear because I’m so tuned to a specific pace that I know will get me up the hill. If I go too slow, the likelihood that I will complete the hill goes down. I just don’t have time to futz around on hills. And I definitely cannot go faster than my normal pace up hills. Additionally, I need a specific comfort zone of space between cyclists so that I’m free to pass slower riders if I need and not feel the pressure of faster riders breathing behind me who need to pass me.

Perhaps I’m not a team player. I used to play team sports–soccer, baseball–but I never got into them the way I get into individual activities like hiking and skiing. I thought that cycling was an individual activity until I encountered professional cycling, pacelines, and road cycling. In school, I dreaded group projects because not everyone pulls their weight, yet the whole group gets the credit. The only person I enjoy competing against is myself; the only person I wish to fight for in sporting activities is myself. I just can’t get into the group mentality of anything. If you know me, this just goes along with my non-conformist mindset. I don’t want to do anything with help, I want to do it myself. So, I suppose, I view pacelines as “cheating.”

Over the last several months, especially on TOSRV, I noticed a certain sense of entitlement among pacelines. Which makes sense to me because any time you get a large group of people together to work towards the same goal, they are filled with a group mentality of righteousness. Just think of all the places where this quality runs true–in churches, in organizations, at work. Take any particular group, count one ego for each person, and then multiply it times the number of the people in the group, and you come up with the mass of the Super Ego. And that’s what happens in a paceline. The Super Ego builds further as the overall speed of the group increases. It seems the faster a cyclist goes, the more superior he feels. A cyclist in a group of people exceeding 20+ for long periods of time, passing every lone cyclist and maybe other pacelines along the way, makes one huge Super Ego.

The end result: a big group of cyclists who feel so entitled they 1) do not warn the lowly cyclists outside of the paceline that they are passing “on the left,” 2) hog the entire lane of the road and do not move for even cars, 3) ignore all safety rules, and 4) dismiss non-road bikes as inferior. I am not saying that all pacelines behave in this manner; however, most of the pacelines I’ve encountered over the last few months have behaved in one or all of the four ways described above. These attitudes certainly do not entice me to be a “joiner.”

I’ve decided that I’m really what is described as a “touring” cyclist. I know it doesn’t seem like that with the stuff I write on this blog, but it’s true. I’m perfectly happy at the end of the day with a 14-16mph average. I have no need to end a ride at 18-20mph. I like to get off my bike whenever I want, take pictures or a take a breather, and then move on at my own pace. My goals for cycling–the things I want to do someday–involve long multi-day trips from a pre-determined point A and point B, enjoying each phase of the journey along the way. I am a sojourner, not a speed demon. The best adventures I’ve had on the bike have been my trips to Germany and Italy where we were given route sheets and set loose upon the roads to tour the country on the best vehicle for seeing the world. Unhindered by time limits or peer pressure, I enjoyed every second of the ride. Without the enjoyment of riding at my own pace, I mine as well just work out in a gym.

I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for my opinion of pacelines. A lot of road cyclists swear by them, believing that they couldn’t survive a windy ride without one, which may or may not be the case in the flat lands, places like Toledo or Findlay. I’d object to that because I’ve done many long rides in the wind by myself on my hybrid when I didn’t even know what a paceline was (no paceline ever invites a non-road cycle into their ranks). That line of thought goes back to my “cheating” conviction. I suppose when you live somewhere flat and perpetually windy, you have to learn to ride in pacelines if you want to ride at all. That’s why I prefer to live in hill country than the flat lands because I never feel I have to be in any paceline. I think, though, that when I do find myself in the windy flat lands, I still prefer to face the wind on my own and suffer a lower average than spend my entire day staring at the back-ends of other cyclists. But that’s just me.