On club rides, there are some good sections of road for practicing riding as a “chain gang” or “circular pace-line”. This is a really useful skill to have – essential if you take part in races or long sportives.
What is it?
It is where you ride as two lines with one line moving faster so the positions on the front continually change and riders “move up” one line and then “move back down” on the other line.
On club rides we generally ignore technicalities such as wind direction, and ride with an anticlockwise rotation, so riders move up (overtake) on the right hand side and go slower on the left side.
How to ride a chain gang
To set this up you start with 2 lines of riders. When ready, the line on the right starts to move forward a bit quicker (a BIT quicker). When the first person on the right is just ahead of the first person on the left, the one on the left yells ‘clear’ and the person on the right moves left and eases off the power (you need to slow down). The aim is to gently slow the pace to match the line on the left so there is no gap to the wheel behind. The new leader on the right MAINTAINS their speed. They do not speed up (this is important). Gradually this rider will overtake the cyclist on the left and on hearing ‘clear’ can move left. At the back of the group, if you are riding on the left you need to ready to join the right line as soon as the last person has gone past. The skill is to move right at just the right time so you do not need to race to catch up. You will need to pick up the pace a little.
When this works well everyone shares a short turn at the front. When done with experienced cyclists, the stronger ones will ensure they have longer on the front by moving across more slowly. All riders should be going a little quicker in the right line and a little slower in the left line.
The chain-gang breaks up when:
a) the rider just reaching the front decides to accelerate. You must maintain speed. You may need more effort as you are now in the wind, but no increase in speed.
b) the rider at the front moving to the left does not slow down.
Have a look at the GCN video – to see this in action.
Hills and traffic
On gentle uphill ramps a chain-gang still works well, but ensure the pace is one that all riders in the group can maintain going uphill.
In traffic and at junctions often best to pause the rotation until the road is clear again.
As with any group riding, obstacles and junctions should be pointed out and you should ride predictably and safely.
Although a chain gang can travel very fast, this is best practised slower to start with – and this works very well at a gentle pace.
If the speed difference between the 2 lines is very small, the rotation is slower and easier.