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How To Set the Pace as a Peloton Leader

Group bike rides are some of the best parts of cycling. It’s a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday — you get to socialize with friends, spend time outside and stay fit. It’s what draws many people to the sport in the first place.

But not every group ride is enjoyable. When the group isn’t working together, the pace gets uneven and the whole ride takes longer than it should. If this happens, it’s not just a random coincidence — whoever was riding out front in the peloton is often to blame.

If you’re the peloton leader in the front of the group on some of your rides, you have to know what you’re doing, for everyone’s sake. Lucky for you, we’ve got longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie on hand to explain how to set the pace for your peloton. 

Why Your Group Ride Is Too Slow

To get an idea of what good leadership and a good pace for cycling groups look like, it’s helpful to understand what happens when you don’t have them. Every cyclist can relate to this, because every rider has been through it at some point.

One of the most frustrating experiences, when youre a rider, is having to be a yo-yo,” Coach Darryl explains. “Its fast at one point in time, its slow at another one, and you just cant seem to get at a good pace. It destroys the momentum and cohesion of the group.” 

Here’s how it happens. Say a group peloton ride consisting of 10 riders starts at a pace of 15 miles per hour. For most of the group, this is fine. But one rider in the back can’t quite keep up. He falls behind at 14 mph, forcing the group to slow down 2–3 mph several times so he can catch up. 

The peloton leader out front doesn’t take heed and keeps pressing the group ahead at 15 mph every time the slower cyclist catches up. Eventually, that slower rider gets more and more tired and falls farther behind. Exhausted from trying to keep up without the group, he loses even more speed. Finally, the group has to slow down to 12 mph permanently so the — now very tired — slower rider can keep up.

It makes for a frustrating group peloton ride. But all of this could be different if the peloton leader were leading more effectively.

What Happens When You Know How To Lead the Peloton 

Now, let’s say you’re in front, and you know the right way to set the pace for the group. When you see that rider lagging, you take note and slow down right away to let him keep up. You look for a good pace for cycling that everyone can follow, and you stick to it. 

“This approach allows the group to average the fastest possible speed that it can maintain that day,” says Darryl.

Instead of riding in a yo-yo of inconsistent speeds and gradually losing pace, the group finds a steady equilibrium. The whole ride is smoother, everyone gets stronger together, and the slower rider isn’t exhausted and embarrassed from trying to keep up.

How To Set the Pace From the Front

Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it? It is, but there are some nuances to it. If you truly want to lead the peloton well, here’s how to do it.

1. Start the Ride at Front Left 

Darryl always starts at the front of the group on the left side. From there, using his mirror, he can easily see both lines of the group and monitor for traffic. 

You’ll want to stay in this position for 15 or 20 minutes, long enough to observe the group for a while and let everyone get into a comfortable riding pace. Some riders will start slow, while others will spring out of the gate. You need to give everyone enough time to settle into a groove.

2. Watch for Slower Riders

Once everyone is settled in, watch the group for signs of any riders that may be falling behind. Typically, you’ll see them breaking away at the back. However, sometimes they’ll be in the middle, causing an entire section of cyclists behind that slower rider to fall back. 

Wherever they are, it’s important that you spot them and then begin to adjust to a good pace for cycling.

3. Adjust Your Pace 

When you do spot a rider (or several) struggling, don’t try to slow down incrementally. Back off the pace by 2 or 3 mph to allow anyone lagging to catch up and catch their breath. 

Give them a few minutes at this slower pace so they can get comfortable. Then you can start speeding up again. Bump it up only 1–2 mph at a time to see what they can handle, then stay at whatever pace the group is able to maintain. This is now your max group speed.

4. Communicate With Other Riders

Once you’ve set the pace of the group peloton ride, you can start dropping back in the peloton to let other riders take their turn out front. As you do this, communicate about what’s going on with the other cyclists. Let them know how you set the pace so they can maintain it and keep the group smooth and steady for the rest of the ride.

Know Your Place 

As the peloton leader, you must remember one thing: this role isn’t for everyone. Not all cyclists want or have the skill set to set the pace, and that’s perfectly fine. Those who can lead the peloton should do it. But don’t push someone into that position who doesn’t want it. If you do, you’re setting the whole group up for frustration. 


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay