Up Front
by David Hassine

Okay, so it's your turn to pull. The rider in front of you pulls off and, for better or worse, you've instantly become responsible for the safety and comfort of those riders behind you. Now what?

First and foremost be alert. Maintain the pace or adjust it gradually. Scan your surroundings and the road. Look far ahead to identify, prioritize, and react to potential hazards early. This will avoid the sudden swerving or braking which can render you very unpopular very quickly. Looking further ahead also helps you keep a straighter and smoother line of travel.

Forewarn other riders, of upcoming dangers or circumstances which may cause you to slow down or stop. Remember that riders behind you are almost entirely dependent on the information you relay from the front. Their attention is usually focused (and sometimes fixated) on the back wheel of the rider they are following. Relaying information, using hand signals and/or verbally, is crucial and will allow smoother transitions around road hazards.

Pedal continuously and consistently. Coasting up front will cause riders behind you to brake and utter countless profanities. Find your most comfortable cadence and keep shifting gears, as necessary, to maintain it. Keep your effort, not your speed, consistent. Variations in terrain, wind velocity, and direction will cause fluctuations of speed. Gauging and maintaining a consistent effort, rather than an arbitrary pace, will keep the ride smoother.

Glance back periodically. This provides vital clues as to the appropriate pace. An excessive pace will usually string out the riders and have some gasping for breath. An insufficient pace will result in riders overlapping and talking (probably about you). The appropriate pace will keep the riders in a straight and tight line. If necessary, adjust your pace gradually and incrementally. A look back is always essential after hills, sprints, turns, intersections, and major road hazards, all of which usually disrupt the pace line. Soft pedal until everyone regroups, then gradually accelerate to the original pace.

Be courteous. Calling out "Coming up on your left!" as you approach, and "Hello!" as you pass pedestrians, skaters, joggers, or other cyclists, will minimize the surprise element and possibly disastrous results. At intersections, signal motorists to stop even when you have the right of way. Most motorists assume they always have the right of way over cyclists, so attract their attention and establish eye contact. A "Thank-you" wave here is optional.

Finally, pull off before it's too late. If you are unable to maintain the pace after pulling off. you blew it! Self awareness is key. Determine the length of your pull by assessing how you feel, not by distance, time, or other riders' pulls. Equality is not justice. Your fair share of work depends upon your strength, endurance, and recovery, relative to the other riders, and can vary on any particular day or ride. Pulling as much as you feel you can, be it a lot, a little or not at all, is fair. Doing more is counter productive. Doing less is better if you're not sure. Experience is the best teacher and you are the best judge. be just.

Now what? Your turn to relax. Pull off, drop back, sit in and enjoy the ride.