A chain gang is a common term for a fast training ride with riders riding in close proximity – in either a single pace line or double pace line. Riders try to remain close to rider in front to maximise benefit of aerodynamic drag. Riders take it in turns to work on the front before slipping to the back of the group. It is fast and an excellent way to improve both your fitness and your bike handling skills.
The idea of a chaingang is to keep a constantly high pace, with each rider doing a turn on the front and then smoothly moving back down the line before coming back up on the outside. When it works well there a constant smooth flow of riders going up and down the line. For a novice, it is not straightforward and if you have no clue, you might end up with people shouting at you for disrupting the flow of the ride. However, it is worth persevering and learning the basic etiquette of chaingang riding.
Tips for Riding in a Chain Gang
- Keep the pace constant. Allowing for variation is wind and gradient, try keep the pace constant. When you get to the front, don’t sprint off. That will break up the rhythm and is not the point of a chain-gang. Also avoid slowing down.
- When you’ve finished your turn, it is important so slow down by 1mph. Otherwise the rider coming through has to lift the pace. And there is constant pressure to keep lifting the pace. But, the idea is to keep a constant pace and speed.
- Don’t allow gaps to appear. Concentrate on keeping an eye on the wheel in front, don’t allow a large gap to develop because it can then be hard to meet the gap.
- Don’t cut up riders. The tricky part is coming to the front. The rider on the outside will overtake the rider on the inside and as he does will move across to the inside. It is important to time this correctly, don’t move inside too soon as you will cause the previous rider to have to slow down. Don’t leave it too late as this will also create problems.
- Make sure you are used to following a wheel at pace before joining.
- If it is your first time you could stay at the back and observe how people make changes.
- Once you get the hang it seems quite natural and creates a good feeling of teamwork. You can see the advantages of riding behind others.
- Don’t go out with a group who are much fitter than you. If you are struggling to keep up, it is more likely you will make a mistake.
- Make sure your bike is well maintained. Don’t have lose or rattling bits, people will trust you less.
- Be careful about braking, it creates a ripple effect which can be dangerous at high speed. Use your body to slow down (i.e. sit up to create more of a wind brake. Look ahead and if necessary reduce pedalling effort.
- Know the circuit. Learn the local chaingang circuit and practise the descents so you can know potential dangers.
- Remember it is not closed roads. It is difficult to find any circuit which is not populated with heavy traffic. You have to give way to traffic, just because you are in a chain gang doesn’t mean you can expect cars to wait for you.
Single Pace Line
In a single pace line, after doing a turn at the front, you slip down the outside and then join the main line of riders. This is the simplest pace line. It also means stronger riders can just spend a longer time on the front, and weaker riders can drop straight back or miss a turn.
Double Pace Line – Belgian Tourniquet
In a double pace line, there are two lines of riders. One line moves up, the other line goes at slightly slower speed. It is a bit like being in a circle, with constant movement. Riders get equal exposure to the wind. It helps protect against sidewinds but it puts greater pressure on all riders to do an equal weight of work. It often occurs in breakaways during pro races.