Chain Gang Etiquette

· 6 minutes read

Riding through and off in a chain gang or pace line

In a chain gang there are two lines of riders with equal numbers in each line. One faster line sheltered from the wind by the slower line, is the pacesetting line… line 1. The slower line we call the recovery line… line 2. The chain goes clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on the wind direction, to give shelter to the faster line. On a tempo chain gang we will usually have the outside line as the faster line as this works better in traffic.

You change speed when you reach line 2 – by easing on the pedals but not coasting (slowing down by about 1 mph) once you’ve changed lines at the front the only time you should be accelerating is to to rejoin the pace setting line… line 1 at the rear. Again, this is the only time you should accelerate.

Ride smoothly, keep the group together… The best chain gangs have the smoothest riders.

Moving across when at the front

Take a nice shallow line from line 1 into line 2 so that the lead rider in line 1 can latch onto your wheel easily. A sharp line across will put you into the front wheel of the preceding rider… you don’t want that! Don’t increase your pace or accelerate, just ride through maintaining the pace of the line. Increasing the pace, or surging through at the front is strictly a no-no, this will disrupt the group… so don’t do it!

Remember… ride smoothly, keep the group together.

Ease off at the front when you have changed from the faster line 1 to the slower line 2 – don’t brake – just take the pressure off the pedals slightly and continue to pedal (soft pedal).  The next rider coming through in front of you should not need to increase pace in order to come past you! The rider coming through should not need to look behind when doing this – taking a shallow line across will ensure you don’t collide with anyone – looking back while going forward is not a good idea – don’t do it. If you ease off too much the rider behind will have to take avoiding action and maybe brake sharply – you don’t want that – also the rider at the back of the line will have to accelerate hard to get back into line 1… so just ease off slightly. Do not accelerate through… the only acceleration is at the back of the line from line 2 back into line 1.

Again…the only acceleration is at the back of the line, from line 2 back into line 1.

Don’t surge at the front!

When you’re about to rejoin the pace setting line line 1, start edging sideways towards the last rider, so that you can move smoothly onto the wheel. The last rider in the pace setting line should call “last man” as he or she is about to pass the last rider in the slow lane. This prepares the rider to start moving across, and get onto the wheel by accelerating slightly.

Don’t fall asleep at the back, if you miss the last rider and have to jump lanes and accelerate to close the gap- then everyone behind you will also be making a needless effort – and you’ll end up having to buy the coffees at the end of the ride.

If this sounds complicated – it actually isn’t. It’s great fun, and if you put this advice into action you’ll soon be working like a pro in the chain gang.

Generally a Chain Gang or a Pace Line will ride at a constant effort – rather than a constant speed. If you’re the rider going through at the front, don’t try and maintain speed up a hill…. just maintain the effort.


If you’re unable to go through and intend to sit at the back of the group to recover, then inform the other riders.

Warn the other riders if you intend to rejoin the chain after sitting in.

Whichever line you’re in, don’t allow a gap to open in front of you – be on a wheel at all times.

Don’t do anything suddenly – be totally predictable!

Chain gang do's and don'ts

  • The lead riders should give clear warning of any potholes. Any warnings should be shouted down the line. A gentle line should be taken around potholes, rather than a quick switch.
  • Avoid staring at the rear wheel in front, as you won’t be able to see oncoming situations. Look past the rider in front of you and look up the road as much as possible, don’t focus on the tyre in front of you.
  • Braking: Try not to use your brakes – try moving into the wind slightly to slow yourself down.
  • Gears: Try and maintain 80-100 rpm that way you’ll always be on top of the gear and not struggling.
  • Junctions: The first rider should make sure everyone gets through before resuming the pace. It's not a race, there’s no reason to take risks on a recreational ride.
  • Keep your front wheel slightly offset from the rear wheel of the rider in front of you.
  • Accelerate only to rejoin the back of the line, after your turn. Do not accelerate at the front.
  • The lead rider should give clear warning of any changes in direction, stop signs etc.  Any warnings should be shouted down the line. Ride smoothly and avoid any sudden moves, be steady and predicable.

The only time you should be accelerating is when you change lines at the back.  Failure to observe this simple fact is the main reason why many chain gangs fail.

Safety notes

(i) Bristol Road Club take no responsibility for the safety of any rider following these instructions.

(ii) The above is designed for riders on a club run, chain gang or training ride. In a race, more attention would be paid to wind direction and the line may at times be in an echelon (slanted) to take the wind into account. In general road conditions, an echelon formation could be unsafe due to traffic volume. 

(iii) Always be aware of other road users and the safety of the group.

(iv) Always obey the rules of the road.

Also please view this British Cycling video to explain how to ride properly in a chain gang. It’s a chain because each rider is closely linked to the rider in front and behind, remember that and don’t surge through!

British Cycling – How to ride in a Chain Gang