Chain Gang Training

Road cycling with an Italian flair since 1989
The Chain Gang aka Through-and-off

Objective: High speed riding for minimum effort. This is one of the best ways to cover a big distance by sharing the workload and effort, or to close a gap in a race.

Two lines of riders. One faster line sheltered from the wind (by the slower line) will be the pace setting line... line 1. The slower line we will 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 club run we will usually have the outside line as the faster line - as this works better in traffic.

Change speed when you reach line 2 – slowing down (by about 1 mph) once you’ve changed lines at the front, and you accelerate slightly in order to rejoin the pace setting line... line 1 at the back.

Get it right...

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 at the front is strictly a no-no, all it achieves is to disrupt the group.

Ease off very slightly at the front when you have changed lines 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. 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 st the front... 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.

Rejoining 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 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.

Ride on effort not speed. 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. 

Keep it tight in both lines. Whichever line you’re in, don’t allow a gap to open in front of you - be on a wheel at all times.

Keep it smooth - smoother is faster
Chain gang Do’s and Don'ts:

  1. Don’t do anything suddenly
  3. DON”T DO ANYTHING SUDDENLY - in other words be totally predictable!

Potholes - 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. Its 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 pacelines fail.

Here it is in action:

(i) The Gregarios Superclub Ciclista take no responsibility for the safety of any rider following these instructions. The above is designed for riders on a club run or sportive, 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.

The best chain gangs have the smoothest riders… be a smooth rider.