Serious bicyclists are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of a paceline, a group of cyclists riding in a tight, single-file line in order to reduce wind resistance and increase efficiency. Writing for the literary journal Matter (article not available online), Mark Hinterburg elegantly argues that the humble paceline demonstrates keys concepts for a more conscientious society.
The paceline’s first lesson is to share the load. Like a flock of geese flying in V-formation, riders in a paceline take turns riding the front and breaking the wind. Weak or inexperienced riders aren’t expected to spend as much time there (known as a “pull”) as the stronger riders. Hinterburg suggests society should behave in like:
Society degenerates, and the paceline is broken, when an unreasonable burden is expected from the lesser-abled groups. Are rising drug prices and inadequate insurance a fair way to treat our elderly? Likewise, the paceline loses efficiency when stronger riders take shorter pulls than weaker ones. Is it sensible to cut taxes on the ultra-rich, while the buying power of the middle class continues to decline?
The paceline also prescribes to a common cyclist credo: the “no-drop” rule. When a flat tire or other problem strikes, one or two riders stay behind with the afflicted cyclist until the issue is resolved. We fail to behave this considerately as citizens, Hinterburg writes, pointing to the U.S. health care system as a clear case of no-drop violation:
In the United States, people are left behind with reckless abandon. Those that are stricken with cancer or other chronic illness are left to life of high insurance premiums, at best; or lack of proper coverage, at worst. Through no fault of their own, they are randomly dealt a flat tire, and the society continues without them, as healthy citizens are convinced that the same thing cannot happen to them.
The paceline’s most compelling lesson, however, isn’t one of its rules of conduct, but rather the underlying concept. At face value, the paceline serves a simple purpose—reduce wind resistance, make the journey more efficient—but underneath, Hinterburg writes, there is greater meaning:
The paceline represents an ethos that ties us all together, across time and geography. Find those that are going the same direction, and help them along, and have faith that others will help you as well. Convince others to join in on the journey, and ride with a smile.