The Paceline – Better Together

Several years ago, in an effort to put some regular physical exercise in my life, I took up the sport of cycling. Cycling has now become a form of replenishment for my soul.

As with any new activity – especially one on a road -- there is a learning curve. I had to learn a lot of technique. And learn I did. I first learned how to get on the bike without losing my balance and falling over. I learned how to ride wearing clip-in cleats that attach to the pedals, and how to get my foot of the pedal when coming to a stop so that I would not fall over. You may see a pattern here… I fell over a lot. There were other things I learned, including the realization that real men do wear spandex and some men even shave their legs for the sport. (My wife forbids me to take part in this practice.)

But of all the things that I learned about cycling in those first several months, one of the most important was the skill of riding with other cyclists. Although cycling is a great individual activity, it is even more enjoyable when done with other cyclists. There is a great deal of camaraderie that comes from a long ride with friends. Knowing how to ride in a group begins with understanding how to participate in a paceline.

A paceline is a group of cyclists riding very close together in single file. The lead cyclist is setting the “pace” or tempo. He or she will ride at the front for a period of time and then move over to allow the next rider a turn at the front. The first rider will then allow all the other riders to pass, while drifting to the back of the back of the pack to take his place at the tail end of the line. This constant rotation of the paceline happens throughout the entirety of the ride. You may have seen a paceline if you have ever flipped through the channels and caught a segment of the Tour de France, or if you were driving down the road and tried to get around a large group of cyclists.

Riding in a paceline and drafting off those you are riding with is vital to long distance cycling. Riding together allows each one of the riders in the group to go farther and faster collectively than any one of them could by him or herself. Cyclists riding as part of a group can conserve up to 30 percent in energy over cyclists who ride alone.

But it is not just about conservation of energy. There is encouragement that takes place when you ride in a group. There’s not a better feeling, as a cyclist, than when you finish your turn at the front of the group and you hear riders who are stronger and more experienced than yourself saying, “great job”, “nice pull”, “way to go” as you move to the back of the line. Hearing the affirmation of others encourages you when your legs begin to get heavy. It emboldens you to keep peddling when you feel like you are about to fall off. Encouragement can also come when you bonk (run out of energy) and get dropped (fall well behind the paceline). There are usually one or two people from the group who fall back with you and allow you to get “on their wheel” (to draft off of them) so that you are not left alone, able to recover and reconnect with the rest of the group.

Accountability also comes from riding in a paceline. There are going to be times when you are at the front of the line and you have to look out for the safety of the group by pointing out debris, road hazards, stop signs/lights, and upcoming pedestrians or cyclists so that the entire group has adequate time to respond and avoid the hazard or brake for the stop. There is also accountability to just show up and ride. There are always weekly group rides where people are counting on you to show. And just the thought of people expecting you is part of the motivation to get there.

The message here is not about bike riding. I doubt there will be a run on new bike or spandex sales at the local bike shops as a result of this. Nor do I believe there will be a backlash from wives whose husbands start shaving their legs as a result of this article. Instead, my hope is to encourage the need of believers to be in Christian community through the lessons from the paceline.

As believers, it is unquestionable that we are better together. The Bible is clear that the Christian life is supposed to be lived in community. In the book of Acts, the model for Christian community is demonstrated as the believers “joined with other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services and prayer meetings.” It goes on to say that, “all the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need. They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness, praising God. The whole city was favorable to them, and each day God added to them all who were being saved.”(Acts 2:42, 44-47 TLB)

There is great blessing that comes when we engage in Christian community. We are able to go farther and do more together than we can on our own. Ecclesiastes says, “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!(4:9-11 MSG)

Verse 12 continues, “By yourself, you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (MSG)

When we are in the paceline of Christian community, we find encouragement in times of success, even when we fall behind or fall off-course. When we are in the paceline of Christian community, we find accountability that brings protection and covering from the hazards of temptation in the headwinds of life. We are also able to provide that same protection for our church family -- and we are accountable to show up, knowing that we are a vital part of the body, having a specific responsibility and gifting to offer. The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (10:24-25 NLT)

If you are currently not participating in the paceline of community or not fully committed to it, I want to encourage you with three ways to jump in and fully engage. You will strengthen yourself and encourage those around you.

  1. Show up for the “group ride” every weekend. Every weekend, be at church. Make it a habit to not miss church.
  2. Get in a group. Groups offer an amazing opportunity to grow in your Christian walk and to develop the support to make it through the good and bad days of life.
  3. SERVE! Find an area in the church where you can use your gifts, abilities, skills, and talents to encourage and strengthen the church and volunteer on a regular basis. As you engage in these “paceline” activities, you will grow in your walk with God and discover that we truly are better together.