Before we get started, I want to give you my disclaimer: Motorpacing is for experienced riders only. It can be dangerous, and it might not be legal where you live.
So why motorpace? Motorpacing allows a racer to simulate race conditions and train at race speeds or above. It As far as training at race speeds and above, the obvious question is: Why not simply reduce your gear and ride at an appropriate POWER output, even if you aren’t going the same speed as a racing pack. There a few reasons for that actually. The first one is that the bike simply handles and rides differently at speed. Motorpacing also makes it easier to simulate pedaling at race speed in the pack, and then attacking and putting your nose in the wind. Those first two reasons follow the principle of training specificity. Training specificity means that as least some of your training should be as close to race conditions as possible. The last two reasons are that it allows the coach, or motor pacer to have a high degree of control over the workout, and the motorbike also provides motivation for the rider. You know how you seem to be able to push yourself harder on a group ride or race? It’s exactly like that. There’s actually one more reason to motorpace: It can be as fun as it is brutal.
Text: Sean Burke, cycling coach at Crankcycling and team manager of Aventon Factory Team
Location: Choosing a good location is key. You want to find a place where you can ride a solid 20+ minutes uninterrupted. That means no stop signs or lights. You’ll want the fewest side roads and driveways as possible. The last thing you want is for some soccer mom pulling out in front of you when you are smashing the pedals at 50 KPH. You’ll also want a road with good visibility so that you can see those cars that might pull out, and so that they can see you as well. Hedgerows and fences that come right up to the road should be avoided when possible. A flat course is good, but a few rolling hills are even better. They’ll force you dig deep and hang on over the hill, just like you might have to do in a race.
Pace Vehicle: I’ve seen people pace behind a car or a van, and I generally think it is a bad idea. For starters, speeds can get dangerously high. If you tuck right in behind a minivan or a larger car, you can easily reach speeds approaching 80 KPH. If that car has to stop, you’ll find yourself putting a hole in the back window with your face. I like to stick to motorbikes for many reasons. Remember training specificity? Riding behind a motorcycle is much more similar to riding behind a another bicyclist. You can pedal at race speeds or above, without having to go highway speeds to challenge yourself. It is much easier to communicate with motorcycle rider than a car driver. When I motorpace riders, I always wear an open face helmet. That helmet provides me with extra visibility, and it make it easier for me to have a short conversation with the rider. They can hear me, and I can hear them. Those conversations are much more difficult with a car driver. Another reason to choose a motorbike over a car is that the car takes up the whole damn lane. If something does go wrong during the motorpace session, a giant piece of metal in the middle of the road leaves you with far fewer options. A motorbike leaves you plenty of room to go around either side in case of emergency.
The Motorpacer: I’ve often heard riders say “ I’ll just have my girlfriend/boyfriend pace me on our scooter.” Unless your significant other is an experienced bike racer, this probably isn’t a good idea. You want a motorpacer that understands the demands of cycling at 50+KPH, and is able to “think” like a bike racer. This is most important when things go wrong. If a car stops short or an animal jumps out in front of you, the motor rider should instinctively know how the cyclist will react, and not cause problems for the cyclist. You don’t want an inexperienced motorpacer to hit the brakes as you slam into the back of the motorbike. My general rule is to hit the gas in order to get out of the way of the rider, and to decelerate slowly when necessary, usually giving a hand signal at the same time. You don’t want to wind up a greasy spot on the tarmac because of a poor motorpacer. A motorpace session is like a high speed dance on two wheels. Choose your partner wisely.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that a motorbike is the way to go. I’ve owned 8 motorcycles over last few years, and currently own 3. Most of them are too wide, and too fast for motorpacing. A tiny little twist on my Ducati is more acceleration and speed than even the fittest rider can handle, so it’s tough to keep nice and steady. A perfect motorpace bike is one that isn’t too powerful, and is still nice and agile. You don’t want one that’s too small either. A 50CC scooter won’t have enough oomph to challenge a fit rider, and forget about riding to the start of a motorpace session on that thing. I’ve found that a 250 scooter or motorcycle is just about the right size. It will go way faster than anyone can ride, it’s nearly as agile as a bicycle, and it’s easy to keep mice and steady. My current motor pace bike is a 250 Scarabeo scooter that I use for motorpacing and getting around town.
The workout: The purpose of motorpacing is to simulate race speeds and above. And when that motor is going 50 KPH, it’s tempting to tuck in behind the motorbike and sit in the whole time. And you can get great workout doing that. But here’s the thing: You don’t want to be fast just behind the motor. You need to be fast when your nose is in the wind. The motorcycle is a tool to get you up to speed, for you to tuck behind in between intervals , and to provide extra motivation. It isn’t to sit behind the whole ride. I frequently motorpace Aventon Factory team rider David Santos, and once I get him up to speed, I’ll hit the throttle and accelerate away. Then settle back into about 50 KPH while David catches back up. If I really want to push him, I’ll hit the accelerator again, and hit him while he’s hurting. These sort of efforts mimic going after attacks and moves in a race, or accelerating out of corners. Sometimes I’ll tell David to “attack” the motor and stay away as long as he can (really as long as I’ll allow him) and then I’ll come past him at speed and force him to hop on. Another great workout component is the lead out sprint, where the motor brings the rider up to speed, and then the rider sprints to a designated point. This is a great simulation of race finishes, where the rider follows wheels and then hits the wind for the last 100 meters.
Motorpacing is a fun way to get in a grueling workout, and you can tailor the workout to meet your needs. Just remember to spend some time in the wind as well as behind the motor, and to put safety first.