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In the local cycling club some people are keen on racing but are no higher than cat 3 in the events that they can enter and the power that they produce. The general consensus is that motor pacing could be the 'secret sauce' that improves everyone's level of performance before next years race season.

Other are sceptical and make the point that its only for people with high enough power outputs that can only be consistently matched by a motorcycle. I agree with this point but cant help but wonder if there is something I am missing, does pedalling at this speed and cadence prepare your legs faster or could the same effects (for cat 4-3 power riders) be achieved by fast group rides?

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Background

If you have the resources (motor scooter and someone experience in how to do it) and time, motor pacing could be very good training tool for building high-end power for a variety of fitness levels. Where it excels (when done properly) is getting riders to train at their lactic threshold. Motor pacing will push you to levels that are hard to replicate outside of real race conditions.

The consistency of motor pacing is also great as you can fine tune the intensity. The fine tuning allows you to sit closer and longer on your threshold than might be possible with a group of riders, especially if your group of riders has limited riding experience and differing fitnesses. Motor pacing can also accommodate a variety of fitness levels, the driver simply drives at the appropriate pace to put the rider at their threshold.

Now will this be the "secret sauce?" I have some doubts for the following reasons:

1) Drawbacks for inexperienced riders / clubs

Cat 3 can represent a wide array of abilities and skills depending on your region. Many newer riders do not know what it is like to ride at their true threshold. They hold back, resist the wonderful lactic acid pain rather than embrace it. For them, motor pacing may have fewer benefits over regular fast club rides.

Inexperienced riders also may not have the riding skill to motor pace safely. To motor pace well you have to be able to ride with your front wheel an few inches from the tire of the lead vehicle. This can be dangerous for unexperienced riders who may suffer from lapses in concentration.

Your diver must also be experienced. I have paced behind an inexperienced driver and it was frightening to say the least. Their speed would surge and slow and at one point I actually hit the vehicle with my front wheel. I didn't crash, but this could have bee some serious carnage, especially for the riders down stream of me.

2) Raw Power Rarely Wins Races

Very few riders win races by riding off the front with their superior power. If you see someone riding off the front of a pack it is because the pack has allowed it, it is not due to their 'superior' power. Very few riders ever ride away from the group through pure strength. Ones that do are typically so naturally strong their rarely stay long in Cat 3 anyway and in few years will likely be riding pro.

Not everyone has this genetic ability, and its also not the only way to win races at the local level. Strategy and race smarts can be of equally importance. I find many new racers overvalue fitness and undervalue learning how to read races and plan efforts. Too many are too twitching looking to jump on and 'go fast' too early in the race. For these riders motor pacing will not teach them how to read races. It will not teach them how to make a plan, and commit every last ounce of energy to it's execution (i.e., execute, or fall in the ditch in exhaustion). It will not teach them how to neutrally deconstruct a race and assess what worked and what didn't and come up with revised strategies to try the next race. It will not magically impart singular focus and the passion needed to win.

That said, motor pacing can still be a frickin' blast when done right!

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There are two main elements to motor pacing vs non-motor paced (solo) riding:

  • Physiological differences
  • Motivational/psychological differences

Physiologically, there are the neuromuscular demands and the metabolic demands. The neuromuscular demands of motor paced riding are significantly different to solo riding but the metabolic demands, provided the effort level is similar, are pretty much the same.

A glance at a Quadrant Analysis of the pedal forces and pedal speeds from motor pace efforts will demonstrate this quite quickly and also show the neuromuscular demands have little physiological specificity with respect to time trial and non-draft triathlon events, but rather simulate more closely the neuromuscular demands of mass start road, crit and track racing.

Metabolically, as long as it's ridden at the desired overall intensity, or has sections with desired intensity levels, it will be no more/less beneficial than solo riding at same effort level(s).

However even for the TT rider or triathlete it can be a motivational tool to ensure an athlete gets hard training done. i.e. the metabolic impact is similar even if the specificity is reduced.

Many sensible purposes for motor pace are:

  • providing (roadie) race like simulation where the neuromuscular demands are significantly different to those encountered with solo riding, even though the metabolic demand may be similar. The same simulations are attainable through hard bunch rides, and road races. Where a rider has limited access to such training opportunity or races, it makes some sense to consider motorpacing if you know what you are doing.

  • as a motivational tool and a change up to training. Many find it challenging and fun.

  • as a means for a support person to bring along extra supplies of fluid, food, clothing, spares/mechanical repairs, first aid etc so long hard days can be sustained as a simulation of longer road races.

  • for track sprint work - e.g. getting track sprinters up to a high pace without having used all their gas getting to a high speed in the first place, so they can practice hard accelerations from a high start speed. This enables more such work to be completed in a session.

  • for track team pursuit and points race simulation when limited riders are available.

  • practice for motor pace events (various track races have elements of motorpacing).

  • for ensuring rider safety and discipline during track warm ups with lots of riders on the track.

One should check local laws as well, as it is illegal to motor pace on many public roads. I would never contemplate taking a group for a motor pace run. That's just looking for an accident.

A good derny driver is like gold and they are rare.

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Motor pacing simulates the speed/character of travelling in a big peloton in a race quite well: at times pedalling hard to keep up, alternated by periods of free-wheeling while in the draft on a downhill (say). Always moving at a high speed, fast cadence.

To achieve the same on a group ride, the riders should all be quite evenly matched, ideally with some stronger, merciless riders, which force people to hang on. Alternatively, a very big group might achieve something similar. Hwoever, riding at a high speed in a bigger group might not always be safely possible on public roads (motor pacing is probably also not the safest thing to do if the driver is not experienced in it...).

I don't believe motor pacing is a "secret sauce" reserved for higher catergorised riders. It is just a good way to do a hard session simulating the demands of a race. Frankly, riders who do not have so many race days might even benefit from it more.

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