Derny paced racing


The National Derny Pace championships takes place at Welwyn this weekend, with the women fighting for the title over 15k.  In the past, legends such as Victoria Pendleton and Kate Cullen have taken the title and this year we are promised a new National Champion as, Laura Trott will not be defending.


Derny Paced racing at the Reading Grand Prix


So why pace a cyclist?  In the early 19th nineteenth century, it was recognised that one way of increasing a cyclist’s speed and endurance, was to pace them with another vehicle, as this encouraged them to work harder on the bike than they might otherwise do.


Originally, pedal-powered tandems, triplets, quads and even quints were used for this purpose, as well as both electric and pedal powered motor bicycles. These gave way to specialised pacing motor cycles, called Dernys, which were capable of running at a constant cycling speed and at the same time giving some slipstreaming or drafting effect to the cyclist behind.


The first Derny went into production in 1938, it was designed built by an ex racing cyclist, Roger Derny and Sons and it was a motorised bicycle, with a 90 cc engine, that was also pedalled through a fixed gear. The combination of both engine power and pedalling allows for very smooth acceleration and deceleration, which is critical when the front wheel of the cyclist riding behind the Derny is (when it is done right) just centimetres off the pacer's back wheel.


Another feature that shows how the safety of the cyclist was paramount when the idea was first conceived, is that the Derny will not stop dead even if the motor stops or seizes.


Roger Derny and Sons are no longer in business, but the term ‘Derny’ is now the generic term used to describe the specialist motor pacer bikes that developed from the pacing bikes first used in the famous Bordeaux -Paris road race which dates back to 1891.


Bizarrely, even today the bikes still have to be pushed and bump-started, but once they are going they can cruise at speeds of up to 90 km/h.


Derny Paced racing at the Reading Grand Prix 2011


The Derny pacer will sit close to the back of the bike, in an upright position, with their heels on the pedals and knees turned out, to provide as large a wind break as possible to benefit the cyclist riding behind. There are rules about the number of layers of clothing that can be worn, this is to stop drivers padding themselves out ‘Michelin Man’ style to further add to their bulk and therefore the efficiency of the wind break they can provide for the cyclist behind.


To the casual observer the pacer seems to have the easy job, but it takes a considerable amount of skill to keep the pace as smooth as possible, taking into account the inevitable head and tail winds that are experienced on an outdoor track and the interference from other teams. The noise of the engines makes it very difficult to communicate, so the pacer must take responsibility for delivering the race plan whilst driving to his follower’s strengths.


For the cyclist that is following, they need to ride as close to the Derny as possible to maximise the slipstreaming and then they must be prepared to suffer like they have never suffered before!


We will bring you the results after the race on Saturday.


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