‘NO DRAFTING!’ shouted a man in a yellow high-vis vest from the side of the road, on a recent bike-ride.
The Mechanic and I had inadvertently found ourselves in the bicycle portion of a duathlon. Unknown to us a stretch of one of our regular routes to Box Hill in Surrey was being used for the race. I realised with some embarrassment that the ‘no drafting’ instruction was being barked at me.
Drafting is where two cyclists or more, cycle closely in single-file to take advantage of the slip-stream created by the rider in front. The front rider cuts through the wind, decreasing the wind resistance of the rider behind, who then benefits from expending much less effort. It is believed at least 20% less energy is used, some say as much as 40%. A rider who has a habit of sitting on a wheel and not taking a turn at the front is often referred to as a Wheel Sucker – a rather derogatory term.
I’m a Wheel Sucker and I’m proud of it!
It takes practice and concentration to ride close to the wheel in front. I’ve cycled many kilometers behind Mr M. learning to find the sweet spot, where you feel yourself being pulled along. Sometimes we create our own mini echelon, if the wind is coming from an angle.
I acknowledge that being a wheel-sucker allows me an easier ride, however in my experience I’ve had to cycle harder. Mr M. is a much stronger cyclist than I, so sitting on his wheel evens out our different abilities. I find myself cycling at a much faster pace and more consistently, as I know if I ‘drop-off’ his wheel it will take considerably more effort to ‘get back on’.
A huge amount of trust is also required, especially when cycling on unknown roads. I put a lot of faith in Mr M. I need him to point out pot-holes and any imminent road hazards so that I don’t career into the back of him, for the sake of his carbon wheel…and our marriage.
I would encourage anyone cycling with someone stronger or more experienced than themselves, to embrace the Wheel Sucker title, and learn to draft.
Note. The unsatisfactory picture is staged, as I could not work out how to cycle on the Mechanic’s wheel, one-handed and take a photo