Bend in the Road: Don’t be a creep

Say hello before you jump in the draft of a stranger

People, it’s time for a public etiquette campaign, and I need your help.

There are far too many riders out there who engage in a simple but creepy behavior, and this must be stopped. I’m talking about silent wheelsucking. I’m talking about those who latch onto the wheel of a random stranger and get pulled along for the ride without uttering a word.

The experience is this: You are out for a ride, perhaps alone, perhaps with friends, when you realize you have an anonymous passenger tucked in your draft. You look back, and they say nothing, their face as blank as if they are waiting for a bus.

Now imagine you are out for a run. (Yes, a lousy idea compared with a bike ride, but stay with me here, folks.) As you are trotting along, suddenly there is another runner inches from your heels, silently pacing you. This would be weird, right? No one would think to do this save a stalker or Mr Bean. So why do people believe this behavior is acceptable on a bicycle? Would you sit this close to a stranger at an otherwise empty bar, saying nothing?

Yes, yes, we all understand the aerodynamic benefit of a draft – it’s easier to ride behind someone than ride alone into the wind. It is also easier to ride on someone’s back than to walk. But you don’t just go jumping on a stranger’s back out of the blue because they happen to be going your way, do you?

People, if you are old enough to ride a bicycle, then you are old enough to demonstrate basic manners.

Whether you are a silent wheelsucker or an unwitting wheelsuckee, let me equip you with a few basic phrases that can restore civilization to the energy-saving act of drafting:

For the would-be drafter:

“Hi. Mind if I sit on?”

“Hello. Okay if I draft you/you guys?”

It’s that simple.

For the rider who suddenly finds themselves towing a stranger:

“Hi. I didn’t realize you were there. Please say something next time.”

I’ll admit, I have struggled with how to politely but clearly explain to silent wheelsuckers that they are annoying. I’ve thought about passive-aggressively ramping up the speed to try to drop them. But that is effectively engaging someone I didn’t want to engage in the first place. I’ve also entertained visions of berating them: “Dude! What the hell is your problem? You can’t just sneak up and sit right behind someone without saying anything.” But mostly I just sit there and silently stew, especially if I turn around to wave, and get the blank stare.

I don’t want to be that guy.

So please, don’t be a creep. The next time you’re out riding and want to sit on with a fellow rider or group of riders, imagine you are sitting down to a table with them – just say hello and ask if you can join. They’ll be happy you did.

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team, Trek Boone 5, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, Marinoni fixed gear, Santa Cruz Roadster TT bike
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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