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Old 08-08-10, 10:55 AM   #1
BigBlueToe
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Etiquette - Drafting During a Century

I don't ride with a group, so paceline riding etiquette is usually a moot point. However, I do ride in centuries. Lots of times I'll look in the mirror and see someone right on my tail. I'm 6'4" so I throw a fairly large wind shadow, so I guess I attract tailgaters.

Other times someone will pass me, but then not pull away; they'll stay a few feet in front of me. In those situations I'll often tuck in behind them for awhile.

Is there any etiquette about drafting someone during a century? I've had people ask before - "Do you mind if I tuck in behind you for awhile?" - but not often.

Personally, I don't mind if someone gets behind me. I'm going to be riding anyway, and if we touch wheels he'll go down, not me. But I don't want to make someone mad by tucking in behind them if it's against "the rules."

Comments? Opinions?
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Old 08-08-10, 11:25 AM   #2
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It's a good question.

On a recent ride (just a 50 miler) I worked like a dog to catch up with the wheel of a very experienced cyclist, one with whom I've ridden many a time and trust completely.

When I wheelsuck I often get within six inches of the wheel. This made the guy up ahead nervous, as if I trusted him not to stop abruptly but I'm not sure he trusted me not to rear-end him.

So I keep that in mind. I think it would be polite to say something and ask if someone would like to work together.

On one tour I did ask and the two riders up ahead of me made it clear that they would prefer to ride on their own.

Having said that, I would consider it a great compliment for someone to wheelsuck me. Why, I'm so slow a glacier wouldn't even bother to draft on me.

Addendum: it doesn't count if the cycle up ahead of you is a tandem. If you own a pick-up truck, people will ask you to help them move stuff. If you ride a tandem, people will suck your wheel. It's just the way it is.
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Old 08-08-10, 12:19 PM   #3
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Your right about the Tandems- Till they go uphill. But We have a system if we don't want to get wheelsuckers. It is easy to do 25mph on the flat wirh a Tandem by just turning the pedals. Couple of turns of the pedals and we can be doing 30. So if we can feel that we are towing "Too" many- we just accelerate and wait till every one catches us- then slow down again. If anyone hits us- they will come off worse. Even experienced wheelsuckers don't like the accordian in a line.
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Old 08-08-10, 12:25 PM   #4
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I think the best policy is to ask if you want to join a paceline.

If someone is on your wheel and you don't like it, you can pull off.

I've had riders draft off me for a bit, and then they usually will say something like "thanks for the pull," or, "thanks for the pull, do you mind?".....either statement by them is an opportunity for you to either pull off or say you'd lke them to drop off.

My own observation is the easier the century the wider variety of riders you encounter; the percentage of "sketchy" riding going on can be pretty high. On those kinds of rides, I'm reluctant to join a paceline with riders I don't know.

In harder centuries, the really challenging ones, there seems to be a lot less sketchy riding. I think you can feel a bit safer joining pacelines (though always nice to ask).

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Old 08-08-10, 01:01 PM   #5
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I don't know proper protocol on this question, but I'd be careful who I drafted. An inexperienced ride could easily slow quickly or hit the breaks hard causing a collision.
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Old 08-08-10, 01:25 PM   #6
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It's dangerous for both parties. But IMHO there is no protocol as far as asking permission and it is good form to do your fair share of the work - particularly on a century.
Much like Stapfam said, if someone doesn't like you drafting - they will find a way to get you off their wheel. However - unlike WL said, and again IMHO 6" off a persons wheel is too close except if you are on a track with good & known surface conditions. I did a 64 mile ride today and did a lot of drafting, on back roads with broken pavement, road kill, ups & downs there is just too much going on not to have a lot of room to bail out or adjust. About a wheel diameter is what a I use as a guide. There is plenty of suction that far away - particularly behind a big rider.
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Old 08-08-10, 02:04 PM   #7
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I try to let the rider ahead know I'm on his/her wheel unless it's someone in a group I'm riding with. In that case, drafting is cool...actually expected.



If you don't feel comfortable with someone on your wheel, gradually slow down, they won't stay there long.
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Old 08-08-10, 02:18 PM   #8
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I've got a century coming up and was wondering about this as well. Good point about the type of century vs. the skill of the riders. So far I've only ridden casual centuries which presented very few opportunities to actually draft as 90% of the field were riding hybrids at 12mph and spending most of their time sight-seeing. This next one is going to be more serious and I think there will be plenty of opportunities to draft.
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Old 08-08-10, 02:48 PM   #9
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Most of my group riding has been offroad and not much drafting going on. The lead rider is looking for the clean lines- When he doesn't find them- you can. So it is only fair to take the lead occasionally. And it is not easy to creap up on any rider offroad and they are a sociable lot.

But onroad- Road bikes are silent in comparison so I always let the rider in front know I am there just so he doesn't do something inadvertantly and putting me in trouble. If I am going to draft him I just let him Know I am sitting there for recovery- normally need it if I have just chased him.

Last year I Caught a group that was just too fast for me. Told them I was there and sitting. No problem- one dropped back and we had a chat but when he saw my age- he told me I could sit at the back. All he was doing was checking my riding style. I feel certain that if I was going to put them in trouble- They would have been gone.
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Old 08-08-10, 03:01 PM   #10
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If someone were riding the Tour de Palm Springs it would be hard not to draft someone else. When 9000 riders do a 100 mile ride someone will be in front of you and someone will be behind you.

I for one don't mind if someone drafts me and even if I over take and pass smeone else I spend a few moments on their back wheel to give myself a little boost.
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Old 08-08-10, 04:25 PM   #11
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I've done a lot of organized rides but not so much anymore. I never draft a stranger on these things, it's too unpredictable. When on a descent I get nervous and try to stay away from them. Call me a wuss but I don't mind pulling the whole ride anytime. Trusted friends is another matter, that is if they're willing to wait for me after the climbs.
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Old 08-08-10, 04:51 PM   #12
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I gotta say something about easy centuries attracting poor riders. I don't know if this is or is not true, I would think that any rider attempting a 100 mile ride has some serious training under their belt.

The easier century I know is the seagull (held in early Oct on the eastern shore of Md.) It is flat, flat, flat.
Many very good riders will use it as their way to get under 5 (or 4) hours - bragging rights. When I did it 2 years ago the pace lines were a thing of beauty. I latched onto one and cruised for miles at a high rate of speed (my recollection is we were doing close to 30 but that may be wish-full thinking). I plan to do it again this year - it will be my attempt at an under 5 hr century, you can bet I will latch onto what looks like the best pace line I can find. BTW - the last time I did not get a 20+mph average because I spent the first 30 miles riding at 14 mph with my brother. After that we agreed to part ways when I saw the most beautiful pace line pass before my eyes, I grabbed hold and rode it for another 30 miles before I needed a rest (they did not stop at any rest stops). My average that day was >19mph for the entire century (again I recall 19.5 but memory is a funny thing). I do remember I was not at all bushed after the ride, I had a good time waiting for my brother.
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Old 08-08-10, 05:34 PM   #13
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I typically ask, "Mind if I hang on your wheel for a bit?" If someone is on my wheel I'll call back, "Let me know when you want the front." This usually gets some kind of verbal exchange going. I can only remember one when the rider in front ,pulled away making it clear he didn't want me on his wheel and another on my wheel shot around and sprinted away. I think it always best to verbally acknowledge what's going on.
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Old 08-08-10, 06:05 PM   #14
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I have had this most often on Tour de Tuscon, after 60-80 miles. I dont a rider catching a draft without asking (although it would certainly be a courtesy to ask first), but it does suck when, after they have drafted for several miles, that they take off an leave me. I guess I must resemble their domestique....
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Old 08-08-10, 08:05 PM   #15
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If you catch up with someone in an organized ride my guess is your abilities are about the same with the person or other riders you have caught (or they caught you). It can be very helpful to both if you work together. I'm fine both sitting on someone's wheel or having them catch mine. If I'm drafting I will take a turn pulling and share the load. It helps you both that way and is also the polite thing to do. I've met a lot of really nice people riding like that. I've also had some pretty good riders who were having a bad day and our group was better off with them not pulling and just letting them ride wheels. I've been in their position a lot when all I could do was ride wheels and if I can help them because I'm lucky enought to be a little stronger that day then I welcome them wholeheartedly. They will remember you and gladly work with you on upcoming rides as well.

My only rule is please don't get real chatty with me if you want to ride behind me-unless you are of the opposite sex then I can be charmed. Just let your bike and riding do the talking. I've heard way too many stories about "this is my first organized ride".......or "this is the longest I've ever ridden". It's not that I don't care and I'm really thrilled someone has caught the cycling bug but let's talk that stuff after the ride is over. Sometimes I'm working hard just to get to the finish line, fighting cramps, trying to solve life's problems, etc.

I don't know why folks are so uncomfortable in pace lines (defining paceline as a single or double organized line versus a "mass group"). I've always found it easy to tell rather quickly how experienced riders are. You can then determine how aggressive and how cautious you want to ride with that particular group or person. If they are more experienced you can ride more aggressively and in tighter lines. If they are less experienced you probably want to increase your safety margin and be even more observant. My thinking is the control is mainly up to me-I'm looking ahead far enough to anticipate speed changes and hazards and adjust as needed. It takes a heck of a lot more than touching wheels by the guy behind me to take me down. Now if our skewers get tangled that is a different story.......And it's always a little safer up front so I suppose that is always an option!!! Or I could be off base and maybe I've only ridden with more experienced cyclistst the last several years.
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Old 08-08-10, 08:05 PM   #16
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I gotta say something about easy centuries attracting poor riders. I don't know if this is or is not true, I would think that any rider attempting a 100 mile ride has some serious training under their belt. .
To clarify what I meant about "easy" -- my experience is that there will be century rides that attract folks out for their first century; frequently these rides may consist of several different loops so you're on routes that may include people who are just out for 20, 40, or 60 miles, in addition to folks doing their first century. I mean no disrespect to folks for whom these distances are a big accomplishment -- but my observation is that there are riders on these rides who are struggling to hold a straight line, and not experienced at all in pacelines. That's OK with me -- rides like this are fantastic way to get folks out stretching their limits. But on these rides, I won't jump on a paceline with riders I don't know.
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Old 08-08-10, 08:10 PM   #17
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I have had this most often on Tour de Tuscon, after 60-80 miles. I dont a rider catching a draft without asking (although it would certainly be a courtesy to ask first), but it does suck when, after they have drafted for several miles, that they take off an leave me. I guess I must resemble their domestique....
The year I did Tour de Tucson I was with groups all the way until about the 80 mile mark-we came down Tangerine with a terrific group of 20+/- and only 4-5 of us were doing the pulling. We took a left on that long road that parallels I10 and I had to stop to get fluids. I lost the group and never did get grouped back up and lost about 10 mins to the finish as there was a nice headwind that day on that stretch. I was desparately looking for a wheel to grab but everyone was so spaced out nothing ever materialized. I do recall it being a pretty tough stretch and I was more than ready to get off that road. Is is Silverbell???
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Old 08-09-10, 05:53 AM   #18
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To clarify what I meant about "easy" -- my experience is that there will be century rides that attract folks out for their first century; frequently these rides may consist of several different loops so you're on routes that may include people who are just out for 20, 40, or 60 miles, in addition to folks doing their first century. I mean no disrespect to folks for whom these distances are a big accomplishment -- but my observation is that there are riders on these rides who are struggling to hold a straight line, and not experienced at all in pacelines. That's OK with me -- rides like this are fantastic way to get folks out stretching their limits. But on these rides, I won't jump on a paceline with riders I don't know.
You are absolutely correct. I guess in my mind when I have been on these overlapping route rides I tend to dismiss the type of riders you describe as obstacles to get around - but you are correct. These are riders who are not traveling a pace that would allow me to draft nor allow them to draft me. I guess the "looking through" these riders is not the best attitude but I tend to focus on my agenda. However I do believe that someone who as prepared themselves well for their first century may not be a cat 5 racer but is certainly far better and much more experienced than your average cyclist. But these are not the only ones you encounter - you also ride through all the Sat afternoon riders doing their first 25.
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Old 08-09-10, 07:42 AM   #19
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I would never assume that since someone is on a century ride that they are safe to be around, prepared or not. There are plenty of strong, fast riders who are dangerous as hell. I've seen riders who are faster than me cause crashes on organized rides and club rides, too.
I do agree that the rides that draw huge numbers and people out to complete their first century are more sketchy than the mountainous rides that draw smaller crowds of veteran riders.
I've done the Solvang Century 9 times and the Cool Breeze 10 times, I think, and they both have plenty of bloodshed.
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Old 08-09-10, 08:03 AM   #20
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I often find many drafting opportunities on organized rides when I set out to ride solo. If I catch up to someone riding close to my speed, I sometimes hang behind them for a while to catch my breath. Or it may be someone who passes me but does not pull away quickly or someone who catches and stays behind me. I always let them know I'm there and make sure they are OK with it. I expect the same from them. Unannounced wheelsucking is bad form imho, even behind a tandem.
I'll watch them to see how smoothly and predictably they are riding. If they seem OK and their pace is good for me, I'll offer to pull for a while. If I don't feel good about them, I'll either drop them or drop off. Sometimes these situations last for many miles, sometimes just for a little while.
I am more likely to go for these kind of spur of the moment drafting situation with one or two other riders than to join in with a larger paceline situation unless I know the people involved and trust them.
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Old 08-09-10, 09:56 AM   #21
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Bikes and medical care are both much more expensive theses days. I'd never really thought about it like this, but a pile-up while drafting on a public throughfare is technically a multi-vehicle accident (where I live). While I can't imagine the LEOs caring a whit, throw in totalling a top of the line CF race bike, some orthopedic surgery and rehab and I could see an insurance company looking for someone to tag with damages.

The default (where I live) in a multi-vehicle accident is the person in back, although it's not a given.

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Old 08-09-10, 10:04 AM   #22
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Thanks for all the replies. They give me something to go on.

I take my 6th grade class on a bike ride every year. There are lots of rules and procedures to keep them safe. Imagine 33 12-year-olds, some of them who ride infrequently, many on 18-speed bikes on which they only use one speed, etc. Imagine you're responsible and you know there are parents who would hit you with a lawsuit if their little darlings should fall and skin their knees. (Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration.) It's enough to give you nightmares. I'm lucky to have a principal who thinks the experience is worth the risk.

I make them ride really slowly. (I tell them to imagine a Sunday ride with their grandmothers - sorry grandmothers out there.) I make them ride single file with no passing, unless someone has to pull off to fix a chain, walk up a hill, etc. I teach them, "Car up!", "Car Back!" , and "Stopping!"

When they're riding in a single file line, I tell them that the responibility for not crashing lies with the person behind (who is the one likely to crash if they touch wheels.) While I tell them not to jam on the brakes suddenly, and to yell "Stopping" if they need to stop, I also tell the person behind to be ready for anything, and to cover their brakes.

That's what I do when I tuck in behind someone on a century. I try and be ready for anything, and cover my brakes. Most adults won't suddenly jam on their brakes (and a surprising number of 12-year-olds will!) but they may suddenly stop pedaling and slow down, or slow down to avoid a pothole, or something. I think it's incumbent on me to be ready and not run into them.
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Old 08-09-10, 10:09 AM   #23
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Normally I'll let an individual know I am behind them and say something lame like "right behind you". If there is an established paceline I'll get on the back and wait for my turn to pull. I just assume that if someone or some group really doesn't want me there, they'll drop me. I've never been verbally told to not draft ...
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Old 08-09-10, 10:28 AM   #24
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It is a complex subject. Sometimes, you can kind of detect when you get into an ad hoc paceline. By that I mean a group of riders who normally do not ride together who have formed a paceline to get through a century. Usually those situations are safe to join.

If some people get on your wheel, it is usually safe to pull awhile then rotate out and hop on.

Sometimes there is a really tight and somewhat exclusive group. They might let you join, but I generally do not join cohesive groups because I worry some about messing them up.

Another thing to look out for is the situation of a couple of strong riders escorting a weaker rider. Sometimes people will hop in and split the weak rider from his/her escorts. Then the weak rider gets dropped and the escorts do not see it because of the other cyclists kind of blocking their vision.
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Old 08-09-10, 11:03 AM   #25
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I have had this most often on Tour de Tuscon, after 60-80 miles. I dont a rider catching a draft without asking (although it would certainly be a courtesy to ask first), but it does suck when, after they have drafted for several miles, that they take off an leave me. I guess I must resemble their domestique....
I have not done a group ride like this yet, but I imagine I would peel off and tuck in behind after a bit. Isn't that how it's done?
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