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I'm gonna git you, (wheel) sucka!
The other day I was riding to work and was surprised to hear, awfully close, the clattering of another bike’s gears.
Since I’m remarkably unfast on two wheels, it’s not terribly surprising to have been overtaken by another cyclist. However, the proximity was a bit startling.
Assuming I was about to be passed, I slowed (as much as possible, without the danger of toppling) and … nothing.
I pedaled on.
A few blocks farther, again I heard the clattering of gears, glanced back and saw the same cyclist, right behind me. I slowed again and … nothing.
Finally, because the only place I’m slower than on a bike is in the intellectual arena, it dawned on me that I had encountered the dreaded wheel sucker.
Cyclists can conserve energy — or ride faster with the same expenditure — by riding in the draft of another. Wheel suckers like to nestle in the draft of another cyclist (or cyclists) without taking a turn in the front.
It doesn’t make the rider in front work any harder, but it’s somewhat annoying to pull without reaping the benefit of being pulled.
I figured, if the guy was so desperate he needed to suck my wheel, well, may the lord have mercy on his cycling soul.
So I rode on, with Sir Sucksalot in tepid pursuit.
Though drafting can be an integral part of racing or even just riding in a group, there’s a strict code of conduct that goes along with it that, in certain circles, can be enforced rather ruthlessly. There are rules about how close and how long and which direction to “pull off” and rotation through the paceline (or echelon) and how to clear the nasal passages and what direction to flatulate and, in truth, they’re all designed with safety in mind. Except maybe the flatulence one.
The trouble with wheel suckers is, they suck because they don’t give a rip about the etiquette. I don’t mind if somebody wants to ride in my draft, because it probably means I’m a stronger rider, but I don’t want some wobbly newbie to crash us both because he can’t hold a line.
The fella following me the other day overlapped wheels on my right side, then gave a little snort of disapproval when I slid over toward the curb. He yelled when I slid left to avoid a pothole, then bellowed “Watch out!” after I signaled a left turn and had the nerve to … turn left.
If I were riding with somebody, I would have the decency to point out obstacles like potholes and road kill, but I don’t feel obligated to look out for the wheel suckers.
It’s like tailgating in a car: If you don’t like how/how fast I’m driving, pass.
It has been said that inexperienced cyclists are bothered more by wheel suckers than experienced ones, but I think it depends on the situation, and this was one annoying sucker.
The other long-standing bit of advice for dealing with wheel suckers is simply to ride them off your wheel, which is what I eventually did, kicking it up a notch and leaving the wheel sucker sucking wind.
Maybe next time he’ll pick a slower wheel to suck.
If he can find one.