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On a recent Sunday ride on a country road, I was slowly overtaken by a group of (5) guys on road bikes. They were "proper" road cyclists, if you know what I mean.

When they passed me, I just slipped in behind them and drafted for about 5 miles until we parted ways.

I tried to keep a low profile. I didn't have trouble keeping up with them, but I didn't "take a turn at the front" because I wasn't sure I was welcome.

They didn't seem to acknowledge my presence at all (which was fine with me), except for one guy who cast a glance at my bike (a mtb).

Is this acceptable behavior? I sure wouldn't mind, but I'm not a religious roadie :D

  • 2
    I think we should clarify what you mean by drafting, wheel to wheel is very different from loosely behind but still in draft. – Nathan Cooper Aug 18 '15 at 8:58
  • @NathanCooper I was drafting fairly loosely. I don't have enough drafting experience to be comfortable on their wheels. – BSO rider Aug 18 '15 at 10:41
  • The material of the bikes does not add any value to this questions. It could be reworded a bit like "a group of cyclist riding in formation", and just "My presence was mostly unacknowledged". Without that the question would read a bit less "judgemental", which would improve the tone. – LopSae Aug 18 '15 at 23:41
  • The width of your handlebars could be up to double a road bike. So a twin paceline rotating around means an increased risk of contact. One risk to be aware of and take a slightly outboard position compared to the rest of the line. – Criggie Mar 25 '17 at 22:17
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It can be considered "impolite" by roadies, but not because of the bike you were riding or the fact you didn't take a pull (although I am sure some will argue for this). The main reason random drop-in riders are generally frowned upon are because of:

  1. the dangers associated with unpredictability of a new rider
  2. lack of insurance coverage

Potential Unpredictability

New riders can behave unpredictable especially in a pace line. In the same way, groups can behave differently than you might expect even if you are an experienced road rider. Jumping into a group without knowing what they are doing can lead to unanticipated behaviours which may or may not result in a crash.

From the groups perspective, they don't know if you are a stable rider or if you will try to ride too close and clip a tire. They don't know if you will block one of them when they try to rotate their positions. You are a complete unknown who has just shown up. Most people are suspicious of unknown factors.

Likely they have also spent a lot of time training. Maybe they are racers. Maybe they are getting ready for a charity ride. It doesn't really matter. The last thing they want is to get taken out by someone looking for a quick draft or thrill.

Anecdotal Experience - Collision

I was starting to get ready for for cyclo-cross a few years back in August and part of my route was on the road with a transition to some local trails. On the transition from road to dirt I usually hopped off the road to the shoulder, scrubbed about 10 km/hr in order to make a sharp turn on to the trails.

On the road I was in my drops plugging away on an interval when unbeknownst to me someone on a road bike had snuck up behind and was drafting me (my road section began at the bottom of a hill so I suspect this played a big role with suddenly picking up a rider). I was pushing hard on the flat so I suspect he was drafting tightly. When I sat up, to get ready to transition onto the shoulder, he collided into by back wheel. I hadn't hit the brakes yet, but he must have been drafting me tight enough that simply letting off the throttle was enough to cause a collision.

Luckily we were both ok. I was livid that he was drafting me without notice and bent my wheel. He was livid that I didn't continue my pull to where he figured I should finish (at the very end of the road).

This belies the danger of an uninvited riders. NO COMMUNICATION had occurred between either of us as a result there was an unanticipated maneuver which lead to an accident. NO COMMUNICATION while riding in close proximity is dangerous.

Insurance

For a number of years I was on the board of directors and/or running a large cycling club in western Canada. Insurance, believe it or not, is an important consideration for a club. We can't hold training rides or other official club events without it. One of the Caveats is that everyone on the ride must be properly insured. For a new rider this can mean signing a one-time insurance form. For other riders it can mean belonging to either our club or another club and being a member of the local cycling licensing organization. If an incident happens and someone is injured (I have attended many ambulance visits over the years from group ride mishaps) and it is caused by a rider that showed up uninvited this could void the insurance coverage. We would have to prove that you were not invited, and that we didn't mess up our insurance forms with respect to your unofficial attendance. If people are recovering from injuries the last thing we all want is to deal with lawyers and a court-of-law.

We are not deliberately unfriendly

All the above reasons may seem very unfriendly, this is not the intended effect, it is just the consequence of the world we live in. If you are interested in attending a club ride, contact one of your local clubs (a quick internet search away). You will likely find that:

  • Most clubs will have a relaxed "C" group where you will be taught the ropes.
  • They will be able to go over group etiquette and how the group works. For example:
    • where we double up pace line;
    • where we single up pace line;
    • average speed;
    • how the group should operate around traffic signage;
    • how to point out obstacles and road hazards to drafting riders; and
    • riding route
  • Most will not care what bike that you ride.
  • And finally, they can ensure you have filled out the proper insurance forms.
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  • When running a group ride I usually try and communicate the above diplomatically to any rider that has suddenly appeared. Others may be take a more defensive stance, as they see the situation as a threat to their "group." Not everyone wants to be an "ambassador" in all situations. – Rider_X Aug 17 '15 at 19:25
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    He rode into you, and he was livid? – Grimm The Opiner Aug 27 '15 at 11:13
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    @GrimmTheOpiner - Yes. He thought I was being sketchy for slowing down suddenly. And in fairness I would never have slowed down there if I was on a road bike. He didn't realize I was on a CX bike riding mixed terrain when he started drafting. – Rider_X Aug 27 '15 at 15:05
10

For those who subscribe to the rules:

"Rule 19: Introduce Yourself

If you deem it appropriate to join a group of riders who are not part of an open group ride and who are not your mates, it is customary and courteous to announce your presence. Introduce yourself and ask if you may join the group. If you have been passed by a group, wait for an invitation, introduce yourself, or let them go. The silent joiner is viewed as ill-mannered and Anti-V. Conversely, the joiner who can’t shut their cakehole is no better and should be dropped from the group at first opportunity."

and

"Rule 67: Do your time in the wind

Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship."

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  • 2
    I'm thinking of building us a Hall Of Fame (and infamy). One of the items will be most velominati.com/the-rules links. – andy256 Aug 17 '15 at 23:29
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    Some of them are good, some of them not so. I don't shave my legs and I have a full beard, for example. – Batman Aug 18 '15 at 2:58
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    The rules are a mix of common sense and complete rubbish. Some of them justify the bad rep road riders get as being snobbish/impolite. – Holloway Aug 18 '15 at 6:56
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    Even when riding alone I feel uneasy if somebody pulls up from behind and hugs my rear wheel. Worse still if he just hangs there and keeps his mouth shut, it happens. – Carel Aug 18 '15 at 13:40
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    @Rider_x, when i was a kid wondering about justice my mom said the same sentence to me but it was with the more money you have... Luckily speed is better currency on the road bike world – gaurwraith Aug 18 '15 at 22:06
7

This sounds like it was a very casual interaction. There's nothing wrong with what you did, but it would have been more polite to say hi and ask if they minded you drafting them for a few minutes.

Even in a casual situation like that, be careful not to interfere with their rotation or their pace. IE, if you're not going to take a turn at the front, drop back a little when the guy coming back from the front is even with the rider ahead of you, so he knows immediately that he'll be slipping in ahead of you.

Technically, if you're careful, you're good for their pace. The last rider, riding right on the wheel of the rider in front of him, extends that rider's (and thus the whole paceline's) airflow bubble and thus reduces the effort.

You benefit more, of course, but there is a proven and measurable benefit to the rider in front of you.

If it's just a casual ride, the final answer is yes. If they're clearly a team and are in an event or even doing just some organized training, then no.

Never hurts to introduce yourself and ask, though.

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    Happened to me today, we were a group of six, overtook two guys that were going noticeably slower but they sped up to draft, I was last and didn't expect to have a wheel so close to me when I moved left to go front, so I increased group speed to make sure we were not just sitting before them at their pace, they increased speed to draft, I didn't like it. They didn't say anything I said bye when we parted ways about half hour later of them staying in the back, they said nothing, not good. – gaurwraith Aug 18 '15 at 22:12
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    @gaurwraith - an effective way to shake uninvited drafters is for the last person (a strong rider) to let a large gap form in front of him/her. When a sufficient gap has formed they will need to jump the gap they let form leaving the drafters out in the wind by themselves. – Rider_X Aug 19 '15 at 2:20

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