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Mon, 21 Apr 2008

on the ethics of drafting

Having got back into commuting on a moderately regular basis I'm again facing one of the dilemmas of the cycle commuter: is it polite to draft?

Drafting is sitting behind someone else getting sucked along in their slipstream and thus requiring roughly a third less energy. I recall reading that it also helps the drafter but the details, which I was hazy on at the time, now elude me. Needless to say any benefit to the drafter is considerably less than to the draftee. In most groups of road cyclists drafting is the norm for anything other than a gentle ride and is usually well practiced; each person in the group will take their turn at the front and then pull off to join the line at the end.

For the cycling commuter though it seems to be something of a grey area. I've read long rants on cycling forums decrying the practice of latching on to a stranger; others seem not to care if they drag someone along for miles. I personally am in the latter camp and am also not averse to sitting in someone's wake for a bit. I've no idea how you tell the persuasion of another cyclist.

At this point I should say that with the great majority of my fellow commuters the issue never arises because I'm going faster than them. This makes sense as purely from a perspective of maths I'm much less likely to see those travelling at a similar speed.

However, what this does mean is that those who are worthwhile to draft are likely to moderately serious cyclists and hence familiar with the concept of drafting. The problem then arises of how to, and indeed if you should even try to, set up the shared drafting mentioned above. In the echelons of professional, and for all I know about it amateur, cycling the accepted signal is a flick of the elbow on the side you wish the draftee to come past you on. I am not inclined to make such a commanding gesture at a total stranger. I am left with the hope that if I pass and then move in front of a fellow commuter they will return the favour after a while.

I have not yet put this to the test.

In fact thus far, depending on the speed of the other person, I either maintain a polite distance behind or increase my speed sufficiently that I pass at a reasonable rate. The latter makes me feel less like a stalker.

A third option would be to pull alongside and explain all this. It seems a lot to burden a stranger with at either end of the working day.

posted at: 21:36 #

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