How to draft on a bike
16th September 2015
Staying close and the bungee effect: knowing how to draft can make a huge difference to your ride, and group riding is a key skill for cyclists as they become more competitive.
Learning the essential points for effective drafting will save you energy and help keep you safe and in control. Tucking in behind another rider or chain of riders can save energy by reducing wind resistance by over 20%.
Up close and personal
You have a pretty small window to accrue the aerodynamic benefits of drafting. You’ll start to feel some benefits from about half a wheel’s distance behind the rider in front, even more so the closer you get. The more experienced will look to overlap or stagger wheels for maximum benefits. This takes confidence and practice however, so look to head out with friends on a closed road or join a local club to get experience before you aim to do this in an event or sportive. If you have the option, the bigger the rider in front, the more wind resistance you’ll get.
It’s easy for riders at the back of a group or chain to lose touch particularly if they are dropping back down the chain from a turn on the front. To prevent a bungee or yo-yo’ing effect off the back of the group use your gears. As the chain comes past your drop down, increase your cadence and smoothly switch up again when you are locked back into the group. Learn more about how to make the most from your gears with these tips.
Head up and relax
It’s easy to get caught out with your eyes fixed on the wheel of the rider in front. Instead, check you’re in theright cycling position, lift your head, looking at the jersey in front allowing your peripheral vision to still alert you to dangers, glance down occasionally to check your wheel position. Breathe steadily and consistently with a relaxed grip on the bars. The goal in this position is to ride with smooth, consistent pedal strokes, not frequently changing cadence or using your brakes. If you do need to brake this needs to be done in very light feather movements otherwise you risk a rider behind cycling into your rear wheel.
Lead it out
Being on the front of the group still gives you performance benefits provided those behind you are close enough, as an area of low pressure, almost like a bubble, is created between riders helping to reduce wind resistance. As you take your turn pulling on the front your focus should be to maintain a steady pace. You are partly responsible for the cycling safety of those behind you so avoid sudden braking, changes in course and keeping really focused on dangers ahead such as potholes. If you are feeling strong then take a longer turn at the front – don’t increase the pace unless agreed.
Bridge the gap
The whole group behind the lead rider has a responsibility not to let gaps appear. As soon as the group starts to concertina not only have the aerodynamic benefits been lost but your safety on the bike becomes an issue through random changes in pace. If a gap does start to appear, smoothly and gradually bridge it over the course of 5-10 seconds allowing riders behind to maintain their consistency.
Whilst you’ll generally be in the saddle in a drafting situation, if you do come out of the saddle ensure you keep the power through each pedal stroke as it is easy to drop the effort momentarily as you transfer to the standing position. As you stand bring the bike underneath you rather than letting the bike drop back into the wheel of the person behind. Look for these signs you’re in the wrong cycling position and follow our tips to find the right saddle for you.
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