Sycling Snippets

by Bobby Nefdt

9. Sitting a wheel vs ‘Sucking’ a wheel

The advantages of riding behind another rider are great. It is said that you can save up to 30% of your energy by sitting a wheel (riding behind someone else). I have seen Youtube clips of riders using power meters to determine their power saving riding behind another rider and, of course, the power savings increase with headwinds and decrease as the gradient increases.

Sitting a wheel entails riding as close as possible behind another rider in order to benefit from the slipstream of that person. Our current road conditions make it rather difficult. Try to avoid riding directly behind the rider ahead, rather ride slightly to the left or right but not overlapping the wheel ahead. Should the rider ahead slow down you can just slide past slightly without having to brake hard. Should the rider ahead swerve left or right they won’t take out your front wheel.

Sucking a wheel is a little more than merely sitting a wheel. It is about constantly being aware of the conditions around you and constantly shifting position; moving to the left or right, or forward in the group or back. It is about trying to get as much protection possible from the riders ahead of you. The wind shifts direction every time the road changes direction and you should always be aware of the changes. There are several ways of noting the direction of the wind: looking at the grass and trees alongside the road is the most obvious one. The other more subtle ways are feeling the wind on your arms and hearing it in your ears. If you are riding directly behind someone and you can feel that the wind is blowing harder on the hairs of your left arm, then move slightly to the right of the person in front of you until that sensation is diminished and is the same on both arms. Hearing the wind in your ears is very similar. If the sound of the wind in your right ear is louder move slightly to the left of the rider in front of you until that sound is reduced and there is a balance in both ears. You should practise this all the time until it becomes a habit and you do it constantly without being aware of it. It can also be taken to extremes by avoiding the front altogether even when it is your turn to ‘pull’. The term for this is “wheel sucker,’ not a popular person to have in the group. I would also suggest that if you are in a group and trying to conserve energy, ride in about third position back to about eighth. Any closer to the front and you are not getting the full benefit of sitting in the slipstream of those ahead. Any further back than eighth place and you start yo-yoing as the riders ahead surge or slow down, breaking your rhythm.

Riding on the bends also assists in your wheelsucking technique enabling you to keep as low as possible, reducing your frontal drag thus saving more energy, especially when pulling on the front. ‘Sucking a wheel’ should become a skill that you develop by doing so all the time.