Drafting: success is about more than wattage

August 4, 2016

One of the things I enjoy about the Ride for Karen as an event is the camaraderie and support that the riders give one another throughout the ride. It isn’t a race like many other events and that makes it somewhat unique. That isn’t to say that the ride isn’t without its challenges though, particularly if your fitness isn’t as good as you would like it to be.


When most of us think about a ride like this we worry that we can’t go hard enough. That we lack the power to keep up with the group. But often it isn’t a lack of power that is the limiter. The real limiter in many cases is efficiency on the bike, which is really about your skill as a rider.


The great equalizer in road riding is the power of the draft. Get behind someone and you are saving significant effort. A good draft in the group can help you save as much as 40%. Proper drafting is what allows riders of varying abilities to ride together. If you are someone who thinks they may be weaker than the group, or perhaps struggle to cover the distance, then good drafting is your key to having a breakthrough ride.


Here are a few ideas to help with your drafting technique:


  1. All of the movements within the group should be small, predictable and smooth. Stay relaxed and don’t grab a handful of brake.

  2. Find a rider to draft that you trust. A rider with some experience and whom you can trust will help your confidence tremendously.

  3. Use your brakes sparingly. There is no need to be jamming your brakes on and off as you ride in the group (other than in the obvious situation that there is a sudden stop). Most of the time all you want to be doing is feathering your brakes. And remember that for control and feathering your speed the back brake is the better of the two. The front brake has all the power and the back one simply helps things out. Using the back brake mainly will keep your from making any sudden stopping movements in the middle of the group.

  4. You don’t always have to use your brakes to slow down. A simple option to help control your speed is to move out of the draft slightly. You will feel your body start to catch the wind more and give you that extra bit of drag that you need to not roll up on the rider in front of you. While overlapping wheels is frowned upon it is okay to slide up and back slightly alongside the rider in front of you. This is better than suddenly slamming on your brakes.

  5. Most importantly, understand where the wind is coming from. The leeward side is where you get your draft from the rider in front of you. To maximize your draft you have to pay attention and feel where the wind is coming from. The wind will not always be coming from the front. For instance, if it is coming from the right then you will want to ride slightly to the left of the rider in front of you. When your bike goes into the draft you will feel that it is easier, almost as if you are getting sucked along (which you are).

  6. Anticipate what is going to happen in the group and change your gears or position accordingly. For instance, if you see a hill coming anticipate your shifts to keep your cadence constant, which in turn will help you stay in the draft more easily.

Remember that cycling is about more than just putting out a bunch of power all day. Your efficiency on the bike is just as important as the fitness you have. Practice your drafting so that on the day of the event you can take advantage of the stronger riders and stick with them throughout the full event distance.


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