Little Jack's Corner Redux

Jack Donohue








In my declining years I think I'm becoming older but wiser (not to be confused with Budweiser, a beer I never drink). I've discovered the joys of wheelsucking.


Wheelsucking as we all know is the art of burying yourself deep in the bowels of the pack and taking advantage of the front rider who is breaking the wind. This allows you to go much faster than you could alone.


In my youth, I would take long pulls at the front, and end the century at my VOP max (Verge of Puking, a term popularized by Rick Lawrence), but still with the lead group. Later in life I would do the same and wonder why I got dropped in the last fifteen miles. Typical century scenario:

Mile 0 Blast out of the starting gate at warp speed feeling great
Mile 60 Finally stop to eat something
Mile 75 Leg cramps set in
Mile 85 Limp back wondering if any paramedics are on call


So I've changed my strategy and decided to dedicate myself to wheel sucking. I'm not proud, I'll draft anything, women, children, tandems (especially tandems), if they have a wheel, I'll suck it. I draw the line at recumbents, however. They provide less draft than a large German shepherd, so they're definitely not worth it.


Wheel sucking has a lot in common with whitewater canoeing. You find a nice eddy to sit behind, recover your composure, then dash ahead to the next one. Similarly, the adept wheelsucker can relax in the draft of one group, then when sufficiently recovered, charge ahead to find the next group to sit behind.


After a few riders have pulled off the front, you may find yourself dangerously close to that unenviable position. At this point, it's time to create a diversion. "Look, an eagle," or "dinosaur up" are among my favorites. Use the ensuing confusion to surreptitiously slip to the back of the pack. Corners and traffic lights are both good places to improve your position. The skilled wheel sucker will enter a sweeping left turn in second position, only to find himself again at the back coming out of the turn.


The key to successful wheelsucking is finding the appropriate suckees. It's no good to get behind a group that's slower than you would be if you ever took your turn at the front (which you must never do, remember). An early breakaway is often a good way to flush out the stronger riders. Blast off the front, only to be quickly chased down by a group whose wheels you will be happy to suck for the remainder of the ride. The other advantage of this is that it eliminates many of the other freeloaders like yourself, who contribute nothing to your average speed. You have to be careful with this approach, though, that you don't end up eliminated yourself.


If you must take a pull, do it on a hill. After sitting in for thirty miles you should be able to lead the pack for a minute or so, thereby impressing everyone with your hill climbing abilities. You've got to get up the hill anyway, and when you're riding at 8 miles an hour, it doesn't matter a whole lot who's in front.




This timeless article originally ran in September 1996 WheelPeople