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eminva
12-15-2010, 08:04 PM
Hello --

I bike to work about three days a week on the W&OD and Custis Trails (Vienna to DC). Forgive my ignorance of trail etiquette -- although I've been bicycle commuting for a while, I've never done club rides or other events where I might pick up this stuff.

I ride by myself, but I've noticed that sometimes another cyclist "joins me" -- specifically, drafting behind me. In theory, I don't mind (although the other rider would be assuming all risks -- see above about never having done club rides). However, as a woman riding alone, I am as concerned with personal safety as one can be but still be willing to ride on the trails, and after dark at this time of the year. Recently, after dark, I've gotten slightly freaked out when I realized another cyclist was right behind me.

What is the etiquette related to drafting? Thanks very much in advance for any tips. This is a wonderful forum and I appreciate it very much.

Liz

Dirt
12-15-2010, 08:16 PM
Hi Liz.

Not sure there really is a specific trail etiquette to drafting on the local Multi Use Trails (MUTs). I try to be extremely polite about it. I actually ask if it's okay if I "take a wheel" for a while. I also make sure to take my turn at the front. In general, I've found that those who draft on MUTs in this area have little or no intent to share in the work. My opinion is that they're often people who habitually tailgate in their cars and do the same on bikes.

Honestly, if I were in that position and it bothered me, I'd talk to them. I'd ease up a little and ask them to pull through. If they're serious cyclists and know what they're doing drafting, the actual signal to pull through is to sit up a little and wiggle your left elbow. I've never encountered a cyclist on a MUT in the DC area that wasn't in my riding group that had any idea what that signal meant. Ease up, ask them to pull through and then resume your ride.

Does that make sense? I'm interested in what others have to say too.

Happy riding.


Pete

RideTheWomble
12-15-2010, 10:31 PM
Unsolicited drafting is unwelcome and dangerous - especially on a MUT, where you often have to react to the unpredictable actions of other trail users. There's not a lot you can do about wheel-suckers, though. Like Pete, my approach is to slow, and ask them to go around. It's better to just let them get away from you; the ones who are doing it on purpose, not out of ignorance, will get all bent out of shape if you complain, and it's just not worth the grief.

I had one particular incident where a guy riding in the drops on triathlon-style aero bars snuck on to my rear wheel. He followed me up the S-curve behind the Italian Store. Not knowing anyone was back there, I merely sat up at the top of the climb, without applying any brakes. I heard, "WHOA!" as this guy missed sweeping my year wheel by mere millimeters. This, and other less severe incidents, have made my feelings about the subject unambiguous and strong. Wheel sucking is dangerous and rude. You shouldn't do it.

If I find myself in a position where I'm riding about the same speed as another rider, and I don't feel like I can pass them and "stay away," I'll let them know I'm back there, that my intent is not to sneak up and draft, and that I'm going to hang safely back. In other words, I tell them I'm back there, and try to work it out, so we're both comfortable.

Of course, if it's someone like Pete, I'll draft. That's because I've spent hours on group rides trying to keep his wheel. He knows what I'm going to do, and I know what he's going to do. In that case, it's drafting by prearranged, mutual consent. Besides, since Dirt puts in the miles, and does the work, drafting is one of the only techniques available that insures I will be there at the end of the ride, rather than struggling to catch back up to the pack. :)

Dirt
12-16-2010, 07:49 AM
Senor Womblehead.... Wise words indeed. Did you notice that I didn't suggest going Ben Hur on the Drafters? I guess the new medication is working. ;) (totally joking. I love and respect all mankind and would never condone any kind of action like that against someone.)

I got rear-ended by people while riding the dummy twice last year. How did it happen? I stopped at a stop sign. The people drafting off of me didn't. Who the heck drafts off of a cargo bike anyways??? Bummed me out. They totally scuffed up the pink paint on the bucket panniers.

RideTheWomble
12-16-2010, 08:00 AM
The Dummy is the ultimate wind fairing. I bet being behind it is like motor-pacing. When I'm on a MUT on mine, the wheelsuckers gather like remoras.

Like you, I also stop at stop signs. In addition, I only "clear my back blast area" for expectorations if I know someone is behind me. WHEELSUCKERS BEWARE!

PrintError
12-20-2010, 12:56 PM
I like to at least let them known I'm back there, even if it's a simple, "Mind if I draft?" Most often they don't mind.

Whenever someone phantom-drafts me, I either drop em or slow down and let em pass. Let me know or go away, please. I've been rear ended too, same as Dirt.

CCrew
12-27-2010, 11:24 AM
What is the etiquette related to drafting? Thanks very much in advance for any tips. This is a wonderful forum and I appreciate it very much.


You may want to define what you're calling drafting before everyone piles on.

It's not drafting if they're 5-10 feet back. It's just another bike behind you. You're really only in someones draft if you're right off their wheel.

That said, I commute daily on the W&OD. As a 54yo husband and father of three girls I'd be more concerned about any of them riding alone versus in close proximity to another commuter. The old "safety in numbers" adage does indeed apply. Besides, I have yet to see anything about an incident on the W&OD where someone was assaulted because someone flew off one bike onto another at speed. :)

eminva
12-27-2010, 02:04 PM
Thank you, everyone, for your very helpful replies. In response --

In the cases I'm referring to, it was definitely drafting -- my headlamp suddenly got twice as bright and I could see how close he was by our shadows in the streetlights. I am very much used to and don't mind having other cyclists in close proximity. Especially on the Custis Trail with all those hills, it's not unusual for other riders with a similar pace to close the gap/stretch out (I'm petite so I don't get down the hills as fast as some others!). If they are going about the same pace, I give them space so I don't catch up to their rear wheel at the crest of each hill, when I know they will fly down the next hill.

The evening that got me thinking about this was cold and there weren't many cyclists out there. I judged that I was going a fair bit faster than a cyclist I was catching up with, so I passed him. Then, he stuck with me for at least a couple of miles. I didn't consider the "drop him" approach because I had a bad headache and thought that, even if successful, the exertion might make my head explode (not really, but you get the idea!).

In the future, I guess I could slow down, wave him/her around me (not sure my shadow would understand the subtle signals of the more knowledgeable cyclists), and if I got really freaked out, think of a reason I need to stop at a 7-11 or other shop near the trail.

No, I'm pretty sure I can't anticipate someone attacking me by jumping from their bike to mine! I suppose if someone were determined to attack, the best way would be to create an obstacle in the cyclist's path, so I probably shouldn't worry so much about someone behind me, huh?

Thanks again for all your help!

Liz

Tim Kelley
12-27-2010, 02:12 PM
I wonder if this was just a macho guy who had his ego bruised when a petite woman passed him?

It's a common phenomenon: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chicked

But yes, I think if you are on the trails, it is common courtesy to share a brief exchange to make sure it's okay before drafting.

CCrew
12-27-2010, 09:16 PM
No, I'm pretty sure I can't anticipate someone attacking me by jumping from their bike to mine! I suppose if someone were determined to attack, the best way would be to create an obstacle in the cyclist's path, so I probably shouldn't worry so much about someone behind me, huh?


I agree with the obstacle scenario, and that should be a concern. I ride into downtown at around 4am, and I've had this attempted on several occasions. Scariest for me was crossing the Key Bridge, where two peds were walking on left and right expecting me to take the center. At the last minute they closed together and attempted to clothesline me off the bike. My reaction? I aimed directly at the larger of the two, and managed to both shoulder check him and keep the bike upright.

Other than that the clearly drunk guy that tried to take me down was more amusing than threatening :)

As a cyclist concerned about personal safety I'd be most concerned about the ped that only comes in view at the last minute or is even vaguely questionable. In my experience though with 10k miles commuting on the bike this year? The most dangerous are the jogger running in the same direction with the iPod blasting that u-turns without looking, or the ped walking Fifi on the 20' retractable leash on the other side of the trail.. The Fifi one cost me a shoulder reconstruction and 6 weeks off the bike in May, and not so much as an "I'm sorry" from Fifi's master.

OneEighth
12-28-2010, 11:33 AM
Liz,

As far as safety goes, the best defense is to be constantly aware of your surroundings and to buddy-up if you know you are going to be out during non-daylight/non-peak hours. Maybe set up a phone list of riders you know you can tap if you need to work late and want company on the ride home.
I've seen sketchy individuals on both the Custis and the W&OD, but there are a couple of areas along 4-mile run that seem to attract drunk loiterers (I'm thinking of the underpasses in particular). I think this forum is a good place to post warnings, and, honestly, I wouldn't hesitate to contact Arlington PD if you see someone who appears potentially threatening.

As for the trail-etiquette questions that have been kicked around on this thread---the last few years the trails have reminded me of the first couple of weeks in the gym after New Year's---lots of clueless but well-intentioned folks with lousy manners. Trust that most of them act out of ignorance rather than malice, lead by example, and give the occasional friendly suggestion---most of them will figure it out.

Just keep anticipating those who don't.

Cheers.

Tom

jabberwocky
12-30-2010, 10:55 AM
I've been rear ended on the W&OD 3 times in the past few years, all by roadies stealth-drafting me (i.e. they snuck up and hung 4 inches off my wheel without saying anything). I've subsequently lost my sense of humor about it, and ask that they not do it, and if they persist will do everything I can to convince them that it isn't a good idea. This includes wild speed swings, weaving, pretending intersections are clear and then jamming the brakes at the last second, practicing my stoppies in the middle of the trail, etc.

My personal etiquette on catching up to someone is to either immediately pass them or hang back about 15-20 yards. I'm actually mindful of women riders; I generally never follow them at dusk/during the winter, for the reasons you articulate (though its usually hard to tell if a rider is a lady from 10-15 yards back when everyone is decked out in winter clothes).


As a cyclist concerned about personal safety I'd be most concerned about the ped that only comes in view at the last minute or is even vaguely questionable. In my experience though with 10k miles commuting on the bike this year? The most dangerous are the jogger running in the same direction with the iPod blasting that u-turns without looking, or the ped walking Fifi on the 20' retractable leash on the other side of the trail.. The Fifi one cost me a shoulder reconstruction and 6 weeks off the bike in May, and not so much as an "I'm sorry" from Fifi's master.Ugh. Headphone wearing joggers are bad, but the retractable leashes are downright evil. I had it out with an old lady in Reston a few years ago, who had stopped on the right side of the trail to chat with her friend, while her little dog was off in the bushes on the left, with the retractable leash going across the entire trail right at neck level (she was up on a slight hill). Saw it at the last second and managed to slam my brakes on, but it could have been bad.

My personal philosophy is that I never swerve to avoid people. If a jogger makes an abrupt u-turn in front of me, I'll hit them. I know too many folks who have swerved to avoid someone doing something stupid, and crashed and badly injured themselves as a result. If I'm doing down, I'm taking you (and/or your little dog) with me. :)