How to Draft on a Bike

Drafting is a trick where cyclists will go in single file to block the wind for the other people behind them, and take turns being the one in front.


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    Understand that aerodynamics is the key.
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    Tell the other people that you think you guys should draft. Arrange for who will go first, and how long each of the intervals will be.
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    Get into positions. The people after the leader should be straight behind him, and about 1–2 feet (0.3–0.6 m) back so that if the leader makes any sudden turns or stops, the people behind him will have time to react. Another, more efficient position (i.e. it maximizes the effect of drafting), is to offset your front wheel from the leader's rear wheel by a few inches, but trail within 1 foot (0.3 m). For example, if there is a headwind, position your front wheel so that it slightly to the side of the leader's rear wheel, not directly behind it. In fact, the wheels may even 'overlap' by several inches (when observed from the side). The photo above shows this very technique - the second person is less than a foot behind the puller, but offset by several inches.
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    Switch. The puller (i.e. the person in front), will indicate that he/she will fall off, and then give one or two strong kicks to clear the pack (in case any followers overlap his/her rear wheel). Then s/he will veer sharply to the left or right, and then slow down or coast to the back of the pace line. The new puller should then resume at the same pace as before, or pick it up slightly.


  • A rider in the middle of a pack can use up to 60% less energy than the lead rider.
  • If the headwind comes at an angle instead of straight on, the trailing riders can form an echelon behind the puller, which trails in the leeside of the wind. For example, if the line is generally riding towards 12:00, but a head/sidewind approaches from 2:00, then the echelon should be angled from the puller towards 7:00. This shields the trailing riders from both wind from travelling forward, but also the angled headwind.
  • As you ride in a pack or drafting line, try to ride smoothly--avoid abrupt changes in speed to keep the line together and functioning efficiently.
  • When one person in the group thinks they have enough energy, they will try a breakaway where they go ahead of the rest of the group. However, in a non-competitive paceline, this can be annoying to the group.
  • When you are behind someone, it will also feel a little warmer.
  • You don't need to draft if you have a tailwind moving faster than you.
  • Falling off a paceline makes it very difficult to catch up. In a competitive situation, you may wish to draft as much as possible to preserve your energy.
  • Keep an eye on the rear wheel of the rider in front of you, but also one eye to the road. A good place to look is roughly around the brake block; this will let you see several yards ahead, but also see if the rider uses his/her brakes.
  • Drafting is dramatically less effective when riding slowly (e.g. uphill), and much more effective travelling quickly (e.g. downhill). This is why drafting is rarely used in mountain biking, as one travels more slowly due to the terrain and hills.
  • The second rider in a drafting line uses about 23% less energy than the lead rider, the third and subsequent riders use about 33% less energy than the lead rider. These figures are affected by the speed of the line, wind angle, and inclination.


  • Since bikers are always tightly packed when doing this, be extra careful not to crash. It's a good idea to feather your front brake at all times so that you can trim your speed as necessary, instead of slowing or stopping abruptly. You'll find that the drafting effect will allow you to cruise at almost the same speed as the puller, even though s/he is really exerting him/herself. Another way to trim speed is to swing sharply off of the puller's wheel and into the headwind; you'll drop several km/h, however you may also lose your place in the pace line.
  • If the front wheel of one rider (trailing rider) hits the back wheel of another, the trailing rider is more likely to crash.
  • Do not draft on a time trial bike unless you and your team are very skilled. Time trial bikes do not maneuver well and you generally don't have easy access to your brakes (unless you have an emergency brake on your aero bars.
  • Be very communicative with the peloton. Shout down the paceline when an obstacle approaches and/or point to it. Use hand signals to indicate sharp turns or abrupt speed changes (particularly slowing down). With the rush of wind in your ears, it is also important to repeat the warnings for other riders further down the line. For example, in a group of 16 riders, the trailing half of the paceline may not hear warnings from the puller. So, every other rider from the puller to the 14th rider may wish to repeat the warning so that others down the line know what to expect.
  • Wearing a helmet is always a good idea when cycling. Drafting is an advanced technique and if you are uncomfortable with riding close, please refrain from doing it until you are comfortable, regardless of wearing a helmet.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Bicycling