What is a Wheel Sucker?

Wheel Sucker:  One who rides closely to another rider for an extended period of time without changing position (moving forward) to gain a physiological and/ or aerodynamic advantage by reducing the amount of work he/ she has to do.  

Wheel suckers are often considered bottom feeders and slackers as they do not work toward the greater good of the rider or riders in front of them.  But there are many instances where wheel sucking is perfectly acceptable.  Putting individual race tactics aside, an annoying but perfectly acceptable implementation of the technique, wheel suckers have many valid reasons for not “pulling through”. I have listed a few below.

It’s O.K. to suck when…

  • The sucker is the sprinter being set up for a stage/ race win. (this is generally not considered true wheel sucking as it does not last long enough to qualify, however there are times that sprinters are dragged for miles in preparation of the final sprint, mountainous terrain would be an example)
  • The sucker is a team mate who has had problem and needs help returning to the peleton (again this is up for debate if it is a short duration, but the technique is the same)
  • The sucker is your spouse or significant other (happens to the best of us, if your the stronger rider, you’ll be pulling them, get used to it)
  • The sucker is an athlete you are coaching (They are paying you too pull)
  • The sucker is totally blown (Most commonly seen on group rides, never leave a man behind)
  • The sucker is you, as long as I’m not pulling!
  • The sucker is me, as long as your pulling! 

The tactical wheel sucker:

In racing, there are occasions, when wheel sucking becomes a useful tactic.  One example may be a rider who is in a lead break and their team leader or overall race contender is not.  The rider may choose not to “work” with the group and wheel suck to decrease the chance of having a succesful breakaway.  Other times the wheel sucker is simply not strong enough to be in the break and is doing everything they can to hang on.  These riders are of not much concern for long, but are annoying because, they can’t help in the groups success and take energy away while they are engaged. 

The group ride wheel sucker:

This is the most common place to meet a wheel sucker or become one yourself.  Group ride dynamics seem to breed them.  Newer riders are often scorned by the more experienced group because they spend the entire ride sucking the wheels of the stronger riders, but it’s not their fault.  It is the natural order of things.  For them too ride with the group and learn how not to be a wheel sucker they must first be a wheel sucker and suffer the humiliation of not being able to “pull”.   A good wheel sucker can deflect much criticism by being gracious, such as bestowing the honor of allowing a rider who is dropping back the opportunity to drop in front of them and in so doing allow that rider the great honor of pulling again sooner. 

It’s not O.K. to suck…

  • Your teammate who is winning
  • Your spouse or significant other
  • Anyone you want to ride with again and again and again
  • Anyone who can make you suffer
  • Me!!! 
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2 Responses to “What is a Wheel Sucker?”

  1. Glad you made the point of the group-ride (non-competitive) wheelsucker being the “natural order of things”. It is difficult to take the lead when you are with a much faster group of riders as you will inevitably slow down the peloton if you do so.

    Also, in the hands of an expert, wheelsucking can result in 20 stage wins in the Tour de France and the acquisition of the maillot vert and the rainbow jersey of the World Champion, a glamour model girlfriend and the title of BBC Sports Personality of the Year!

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