Out on the road, the wheel-suckers are everywhere.
They sit on your wheel, tucked nicely in your slipstream, and studiously avoid taking their turn in the wind; conserving energy, enjoying an easy ride, and leaving you to do the donkey work.
The correct etiquette, of course, is for all riders to take their turn into the wind and thus share the effort, but remember: unless you are the kind of hard-nut who sees the world in black and white, there may be more to this than meets the eye.
Implausible as it seems, perhaps you might need to cut your wheel-sucking friend some slack?
Lets think this through; what kind of wheel-sucker are you dealing with?
Perhaps the cyclist clinging limpet-like to your rear wheel, gasping, saliva trailing down their chin, is new to the sport. They may be unfamiliar with the concept of wheel-sucking.
Yes, your generosity of spirit is compromised by a lactic build-up in your calves and a taste of blood in your mouth, but this freeloader is actually deferring to your greater knowledge and experience.
They are respecting you – by sitting back and watching you ride yourself into oblivion, admittedly – but their heart is in the right place.
Without the required grasp of the physics (or indeed etiquette) at work they have no idea how much you are suffering. The idea that either of you is having anything other than a nice bike ride has simply not occurred to them.
You could, of course, politely offer to tutor them in the finer points of cycling behaviour (do this with a serious face, though, so they understand that this is not a joke). Alternatively, and depending on how annoyed you are, you could get your message across by scowling, grunting, and generally being less than clear about the misdemeanor.
After all, if they want to be part of this game, why shouldn’t they figure out the rules like the rest of us?
The weak link
Maybe the new friend clinging to your wheel understands the way these things work, would love to take a turn on the front, but is simply not strong enough to find a way into the wind and take the strain?
In the spirit of teamwork you, as the stronger rider, could slow to a manageable pace; one at which they can take a turn on the front. You should do this with the minimum of fuss and certainly without talking about what is happening.
That way the wheel-sucker is allowed to maintain some dignity and self-esteem.
You may choose to snigger and belittle them later, behind their back (on social media), but that’s your call.
Alternatively, as with the newbie (above) why not get your message across by repeatedly scowling, grunting, and generally being less than clear about the misdemeanor.
This will not solve the immediate wheel-sucking problem, but may motivate your friend to train harder and do their share next time.
Wheel-sucker and proud of it
This is a thorny issue.
The cyclist sitting on your wheel understands the way these things work and is deliberately wheel-sucking. This is serious. Like a rogue state developing a crude nuclear arsenal your ‘friend’ is daring you to blink first.
Remember, you are within your rights to launch a volley of abuse in their direction, questioning anything from their parenthood to the quality of their bike. Just make sure you’ve read the situation correctly – to openly question another cyclist’s bike is no laughing matter.
It is possible (I’m told, though I’ve never seen it) that a sufficiently appealing personality can diffuse the situation with a joke – perhaps rather than question the quality of their bike you might focus on their riding style or choice of kit.
Be warned, however, it takes someone with the wit of Oscar Wilde to diffuse a full wheel-sucking situation with humour alone.
Your only other option is nothing less than a fight to the death; you stamp on the pedals, drop them with a display of primal effort, and ride off into the distance.
But beware. If you attempt this and don’t succeed you will look a fool. Also, they’ve spent the last five miles conserving energy in your slipstream. Be careful, is all I’m saying.
Ultimately, whatever your reading of a wheel-sucking situation, and however you choose to deal with it, you must deal with it.
Left unchecked they’ll only multiply.