The One Thing You Should Never Do on a Ride
A couple of minutes later, I looked back, and there he was, just a few bike lengths behind me on this empty road. A few minutes later, still there. Forty-five minutes later, still there. Even as my speed varied, he stayed a few feet behind me, with not a word spoken.
It felt aggressive and it felt creepy—and whether or not he meant it to feel this way, I felt like I was being stalked up this climb.
I am a woman, and while I don’t love putting my weight on the internet, I almost never do, I’m around 53kg and 1.6m tall. At a quick glance, this man was significantly taller and bigger than me. The grade of the climb we were on rolls between three and six percent. These details are important because they point out two things: I am a terrible draft, and even if I wasn’t, drafting on a hill rarely makes sense. With the rolling nature of the climb, this particular rider would have needed to adjust the motor on his e-bike in order to stay where he was behind me.
When I took to the internet with this situation, I heard from dozens of women who’ve had similarly uncomfortable experiences—one woman even received an unsolicited butt pat at the top of a climb. Some had funny solutions—shoot a lot of snot rockets—but most addressed the fear that you feel in these moments.
PSA: If you’re a middle aged dude who gets passed by a young woman cyclist, jumping on her wheel is inappropriate, rude and creepy. It is exponentially creepier when you’re on an Ebike and need to turn UP your e-assist to do so.
— Molly Hurford (@mollyjhurford) February 17, 2020
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me before. On a climb of a gravel ride, a man sat directly on my wheel without saying a word for a few miles, peeling off only when we hit a town with cars and people around. Out in the middle of nowhere on the mountain bike, a random man hung about 8m behind me for a solid hour of twists and turns in an area with no phone service; I was too nervous to stop to call someone anyway, lest he caught up.
The situation with the e-bike behind me added a deeper level of unease for me because it felt more like when a car starts slowly driving beside you when you’re running solo (which I also try to never do). His ability to control his speed meant that he likely could have simply passed me again, but he was using and adjusting his motor to stay behind me.
Take the bike out of the equation momentarily: If I was walking down a street and passed a man who was walking slowly, but he sped up to get right behind me, then stayed that way for an hour without saying a word, I would likely be looking for the nearest cop. No one would expect that behavior to be okay, so why would someone consider it reasonable behavior on a bike?
While most people agreed with me, there were a few people who suggested that rather than complain on social media, I take it upon myself to educate the rider—maybe he was new, they said. There were a couple who said I was mean for not enjoying having someone sit on my wheel. “Take it as a compliment,” one person told me. In the situation, that was something I could never do.
I pondered this, and after turning it around in my head, I realised that—albeit, in a very minor way—saying I was the one who should have been pleasant, made conversation, or been nicer was shaming the victim. On the ride, I didn’t pull over or stop to talk to this guy because he made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable. I was riding alone on a quiet road with not a car or person in sight, on a climb surrounded by forest. Stopping or trying to engage in dialogue could have been dangerous. On that road, with this man breathing down my neck, I wasn’t feeling safe or willing to give friendly advice; instead, I felt like I was climbing for my life. That’s what my gut was telling me, whether that was his intention or not.
So no, I don’t think it’s my job to explain that it’s inappropriate to cling to a woman’s wheel when you’re using an e-assist in order to do so, with no greeting, no explanation of what you’re doing, no comment. This is some explaining I will never do. (If you have trouble understanding where I’m coming from, pause and ask yourself how you’d feel if this was your daughter, your girlfriend, your wife, or your sister being followed by a man with a motor as she pedaled alone.)
I don’t begrudge new cyclists’ learning curve to understanding certain riding etiquettes, and I don’t mind meeting new people on a ride. I’ve taught a lot of new cyclists how to ride with other people, and I’ve made lifelong friends at cafe stops during a century. Sure, that guy could have been a perfectly nice man who didn’t understand that it’s weird to add more watts with your electric-assist to keep up with a small woman on a climb who provides very little draft at the best of times. But what if he wasn’t?
So no, I don’t think it’s my job to explain that it’s inappropriate to cling to a woman’s wheel when you’re using an e-assist in order to do so, with no greeting, no explanation of what you’re doing, no comment.
I understand that not every person who hops on my wheel has nefarious intent. I tried to figure out why this guy could be on my wheel. He couldn’t be lost, since he didn’t ask for directions, and we were on a road with few turns and obvious signage about where we were. He couldn’t be tired, because he had e-assist, plus he opted to keep climbing when there was a flat route available to any town around this climb. Maybe he was just a little clueless.
But maybe he wasn’t, and that’s what kept running through my mind. I’m not an alarmist, and I don’t usually get nervous on solo rides. This situation felt unsafe in a way I’ve only experienced a handful of times.
No matter who you are, if you suddenly find yourself needing to draft someone, the polite thing to do is to state your intention, saying something like, “I’m late for picking my kids up from school, mind if I draft you for a minute?” or “I forgot all my food and I’m bonked, can I sit on your wheel for a few miles?” If the person says no, back off. Most will say yes.
But if you’re on an e-assist bike and someone passes you, adding more power to stay behind that person without his or her permission doesn’t make sense. If you could draft at the power you’re currently at, then, by all means, ask away; but if you actively need to shift your governor to speedier, don’t do it. “I’ll never do that!”. You might, without realising it. It scares the other person.
If you don’t like being behind the person who passed you, pass them back. And in general, think about how the person might feel with you riding right behind them. (This applies across genders, by the way—a lot of men responded to my initial tweet saying it made them uncomfortable when unknown cyclists appeared on their wheel as well.)
How did my ride finish? After nine kilometers of climbing with him consistently hovering just behind me, a gravel descent I recognized came up on the right. I took the small drop into it quickly—and when I looked over my shoulder, he was paused at the top, looking down.