Drafting - The Triathete's Rules of the Road

     Drafting, what is it and how can you avoid it? Essentially the bicycle portion of a triathlon is an individual time trial. The key point being individual. It is the objective of the triathlete to overcome one enormous force, aerodynamic drag, on their own, without any "boost" from other competitors. Therefore, drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist in an area of reduced air pressure created in the wake of that leading cyclist. The trailing or drafting cyclist uses less energy to maintain the same speed as the cyclist they are trailing. This creates an unfair advantage. Drafting another cyclist during a triathlon is outright illegal. So, let's focus on how we can avoid drafting and the time penalties and disqualifications associated with it.
     The drafting zone is defined as a rectangular area 7 meters long (23 feet) by 2 meters wide (6 feet 6 inches) surrounding each bicycle. Please refer to illustration -1-. The longer sides of the zone begin at the leading edge of the front wheel and run backward parallel to the bicycle; the front wheel divides the short side of the zone into two equal parts, each being one meter wide.
     The drafting zone is quite long as indicated in illustration -2-. Three bikes will actually fit in the drafting zone of one leading cyclist. At no time can your drafting zone overlap the drafting zone of another cyclist.
     In illustration -3- Tri Bob is drafting Tri Joe even though only the front wheel of Tri Bob's bike has entered the drafting zone.

     There is one notable exception to this drafting rule. A participant may enter the drafting zone of another cyclist without penalty, if he or she enters the drafting zone from the rear, closes the gap and overtakes the leading cyclist all within no more than 15 seconds. This allows for the faster cyclist to pass a slower competitor and 15 seconds is a long time. When passing another cyclist take full advantage of their draft. The cyclist who has been "overtaken" bears primary responsibility for avoiding a position foul and must immediately move to the side or to the rear and out of the drafting zone of the passing cyclist. In the view of most USA Triathlon officials, if you make an effort to pass and don't sit on someone's wheel you won't be called for a penalty.

     Remember that each bicycle has a drafting zone. In illustration -4-, Tri Bob and Tri Ada are both drafting Tri Joe, and Tri Ada is also drafting Tri Bob!!

     So, after looking at the illustrations you may ask, "Why can't Tri Bob just move 6 feet or so to the left of Tri Joe?" Their drafting zones would no longer be overlapping, so what's the problem, Tri Bob can just cruise along beside Tri Joe and shoot the breeze. Well, this is not the case, Tri Bob is now guilty of blocking! Except for reasons of safety or when passing, you must stay to the right side of the road, if you don't you will likely be cited for a blocking penalty. From a courtesy and sportsmanship standpoint, please make every effort to stay to the right, out of the path of faster cyclist. Pass only to the left and do not cross the centerline of the road. You could, however, find yourself overtaking a slower cyclist who is riding to the left near the centerline of the road. If you cross the centerline of the road to pass the slower cyclist, you could be penalized or disqualified. First, I would announce to the slower cyclist, "Please move to the right, passing on your left". If you get no response, your only option may be to pass to the right of the slower cyclist, but this can be dangerous, so use extreme caution.

     Probably 99% of all time penalties or disqualifications (DQ's) in a USA Triathlon sanctioned event have something to do with a bicycle. Drafting, blocking and helmet chinstrap violations being the likely culprits. Don't forget that your bike helmet chinstrap must be fastened at all times while on the bike. Put it on before you mount the bike and take it off only after you dismount.

     The bottom line, "If you are not passing, stay to the RIGHT".

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