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How is Drafting in a Paceline Different from an Electric Motor?

I felt it appropriate to re-post this controversial subject because here in 2018, I intend to finish the California Triple Crown and many more double centuries.

My email to Chuck Bramwell, organizer of the Cal Triple Crown series:

4 February 2018


Thanks for all your organizing.

How about making the Triple Crown a *solo* (zero drafting) event? Then it's a real competition, not a few guys drafting each other and saving an hour or more and then showing a "win" of an hour or more over someone soloing.

My view is that drafting is in its effects no different than an electric motor, because it is an *external aid*. Yet you prohibit electric motors based on tradition I guess. Allowing drafting makes it not a true contest and most definitely NOT an individual placement/win.

When a group of people all in effect make a team effort—that’s a team win, not an individual one. Yet the results are always listed as if each person made their own effort by themselves (which some might have, but most, no).

I know that few people agree or like that idea (and in my experience some react to it irrationally and even abusively, unable to even consider the idea because it causes severe cognitive dissonance).

But I look at reality and facts, and the fact is that drafting is not an individual win because an enormous savings in energy accrues from it. It’s not cheating, but it is a team effort where the team is forgotten. This is less than full sportsmanship, IMO.

Cal Triple Crown surely ought to be a SOLO win to be fully legitimate. Make it tough, a real win that finishers can truly say “I did it on my own, I nailed it”.

I've done 34 doubles solo now, so I've won only two doubles. My two cents.

— Lloyd Chambers,

Chuck’s Feb 4 reply:

Are you suggesting that all California Triple Crown Double Centuries should be zero drafting or just the California Triple Crown Stage Race Double Centuries?

How would you suggest that the rider organizers, who are already totally overloaded trying to support riders over 200 miles, insure that there is no drafting?

This reply contains premises which I disagree with. My Feb 4 reply to Chuck:

Self-designated at registration/check-in, honor system. No monitoring. An option for all doubles riders.

1) Riders willing to solo would mark their bib somehow, so as to broadcast their status. Say... a big red S on bib, anything visible like that.

2) In the results, a little "SOLO" tag next to the time. That's sufficient I think. I don't even care if the rankings stay the same—just tag the names and show it.

If someone wants to cheat (claim solo but draft), that's their problem—they get to live with it, rationalize it away, but they’ll know— they lose twice over.

——— no reply since Feb 4; I sent this reply from two different email accounts ———


My 2016 essay

Back in 2014, I wrote To Draft or Not to Draft: What Does it Accomplish?.

I’ve added an addendum to that post, excerpted here.

How is drafting different from an electric motor?

Out on a ride today, I mentioned to another rider as I briefly rode side by side that I always solo double centuries and that “drafting means you didn’t really do it”, or something similar to that.

He was wearing a double century jersey, so I suppose he didn’t like that idea much. I’m not surprised—the dogma surrounding drafting leads to knee-jerk reactions rather than applying Miller’s Law. And certainly in a sanctioned race and team cycling, drafting is part of the sport—nothing wrong with it, indeed it is mandatory to be competitive. But I separate racing from personal efforts, and just how real and legitimate those “personal” efforts are—whether they are in fact personal, or assisted:

Drafting means that you didn’t do it by your own effort. It means that you might have reduced your effort by 20%, 30% or even 50% (in longer pacelines). You did the distance and the event, but not the full effort. You didn’t push yourself to the limit; you rested some of the time. But it’s not just lower effort some of the time; it is time to recover. So drafting is a “double whammy” advantage in terms of reducing effort.

That drafting is a huge advantage is trivially seen with a power meter: pull the paceline out in front and see that the wattage is, say 260 watts. Then pull back behind just one person and you’re down to 200 watts. Get in back of 4-5-10 people and maybe 160 watts. It’s HUGE. Well, a power meter is not needed to feel that—it’s obviously far, far easier going inside a paceline. And with a headwind, the reduction in effort level is night and day from being out in front, or solo.

Drafting is an external assist: effort is reduced by means external to yourself. This is a self-evident fact. The fact that it is widely done and accepted by most riders is irrelevant to that reality; drafting is a team effort, not a personal effort. As such, I see it as antithetical to the whole idea of a double century effort as per my own goals, which is as far as it goes.

That’s crazy thinking, right? Surely drafting is not a sub-standard effort? Well, I think it is exactly that—a team effort, not a personal maximal best effort.

That encounter got me to thinking: how is drafting different from using an electric motor bicycle? Indeed, an electric motor could quantify how much aid was received (how many watt-hours); it would be full disclosure and fully honest about how much assist. As opposed to drafting in a paceline which cannot be quantified easily. And in a double century, the watt-hours in an electric motor is surely far less than drafting for even 50 miles in a paceline.

None of the foregoing should be taken as criticism of those who choose to draft. But it does lay bare the hypocrisy of considering an electric motor inappropriate, and yet doing a century or double century while drafting/pacelining, and calling it a personal effort. If one soloes a double century with a small electric motor, is that actually any different than drafting in a paceline? Both are external assists, fundamentally no different in terms of personal effort. The counter arguments don’t exist; there are only rationalizations such as “tradition”, “it’s part of the sport”, etc—these all evade the core question.

Racing is another ballgame of course: strategies around drafting and break-aways are part of it. Indeed, in a race like the Everest Challenge I certainly draft; that’s part of the race and it would be foolish not to draft in a competition where it is expected.

Racing could codify electric motors: the rules could, for example, allow an X watt-hour electric motor on a bike, which could be used as part of breakaway strategy. Eminently fair, but not necessarily something I am in favor of.

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