Half Wheeling

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I hate getting half wheeled. It doesn’t really matter by who, but the stronger the rider, the more I dislike it. That being said, I do, on rare occasion, half wheel myself. I’m not sure that I actually half wheel because I am cognoscente of the action. To truly be half wheeled, or to be half wheeling, the half wheeler has to be oblivious to the action.

If you don’t understand the definition of half wheeling, it is the action by an individual, when he or she rides beside you, when you are riding two by two, and is always just enough ahead of you that you feel like you are always trying to catch up or get back even with them. If a rider is a true half wheeler, they don’t have a clue that they are doing it.

The funny thing about the whole situation is that the rider that is “behind” is actually controlling the speed, so there really should be less mental stress.

I’ve been unfortunate to be half wheeled by some pretty great riders. Like I said above, the better the rider, the more stress it causes the rider on the receiving end. The most famous rider I was half wheeled by was Bernard Hinault. I didn’t train with Hinault enough to know if he is really a half wheeler, all I know is that I was riding with him, before a time trial in Colombia, and he definitely half wheeled me for 30 minutes or so.

Michael Engleman half wheeled. Nearly always. And he was strong enough, more than strong enough, that you should have been stressed. Micheal was so strong that he could keep nearly any pace, virtually all day.

I didn’t mind it so much from him. He and I lived together in Boulder and I rode with him a ton. I like training hard and once you get used to the situation, it really isn’t much of an issue. It’s only when you’re having a really bad day that it wears on you. Before the Tour of the Americas, back in 1988, we were training in Florida and I’d do some pulls with him at the front of a group of 10 for over 30 minutes at 25 mph +. Sometimes for an hour. Alan McCormick, Broz, and most of the other guys on the team would purposely not ride beside Micheal because of the high chance that was going to occur. I finished 2nd overall in that stage race and the reason was because of getting half wheeled for weeks.

I really hate to be half wheeled by guys I don’t know. Getting half wheeled by complete strangers is worse than getting half wheeled by Tour de France winners. When you have no knowledge of how strong a rider is next to you, it just stresses you out that much more. It’s like you’re going up a huge climb, but you have no idea where the top is. This usually occurs when I’m really tired. Usually on a Monday, after a weekend stage race when I’ve stayed around a city to do the local group ride. Everyone that didn’t race on the weekend shows up and the Monday ride eventually turns into a pseudo race. I don’t mind it turning into a race, I just hate the pulling at the front, 2 x 2, at 28 mph.

The same thing can happen on a MTB. When you go to someone’s local course/trails, and they are so excited that they take you out and ride at race pace on trails you’ve never rode on. It is a drag. Tom Ritchey had a reputation of doing that. Thomas Frischknecht would say that he needed to rest up to ride with Tom, if Thomas was heading out to San Francisco after a race. He say that Tom would take him out and just hammer him. I always felt for him, getting hammered after a Norba National or World Cup, by your sponsor. That is a pretty weird situation.

Anyway, everyone that has ridden much has experienced being half wheeled. If you haven’t then you most likely are a half wheeler and just don’t know it.

Half wheeling observation from behind.

Half wheeling observation from behind.

We pretty much always ride 2 x 2 until the end of the ride.  We've been having pretty good turn out on the evening rides, 15-20 guys.

We pretty much always ride 2 x 2 until the end of the ride. We’ve been having pretty good turn out on the evening rides, 15-20 guys.

24 thoughts on “Half Wheeling

  1. SB

    I’ve been known to reach over and grab the half-wheeler’s jersey, pull him back / me up to even, and say “keep your elbow next to mine”

    Sometimes it works. Usually not. But at least I get a momentary break. Of course the “final solution” is just to pull off and hop in his draft; if he wants to show everybody how strong he is, who am I to hold him back?

  2. Neil Kopitsky

    What is the etiquette for the person being half-wheeled? Is it a situation that must be silently endured? Or should you simply maintain the same effort and let the half wheeler ride up the road by himself (allowing the rider behind the half-wheeler to slot in next to the heretofore half-wheeley? Depending on my mood and strain, I tend to escalate my verbal cue: First a conversational, “Dude, you’re half-wheeling . . . ” Then a more assertive “You need to back off!” Then a shout of “WHAT THE FREAK ARE YOU DOING!?!?”

    And what about half wheeling during a rotating echelon?


  3. The Cyclist

    Maybe SHIMANO should develope some Di2 brakes that work in similar ways to a car’s cruise control?

  4. jed schneider

    @Neil. haha. I usually just keep riding my own pace and start talking to the half-wheeler. a lot. about stuff he or she has a real serious conviction. and then i pretend to not hear most of what they say, and keep asking them to repeat. I have about an 80% success rate in breaking the half wheeling in one ride. they just get sick of talking over their shoulder.

    @steve. super funny. you’re right, the half wheelee has the most control but it feels totally helpless!

  5. Butter

    I think half-wheeling is a lot like name dropping in the cycling community. There’s always this guy trying to one up your conversation by throwing out the ex or current pro they know and train with. There may by a double entendre in name dropping while half-wheeling!

  6. Clifford Allen

    Ha. I remember getting a half-wheel talking to on one of the weeknight rides long, long ago and I think it put me in my place. I was just a young buck though.

  7. Clay Moseley

    Funny post! Yes, I have had the worst times with half wheelers in exactly the same situations as you have described, Steve. I rode for Shaklee for many years, and we would always be put up at “Shaklee People” homestays, usually masters or Cat-3 racers who were connected with the Shaklee corporation. We would go on rides with those guys either before or after big races and I would always have to suffer the indignation of being half-wheeled on their favorite local ride.

    @Jed, I have employed exactly the same strategy to deal with those people.

    I have a funny story about Mike Engleman. He rode for Shaklee for a year (or two?, I can’t remember). In 1995, we were at a training camp in Tucson and we were supposed to go out for a training ride with him, but I don’t think he wanted to ride with anyone, so he took off about 15 minutes beforehand. We were riding out to Kitt Peak (the observatory on the top of a mountain west of town). He must have hammered the entire way, because we had a group of four chasing him down and we didn’t ever catch him. Kent Bostick was so pissed and just kept hammering away relentlessly. Needless to say, the other guys had enough and turned around before climbing to the top, but I was an idiot and wanted to help catch Mike.

    Kent finally lilted a little on the climb, so I got some relief, but Mike put more time on us up to the top. At the top, he was pretty tired and borrowed some money from me for a Coke out of the machine at the observatory. Kent was oddly silent and antsy. He wanted to inflict some damage on Mike on the way home. We were going to head back via the Tucson Mountain Park, so it was going to be rough.

    We descended the mountain, then those two commenced to half-wheel each other like hell. I looked down at my computer and it was often over 30mph! I noticed Mike only had one bottle and no food left. I had extra bottles, food like I was riding RAAM, and did everything I could to stay fueled because it always got ugly riding with Kent and Mike.

    At some point before the turn northward to the Tucson Mtn Park, Mike finally pulled off. He asked if I had any food to spare, so I gave him some. He sat on Kent and me for a while, then started pulling through again. By that point, all three of us were pulling as if we were in a breakaway. Kent kept heaping on the coals. We turned up toward the climbs, and Kent really put the hammer down. He must have smelled blood. I just couldn’t understand why he was going so hard.

    Well, after a couple of miles of climbing the foothills, Mike cracked! He was completely smoked. Kent didn’t even bother waiting. He just kept hammering away. We were supposed to meet our team at some resort on the other side for a photo shoot, and when we showed up, all the other riders were wondering what the hell happened to Mike.

    I told them all what happened, and it really made an impression on Esteban Fraga (remember that dude? Great climber from Ecuador). He was so afraid to ever go riding with Kent after that! Anyway, turns out that Mike Engleman had bonked, BIG TIME! He was in such bad shape that he found a Boy Scout camp that had lots of food, but the scouts had all gone hiking, so no one was there. He ate a bag of Doritos and a bag of Oreos.

    About an hour after he was supposed to be at the photo shoot, he straggles in with the markings of the Oreos still on his lips. How funny.

    Anyway, the rest of the season went that way with him and Kent. Long story there, I guess.

  8. Just Crusty

    All right, you’ve given me some great ideas to try. I’ll see if I can ease the pace a little by slowing slightly and chatting up my guy next to me. I’ll try it on tomorrows ride.

  9. Jeff

    I can see this practice being useful with strong diagonal head
    winds where ultimate draft can be realized. Other than that, I don’t like this practice.

  10. Mike Rodose


    Is half-wheeling (hw) more acceptable on hills? Sometimes the stronger guy sets a pace, while others are at sitting at the hw position. I ask as the guy being hw-ed. If the pace constantly increases by the hw-er, then it’s a problem.

  11. resty

    When I’ve ridden a farther distance and someone meets me on the way back, turns around to ride along and keeps on half-wheeling me. Don’t like.

  12. Cyclifist

    Are cyclists usually that lame at communicating? This is the first I’ve heard of this phenomenon being an issue with group riders of basically the category, compared to a more diverse group. Jeez, if you can’t say “Hey, I’m not able to keep up with you. Do you mind slowing down a notch or two?”, maybe you should simply slot back and find someone at your pace. Quit yer bitchin or go home. Let the half-wheeler find a faster group to ride with.

  13. Ken


    You’d be surprised. Some guys seem oblivious, no matter how many times you try to get the point across… I remember 35 years ago when I was a junior and the older guys got on my case right away about half-wheeling on training rides – so the term has been around at least since the 70s.

  14. Ken

    PS to Cyclifist on “Quit yer bitchin” – my experience is that the problem with half-wheelers is most of them go out too fast and end up getting gassed on the way home. Then you’re all coasting and waiting or having to leave him behind. A lot of times it’s the weaker riders who half-wheel and throw off the overall pace. So they end up annoying everybody coming and going…

  15. Steve Wathke

    Yep. I’ve seen this a lot on our ride. Usually the same guys. I hope if i’m ever guilty of doing that that i will get called out. I can take it. I’m a big boy. Its just common courtesy. If you want to ride solo then don’t show up to a group ride. Right?

  16. Scott Dickson

    My brother Randy had an effective method to neutralize half-wheeling. He would slow down and then surge ahead repeatedly, thereby disrupting the pace of the half-wheeler. It was the most successful tactic that I have seen.

  17. JoeV

    I think some folks here are missing the point of getting Half Wheeled. The half wheeler forces the half wheeled to increase his pace to “close the gap” but the half wheeler just reestablishes the gap ….and around and around you both go until you’re doing Hard Tempo+ or harder. And we all know that sucks.

  18. Chris Gruver

    Thank you Steve Tilford and Clay Moseley! I haven’t laughed out loud like that in quite a while.

  19. Max

    I feel your pain! I get half “stepped” by a guy at work everyday! The guy walks really fast and seems to always stay just a half step or so ahead of you. I swear that if you move on up beside him he immediately picks up the pace! He is a strong walker so it definitely causes me a lot of stress! Lol

  20. Rip Tragle

    I do not ride bicycles but have had more then many encounters with motorcyclists who wish to
    give me a hard time on the road. In a situation similar to above I carried a 2′ piece of broom handle
    which i would jam into the front wheel spokes of the fellow who would refuse to leave me alone.
    It does make an impression on a jerk indeed!


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