Robot’s Useless Reviews – Wheel Sucking

If your wheels suck, that’s one thing, but if you’re sucking a wheel, that’s quite another, though these two scenarios are perhaps two sides of the same coin. I will address each of them in turn, and let you know which one is good, and which one is also probably just fine.

First, wheels that suck. I’ll be honest with you, I’m pretty skeptical that this is even a thing. If your hoops are badly out of true and/or mostly elliptical, I’m with you. That sucks. In most other cases, wheels really just need to be round. I know a lot of perhaps jaded bicyclists who will complain that their wheels are too heavy or too flexy or even occasionally too stiff. Almost all of these complaints stem from an unwillingness to take responsibility for being slow or a bad bike rider. I’m not saying that some wheels don’t roll faster than others, some track better. I AM saying that wheels are seldom the real problem.

This wheel sucks.

They’re a scapegoat.

The term scapegoat, BTW, is biblical in origin, Leviticus specifically. As part of a purification ritual, Aaron took a pair of goat kids. One he confessed all the sins of his people to and sent it out into the wilderness, essentially casting out the sins via innocent livestock. The other goat was then sacrificed. I guess he was covering his bases. As bad as it is to be a scapegoat, maybe it’s worse to be the sacrificial lamb (wait a minute). If you’ve read the preceding sentences and wondered why humanity has had this propensity for taking out its guilt on innocent animals, then maybe spare a thought for those wheels you were denigrating a minute ago and recognize the core unworthiness probably belongs to you.

It’s ok. I forgive you.

That brings us to wheel sucking, which is the act of riding right up close to the rider in front of you so as to take advantage of the draft they create, thereby doing less work. I have, in my lifetime, been a great sucker of wheels. For every minute someone has sucked my wheel, I have probably spent 10 sucking someone else’s.

Jeebs. Let’s back up a second and recognize the heavy use of the verb ‘suck’ in this passage. It’s jarring, isn’t it? Almost all the connotations are bad. And vulgar. And while I do truck vigorously in bad and vulgar language, this particular formulation makes the situation it describes rather more freighted than it needs to be.

Look, long debates have been had regarding the (im)propriety of a stranger drafting off a rider without first requesting said service. There is a common courtesy, obviously, to how we behave on bikes out in the world, but a tow doesn’t really cost the tow-er anything, and when you need a tow, as I often have, you really need a tow. There is a kindness in the act of (if you’ll excuse the expression) breaking wind for someone else.

I would break wind for you, especially if you were right behind me, up close where it might make a real difference in your day. Visualize that for me.


And so, in closing, let me offer this. It’s highly unlikely your wheels suck. It’s probably just you that sucks. Unless you whisper that to a goat and then abandon it somewhere. It’s also ok to suck someone else’s wheel, though some sort of verbal heads-up is in keeping with cycling etiquette. You might say, “Hey, I suck. Is that ok?” Only the most churlish of riders would then refuse to break wind for you. Afterall, you asked for it.

Join the conversation
  1. bloodpuddle says

    Gotta say, this is a great piece of writing. Well done!

    1. Emlyn Lewis says


  2. Pat Navin says

    A masterpiece. I have sucked plenty in my life. What I find irritating is the occasional wheel sucker who suddenly appears on one’s wheel while one is out riding alone. And that sucker is not a friend, but a stranger. And the stranger just stays there, right on the wheel, regardless of the speed of the front rider. Ingrate.

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