Drafting behind an unsuspecting female cyclist: just don't do it.
There's no nice way to say it - following a female cyclist closely enough that she can hear your heavy breathing in her ear is Creepy. Creepy with a capital C. Now if you know her, and you're rolling in a pack on a group ride, or you're in a draft-legal race, that's different. But when she's toodling along the bike path and she unexpectedly hears you huffing and puffing behind her.... yep, creepy.
For the second time in as many weeks, I've passed another cyclist on the path only to have him latch onto my rear tire like a blood-starved leech. Now normally I try to maintain a very sedate pace on the path. For one thing, I don't think it's safe to go over about 16 mph when there are kids on trikes, dogs on invisible extend-o-leashes, drunks weaving all over the path on their bikes, and people riding while doing all manners of things from texting to kissing their girlfriend. Yes, I saw ALL of those things on my ride today. Really.
Now I know there are roadies and triathletes out there who think that the bike path is the cosmic proving ground where they can show how awesome they are by riding 25 mph on their drops or aerobars, but I'm not one of them. I usually use the path as my warm up or cool down and wait until I hit the open road to unleash the quadriceps. So when I passed Creepy Bike Commuter Guy with his corduroy pants tucked into his white tube socks and his coolio fixie with the straight handlebars and loaded messenger bag, he must've been going no more than about 12. A casual "on your left" from me, and he was gone in my rear view mirror, or so I thought.
Two minutes later, I hear this odd sound, like a rasping noise. I think it's coming from my rear wheel - maybe a candy wrapper or leaf got stuck to it? I look down and back, don't see anything. Keep going. Now I hear another weird noise, like a whale surfacing in the ocean with a big wet blast of air. What the heck, have I blown my tire? Look down again: nothing. The noise starts coming regularly, and I just about grab my brakes to pull over. Lucky for me I don't because this time when I look back, I notice something odd: another tire about three millimeters from my own. Yep, it's Creepy Commuter Guy, taching himself out to the redline to keep on my back tire. Ugh.
Luckily, this wasn't anything that a quick acceleration to 25 mph couldn't fix. A few minutes of putting the hammer down and he was gone like a bad dream. But the point remains, that if you're a woman it can feel kind of eerie to have a guy following that close behind you. Oh I know, if you're a man you might be rolling your eyes right now. The guy was probably just trying to get a draft, a free ride. Or perhaps show he fast he could be by hanging onto a triathlete's wheel for awhile. I'm sure there was some rational explanation. But the problem is, when you're a woman, you inevitably run into creepy guys at regular intervals in your life. This blog post by UnWinona sums up what many women face on a daily or weekly basis. If you think she's exaggerating, I can assure you that she's not. This stuff really happens. And guys really do follow you or keep pestering you, even when you've told them you're married or asked them to leave you alone.
So if you're a nice guy, and I bet you are if you've read this far, pass that draft on up and wait for the next male cyclist to come your way. Or if you really want to race, find a local time trial or crit and test your legs that way like a real man. But leave my rear tire alone. Thank you.