Drafting Is OK, Drifting (Daydreaming) Is Not
While drafting behind another rider is often beneficial, drifting is a bad thing for you. The dictionary description of drifting as pertains to cycling is 1) a state of indecision or inaction, and 2) a slow and gradual movement or change from one place or condition to another. Mental drifting during a ride is somewhere between a serious lack of concentration and snoozing or what we may call daydreaming.
While biking the C & O trail there was a gentleman pushing his bike up out of the weeds onto the trail. I asked him what happened, and he couldn’t explain how he left the path. DRIFTING. The brush kept him from going into a lake, and his minor injuries probably kept him from doing it again very soon.
Your eyes are open, and you are pedaling along but not much is going on in your head when you are drifting.
Being overtired or on a really boring ride can lead to this dull state of mind. This can happen at the end of a very long ride, like at mile 90 of a century and you blow through a stop sign. Also staring at the back wheel of the person in front of you has a mesmerizing affect that can eat away at your consciousness. A beautiful warm day and a smooth road is what we all like but they could induce complacency. Pedaling and steering are not enough to keep you fully alert.
The good news is that drifting is easily preventable. We all have a natural fear of crashing which will, in most cases, prevent us from drifting. Some other things that may augment our fear are light conversation, whistling, and getting plenty of rest. Be aware of the sights, sounds and smells that are some of the reasons that you are riding a bike. Lead the ride for a while or offer to break the wind for the group. Anything that will cause a little rise in your adrenalin will be helpful. Choose an interesting or complicated route. Try a route with a little traffic or some hills. A trail ride for an experienced cyclist sometimes allows you to drift/daydream because you relax a bit without the fear of cars hitting you. No matter where you are riding being alert is critical to prevent injury.
Whatever method you choose to stay alert, practice it now and then. Who knows, it may keep you out of a lake someday.