Why Is Bike Drafting Illegal In Triathlons? And How You Can Still Draft

Bike drafting is a technique all cyclists use to get an advantage by cycling very close to the cyclist in front in order to reduce the air drag.

It is considered to be very advantageous because it offers the drafting cyclists, lesser air resistance and less energy to overcome at the expense of other cyclists while cycling.

Despite its advantages, it has been stated as illegal in the majority of triathlons and is clearly laid in the USA Triathlon rules.

The USA triathlon rules clearly state, “While on the cycling course, no participant shall permit his drafting zone to intersect with or remain intersected with the drafting zone of another cyclist or that of a motor vehicle. With respect to a motor vehicle, it is the triathlete’s responsibility to move out of the vehicle’s drafting zone or to continually communicate to the vehicle to move away.” (Source).

But why exactly is bike drafting in triathlons is illegal? bike drafting is illegal because it creates an inappropriate advantage for the drafting cyclists, helping them save 15 to 30 percent of cycling energy at the expense of another triathlete. This goes against the purpose of the sport, which is to measure individual strength, speed, and endurance without taking advantage of other participants.

With this purpose in mind, the USA triathlon rule also states, “CYCLISTS WHO ENTER THE DRAFT ZONE MUST PROGRESS THROUGH IT AND COMPLETE A PASS IN NO MORE THAN 15 SECONDS.” In simple terms, if you must enter the draft zone, do not sit in it for more than 15 seconds. The same applies to Ironman triathlons

It is important to note that few triathlon organizers allow drafting, like in some of the Top-level International Triathlon Union racing.

Triathlon Drafting Illegal – Why ?

Why Is Bike Drafting Such A Big Deal In Triathlons?

Many other Triathlons particularly in the US frown at the idea of drafting because the idea of triathlon is to “beat the time on your own”.

The forms of Triathlon that do not allow bike drafting are the Ironman events, where the strength, endurance, and fitness of the participants are tested, and whoever emerges as the winner is named “IRONMAN”.

Being named “Ironman” sounds like an award based on individuality

This makes more sense why Ironman triathlete frown at the idea of including bike drafting in their triathlon event.

Another triathlon format is known as the half ironman (70.3), also considers drafting illegal. The half ironman triathlon is similar to the ironman triathlon but the participants cover only half the distance of the Ironman event.

Age group races are also considered drafting illegal. So, the participants are not allowed to profit unfairly from another participant.

How much time and energy do you save from bike drafting?

This is a question everyone keeps asking and a lot of studies have been done on it, which has helped shed some light on the aerodynamics of bike drafting.

Based on the study done by Chester R. Kyle, bike drafting helps to save over 30% of energy while cycling and helps you gain an extra speed of 0.9-1.8m/s. This occurs because cycling in groups at a middle position helps shield you from the wind by the cyclists behind, on either side and ahead of you. (Source)

The study of how much energy you can save from bike drafting is quite inconclusive, as some studies have shown that bike drafting can save up to 15%-40% of energy, while some studies have said bike drafting saves 27-50% of energy. Nevertheless, it has been proven that bike drafting saves time and energy by some good numbers.

So how much difference does bike drafting make? Triathlete performance in improved between 15 to 30% when bike drafting. This is a conservative conclusion based on the above.

For more on the impact of wind on bike riders, check out our post How Much Wind Is Too Much for Cycling? What Every Rider Must Know!

Why is Bike drafting allowed in top-level International Triathlon Union?

The top-level international Triathlon Union, ITU is a governing body that hosts the world triathlon series which was established in 1989. The ITU has a long history of earning the triathlon sport, a spot at the Olympics.

As stated in history, their intention to joining the Olympics was to make the sport popular, gain a bigger TV audience and grow the sport. They also had an intention to use this means to increase the income of the top-level athletes.

With the purpose of making the triathlon more TV-friendly, putting forward the idea of drafting in triathlon as a sales pitch was definitely going to aid them to become part of the Olympics. (Source)

Apart from the ITU championship event, the international sprint races are said to allow bike drafting as it is referred to as the shortest of all triathlon types.

What Is The Penalty For Violating The Bike Drafting Rule?

According to the rules put forward by the international triathlon union (Source) and World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman events organizer) for draft illegal triathlons, a triathlete who drafts will be subjected to a time penalty sanction.

The triathlete is made to stop at the next penalty box for an allocated time, depending on the distance of the race.  Failure to do so will result in the disqualification of the triathlete.

Penalties usually range from 1 to 5 Minutes stop in the penalty box depending to race distance and the organizer policy

Check our article explaining What Is A Penalty Box in Triathlon? And how to avoid it! to know more about how to deal with the penalties.

How to avoid bike drafting in Triathlons?

The draft zone of each triathlete, as stated in the rules put forward by the international triathlon union for draft illegal triathlons is considered a rectangle of 3meters wide and 10 or 12 meters long, depending on if it is a long-distance or short-distance triathlon event.

The draft zone of a leading triathlete can be approximated to fit three bikes.

With this in mind, it is easy to properly evaluate when a triathlete violates the “no bike drafting” rule.

To avoid bike drafting during a triathlon, a triathlete must ensure maximum space of at least three bikes fit and must take up the responsibility of avoiding any drafting attempts by others. Also when a triathlete is seen in the drafting zone, such triathletes should make a pass in less than fifteen seconds.

Sneaky way of legally drafting in drafting illegal triathlon ?

Within the 15 seconds allowed for bike drafting, it is possible to gain an advantage of some energy reserve, then use the opportunity to overtake within 15 seconds. There would be no penalty given to such a triathlete, provided he/she passes through, within 15 seconds.

What About drafting In Swim Leg? Is It Legal!

Drafting during the swim leg is permitted in all forms of triathlons, as it helps the participants save 15-25 percent of the energy used and at least 2-3 minutes faster. Drafting during the swim leg of a triathlon is a good opportunity as there are no rules against it. You could use this opportunity to get ahead, during a triathlon event.

How do you draft during the swim leg of a triathlon?

The first step here is to be self-aware of the type of swimmer you are, taking note of your strengths and weakness, while keeping in mind the capacity of your competitors. This helps you choose accurately your lead swimmer.

This swimmer ought to be faster than you, as the faster a swimmer swims in front of you, the more energy and time you would preserve.

Then, the next step is to determine what position to draft relative to the participant ahead of you. It is said that the first best place to draft is directly behind and towards the side of your best breathing side, while the second-best place to draft is on the same side as you breathe with the swimmer ahead of you swimming on that same side. (Source).

Comparing Swim Vs Bike Drafting

No doubt, water is denser than air, so it is much easier and comfortable to draft while on a bike than to draft in water.

More energy is conserved while drafting on a bike than in water. Instances of discomfort that could occur could be, when the drafting swimmer, swims close to the lead swimmer. Such that, the feet of the lead swimmer could cause serious harm to the face of the swimmer behind.

Also, while drafting in water, it might be difficult to see due to the enormous amount of water that might hit your face plus the kicking feet of the swimmer in front. There is a chance that this could cause some type of discord in the water between the swimmers.

Despite the discomfort, it is still advisable to draft during the swim leg of the triathlon so you have a chance of getting ahead, especially in bike draft illegal races.


The triathlon is a good sport that helps to improve one’s speed, agility, and endurance. But, before partaking in a triathlon, you must know all the necessary rules.

No bike drafting, in a draft illegal triathlon, is a very important rule you should never violate. Although drafting helps save up energy and time, it is illegal in the majority of triathlons because it goes against the purpose of the game which is based on measuring one’s individual speed, agility, and endurance.

If you are new to the triathlon sport, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the basic tips needed in a triathlon, as a beginner.

You should also read more on rules like, if earphones are allowed in triathlons or not, in order to avoid being disqualified.

Know the rules of the game, enjoy yourself, and have a good time.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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