What’s the hardest thing about riding a bike? Talking about it! If you can’t tell a sprocket from a Schrader or refer to every random bike part as a whatchamacallit, then it’s time for a quick lesson in cycling lingo. Enjoy!
The Ultimate A to Z Guide to Cycling Lingo
aero – Short for aerodynamic, the adjective is used to describe gear (bike frames, helmets, wheels) that are designed for minimal wind resistance. Although being aero is not super important for the average rider, you’ll see this term pop up for races like time trials and triathlons.
Athena – A female athlete over 165 pounds (according to official USA Triathlon Competitive Rules). This weight class is most often found in triathlon but also appears in mountain biking and even running races. The purpose of the division is to encourage participation and even the playing field, since carrying more weight is harder but also gives you a slight advantage when going downhill.
attack – A sudden attempt to pull ahead from a rider or group of riders, also known as a breakaway. This is a tactic most commonly used in racing.
beater (or clunker bike) – Usually a retired bike that’s seen better days but is still capable of getting you around. Beaters are a great low-investment option for commuting in an urban area.
bibs – Cycling shorts that have a bib or suspenders (like overalls) instead of an elastic waistband. Most cyclists prefer bib shorts since an elastic band can cause discomfort or chafing in the bent-over cycling position. The downside for women is having to strip down when nature calls. Fortunately many brands are updating the classic design with new features like adjustable straps or a clasp in the back for easier bathroom breaks.
bicycle helmet – designed to attenuate impacts to the head of a cyclist in falls – or in simpler terms, a hard hat that you wear to protect your noggin if you have an accident while you are riding! One your most important pieces of equipment! See lid below.
bikepacking – Sometimes called randonée (French for excursion) or brevet, it’s a form of long-distance cycling where you load everything you need on your bike frame. Think of it like packing your car’s trunk for a weekend getaway—minus the car.
BMX – An abbreviation for bicycle motocross, BMX was originally used as a gateway to get kids into motocross but blew up into its own sport. BMX bikes are highly specialized, compact (designed around 20-inch wheels), and used for dirt track racing and/or freestyle tricks.
bonk – Also known as hitting the wall, it means you’ve run out of energy due to glycogen depletion (glycogen is the fuel that’s stored in your muscles). Endurance athletes who skimp on food or hydration often bonk and need rest, H2O, and high-carb foods to recover. Side effects vary but can be anything from muscle cramping to mental fogginess.
brakes – The things that make you stop. Variations include rim brakes (which squeeze the rim of the wheel to slow—see photo on the left) and disc brakes (which squeeze a metal disc at the hub). Typically the left brake slows the front tire, and the right brake slows the rear. (Fun fact: It’s the reverse in countries where people drive on the left side of the road.) To stop, squeeze both brakes evenly. To slow, “feather” them by gently pulling and releasing repeatedly to “scrub” your speed. Never squeeze the left brake alone unless front flipping over the handlebars is your thing.
bunny hop – A bicycle trick in which you use your arms and legs to jump and lift the bike off the ground to avoid an obstacle or hop onto a curb.
cadence – Pedaling rate or the number of revolutions per minute (RPM). Jury’s still out on the ideal cadence for maximum efficiency, but cadence tends to scale with how much power you’re able to put out. The weaker someone is, the more efficient they tend to be at a lower cadence, while stronger riders are more efficient at a higher cadence.
cassette – Nope, not a throwback mixtape from the 80s. A cassette is the set of sprockets (the pyramid shaped set of gears) on the rear wheel. The chain moves up and down these gears to make riding easier or harder depending on the cyclist’s needs.
century – A 100-mile ride or race. A metric century (100 km) is just over 62 miles (62.137 miles, to be exact).
chain – A loop of roller links that transfers power from the pedals to the rear wheel to propel the bike forward. If you drop your chain (i.e., if your chain slides off the gears), it’s easy to put back on, but be prepared to get your hands dirty. Chain lubricant will keep your chain in tip-top shape.
chainrings – Circular metal discs with teeth that are closest to the front wheel and next to the pedals. Together they make up the crankset, which is rotated by the crank arms. Your bike can have one, two, or three chainrings depending on the bike or type of riding you do.
chainring tattoo – The grease mark some new cyclists get on their legs from accidentally bumping the chain. If this happens to you, NBD. Some dish soap or eye makeup remover will easily take care of the temporary tat.
chamois (or shammy) – Pronounced “sham-wah,” chamois refers to the pad in the seat of cycling shorts that wicks away moisture, prevents chafing, and provides extra cushion. A bit of advice: Never wear underwear with chamois shorts; it’ll cause unnecessary chafing and saddle sores—ouch.
chasers (or a chase group) – Nope, not a swig to wash down a shot. Chasers are riders, usually in a race, who crank away to try to catch a lead rider ahead of them.
climb – Outdoors, an actual hill or mountain. Indoors, it’s when you crank up the resistance to simulate one.
clincher – A standard tire design that has a hooked, U-shaped rim and open tire casing with a tube inside. Clinchers are commonly associated with road bikes because the high tire pressure forces the lip of the tire into the rim for a super-snug fit (quite literally clinching it into place), but they can be found on all kinds of bikes.
clipless – A type of pedal that locks into the cleat of special cycling shoes for better power transfer when pedaling. This can be confusing because your shoes actually do clip (or lock) into the pedal. Cyclists used to use toe clips (little cages that go over your toes), so when ski and cycling brand LOOK invented the first pedal that didn’t use toe clips, they decided to go with the term clipless.
Clydesdale – A male athlete over 220 pounds (according to official USA Triathlon Competitive Rules). This weight class (like athena) is most often found in races such as triathlon but also pops up in mountain biking and even running. The purpose of this division is to encourage participation and even the playing field, since carrying more weight is harder but also gives you a slight advantage when going downhill.
cog – Also known as a sprocket or gear, it’s one of the rings in the cassette. The entire cluster of gears on the rear wheel is called a cassette or cogset.
commuter – A bike used for commuting or getting from point A to B in an urban area, sometimes called a town bike or city bike.
cornering – Basically leaning your bike to “steer” around a curve. This YouTube video from Global Cycling Network shows you how.
crank (or crankarm) – The arm that connects the pedals to the chainrings.
criterium (or crit) – A short cycling race on city streets that typically lasts less than an hour and covers 5 km or less.
cross chaining – When the chain is either 1) on the big ring in the front and the easiest (or biggest) ring in the back or 2) on the small ring in the front and the smallest (or hardest) ring in the back. This stretches the chain across the cassette and sometimes causes a weird noise. Cross chaining isn’t ideal, so if you realize you’re doing it, simply adjust your gears.
cycling shoes – Shoes with a stiff sole and a cleat that locks into special bike pedals, allowing for a more efficient transfer of power. These can be worn on bicycles or in indoor cycling classes. Riders who don’t want to commit can opt for sneakers and toe cages (or toe straps) as a totally reasonable alternative.
cyclocross – Also known as CX or cross, cyclocross is a type of off-road bicycle racing done on an obstacle course. It can also refer to a style of off-road riding. Cyclocross bikes look similar to road bikes but have certain features (like knobby tires and disc brakes) made for off-roading. Think of it as a happy medium between road and mountain biking.
drafting – Cycling behind another rider so they block the wind for you. Cyclists like to take advantage of this because it requires about 30 percent less energy. Drafting behind a vehicle is called motorpacing.
derailleur – Say it with us: de-rail-yeur. This mechanism moves the chain from gear to gear whenever you shift. Depending on your bike, you may have zero, one, or two derailleurs. On most road bikes, there is a derailleur in front for the chainrings and one in the rear for the cassette.
downhill – A type of mountain biking and racing. When referred to in indoor cycling classes, it means lowering your resistance to simulate going down a hill.
drivetrain – The entire mechanical system that converts pedaling into forward movement. Drivetrains include the pedals, cranks, front and rear derailleurs, chainrings, cassette, and chain. Think of this as the engine of your bicycle. Zoom zoom.
drops – The lower curved portion of road bike handlebars. Cyclists usually move to their drops when descending, since the lower position makes them more aerodynamic and lowers their center of gravity for more control over the bike at high speeds.
endo – When a cyclist flips over the handlebars, end over end.
flat – When you pop a tire. But don’t fret: Flat tires happen to the best of cyclists, which is why you should always carry an extra tube or two and a hand pump or CO2 canister so you can re-inflate on the go. In an indoor cycling class, a flat is a simulation of a flat road, which has some resistance but not as much as a climb.
frame – The bike’s backbone or the geometrical tubing connecting its parts. Often hollow and made of lightweight material, the frame comes in all different shapes and sizes. A frame should fit you properly for efficient energy use, pedaling posture, and comfort.
fenders – A semicircle guard that hovers over the wheel and blocks spray from a wet road or mud. On rainy days, fenders are a cyclist’s best friend. Fenders are typically attached to the frame and can be removed.
fixie (or fixed gear) – A single-speed bike, often with no brakes, that can’t freewheel (or coast). This means that whenever the bike is moving, your legs are also moving, and you simply pedal backward to stop.
fork – Nope, not what you eat with. The fork is the part of the bicycle that holds the front wheel.
gears – Metal discs with teeth. Road bikes typically have two sets of gears, one in the front (chainrings) and one in the back (cassette).
Grand Tour – Does the Tour de France ring a bell? The annual race through France is one of three European Grand Tours. The other two are Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. They are all three weeks long and involve back-to-back days in the saddle with a mix of individual and team time trials, mountain climbs, and sprints totaling more than 3,000 km (that’s more than 2,000 miles!).
granny gear – If Grandma were a cyclist, this would be her go-to gear. This term describes the lowest gear ratio possible, which means the bike is on the smallest chainring in the front and the largest chainring in the back. On flat roads, a granny gear feels like effortless spinning. On steep climbs, sometimes the granny gear is necessary for survival.
hammer – Pedaling hard in the big gears, which have the greatest resistance and pack the most power. A hammerfest is a long, grueling session of hammering or “big ringing it,” sometimes when you’re battling a strong headwind.
half wheel – When you’re riding behind someone and you let your front wheel creep up on the back wheel of their bike. This is a super-dangerous move since the other person can’t see what you’re doing. If they swerve unexpectedly, you could crash.
headset – A ball bearing system (commonly hidden inside the head tube) that allows your handlebars to move so you can steer the front end.
hub – The center cylinder of a bicycle wheel that allows the wheel to rotate around one point.
jersey – OK, plenty of athletes wear jerseys, but in cycling, they’re a bit different. Cyclists wear zip-up jerseys that wick away sweat and often have pockets on the back to hold essential supplies. Successful pros can even earn special jerseys as trophies.
In the Tour de France, the four most well-known ones are the coveted yellow jersey (for the overall race leader), the polka dot jersey (for the best climber, or “King of the Mountains”), the green jersey (for the rider with greatest number of stage points for sprinting), and the white jersey (for the best young rider under 25 years old). Another impressive piece of swag is the rainbow jersey, worn by the reigning world champion.
JRA – Just riding along—until something goes wrong. Techs and wrenches (bike mechanics) hear the same old fishy story when a beat-up bike comes in for repairs: “Oh, I was just riding along… then I hit a pothole and my bike fell apart!” Uh huh.
kit – A cycling outfit that includes shorts or bibs; a jersey; and even socks, shoes, and a cap. Many athletes like to dress to impress, and cyclists are no exception. The truly committed go matchy matchy and coordinate with their bikes too.
LBS – Local bike shop. This is where you’ll buy a brand new bike and bring it in for maintenance from time to time. Don’t order bike parts online; support your LBS.
lid – Your helmet. Cover your cranium. Mind your mind. Don’t neglect your noggin. However you want to say it, make sure to wear a helmet. It’s a cyclist’s most important piece of gear. See bicycle helmet above.
LOOK style – One of the two major clipless pedal styles, inspired by the brand that invented clipless pedals (LOOK). They require a set of matching shoe cleats, which pop out significantly from the sole of the cycling shoe. Careful, these are tricky to walk in when you dismount so they should be used only for road or indoor cycling.
LSD – Long steady/slow distance. LSDs are quite the trip—just not that kind of trip! LSD refers to a long training ride at a steady distance, which usually means a few hours in the saddle at a solid aerobic pace.
lube – A lubricant that keeps moving parts moving. Bikes need TLC too, so don’t forget the lube.
mountain bike – A bicycle designed to be ridden off-road on mountainous terrain and trails. Mountain bikes come in all different shapes and styles and feature suspension to absorb rocky terrain. Suspension on the front fork only is called hardtail, while full or dual suspension is on both the front and rear.
pannier – A basket, bag, box, or container attached to your bicycle to carry cargo.
peloton – The largest pack of riders in a road race, also called a bunch or pack. Why stick together? Riding in a pack allows cyclists to take advantage of drafting, saving them some much-needed energy during long races.
pinch flat – When you get a flat tire but not from running over a sharp object. Instead, the tube inside the tire gets stuck between the rubber tire and the metal rim and punctures. The best way to avoid a pinch flat? Double check the edges of the rim when you change your tire to make sure you can’t see the tube. If you can see it, it’ll likely get pinched and go flat.
Presta – A style of valve commonly found on high-pressure tubes, like the ones used on road bikes. An easy way to remember the difference between Presta and Schrader: You “press” a Presta valve to release the air.
PSI – Pounds per square inch, or the amount of air pressure in the tire. How much air you fill your tires with depends on your weight, tire size, and the type of terrain.
pull – Riding on the front of a paceline or peloton. To “take a pull” means you’re the person working the hardest since you’re not benefiting from drafting. In a rotating paceline, take a short pull, drift to the side, and then roll to the back of the line and let the next person pull. Draft until it’s your turn to be on the front again. This is a tactic used by groups for maximum efficiency on long rides or when there’s a strong headwind.
quick release (or QR) – A bolt and cam lever that allows cyclists to manually adjust the saddle height or remove the wheels from the bike. Unhinge and twist to open the QR when needed.
resistance – Often referred to during indoor cycling classes (“Take your resistance up a full turn!”), resistance is the amount of opposing force put on the wheel of a stationary bike. The higher the resistance, the harder it is to pedal. The resistance knob is typically located below the handlebars. Pro tip: Press it in to stop the wheel of the bike.
rim – The hoop portion of the wheel, which the tire fits onto, supported by the spokes. Historically made of wood, rims are now made of a variety of metals, alloys, or carbon fiber.
road bike – A bike designed specifically for road riding. Made of carbon fiber, titanium, steel, aluminum, or an alloy, these bikes come in a range of shapes and sizes to fit the needs and body of the rider. Unlike your average bicycle, it is often more lightweight; has extra gear combinations; and features tires that are narrow, inflated at high pressures, and smooth. All these features make a road bike fit for speed.
roadie – A nickname for a dedicated road cyclist.
road rash – The scrapes and brush burns you get from crashing on the road. To avoid hitting the pavement, always be mindful of traffic and road conditions, and never ride without your helmet, duh.
road tires – Not to be confused with wheels, tires are just the rubber portion of the wheel. Road tires are typically very narrow and smooth for maximum speed, unlike the big, knobby ones you find on mountain bikes.
RPM – Rotations per minute; see cadence.
run it out – Often heard during indoor cycling classes, this cue prompts you to rise out of the saddle to position 2, which somewhat simulates running in place.
saddle – The bike seat, where you sit while your legs spin away. Saddles get a bad rap for being uncomfortable, but finding the right one for you is key (what works for your friend might not work for your rear end). First consider the type of riding you’ll be doing. Then visit your LBS. (local bike store) Some have special pads that you sit on to measure your sit bone width to find the right size. Ask if you can ride before you buy to test out different styles and sizes.
saddle sores – Chafing that occurs due to friction from the saddle. A chamois can only do so much to ward off chaffing, and hours in the saddle, an extra bumpy ride, or unwanted moisture from an unexpected rain shower can cause sores on your nether regions—a true pain in the butt. Prevent them by applying a chamois cream before you get rolling.
Schrader – A valve found on most tires (including car tires) that’s used to inflate the tube within. Use your bike pump to reach the desired PSI (recommendations should be listed along the rim close to the spoke nipples).
shifting – Transitioning from one gear to another, allowing the cyclist to maintain a constant cadence despite changes in resistance or incline on the road or trail. On most bikes, the shifter on the right moves the chain along the back gears (cassette) for small changes. The shifter on the left adjusts the front gears, used for more major shifts. Cyclists spend most of their time shifting the rear gears in search for their cadence sweet spot.
single-speed – A bike that has a single gear ratio (just one cog on the rear wheel) and the ability to freewheel or coast.
slipstream – The pocket of air behind a cyclist or vehicle that breaks the wind resistance; see drafting.
SPD style – Short for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, it’s a style of pedal and cleat that are smaller than LOOK style and easier to walk in, since the cleat doesn’t jut out from the shoe as much. They’re often used for mountain biking or cyclocross, where dismounting your bike is more common, but they also work on road bikes.
spokes – The wire rods that connect the center of the wheel or hub to the outer edge or rim.
steed – Cycling without a steed is like horseback riding without a horse. While this steed, or bicycle, doesn’t neigh, it does roll from point A to point B with a little push from the legs.
stem – The component on a bicycle that connects the handlebars to the steerer tube.
time trial (or TT) – A road race against the clock. This style of racing can be done alone (individual) or with a team, and features aerodynamic bikes, helmets, and skinsuits. Some triathletes use TT bikes to reserve energy during the bike leg of a race.
tubeless tires – A wheel system where a clincher tire is mounted tightly to the rim using a liquid sealant, eliminating the need for an inner tube and allowing you to run really low tire pressure without pinch flatting. If something punctures your tire, the liquid sealant quickly seals it so you never have to change a flat.
tubular – A racing-specific tire where the tire is glued to a V-shaped rim and the tube is sewn inside. These are usually ultra light and supple, making them very delicate. Since the system is glued together, it’s hard to fix flats, which is why they’re typically used in races where you have a crew to give you a whole new wheel.
watt – The unit of measurement for power, or the rate at which energy is used over time. The more oomph applied to the pedals, the greater the wattage. A more common cycling unit of measurement is watts per kilograms (or watts/Kg); it takes the power to weight ratio of a rider into consideration.
wheelie – A bicycle trick where you lift the front wheel off the ground, find a balance point, and pedal to keep the wheel up and move forward—kind of like riding a unicycle. Don’t try this at home until you are more experienced, but check out one here on YouTube from Global Cycling Network.
SUMMARY – Here’s a simple diagram showing most of what was described above and even more!
Want to keep a copy for reference? Feel free to print and share. ENJOY!
Have more questions or need some bike help? BE SURE TO CONTACT US!
Big thanks to the folks at greatist.com for this informative article – written in 2016 but still all true today… with a bit of addition and editorial license from BikeSport Bicycles!