Like any niche activity, cycling has its own lingo. Not sure what your new cycling pals are jabbering about after your weekend ride? We’ve put together a glossary of some common cycling terms to get you up to speed.
“These terms carry some emotional weight, helping to downplay horrible things and adding some frisson to things we are proud of,” says Scott Saifer, cycling coach at Wenzel Coaching.
Took a spill?
Tell your fellow cyclists you “picked up some wicked road rash at the yard sale” and you’ll earn sympathy and cred.
Sure, saying “I fell off my bike” would get the point across too — but adopting these cycling terms “is part of your self-declaration of being a cyclist,” Saiter says.
So whether you’re a devoted road racer or prefer the challenge of gnarly trails, next time someone says they’re bonking, or calls you a good wheel, you’ll know exactly what they mean.
From gear to technical skills to slang, here are some cycling terms to get familiar with.
An inexpensive, possibly old, but operable bike — great for everyday use, but not a huge loss if it’s wrecked or stolen.
Cycling shorts with overalls-style elastic shoulder straps instead of an elastic waistband.
(Pro tip: You’re supposed to wear these under your jersey.)
A French word referring to the squeezable plastic water bottles commonly used by cyclists.
The soft pad inside your bike shorts that pads your butt and prevents chafing when you ride long distances (pronounced “shammy”).
Pedals that accommodate cycling shoes with a cleat that locks into a groove.
A bicycle with an electric motor.
7. Hard tail
A mountain bike with a front suspension but no rear suspension.
Local Bike Shop — a small business specializing in bike sales and repairs.
9. N + 1
Formula for the correct number of bikes to own, where n = the number of bikes you currently own.
10. Full suspension
A mountain bike with front and rear suspension.
11. The 11 (or the 10)
Handlebars that support a rider’s elbows, allowing them to assume an aerodynamic shape.
Road Cycling and Racing Terms
In triathlon events, a separate division for female athletes over 165 pounds.
An aggressive attempt to overtake another rider.
The rate, in revolutions per minute (RPM), that a rider pedals.
A 100-mile ride or race (a metric century is 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles).
An uphill portion of a race or ride.
In triathlon events, a separate division for male athletes over 220 pounds.
To navigate a curving length of road.
To finish behind all the other racers (in other words, dead beeping last).
A racer who rides in service of another member of a cycling team.
To ride closely behind another rider to reduce wind resistance.
To leave another racer behind.
A group of cyclists riding in a diagonal, single-file formation to minimize wind resistance.
A sudden acceleration to catch a group of riders in front of you.
A group of cyclists riding in close proximity (also called a bunch).
The main pack of cyclists in a race.
To assume the front spot in a group of riders, reducing wind resistance for other riders behind you.
28. Sag wagon
A vehicle that rides behind the pack, providing food, water, and gear, as well as picking up exhausted or injured racers.
29. Time trial
A bike race against the clock, typically held one racer at a time, or with a group of racers working together.
30. Wheel sucker
A rider who never takes a turn up front to shield other riders from the wind.
Cycling Slang Terms
31. Alligator pit
In mountain biking or BMX, a wide jump or gap that’s potentially dangerous to attempt.
A combination of cycling and camping, carrying all your gear on your bike from place to place.
To completely run out of energy during a ride or race (a.k.a. die or hit the wall).
34. Bunny hop
A BMX trick where both wheels leave the ground, typically used to surmount or avoid obstacles.
Challenging or hardcore, especially in BMX.
36. Buy speed
To acquire fancy bikes or parts in hopes of going faster.
37. Eat it
To wipe out.
38. Emergency dismount
A trick in which you ride on the front wheel only (also known as a stoppie); or a crash in which the bike flips over its front wheel.
40. Good wheel
A rider who holds a steady pace with minimal swerving.
41. Granny gear
The lowest gear on a multi-speed bike, used for very steep climbs.
42. Hammer (or “drop the hammer”)
Ride hard for an extended period.
Long Slow Distance or Long Steady Distance — a long but leisurely-paced ride.
To push down too hard on your pedals, usually while standing, which may be a sign you need to downshift.
To ride at a very easy pace.
46. Road rash
Abrasions from sliding on pavement during a crash.
An off-road trail only wide enough for bikes to ride single file.
To adjust the spokes on a wheel so it spins without wobbling.
A trick in which the rider pedals with their front wheel raised off the ground.
50. Yard sale
A crash so bad that items from your pockets, and possibly parts of your bicycle, are strewn across the road.
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