Riding a bike is one thing but talking about it, another. In the world of cycling we use a lot a bike specific terms. Cycling language if you want. If you join a bunch of male riders on your Sunday morning spin, you’ve certainly had your introduction. Want to impress your fellow male cyclists? Learn this La Ridley Dictionnary by heart!
à bloc – French term for all-out efforts.
aero – Short for aerodynamic, 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.
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. It’s like sprinting and trying to stay away from the peloton.
back on – A term used to describe when a rider has lost contact with the peloton or group and then manages to reconnect.
being aggressive – When a rider or a team constantly attacks with the aim to splinter the peloton or get in a breakaway.
bibs – Cycling shorts that have a bib or suspenders (like overalls) instead of an elastic waistband.
bidon – Or bottle. A container with a special mouthpiece for water or sports drinks to be used on the bike and is placed in the bottle cage.
blowing up – After you have done a huge effort your legs feel like they will explode.
bonk – Also known as hitting the wall or sugar flat, it means you’ve run out of energy due to glycogen depletion (glycogen is the fuel that’s stored in your muscles). This often happens when a rider forgets to eat during training or racing. 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.)
breakaway or the break – A break forms when a rider or a group of riders attacks the peloton and is able to stay in front of it.
bridge or bridging – To catch the rider/s in front who have a gap.
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 – Pedalling rate or the number of revolutions per minute (RPM).
cassette – Nope, not an old-school mix tape from the 80’s. 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.
chainrings – Circular metal discs with teeth that are closest to the front wheel and next to the pedals. Together they make up the crank-set, which is rotated by the crank arms. Your bike can have one, two, or three chain rings 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. Some dish soap or eye makeup remover will easily take care of the temporary tat. Make sure you do this asap because a chainring tattoo is also recognized like the sign of an ‘amateur’. Even if you are one, it’s not a compliment.
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 friction and saddle sores, ouch. And it’s just really wrong…
chasers (or a chase group) – Chasers are riders, usually in a race, who crank away to try to catch a lead rider ahead of them.
chewing the handlebars – a term used to describe when you are completely in the hurt box, often focused on your bike computer, stem, ground or in general direction of your handlebars.
climb – An actual hill or mountain.
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).
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.
cornering – Basically leaning your bike to “steer” around a curve.
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 on the big ring in the front and the easiest (or biggest) ring in the back or 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 realise you’re doing it, simply adjust your gears.
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.
derailleur – pronounced like: de-rai-yeur. This mechanism moves the chain from gear to gear whenever you shift. On most road bikes, there is a derailleur in front for the chainrings and one in the rear for the cassette.
domestique – A rider whose job it is to support and work for other riders in their team (literally “servant” in French). Today the term has lost its bad connotation and serves as an acknowledgement of the true nature of racing tactics.
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.
drivetrain – The entire mechanical system that converts pedalling 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.
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.
echelon – Generally described as a long string of riders that are in a formation that shelters them from the wind. The front rider will pull off the front, towards the direction of the wind and make their way to the back of the line.
flat – When you pop a tire. 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 reinflate on the go.
frame – The bike’s backbone or the geometrical tubing connecting its parts. Often hollow and made of lightweight material (carbon, aluminium), the frame comes in all different shapes and sizes. A frame should fit you properly for efficient energy use, pedalling 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.
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 stages, and sprint stages totalling more than 3,000 km (+ 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.
getting dropped – The moment when you lose touch with the peloton or group and end up riding on your own.
grupetto – The last group of riders who ride together to make time cut in a race. Also known as riding the bus.
hammer – generally refers to when someone rides away from the group, starts riding faster than everyone else, or attacks.
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.
intermediate sprint – To keep a race or a tour active there may be points along the course where the riders will sprint for time bonuses or other prizes.
jersey – Cyclists wear zip-up jerseys that wick away sweat and often have pockets on the back to hold essential supplies. Successful pros can earn special jerseys as trophies. In the Tour de France, the four most well-known ones are the 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.
KOM – King of the mountains (QOM – queen of the mountains in women’s races). The title given to the best climber in a road race.
leading out – A term used by teams or individuals to set up a sprint. Riders line up and drive the pace, putting out a sustained effort before peeling off until the last rider is left to sprint for the win.
lid – Your helmet. Cover your cranium. A cyclist’s most important piece of gear.
LSD – Long steady/slow distance. 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.
motor-pacing – a method of training that cyclists use to train at increased speed. A car or motorbike is used to draft behind.
moving op – an important skill in bike racing. You must always move up the bunch. This will mean that you will always be riding towards the front.
musette – Small lightweight cotton shoulder bag, containing food and drinks given to riders in a feed zone during a cycle race. The bag is designed so that it can be easily grabbed by a moving rider. The shoulder strap is placed over the head and one shoulder, the contents are then removed and placed into jersey pockets or bottles (bidons) are placed into bottle cages. The bag is then discarded.
peloton – The largest pack of riders in a road race, also called a bunch or pack. 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 is to 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: you “press” a Presta 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.
queen stage – The stage of a multi-day road race which is deemed the hardest, most demanding and most prestigious stage of the race.
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.
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.
roadie – A nickname for a dedicated road cyclist.
road rash – The scrapes and brush burns you get from crashing on the road.
RPM – Rotations per minute; see cadence.
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, bad asphalt, or unwanted moisture from an unexpected rain shower can cause sores on your nether regions. Prevent them by applying a chamois cream before you get rolling.
shifting – Transitioning from one gear to another, allowing the cyclist to maintain a constant cadence or cadence sweet spot 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.
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.
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/ ITT) or with a team (TTT), and features aerodynamic bikes, helmets, and skinsuits. A rider only depends on his/her strength and endurance in an ITT where drafting is forbidden. In the TTT (team time trial) riders in each team employ drafting as their main tactic. Each member takes a turn at the front while team-mates ‘sit in’ behind. After the turn, the lead rider swings over, allowing the next rider to take the lead. While the leader goes to the back of the team.
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.
Using the convoy – If you are ever dropped from the bunch, is important that you use the convoy, which is the group of cars that make up the caravan behind the race, to get back on. This generally involves motor-pacing behind various team cars, resting and then moving to the next one until you eventually make it back to the peloton.
watt – The unit of measurement for power, or the rate at which energy is used over time. The more power 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.
(The) wheel. A term to describe a rider. Used this way: I was on a good wheel when the sprint started.
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.
Wheel sucking – When you follow the rider in front of you, drafting, and sucking their wheel as if your life depended on it. On a windy day, you will realise how important this ability is. Drop that wheel and you will regret it.