The cycling world comes with it’s own vocabulary. Here’s a list of bike lingo so you can keep up at the bike shop, your first group ride, a local race, or the Tour De France. I’m sure I missed some cycling terms so let me know and I’ll add them.
aerobic: exercise at an intensity that allows the body’s need for oxygen to be continually met. This intensity can be sustained for long periods.
aerodynamic: a design of cycling equipment or a riding position that reduces wind resistance; aero for short.
anaerobic: exercise above the intensity at which the body’s need for oxygen can be met. This intensity can be sustained only briefly.
apex: the sharpest part of a turn where the transition from entering to exiting takes place.
attack: attack or breakaway, is a sudden attempt to pull ahead from a rider or group of riders.
beater bike: a retired steed that’s seen better days, also called a clunker, is still capable of pulling its weight.
bonk: state of utter exhaustion most often felt by riders who didn’t hydrate well or eat enough. Recovery requires rest, H2O, and high-carb foods.
bottom bracket: the part of the frame where the crankset is installed. Also, the axle, cups and bearings of a traditional crankset, or the axle, retainer rings and bearing cartridges of a sealed crankset.
bpm: abbreviation for beats per minute in reference to heart rate.
breakaway/escape: A rider or group of riders who ride off the front of the peloton and form a lead pack. Breakaway riders will obviously want to maintain their lead, but whether they do so depends on how well they cooperate and how well the peloton cooperates in any attempt to chase them down and close the time gap.
broom wagon: The vehicle at the back of the race that signals the end of the race caravan and ensures the course is clear for the reopening of closed roads.
bunch/peloton: The main group of riders who ride together at a comfortable pace and share the pace-making. Flat stages tend to finish in a bunch or field sprint contested by most of the riders.
bunny hop: a way to ride over obstacles such as rocks or logs in which both wheels leave the ground.
caravan/follow car: The riders are followed by a large group of vehicles that support the race. This includes: commissaires, team directors, medical staff, VIP’s, and neutral mechanical support. Each team is allowed two vehicles to provide riders with water bottles, food, and bike parts. A team’s best-placed rider determines the order of the vehicles in the caravan so the athletes competing for the lead can have the quickest service when they find themselves in a dire situation.
cadence: the number of times during one minute that a pedal stroke is completed. Also called pedal rpm.
categories: the division of racers based on ability and/or experience.
categorized climbs: Climbs are categorized based on their length and average gradient (steepness). The climbs worthy of being classified are given a categorization between 1 and 4 with a “Category 4” being the easiest and a “Category 1” being the most difficult. Large mountains and extremely difficult climbs are given a “Hors Categorie (HC)” classification, which translates to “Beyond Categorization.” HC climbs are typically the most pivotal sections in a Grand Tour stage such as the Tour de France because the race may either be won or lost.
century: a 100-mile ride.
chain suck: when the chain sticks to the chainring teeth during a downshift and gets drawn up and jammed between the small ring and the frame.
chainring: a sprocket on the crankset. There may be one, two or three. Short version is ring.
chainstay: the thin frame tube that extends from the rear dropout to the bottom bracket, where the bike’s crankset is located. There is a chainstay on each side of the rear wheel.
chamois: padded bike shorts cyclists wear, should never be worn with underwear. Total cycling faux pas.
cleat: a metal or plastic fitting on the sole of a cycling shoe that engages the pedal.
clipless Pedals – Pedals installed on your bike that allow you to “clip in” your shoes. These help your feet remain attached to the bike so you can use a full revolution in your pedaling.
clincher: a conventional tire with a separate inner tube.
clydesdale: a large rider.
climbers: The smallest and lightest guys in the peloton are the climbers who excel in the mountains. The best climbers take advantage of their impressive power to weight ratio and tend to save their energy for the key climbs.
cog: a sprocket on the rear wheel’s cassette or freewheel.
commissaires: The officials appointed to ensure teams and riders abide by the rules of the race and sport. Rule breakers are issued fines and time penalties.
criterium (crit): a massed start, high-speed bicycle race events in which riders race around a closed circuit racecourse to compete for order of finish. Criteriums are usually held on closed urban or suburban public streets. The racecourse is normally one-half to one mile in length.
cyclocross: a fall or winter event contested mostly or entirely off pavement. Courses include obstacles, steps and steep hills that force riders to dismount and run with their bikes.
derailleur: moves the chain from gear to gear whenever the shifters tell it to. There is a derailleur in the front for the crankset and another in the rear for the cassette. Click here to see a derailleur.
directeur Sportif: Also known as the team director and almost always an ex-pro rider, the director sportif’s job is to set out and dictate team tactics to riders from the team car, which is fitted with a television so he can follow the action. He must be a seasoned multi-tasker because he needs to do all this while driving, map reading, and handing out supplies.
domestiques: A French term for the “helpers” or “servants” on a team. Cycling is a team sport and a team leader, primary sprinter or star climber may find it difficult to win a race without the help of their loyal domestiques. Domestiques will shelter their teammates from the wind, visit the team car to collect extra water bottles, and chase down breakaway groups. On a rare occasion a domestique will receive to go-ahead to race for a stage victory if the conditions are right.
drafting/slipsteam: The biggest enemy to a cyclist is aerodynamic drag. Riders can save a significant amount of energy by riding in a group behind other riders or by having their teammates break the wind for them. In a breakaway, riders rotate from the front of the group to the back in order to take a short rest. Larger groups are more successful because each rider spends less time riding in the wind.
drops: the lower part of the down-turned road bike handlebar while the curved segments are called hooks.
drivetrain: the mechanical system that converts a cyclist’s pedaling power into forward movement. You know, all that metal stuff between the wheels! Drivetrains usually include the pedals, front and rear derailleurs, cranks, cassette, sprockets, and the chain.
echelon: a form of paceline in which the riders angle off behind each other to get maximum draft in a crosswind.
electrolytes: substances such as sodium, potassium, and chloride that are necessary for muscle contraction and maintenance of body fluid levels.
endo: to crash by going over the bike’s handlebar. Short for end over end.
feed zone: a designated area on a race course where riders can be handed food and drinks.
field sprint: the dash for the finish line by the main group of riders.
fixed gear: a direct-drive setup using one chainring and one rear cog, as on a track bike. When the rear wheel turns so does the chain and crank; coasting isn’t possible.
frame: geometrical tubing connecting its parts. Often hollow and made of lightweight material, the frame comes in all different shapes and lengths.
full tuck: crouch down towards the handlebars to roll at maximum speeds on descents.
general classification riders: well-rounded riders who compete for the best overall time in a stage race. These riders are typically strong climbers and time trialists who are protected by their teammates.
glutes: the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. They are key to pedaling power.
glycogen: a fuel derived as glucose (sugar) from carbohydrate and stored in the muscles and liver. It’s the primary energy source for high-intensity cycling. Reserves are normally depleted after about two-and-a-half hours of riding.
glycogen window: the period within an hour after exercise when depleted muscles are most receptive to restoring their glycogen content. By eating foods or drinking fluids rich in carbohydrate, energy stores and recovery are enhanced.
granny gear: the lowest gear ratio, combining the small chainring with the largest cassette cog. It’s mainly used for very steep climbs. Named after the gear that grandmothers use most frequently.
granny ring: the smallest of the three chainrings on a triple crankset.
gruppetto: literally translating from Italian as “little group” this is the last pack of riders on mountain roads, usually made up of sprinters, domestiques, and team leaders who are only riding survive the difficult course of the day. The French call this the “autobus.” The goal of the grupetto or autobus is to finish ahead of the time limit – worked out as a percentage of the stage winner’s finish time. Riders finishing outside of the time limited are disqualified, so the grupetto’s pacing is very important.
hammer: to ride strongly in big gears..
hamstrings: the muscle on the back of the thigh, not well developed by cycling.
hanging in: barely maintaining contact at the back of the pack.
headset: the parts at the top and bottom of the frame’s head tube, into which the handlebar stem and fork are fitted.
hybrid: a bike that combines features of road and mountain bikes.
intervals: a structured method of training that alternates brief, hard efforts with short periods of easier riding for partial recovery.
jump: to aggressively increase speed without warning, hopefully creating a substantial advantage over your opponents. Also (more usually) denoting an attempt to bridge a gap from the peloton or gruppetto to a breakaway.
king of the mountain: During a stage race, points are awarded to the first few riders to cross the summit of categorized climbs. Difficult climbs are worth more points and the rider who has accumulated the most points over the course of a race is crowned at the King of the Mountain.
lactate threshold (LT): the exertion level beyond which the body can no longer produce energy aerobically, resulting in the buildup of lactic acid. This is marked by muscle fatigue, pain and shallow, rapid breathing. Also called anaerobic threshold (AT).
lactic acid: a substance formed during anaerobic metabolism when there is incomplete breakdown of glucose. It rapidly produces muscle fatigue and pain. Also called lactate.
LBS: local bike shop.
leadout: a race tactic in which a rider accelerates to his maximum speed for the benefit of a teammate in tow. The second rider then leaves the draft and sprints past at even greater speed near the finish line.
mass start: events such as road races, cross-country races and criteriums in which all contestants leave the starting line at the same time.
metric century: a 100-kilometer ride (62 miles).
motorpace: to ride behind a motorcycle or other vehicle that breaks the wind.
musette: A cotton bag, handed out in the feed zones by soigneurs, containing food and drink.
off the back: describes one or more riders who have failed to keep pace with the main group.
“on your left/right” – safety phrase to alert someone on your right/left that you are coming up and passing them…on the left/right.
pace line: a group formation in which each rider takes a turn breaking the wind at the front before pulling off, dropping to the rear position, and riding the others’ draft until at the front once again.
panache: flamboyance, verve, daring, style as displayed in road racing.
panniers: large bike bags used by touring cyclists or commuters. Panniers attach to racks that place them low on each side of the rear wheel, and sometimes the front wheel.
peak: a relatively short period during which maximum performance is achieved.
peloton: the main group of riders in a race or large event.
periodization: the process of dividing training into specific phases by weeks or months.
pinch flat: an internal puncture marked by two small holes caused by the tube being squeezed against the rim. It results from riding into an object too hard for the air pressure in the tube. Also called a snakebite.
power: the combination of speed and strength.
power meter: A device used by professional riders to measure their physical effort during a race. Power is measured in units of watts and riders carefully monitor their power on climbs and during breakaways to ensure they are riding within their own capabilities. The most powerful metric in elite racing is the power to weight ratio. Most of the riders you will see winning races ending in a mountaintop finish will have the highest power to weight ratio.
preload: the adjustable spring tension in a suspension fork or rear shock. It determines how far the suspension compresses under body weight and how much travel remains to absorb impacts.
presta: the narrow European-style valve found on some inner tubes. A small metal cap on its end must be unscrewed before air can enter or exit.
prime: a special award given to the leader on selected laps during a criterium, or the first rider to reach a certain landmark in a road or cross-country race. It’s used to heighten the action. Pronounced “preem.”
psi: abbreviation for pounds per square inch. The unit of measure for tire inflation and air pressure in some suspensions.
pull, pull through: take a turn at the front.
pull off: to move to the side after riding in the lead so that another rider can come to the front.
quadriceps: the large muscle in front of the thigh, the strength of which helps determine a cyclist’s ability to pedal with power.
reach: the combined length of a bike’s top tube and stem, which determines the rider’s distance to the handlebar.
repetition: each hard effort in an interval workout. Also, one complete movement in a weight-training exercise; rep for short.
resistance trainer: a stationary training device into which the bike is clamped. Pedaling resistance increases with pedaling speed to simulate actual riding. Also known as an indoor, wind, fluid, or mag trainer (the last three names derived from the fan, liquid, or magnet that creates resistance on the rear wheel). Click here to view trainers.
road race: a mass-start race on pavement that goes from point to point, covers one large loop or is held on a circuit longer than those used for criteriums.
road rash: any skin abrasion resulting from a fall. Also called crash rash.
rollers: an indoor training device consisting of three long cylinders connected by belts. Both bike wheels roll on these cylinders so that balancing is much like actual riding.
saddle sores: skin problems in the crotch that develop from chafing caused by pedaling action. Sores can range from tender raw spots to boil-like lesions if infection occurs.
sag wagon: a motor vehicle that follows a group of riders, carrying equipment and lending assistance in the event of difficulty. Also called the broom wagon.
Schrader: an inner tube valve identical to those found on car tires. A tiny plunger in the center of its opening must be depressed for air to enter or exit.
seat stay: the thin frame tube that extends from the rear dropout to the top of the seat tube. There is a seatstay on each side of the rear wheel.
set: in intervals or weight training, a specific number of repetitions.
single track: a trail so narrow that two cyclists can’t easily ride side by side, which makes passing difficult or impossible.
sit on a wheel: to ride in someone’s draft.
slipstream: the pocket of calmer air behind a moving rider. Also called the draft.
soft-pedal: to rotate the pedals without actually applying power.
soigneurs: From the French verb meaning “to take care of”. The role traditionally involves preparing food for the riders, driving the team’s spare vehicles and providing massages.
spin: to pedal at high cadence.
stage race: a multi-day event consisting of various types of races. The winner is the rider with the lowest elapsed time for all races (stages).
straight block: a cassette with cogs that increase in size in one-tooth increments.
team time trial (TTT): a race against the clock with two or more riders working together.
tempo: fast riding at a brisk cadence.
time trial (TT): a race against the clock in which individual riders start at set intervals and cannot give or receive a draft.
travel: in suspensions, the maximum distance a fork or rear shock can compress.
tubular: a lightweight tire that has its tube sewn inside the casing. Also called a sew-up. The tire is glued to the rim.
USA Cycling: the umbrella organization for American. bicycle racing. Affiliated with the UCI.
UCI: Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body of bicycle racing, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
velodrome: an oval banked track for bicycle racing.
v02 max – The highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and utilized during exercise by a person.
watt: a measurement of power produced. It tells how much force is applied to the pedals.
wheelie: to elevate the front wheel and ride on the rear wheel only.
wheel sucker: someone who drafts behind others but doesn’t take a pull.