A List of Common Terminology to Decipher the Sometimes Arcane Patois of Road Cycling
Ever wonder what cyclists are talking about when they start throwing around weird slang? Here’s a bicycling dictionary for you, with definitions of the most common phrases and words related to cycling.
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: an aggressive, high-speed jump away from other riders.
audax: sometimes uses as a synonym for randonneur. More formally, audax cycling is when a group rides a randonnee in unison at a steady pace of about 22 kph.
balaclava: a thin hood that covers the head and neck with an opening for the face. It’s worn under the helmet to prevent heat loss in cold or wet conditions.
bead: in tires, the edge along each side’s inner circumference that fits into the rim.
blocking: legally impeding the progress of opposing riders to allow teammates a better chance of success.
blood glucose: a sugar, glucose is the only fuel that can be used by the brain.
blow up: to suddenly be unable to continue at the required pace due to overexertion.
bonk: a state of severe exhaustion caused mainly by the depletion of glycogen in the muscles because the rider has failed to eat or drink enough. Once it occurs, rest and high-carbohydrate foods are necessary for recovery.
boot: a small piece of material used inside a tire to cover a cut in the tread or sidewall. Without it, the tube will push through and blow out.
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.
break, breakaway: a rider or group of riders that has escaped the pack.
brevet: a long-distance event used to qualifying riders for major randonnees such as Paris-Brest-Paris and Boston-Montreal-Boston. The typical brevet series has rides of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km. Pronounced “brevay.”
bridge, bridge a gap: to catch a rider or group that has opened a lead.
bunch: the main cluster of riders in a race. Also called the group, pack, field or peloton.
bunny hop: a way to ride over obstacles such as rocks or logs in which both wheels leave the ground.
burning matches: Just like there are only so many matches in a pack, a cyclist can only give a certain number of hard efforts in a ride before he or she is exhausted and “hits the wall.”
cadence: the number of times during one minute that a pedal stroke is completed. Also called pedal rpm.
carbohydrate: in the diet it is broken down to glucose, the body’s principal energy source, through digestion and metabolism. It is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Carbo can be simple (sugars) or complex (bread, pasta, grains, fruits, vegetables), which contains additional nutrients. One gram of carbohydrate supplies four calories.
cardiovascular: pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.
cassette: the set of gear cogs on the rear hub. Also called a freewheel, cluster or block.
catch air: when both wheels leave the ground, usually because of a rise or dip in the riding surface.
categories: the division of racers based on ability and/or experience.
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.
chasers: those who are trying to catch a group or a lead rider.
chondromalacia: a serious knee injury in which there is disintegration of cartilage surfaces due to improper tracking of the kneecap. Symptoms start with deep knee pain and a crunching sensation during bending.
circuit: a course that is ridden two or more times to compose the race.
circuit training: a weight training technique in which you move rapidly from exercise to exercise without rest.
cleat: a metal or plastic fitting on the sole of a cycling shoe that engages the pedal.
clincher: a conventional tire with a separate inner tube.
clydesdale: a large rider.
cog: a sprocket on the rear wheel’s cassette or freewheel.
contact patch: the portion of a tire in touch with the ground.
corncob: a cassette in which each cog is only one tooth larger than the previous one. Also called a straight block.
criterium: a mass-start race covering numerous laps of a course that is normally about one mile or less in length.
crosstraining: combining sports for mental refreshment and physical conditioning, especially during cycling’s off-season.
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.
downshift: to shift to a lower gear, i.e. a larger cog or smaller chainring.
drafting: riding closely behind another rider to take advantage of the windbreak (slipstream) and use about 20 percent less energy. Also called sitting in or wheelsucking.
drivetrain: the components directly involved with making the rear wheel turn, i.e. the chain, crankset and cassette. Also called the power train.
dropout: on a bike frame, the slots into which the front and rear wheel axles fit.
drops: the lower part of a down-turned handlebar typically found on a road bike. The curved portions are called the hooks.
echelon: a form of paceline in which the riders angle off behind each other to get maximum draft in a crosswind.
elastomer: a compressible, rubber-like material used to absorb shock in some suspension systems.
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.
ergometer: a stationary, bicycle-like device with adjustable pedal resistance used in physiological testing or for indoor training.
fartlek: a Swedish word meaning “speed play,” it is a training technique based on unstructured changes in pace and intensity. It can be used instead of timed or measured interval training.
fat: in the diet it is the most concentrated source of food energy, supplying nine calories per gram. Stored fat provides about half the energy required for low-intensity exercise.
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.
full tuck: an extremely crouched position used for maximum speed on descents.
general classification: the overall standings in a stage race. Often referred to as GC.
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.
gorp: good ol’ raisins and peanuts, a high-energy mix for nibbling during rides. Can also include nuts, seeds, M&Ms, granola, etc.
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.
half wheeler: a rider who, when riding side by side, keeps his front wheel just a little bit ahead of the other rider and never lets the other rider catch up and ride evenly.
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.
hitting the wall: synonymous with bonking, where you have run out of glycogen stores and are unable to continue at an endurance pace because you have not had enough to eat or drink.
hybrid: a bike that combines features of road and mountain bikes. Also called a cross bike.
intervals: a structured method of training that alternates brief, hard efforts with short periods of easier riding for partial recovery.
jam: a period of hard, fast riding.
jump: a quick, hard acceleration.
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.
LSD: long, steady distance. A training technique that requires a firm aerobic pace for at least two hours.
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).
minuteman: in a time trial, the rider who is one place in front of you in the starting order. So called because in most TTs riders start on one-minute intervals.
motorpace: to ride behind a motorcycle or other vehicle that breaks the wind.
off the back: describes one or more riders who have failed to keep pace with the main group. Also referred to as OTB.
orthotics: custom-made supports worn in shoes to help neutralize biomechanical imbalances in the feet or legs.
overgear: using a gear ratio too big for the terrain or level of fitness.
overtraining: deep-seated fatigue, both physical and mental, causedby training at an intensity or volume too great for adaptation.
oxygen debt: the amount of oxygen that must be consumed to pay back the deficit incurred by anaerobic work.
paceline: 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. See: Lance Armstrong in 2001 Tour de France.
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.
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.”
protein: in the diet it is required for tissue growth and repair. Composed of structural units called amino acids. Protein is not a significant energy source unless not enough calories and carbohydrate are consumed. One gram of protein equals four calories.
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.
pusher: a rider who pedals in a large gear at a relatively slow cadence, relying on the gear size for speed.
quadriceps: the large muscle in front of the thigh, the strength of which helps determine a cyclist’s ability to pedal with power.
RAAM: the Race Across America, contested from the west coast to the east every year since 1982.
randonnee: a long-distance event in which riders must navigate a prescribed course while passing through intermediate checkpoints within certain time limits.
randonneur: a rider who participates in randonnees.
Randonneurs USA: the event-sanctioning, record-keeping and informational organization for American randonneurs.
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 actualriding. 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).
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.
saddle time: time spent cycling.
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.
seatstay: 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.
singletrack: 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.
slingshot: to ride up behind another rider with help from his draft, then use the momentum to sprint past.
slipstream: the pocket of calmer air behind a moving rider. Also called the draft.
snakebite: see pinch flat.
snap: the ability to accelerate quickly.
soft-pedal: to rotate the pedals without actually applying power.
speed: the ability to accelerate quickly and maintain a very fast cadence for brief periods.
speedwork: a general term for intervals and other high-velocity training, such as sprints, time trials and motorpacing.
spin: to pedal at high cadence.
spinner: a rider who pedals in a moderate gear at a relatively fast cadence, relying on pedal rpm for speed.
squirrel: a nervous or unstable rider who can’t be trusted to maintain a steady line.
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.
suppleness: a quality of highly conditioned leg muscles that allows a rider to pedal at high cadence with smoothness and power. Also known by the French term, souplesse.
take a flyer: to suddenly sprint away from a group.
team time trial (TTT): a race against the clock with two or more riders working together.
tempo: fast riding at a brisk cadence.
throw the bike: a racing technique in which a rider thrusts the bike ahead of his or her body at the finish line, gaining several inches in hopes of winning a close sprint.
time trial (TT): a race against the clock in which individual riders start at set intervals and cannot give or receive a draft.
tops: the partof a drop handlebar between the stem and the brake levers.
training effect: the result of exercise done with an intensity and duration sufficient to bring about positive physiological changes.
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.
tubeless: a tire that attaches to the wheel and doesn’t require a tube because it airtight when you add a liquid sealant.
turkey: an unskilled cyclist.
turnaround: the point where the riders reverse direction on an out-and-back time trial course.
ultra cycling: used to describe the side of the sport involving the longest endurance events. Also called ultramarathon.
Ultramarathon Cycling Association: the event-sanctioning, record-keeping and informational organization for ultra riders.
unweight: the act of momentarily lightening the bike through a combination of body movement and position. It’s integral to jumping over things such as potholes or railroad tracks.
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.
upshift: to shift to a higher gear, i.e. a smaller cog or larger chainring.
USCF: U.S. Cycling Federation, the organization that governs amateur road, cyclocross, and track racing in America. A division of USA Cycling.
USPRO: U.S. Professional Racing Organization, the organization in charge of professional bicycle racing in America. A division of USA Cycling.
velodrome: an oval banked track for bicycle racing.
VO: the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed during all-out exertion. This is a key indicator of a person’s potential in cycling and other aerobic sports. It’s largely genetically determined but can be improved somewhat by training.
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.
wheelsucker: someone who drafts behind others but doesn’t take a pull.
windchill: the effect of air moving across the skin, making the temperature seem colder than it actually is. A cyclist creates a windchill even on a calm day, a situation that must be considered when dressing for winter rides.
wind up: steady acceleration to an all-out effort.
yard sale: a crash that leaves all your gear scattered around you on the ground, as if for sale.