A to Z Guide to Common Cycling Terms
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Wondering what the heck your cycling friends are saying? Not to worry! I’m primarily a mountain biker, so some cycling terms go right over my head. That’s why I’ve put together this A to Z guide to help clear up any confusion. There’s a good chance you’ve heard some of the following terms floating around, but a lot of them may be new to you (as they were to me before researching this post).
Hopefully, this guide will help clear up any confusion and help make you sound like an expert when chatting with other cyclists. So whether you’re just getting into cycling or have been at it for years, read on to learn more about these common cycling terms.
Learn the ins and outs of cycling lingo with this A to Z guide to cycling terms
A cycling term from the Triathalon world that refers to a female athlete weighing more than 150 pounds and/or 5’10”. This isn’t meant to be derogatory in any way, but rather implies that the person is strong and powerful like the Greek Goddess Athena. (See also Clydesdale).
When a cyclist ramps up power and speed in an effort to break away from a group or another cyclist, typically in a race.
A type of bike that is designed for casual pedaling. They typically have low seats and high handlebars, so the rider is sitting up straight.
Cycling shorts that have suspenders (like overalls). Many cyclists prefer bibs over shorts because they’re more comfortable to ride in for long distances.
When a cyclist runs out of energy and literally cannot pedal anymore. This usually happens because they didn’t eat or drink enough throughout their ride. Eat your carbs!
Something welded onto the frame of a bike such as water bottle rack mounts, derailleur hangers, etc…
Cadence is the number of times your pedals make one revolution per minute. It tends to scale with how much power you’re able to put out. Cadences can range from about 30 RPM for a beginner who’s just starting out all the way up through 60+ RPM for elite cyclists seeking maximum efficiency!
A 100-mile bike ride or race.
When a rider experiences friction between their skin, clothing, and saddle. Chafing can range from a minor inconvenience to full-on open wounds. (See also saddle sores).
When the chain gets stuck to the chainring teeth as you downshift, which causes it to get jammed between the small ring and the frame.
Chamois (or shammies)
Cycling shorts that have a padded liner to help protect your derriere from chafing or discomfort.
Do not wear underwear under your chamois. This can cause chafing and is just a no-no in the cycling world.
Riders who are trying to catch up to a group or the leader
A type of pedal system that requires a cyclist to clip their shoes into their pedals via a cleat on the sole of their cycling shoe. When ‘clipped in’ a cyclist is attached to their bike and must ‘clip out’ in order to put their feet down or dismount.
Most cyclists ride with clipless pedals because they provide better efficiency when pedaling.
A cycling term from the Triathalon world that refers to a male athlete weighing over 200 pounds and/or over 6 feet tall. This isn’t meant to be derogatory in any way, but rather implies that the person is strong and athletic like a Clydesdale horse. (See also Athena).
Credit Card Touring
Long-distance biking with a credit card as opposed to camping or ‘roughing it’.
Criterium (or crit)
A style of racing that takes place on closed courses with four or fewer corners. The racers do pre-determined amounts for laps, usually between 30 minutes and 90 minutes in duration.
When the bike chain stretches diagonally across the drivetrain. This happens when the chain is on the large (easiest) ring in the front and the small (hardest) rings in the back or vice versa.
Cross-chaining is not ideal because it can cause the chain to rub and make grinding noises.
A type of off-road racing that has cyclists compete through an obstacle course that can include steep hike-a-bike hills, sandpits, mud pits, fences, and more.
Cyclocross bikes look very similar to road bikes except they have slightly wider and knobbier tires. Cyclocross is basically a mix between road riding and cross-country mountain biking.
A bike computer that measures stats like mileage, sometimes GPS, elevation gain/loss, etc…
A cyclist who rides in support of a professional racer by either pacing or creating a slipstream for them to draft in.
When a rider or group of riders position themselves behind another rider or group of riders so that they can ‘draft’ behind them. The riders in front block the wind so that the riders behind have an easier time pedaling.
Drafting can result in up to 30% less energy expenditure.
Most road bikes have drop-bar handlebars that allow for different hand and body positions on the bike. When the rider’s hands are down on the lower curved portions of the handlebars, their body position is more aerodynamic.
When riders form a single line behind one another to receive maximum protection from the wind. (See also peloton).
A French term for one stage of a stage race.
A designated tent or stop along a route race where riders can fuel up on snacks and hydration.
Also known as fixed-gear bikes, these types of bikes only have one gear, usually no brakes, and a drivetrain that allows you to pedal backward. Some track racing bikes are fixed-gear bikes.
Fastest Known Time. When cyclists attempt to be the fastest rider on a predetermined route.
A super compact position riders use on downhills when trying to maintain maximum speed
The ratio between your front and rear gears. This takes into account the number of cogs on the cassette, the number of front chainrings, and the number of teeth on each cog or ring. Some gear ratios are designed for steady pedaling while others are designed for fast sprinting.
A bike that is painted white and chained to a signpost, tree, or another marker. These bikes commemorate a cyclist that was killed by a vehicle.
The easiest gear on a bike. This is the largest chainring on the rear cassette and the smallest chainring in the front.
To ride strongly and aggressively in a hard gear
The longest distance cycled in one hour. The record is currently held by Joscelin Lowden (W) at 48.405km and Victor Campenaerts (M) at 55.089 km.
The ‘outfit’ a cyclist wears. A kit typically refers to a cycling jersey and shorts, but can also include socks, helmet, gloves, and other pieces of gear that a cyclist wears.
For many cyclists, their ‘kit’ is a big deal.
Local bike shop
Not that LSD… A Long, steady distance, which is a training technique that requires a strong aerobic pace lasting at least two hours.
A bag filled with food and nutrition that is distributed at a feed zone.
No Drop Ride
A group ride where the group waits for all riders. No rider will be left behind.
A cyclist that rides without a helmet.
When a cyclist rides at a steady, usually predetermined, slower pace so that they can conserve energy for a stronger race finish.
A cyclist that rides aggressively on a bike path or recreational trail, typically without consideration to other cyclists or pedestrians.
The largest pack of riders in a race or ride. Riding in a peloton allows cyclists to draft behind one another, allowing them to save energy until they need it to break away from the pack. (See also drafting).
When a rider is at the front of a group or a peloton. When they’re ‘pulling’ they’re working the hardest because they aren’t getting any of the benefits of drafting.
Riders typically take turns pulling by riding in the front, then dropping to the back – much like how Canada geese fly in a V formation.
This strategy works especially well on long rides or when there is a strong headwind.
The most difficult stage of a stage race. It usually involves the most elevation gain.
A type of bicycle design that has a rider seated with legs pedaling out in front rather than seated upright.
A die-hard road cyclist.
The abrasions and cuts cyclists get if they crash on pavement. Road rashes are no fun and can hurt like h*ll.
Stands for revolutions per minute. (See also cadence).
Nasty sores or even abscesses that can be caused by friction between your skin and the saddle. Newer riders or cyclists that have poor-fitting saddles tend to suffer more from saddle sores and chafing.
Wearing chamois and using chamois cream can help prevent saddle sores. That being said, pretty much every cyclist will experience chafing and saddle sores at some point.
Time spent in the saddle (i.e. riding).
A vehicle that follows a rider or group of riders to offer support. In racing, the sag wagon typically picks up riders unable to finish.
schwag or swag
Free goodies that are often given out at races and events.
A bike that only has one gear. Some cyclists think this is fun.
To ride up behind another rider and use their slipstream to then sprint past them.
The pocket of air that is created behind another cyclist or a vehicle. (See also drafting and peloton).
Pedaling fast in a low gear. This is more efficient and less energy-intense than riding at a slower cadence in a higher gear.
A sudden burst of speed on the bike.
A cycling term for a rider who is all over the road and can’t maintain a straight line when riding in a group.
A bicycle designed for two people.
Time trial (TT)
A race against the clock. This can be done as an individual race or in a group. Many time trial racers do everything they can to become more aerodynamic like tweaking body position, using aerodynamic helmets, and even wearing skin suits to minimize any drag.
An oval track with slanted walls used by track racers.
A unit of measurement of power. The more intensity a cyclist deploys, the greater the wattage output. The greater the wattage output, the faster a cyclist goes.
Someone who drafts behind the pack, but doesn’t take a turn out front. It’s not good to be known as a wheelsucker.
A state of mind where nothing else exists except you and the bike.
What other cycling terms can you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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