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What’s the hardest thing about riding a bike? Talking about it.
If you can’t tell a sprocket from a Schrader or refer to every random bike part as a whatchamacallit, then it’s time for a quick lesson in cycling lingo.
Cycling packs a range of powerful benefits, from reducing your risk of illness to improving your heart health, lung fitness, and metabolism.
Short for aerodynamic, this adjective is used to describe gear (bike frames, helmets, and wheels) 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.
This term refers to a female athlete over 165 pounds (according to official USA Triathlon Competitive Rules). This weight class is most often found in triathlon, but also appears in mountain biking and even running races.
The purpose of the division is to encourage participation and even the playing field, since cycling while carrying more weight is harder, but also provides a slight advantage when going downhill.
This sudden attempt to pull ahead from a rider or group of riders is also known as a breakaway. This is a tactic most commonly used in racing.
Beater (or clunker bike)
Usually, this is a retired bike that’s seen better days but is still capable of getting you around. Beaters are a great low-investment option for commuting in an urban area.
These are cycling shorts that have a bib or suspenders (like overalls) instead of an elastic waistband. Most cyclists prefer bib shorts, since an elastic band can cause discomfort or chafe when you’re in the bent-over cycling position.
The downside for women is having to strip down when nature calls. Fortunately, many brands are updating the classic design with new features like adjustable straps or a clasp in the back for easier bathroom breaks.
Sometimes called randonnée (French for “excursion”) or brevet, it’s a form of long-distance cycling where you load everything you need on your bike frame. Think of it like packing your car’s trunk for a weekend getaway — minus the car.
An abbreviation for bicycle motocross, BMX was originally used as a gateway to get kids into motocross, but blew up into its own sport. BMX bikes are highly specialized, compact (designed around 20-inch wheels), and used for dirt track racing or freestyle tricks.
Also known as “hitting the wall,” it means you’ve run out of energy due to glycogen depletion. Glycogen is the fuel that’s stored in your muscles. No glycogen, no pedal power.
Endurance athletes who skimp on food or hydration often bonk and need rest, H2O, and high-carb foods to recover. Side effects vary but can be anything from muscle cramping to mental fogginess.
These are the things that make you stop. Variations include:
- Rim brakes. These squeeze the rim of the wheel to slow.
- Disc brakes. These sit at the center of the wheel and stop the bike by squeezing a brake pad against a rotor mounted around the wheel hub. The left brake stops the front tire on rim and discs breaks, and the right brake stops the rear tire.
To stop, squeeze both brakes evenly. To slow, “feather” them by gently pulling and releasing repeatedly to “scrub” your speed. Never squeeze the left brake alone unless front flipping over the handlebars is your thing.
This is 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. Looks rad, +20 cool points for you.
This is the pedaling rate or the number of revolutions per minute (RPM). The jury’s still out on the ideal cadence for maximum efficiency, but cadence tends to scale with how much power you’re able to put out.
Nope, not a throwback mixtape from the ’80s. The 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 your needs.
This is a 100-mile ride or race. A metric century, or 100 kilometers (km), is just over 62 miles (62.137 miles, to be exact).
This is a loop of roller links that transfers power from the pedals to the rear wheel to propel the bike forward. If you drop your chain (i.e., if your chain slides off the gears), it’s easy to put back on, but be prepared to get your hands dirty. Chain lubricant will keep your chain in tip-top shape.
These circular metal discs with teeth are closest to the front wheel and next to the pedals. Together they make up the crankset, which is rotated by the crank arms. Your bike can have one, two, or three chainrings depending on the bike or type of riding you do.
This refers to the grease mark some new cyclists get on their legs from accidentally bumping the chain. If this happens to you, NBD. Some dish soap or eye makeup remover will easily take care of the temporary tat.
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 chafing and saddle sores. (Yeah, ouch.)
Chasers (or a chase group)
Nope, not a swig to wash down a shot. Chasers are riders, usually in a race, who crank away to try to catch a lead rider ahead of them.
Outdoors, this is an actual hill or mountain. Indoors, it’s when you crank up the resistance to simulate one.
This standard tire design 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), but they can be found on all kinds of bikes.
This type of pedal locks into the cleat of special cycling shoes for better power transfer when pedaling. This can be confusing because your shoes actually do clip (or lock) into the pedal.
Cyclists used to use toe clips (little cages that go over your toes), so when ski and cycling brand LOOK invented the first pedal that didn’t use toe clips, they decided to go with the term “clipless.”
This is a male athlete over 220 pounds (according to official USA Triathlon Competitive Rules). This weight class (like Athena) is most often found in races such as triathlon, but also pops up in mountain biking and even running.
The purpose of this division is to encourage participation and even the playing field, since carrying more weight while cycling can be harder, but also provides a slight advantage when going downhill.
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.
This is a bike used for commuting or getting from point A to B in an urban area, sometimes called a town bike or city bike.
Basically, this is when you lean your bike to “steer” around a curve.
Crank (or crankarm)
This arm connects the pedals to the chainrings.
Criterium (or crit)
This short cycling race on city streets typically lasts less than an hour and covers 5 km or fewer.
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 realize you’re doing it, simply adjust your gears.
These shoes with a stiff sole and a cleat lock into special bike pedals, allowing for a more efficient transfer of power. You can wear these on bicycles or in indoor cycling classes. Riders who don’t want to commit can opt for sneakers and toe cages (or toe straps) as a totally reasonable alternative.
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. Think of it as a happy medium between road and mountain biking.
This involves 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.”
Say it with us: de-rail-yur. This mechanism moves the chain from gear to gear whenever you shift. Depending on your bike, you may have zero, one, or two derailleurs. On most road bikes, there is a derailleur in front for the chainrings and one in the rear for the cassette.
This mountain biking takes place mostly on steep courses or off-season ski slopes. When referred to in indoor cycling classes, it means lowering your resistance to simulate going down a hill.
This is the entire mechanical system that converts pedaling 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. Zoom zoom.
These are the lower curved portions 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.
This refers to when a cyclist flips over the handlebars, end over end.
This is a popped tire. But don’t fret: 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.
In an indoor cycling class, a flat is a simulation of a flat road, which has some resistance but not as much as a climb.
The frame is the bike’s backbone or the geometrical tubing connecting its parts. Often hollow and made of lightweight material, frames come in all different shapes and sizes. Your bike’s frame should fit you properly for efficient energy use, pedaling posture, and comfort.
This semicircle guard 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)
This single-speed bike, often with no brakes, can’t freewheel (or coast). This means that whenever the bike is moving, your legs are also moving, so you need to pedal backward to stop.
Nope, not the one you eat with. The fork is the part of the bicycle that holds the front wheel. Try eating with that!
Road bikes typically have two sets of these metal disks with teeth, one in the front (chainrings) and one in the back (cassette).
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 3 weeks long and involve back-to-back days in the saddle with a mix of individual and team time trials, mountain climbs, and sprints totaling more than 3,000 km (that’s more than 2,000 miles!).
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.
This is pedaling hard in the big gears, which have the greatest resistance and pack the most power. A hammerfest is a long, grueling session of hammering or “big ringing it,” sometimes when you’re battling a strong headwind.
This is when you’re riding behind someone and you let your front wheel creep up on the back wheel of their bike. This is a super dangerous move since the other person can’t see what you’re doing. If they swerve unexpectedly, you could crash.
This ball bearing system (commonly hidden inside the head tube) allows your handlebars to move so you can steer the front end.
This center cylinder of a bicycle wheel allows the wheel to rotate around one point.
OK, plenty of athletes wear jerseys, but in cycling, they’re a bit different. Cyclists wear zip-up jerseys that wick away sweat and often have pockets on the back to hold essential supplies. Successful pros can even earn special jerseys as trophies.
In the Tour de France, the four most well-known jerseys are the coveted 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 the greatest number of stage points for sprinting), and the white jersey (for the best young rider under age 25).
Another impressive piece of swag is the rainbow jersey, worn by the reigning world champion.
Just riding along — until something goes wrong. Techs and wrenches (bike mechanics) hear the same old fishy story when a beat-up bike comes in for repairs: “Oh, I was just riding along… then I hit a pothole and my bike fell apart!” Uh-huh.
This cycling outfit includes shorts or bibs, a jersey, and even socks, shoes, and a cap. Many athletes like to dress to impress, and cyclists are no exception. The truly committed go matchy-matchy and coordinate with their bikes too. Because why the heck not?
The local bike shop (LBS) is where you’ll buy a new bike and bring it in for maintenance from time to time. Don’t order bike parts online — support your LBS.
This is your helmet. Cover your cranium. Mind your mind. Don’t neglect your noggin. However you want to say it, make sure to wear a helmet. It’s a cyclist’s most important piece of gear.
This is one of the two major clipless pedal styles, inspired by the brand (LOOK) that invented clipless pedals. They require a set of matching shoe cleats, which pop out significantly from the sole of the cycling shoe.
LSDs are quite the trip — just not that kind of trip! 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.
Lubricant keeps moving parts moving. Bikes need TLC too, so don’t forget the lube.
This bicycle is designed to be ridden off-road on mountainous terrain and trails. Mountain bikes come in all different shapes and styles and feature suspension to absorb rocky terrain. Suspension on the front fork only is called “hardtail,” while “full or dual suspension” is on both the front and rear.
You can attach this basket, bag, box, or container to your bicycle to carry cargo.
This is the largest pack of riders in a road race, also called a bunch or pack. Why stick together? Riding in a pack allows cyclists to take advantage of drafting, saving them some much-needed energy during long races.
This refers to when you get a flat tire from the tube inside the tire getting stuck between the rubber tire and the metal rim and punctures.
The best way to avoid a pinch flat
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.
This style of valve is commonly found on high-pressure tubes, like the ones used on road bikes. An easy way to remember the difference between Presta and Schrader: You “press” a Presta to release the air.
This stands for 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.
This means 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 getting any benefits 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.
Quick release (QR)
This bolt and cam lever allows cyclists to manually adjust the saddle height or remove the wheels from the bike. Unhinge and twist to open the QR when needed.
Often referred to during indoor cycling classes (“Take your resistance up a full turn!”), resistance is the amount of opposing force put on the wheel of a stationary bike. The higher the resistance, the harder it is to pedal. The resistance knob is typically located below the handlebars. Pro tip: Press it in to stop the wheel of the bike.
These are the hoop portions of the wheels that 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.
This bike is designed specifically for road riding. Made of carbon fiber, titanium, steel, aluminum, or an alloy, these bikes come in a range of shapes and sizes to fit the needs and body of the rider. Unlike your average bicycle, it is often more lightweight, has extra gear combinations, and features tires that are narrow, inflated at high pressures, and smooth.
All these features make a road bike fit for speed.
This is a nickname for a dedicated road cyclist.
You get these scrapes and brush burns from crashing on the road. To avoid hitting the pavement, always be mindful of traffic and road conditions, and never ride without your helmet. (Duh.)
Not to be confused with wheels, tires are just the rubber portion of the wheel. Road tires are typically very narrow and smooth for maximum speed, unlike the big, knobby ones you find on mountain bikes.
This stands for revolutions per minute. See “cadence.”
Run it out
Often heard during indoor cycling classes, this cue prompts you to rise out of the saddle to position 2, which somewhat simulates running in place.
This is another name for the bike seat, where your butt goes while your legs spin away. Saddles get a bad rap for being uncomfortable, but finding the right one for you is key — what works for your friend might not work for your rear end.
First, consider the type of riding you’ll be doing. Then visit your LBS. Some have special pads that you sit on to measure your sit bone width to find the right size. Ask if you can ride before you buy to test out different styles and sizes.
This is 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, or unwanted moisture from an unexpected rain shower can cause sores on your nether regions — a true pain in the butt.
Prevent them by applying a chamois cream before you get rolling.
You’ll find this valve on most tires (including car tires). It’s used to inflate the tube within. Use your bike pump to reach the desired PSI (recommendations should be listed along the rim close to the spoke nipples).
This is transitioning from one gear to another, allowing you to maintain a constant cadence 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. Cyclists spend most of their time shifting the rear gears in search of their cadence sweet spot.
This type of bike has a single gear ratio (just one cog on the rear wheel) and the ability to freewheel or coast.
This is the pocket of air behind a cyclist or vehicle that breaks the wind resistance. See “drafting.”
Short for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, this is a style of pedal and cleat that are smaller than LOOK style and easier to walk in, since the cleat doesn’t jut out from the shoe as much. They’re often used for mountain biking or cyclocross, where dismounting your bike is more common, but they also work on road bikes.
These wire rods connect the center of the wheel or hub to the outer edge or rim.
Cycling without a steed is like horseback riding without a horse. While this steed, or bicycle, doesn’t neigh, it does roll from point A to point B with a little push from the legs.
This component on a bicycle connects the handlebars to the steerer tube.
Time trial (TT)
This is a road race against the clock. This style of racing can be done alone (individual) or with a team, and features aerodynamic bikes, helmets, and skinsuits. Some triathletes use TT bikes to reserve energy during the bike leg of a race.
This wheel system involves a clincher tire 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.
This racing-specific 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.
Totally tubular, man.
This is a unit of measurement for power, or the rate at which energy is used over time. The more oomph applied to the pedals, the greater the wattage. A more common cycling unit of measurement is watts per kilograms (or watts/Kg). This takes the power to weight ratio of a rider into consideration.
This bicycle trick involves lifting the front wheel off the ground, finding a balance point, and pedaling to keep the wheel up and move forward — kind of like riding a unicycle.
Don’t let the lingo keep you from that #cyclinglife. Whether you’re an aero legend popping wheelies, or simply an enthusiastic commuter heaving a beater around town to reduce your carbon footprint, this quick and easy guide should make your journey less intimidating.
Now that you’re up on this info, are you wondering how cycling compares to plain ol’ running? We took a look.