A Glossary Of 73 Cycling Terms You Need To Know

When you're riding with other cyclists or watching an event on TV, you might hear one or two cycling terms you’re not familiar with. But fear not, after reading this article, you’ll be the one reciting random lingo.

From ‘brain bucket’ to ‘turkey’, there’s an array of interesting cycling terms out there. We’ve gone through the alphabet and chosen 73 of them.

Here’s our glossary of cycling terms you need to know. Are you familiar with any of these?

(NB. We’ve assumed that you know what the saddle, frame and brakes are, so these aren’t included in our article. We’ve chosen some lesser-known cycling terms, so you can say you learnt something new today!)

 

A

Aerodynamic

An adjective used to describe any piece of cycling equipment that gives you as little wind resistance as possible. For example, the design of most bike frames, helmets, and wheels helps you glide through the wind; hence they’re aerodynamic. Whilst aerodynamic equipment is not essential for the average cyclist, it provides a huge advantage in elite races like the Tour de France.  

 

Attack

A sudden attempt to break away from another rider or group of riders you’re alongside by quickly accelerating. Cyclists can employ a variety of attacking strategies, depending on the type of race they’re in. Here are some classic attacks which will take your breath away.

Autobus

An autobus, also known as a 'gruppetto' in Italian, is a group of cyclists that rides together in the mountain stages of a race. The group’s sole purpose is making the time cut that will allow them to ride the following day. These cyclists ride for the benefit of their team rather than to win the race.

 

B

Bead

The wire around the inside of your bike’s tyres that holds the tyre onto the rim. High-performance, expensive bikes featuring lightweight tyres usually contain beads made of Kevlar, whereas standard, less expensive bikes will contain beads made of steel.

 

Block

A vital part of competitive cycling. When cyclists make a block, they sit at the front of a group or peloton and ride at a slow tempo. Blocking is used to control the chasing pack’s speed, and a cyclist will often employ this tactic to enable one of their teammates to break away. This piece talks about the art of blocking.

 

Blowing up

When your body goes into oxygen debt and runs out of energy during a bike ride. You’ve reached an unsustainable anaerobic state and can’t keep up the pace you’ve been riding at. Therefore, you need to either slow down or temporarily stop riding to restore your energy levels.

 

Brain bucket

An idiom used to refer to a cycling helmet.

 

Breakaway

The result of an attack. One cyclist, or a group of cyclists, escapes from the chasing pack and creates a gap for themselves. Here are some of the greatest breakaways in competitive cycling history.

 

C

Cadence

The rate at which a cyclist pedals. Cadence is usually calculated in revolutions per minute (RPM) and measures a cyclist’s efficiency and fitness levels. Lance Armstrong rode at an average cadence of around 110 RPM, while amateur cyclists will usually achieve somewhere in the region of 60 RPM. When training, some cyclists can achieve a cadence of well over 200 RPM – which is almost nauseating to watch!

 

Cassette

This is one of many cycling terms to pay homage to pop culture. The cassette is the set of sprockets (the small mechanical wheels which rotate and engage with the chain links) located on your bike’s rear wheel. Think of the sprockets rotating as the teeth of a tape reel does on a cassette when it’s playing. That’s one easy way to help you remember this term.

 

Chain suck

While we’re on the subject of teeth, chain suck occurs when your bike’s chain fails to detach itself from the teeth of the chainring. Chain suck is typically caused by grease, grit, worn-out chainrings, or wet or muddy conditions. Here’s a video which explains chain suck in more detail and gives you some advice on how to avoid it.

 

Chamois (pronounced sham-wah)

The soft cushioning that sits in the crotch section of bike shorts. It’s designed to wick away moisture, support your sit bones, and prevent chafing, among other things.  Here’s a handy tip – don’t wear this with underwear if you want to avoid blisters, chafing, or saddle sores. (Yeah – a nice thought, right?)

 

Chasers

A group of riders who are trying to catch the race or stage leader in front of them.

 

Climb

The clue is in the name. When cycling outdoors, a climb is an ascent up a hill or mountain. When cycling indoors, you would increase your bike’s incline to simulate one. There are five types of outdoor climb:

Category 4: 250 to 500 feet in elevation gain
Category 3: 500 to 1,500 feet in elevation gain
Category 2: 1,500 to 3,000 feet in elevation gain
Category 1: 3,000 to 5,000 feet in elevation gain
Hors Catégorie (HC) or Above/Beyond Category: 5,000+ feet in elevation gain

 

Clincher

The most common form of tyre you will find in cycling. Its most notable features are:

• A U-shaped rim
• An inner tube which holds the air pumped into the tyre
• A bead that holds the tyre in place on the rim.

The latter feature is where this tyre gets its name from – these tyres ‘clinch’ to the wheel’s rim with a bead made of hard rubber.

 

D

Derailleur

A mechanism that moves the chain on your bike from one sprocket to another as you pedal. Racing bikes have both a front and rear derailleur. Incorrect derailleur adjustment could result in a crash, so check out this article from Cycling Weekly on how to adjust your rear and front derailleurs if you’re unsure.

 

Disc brakes

A form of braking mechanism which sits at the centre of your bike’s wheel. It works by squeezing a brake pad against a small rotor attached to the wheel hub. Disc brakes generate a serious amount of stopping power and are reliable in wet weather. However, they’re often quite heavy, so they will add weight to your bike and are expensive to replace. This video talks about the different types of disc brakes and how they work.

 

Domestique

Translating as ‘servant’ in French, a domestique is a cyclist whose role is to support and work for their teammates. They will never win the Tour de France or other such major competitions, but they play a vital role in helping their teammates to do so. A domestique will usually fulfil such duties as neutralising attacks that threaten their teammates, allowing their teammates to draft (see below) behind them to conserve energy, and retrieving food and water for their team.

 

Drafting

When a cyclist rides closely behind another rider to expend less energy than if they were riding against the wind. Drafting is also known as sitting in or wheel-sucking.

 

Drivetrain

The drivetrain, also called the power train, is the mechanical system of components that turn your pedalling power into forward movement. These components include the cassette, chain, pedals, derailleurs, and sprocket. Think of the drivetrain as the engine of your bike. 

 

Drops

The lower part of a down-turned handlebar which is typically found on a road bike. They are the parts of the handlebar that curve outward, and cyclists will use them to give themselves a more secure hold and fight wind resistance.

 

E

Echelon

A diagonal, staggered paceline of riders in a single-line formation. Each rider is positioned to the side of the rider ahead of them. Cyclists will ride in an echelon to save energy and achieve maximum efficiency when riding in a strong crosswind.

 

Endo

An endo can mean two things. It can refer to:

  1. A trick in which the rider lifts the back wheel into the air while keeping the front wheel grounded and applying brake pressure. This trick is also called a ‘front wheelie’.
  2. When a cyclist flips over the handlebars, end over end. Ouch. If you used this term in a sentence, you would say that ‘[insert name] endoed.’

 

F

Field sprint

A sprint towards the finish line from a large group of the main riders (or peloton) in a road race. This is quite a spectacle to witness first-hand.

 

Fishtail

Your bike ‘fishtails’ when the rear wheel locks up, causing your bike to skid or slide sideways. This happens when you apply the rear brakes too hard while riding on loose terrain.

 

Fixie

An informal term used to describe a fixed gear bike. If you’re not familiar with how a fixed gear bike operates, it doesn’t have a freewheel mechanism. As such, the golden rule when riding a fixie is don’t stop pedalling. If you do, the force and momentum in your wheels are enough to throw you over the handlebars. Check out cycling YouTuber Dave Noakes’ tips on how to ride a fixie below.

 

Flamme rouge

If you’re a half-decent French speaker, you’ll know what at least one of these words means. Yes, this term refers to something red – the red flag suspended over the road 1km from the finish line of a race to inform the riders that they’re approaching the end.

 

Fork

The part of a bike that holds the front wheel. A fork is turned via the handlebars whenever you steer your bike and is made up of a steerer tube, crown, fork legs, and dropout. This article explains more about how a fork works, the different types of forks, and their pros and cons when cycling.

 

Fred

A derisive term used by ‘serious’ cyclists towards people they deem not to conform to cycling norms. In essence, a ‘Fred’ is someone who doesn’t look like a conventional cyclist. They either:

  1. Spend obscene sums of money on their bike, accessories, and clothing (without being very good or understanding the rules).
  2. Don’t care much about cycling attire and look quite unfashionable.

Whichever way you look at it, a Fred stands out for all the wrong reasons. If you were referring to a female cyclist in this way, you’d call her a Doris (but maybe not to her face).

 

G

General Classification

The overall standings or timing splits in a multi-stage race. Ergo, the winner of a General Classification, or GC, is the overall winner of the race. In the Tour de France, the GC winner is awarded a yellow jersey, and in the Giro d’Italia they’re awarded a pink jersey.

 

Granny Gear

The lowest gear ratio on a bike, with the smallest chainring in the front and the largest in the back. You would use the Granny Gear when cycling up a very steep hill to avoid overexerting yourself. So, just like an actual Granny, this gear ratio will keep you on the straight and narrow.

 

H

Headset

The bearing system that connects the fork to the head tube (see below). It allows the fork to rotate within the head tube, which is essential for allowing you to steer. A road bike typically contains one of two types of headset – threaded or threadless. This video from Global Cycling Network explains more about what each type of headset does.

 

Head tube

The part of a bike’s tubular frame that holds the headset in place. The front fork steerer tube is mounted within the head tube. This Instagram post from CrossWorx Cycles visualises where the head tube is if you’re still not sure (it’s the green thing with the logo on it!).

 

Hybrid

A hybrid bike comes with mountain bike gears and controls and road bike size wheels. In a nutshell, you get the best of both worlds.

 

I

Individual Time Trial

A race that’s ridden alone. Riders are sent out at intervals to cover a specified distance on their own, and they’re riding against the clock because whichever rider covers that distance in the least amount of time wins the race. Relive the Individual Time Trial highlights from the 2015 Road World Championships below to see how it should be done.

 

Intervals

You’ve probably heard of this cycling term heard before. If you’re not familiar with it, an interval consists of a short, hard effort followed by a short period of easier riding to aide recovery. It’s a structured training method that can work wonders for your, speed power, and endurance – even 20-to-30 intervals are proven to VO2 max, burn fat, and enhance your general performance.

 

J

Jam

A period of hard, high-speed cycling, which can last for as long as you like. It’s completely unstructured and spontaneous. You might see a jam in a group ride if the pack decides to chase down another rider.

 

Jockey wheels

The two small plastic wheels located in the rear derailleur.

 

Jump

The start of a sprint. When a cyclist ‘jumps across’, they’ll quickly and aggressively accelerate their bike to gain a significant advantage over their opponents.

 

K

Kick

The final attack in a sprint. When a cyclist kicks, they accelerate quickly with a series of pedal strokes in a last-ditch attempt to pass the riders ahead of them.

 

King of the Mountain

The title given to the best climber in a road race. If a cyclist wins this coveted title, they’re awarded a distinctive polka dot jersey, or ‘maillot à pois’ as it’s otherwise known. As of 2021, the world record for most King of the Mountain titles is held by Richard Virenque of France – he won seven between 1994 and 2004.

 

L

Lanterne rouge

We now turn our attention from the King of the Mountain to the pauper in racing terms. The ‘lanterne rouge’ is the title given to a cyclist who finishes last a race. This title is derived from the French term ‘red lantern’, which refers to the lantern that used to hang on the caboose of railway carriages to indicate to conductors that the couplings hadn’t become disconnected. Believe it or not, winning the ‘lanterne rouge’ can be a decent payday. This article explains more.

 

LBS

A simple abbreviation for local bike shop. Your LBS is a small, independent retailer, which sells bikes that have often been assembled by the manufacturer before arrival. When you buy from an LBS, you know you’re getting a safe, good-quality bike that has been examined by a professional mechanic.

 

Leadout

A tactic used by individual cyclists and teams which involves setting up their teammate for a sprint. When a cyclist or group of cyclists perform a leadout, they’ll line up and set the pace. This strategy allows their teammate (the designated sprinter) to draft behind them and get a head start for an attack or sprint towards the finish line. There’s a real art to the leadout – positioning and timing is everything. This blog from Red Bull analyses the finer details.

 

M

Maglia rosa

The pink jersey worn by the current leader of the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) – the world’s second most prominent cycling race behind the Tour de France. This famous jersey is pink because this is the same colour as the paper that La Gazzetta dello Sport – the newspaper that founded Giro d’Italia – is printed on.

 

Magic spanner

This refers to the scenario whereby a mechanic in a support car appears to be making adjustments to a rider’s bike, but the reality is far different. What’s actually happening is that the rider is holding onto the car as it speeds up – so the mechanic’s support car is giving that rider a push to help them get back into the peloton. This term is so popular that there’s a book called Magic Spanner that was shortlisted for the Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020.

 

Metric century

A term used in the United Kingdom and United States to signify a 100-kilometer, or 62-mile bike ride – 62.1371 miles, to be exact.

 

Motorpace

A training technique that involves a cyclist drafting (or riding behind) a car or motorcycle. This technique aims to protect the rider from the wind blowing in their face and help them ride at higher speeds.

 

Mudguards

Another widely used cycling term that you may be familiar with. If not, mudguards are designed to stop water from deflecting from the wheels onto your bike’s body as you pedal. Known as ‘fenders’ in America, they’re best suited to wet and wintry conditions. This article from road.cc explains more about the functions of mudguards and looks at the 17 best models on the market. You can also watch the video below from Global Cycling Network for more background on mudguards.

 

N

Neo-pro

Used to describe a cyclist who is under the age of 25 and within the first two years of their professional contract.

 

O

Off the back

Used to describe a rider not being able to keep pace with the main group of riders or peloton (see below). If you’re ‘off the back’, you’re falling behind.

 

P

Paceline

A group of riders travelling closely together at high speed. Each rider will take their turn to be at the front before pulling off to the side and drifting to the back of the group. This strategy ensures that each rider saves energy. When you’re part of a paceline, you should stay about a foot from the rider in front of you. Referring back to an echelon (see above), this is a form of paceline.

 

Peloton

One of the most popular cycling terms around. French for ‘little ball’, the peloton is the main (or largest) group of riders in a road race. This group is also commonly referred to as the field, bunch, or pack. The rationale behind a peloton is very simple – as we’ve covered already in this article, staying close to other riders enables each cyclist to conserve much-needed energy for climbs, attacks, and sprints later on in the race.

 

Presta

A thin type of valve made from metal and is often found on road and higher-end mountain bikes. It contains a small lock nut at the top which needs to be unscrewed to add to, or release air from, the valve. A Presta valve is one of two types of valves you’ll typically find on bikes, the other being a Schrader valve, which we cover below. There’s much debate over which one is best suited to a bike – we’ll let you come to your own conclusion.

 

Prime

Pronounced ‘preem’, primes are intermediate sprints within a road or cross-country race, often with a prize at the end. This prize could be money, merchandise or points, depending on the race. As such, primes are aimed at encouraging more competitive riding. Companies will also sponsor primes to gain more publicity.

 

Pull

To ‘take a pull’ is to ride at the front of a paceline or peloton. It’s a strategy that’s sure to test your power and endurance to their limits, so you need to make sure you’re in peak condition if you want to ‘pull’ this off.

 

Q

Q-Factor

The horizontal width between your feet when they’re positioned on your bike’s pedals. A cyclist’s ideal Q-Factor is determined by their physiology – taller or broader riders will want a bigger Q-Factor, while smaller riders usually want a smaller Q-Factor. Here’s another video from YouTuber Francis Cade that covers Q-Factor in more detail.

 

Queen of the Mountain

The same as the King of the Mountain (see above). The only difference between the two terms is that this term (yep, you guessed it) applies to female rather than male cyclists.

 

Quick release

A device that holds the wheel on your bike. It also allows you to manually adjust saddle height or remove your bike’s wheels without needing to use tools. To find out more about this device, check out the video below.

 

R

Randonnée

Another cycling term with French origins. A randonée is a long-distance cross-country event in which riders navigate a prescribed course while passing through intermediate checkpoints. They ride to specific time limits, and this event lasts two to three days.

 

Road rash

As is the case with other terms included in this article, the clue is in the name. A road rash can be a cut, scratch, or graze caused by a fall or crash while cycling.

 

Roller

An indoor training device made up of three rolling cylinders. You place both bike wheels on these cylinders and pedal and steer, just like you would if you were riding outdoors. As you’ll see from the video below, a roller can be tricky to use if you’re a beginner. But once you get into the swing of things, it’s a sturdy piece of kit that’s perfect for improving your balance, skill, and core stability.

 

Rouleur

It seems we have a lot to thank the French for when it comes to cycling terms. A rouleur (or roller, to give this term its English meaning) is a cyclist who specialises in riding on both flat and rolling terrain – you would describe them as a great all-rounder. They can roll for hours. They’re powerful, well-organised and can fulfil a variety of important roles, like setting a high pace in the peloton. George Hincapie, Tom Boonen, and Johnny Hoogerland are all good examples of rouleurs.

 

RPM

A very common cycling term which is short for Revolutions Per Minute, i.e., the number of pedal strokes you complete for every minute you ride. If you want to calculate your RPM without needing to use an app or computer, simply set a timer for one minute and count the number of times your right foot reaches the bottom of your pedal stroke. See ‘Cadence’ above for more background on RPM.

 

S

SAG wagon

If a cyclist is up against it in a race, the SAG wagon is the ultimate saviour. SAG stands for support and gear, which gives you a clue as to the service a SAG wagon provides. It’s a support vehicle – be it a car, truck, or van – from which a team follows its riders, providing them with mechanical assistance, food, water, and emergency help if required. This article provides more information.

 

Schrader

We covered Presta valves above and explained how Schrader valves are a direct rival. A Schrader valve is a type of inner tube valve similar to what you’d find on car tyres. As you’ll see in the first photo of this article, a Schrader valve is wider than a Presta valve. Some cyclists see this feature as an advantage as it allows you to get a greater airflow into tubeless tyres. As explained, opinion is divided on which type of valve is best. A few opinion articles and YouTube videos should steer you in the right direction.

 

Soigneur

This term is French for ‘healer’ and is the cycling equivalent of a trainer. The soigneur (pronounced ‘swan-yea’) is a non-riding member of a team who supports the riders by providing transportation, supplies, food and services such as massages.

 

SPD

A Japanese multinational manufacturer of cycling components and a global powerhouse. The company’s sales make up an estimated 70 – 80% of the global bicycle component market by value. SPD is short for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, a style of clipless bike pedals from the manufacturer. These are most commonly used for mountain biking, but they’re also compatible with road bike shoes. There are multiple advantages of SPDs – they allow for short bursts of power, they improve foot stability, and they’re ideal for steep climbs.

 

Spokes

The thin metal rods that connect the centre of the wheel (or the wheel hub) to the rim. Spokes come in various sizes and are typically made of steel.

 

Stem

Also known as a ‘gooseneck’ or ‘tiller’, the stem is the part of a bike that attaches the handlebars to the steerer tube (as you’ll see from the video below). Stems are split into two types – ‘threadless’ and ‘quill’ – and they come in a variety of lengths, typically between 80 and 140mm for road bikes. However, 100 to 110mm is the most common length. Here are some tips on how to choose the right stem length for your bike

 

T

Tubular

A lightweight, supple, racing-specific tyre. This tyre’s tube is sewn inside the casing, which is why it’s also known as a ‘sew-up’. It only fits tubular-specific rims and has to be specially glued to them using an adhesive. The video below gives you the full lowdown on tubular, tubeless, and clincher tyres.

 

Turkey

A slang term for an unskilled or inexperienced cyclist.

 

V

Vélo

The French word for bike.

 

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