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Cycling Terms: A Layperson’s Dictionary

How many times have your hip biking friends asked you a question using a cycling term you didn’t fully understand? This glossary of common cycling terms is a way to be able to talk shop with the best of them. It is by no means comprehensive, but it includes some e common lingo used in the cycling world. If you can’t remember all these right away, don’t get your chamois in a bunch! Just stuff as many terms as you can in your panniers so you can brag with your buddies back in the sag wagon.

Cycling Terms - A Layman's Dictionary

  • Aero Bars—A type of handlebar common among triathletes. They allow riders to place much of their body weight on their forearms and to extend into a long tuck. While not common on touring bikes, aero bars offer the option of a different riding position, which can help on long hauls.
  • Bonk—To completely run out of energy or hit the wall. Typically characterized by a short temper and mood changes. Bonking is easily avoided by carrying simple sugars, such as energy gel sachets or a can of soda/pop , in your jersey pocket.
  • Bottom Bracket—The bearings that allow the crankset to spin smoothly. T
  • Braze-On—Anything welded to the frame of the bicycle, such as cable stays, brake posts, rack mounts and more.
  • Cables—These connect the levers and shifters to the brakes and derailleurs.
  • Cadence—The rate at which you turn the pedals.  Cadence is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), and most cycling computers measure this.

Backraoads Pro Tip


A higher cycling cadence can be easier on the knees.
  • Cages—Pedals with toe clips attached.
  • Calipers—Sometimes shorthand for brakes. These are the arms of the brakes, and they are connected to the brake pads, which contract, push against the rims and stop the bike.
  • Carbon/carbon fiber—A lightweight material used in frames and other bike components to reduce the weight of your bicycle.
  • Cassette—. The “gears” on the back wheel. If they need to be serviced or replaced, these can be removed.
  • Century—A 100-mile bike ride.
  • Chainline— The angle of the chain between the chainring and the cassette. A straighter chainline is better as there is less risk your chain will fall off while riding.
  • Chainring—The “gears” on the front of a bike which are attached to the crankarms and pedals.
  • Chainstay—The frame tube which extends from the bottom bracket shell  to the dropouts which attach to the wheels.
  • Chamois— Pronounced “shammy.” The material on the inside of biking shorts. This may be treated with a special cream to help prevent chafing and to kill bacteria. Underwear should not be worn between the skin and the chamois.
  • Clipless Pedals—A pedal system consisting of the pedal and a cleat. The cleat attaches to your cycling-specific shoe, allowing your shoe attach to the pedal. This offers direct connection between the bike and the “engine.” (That’s you!)
  • Cog—A single gear on the cassette or a lone rear gear on a single speed bicycle.
  • Components—All necessary machinery attached to the bike frame. The quality of your components affects the quality of your ride.
  • Crank—The arms that run between the pedals and the bottom bracket. Cranks are attached to one or more chainrings (“gears”) that drive the chain.
  • Credit Card Touring—Long-distance overnight rides in which the riders bring nothing but their bikes, wallets, and perhaps spare sets of biking shorts. The idea is to stay at hotels each night and to eat at restaurants for each meal. This drastically reduces the amount of weight attached to each rider’s bike, but it simultaneously increases the cost of the tour. It’s imperative each rider reaches a hotel each night. A credit card does you no good when stranded in the woods.
  • Cyclocross—A style of bike racing. Usually riders use specific bikes with larger, knobby tires. The courses are mostly off road and muddy, and they tend to contain obstacles. Riders are sometimes forced to dismount and run over or through portions of the track.
  • Cyclometer—A computer that fits to a bicycle. It’s designed to measure speed, mileage and cadence.
  • Drafting—A riding strategy used with two or more people. Drafting helps reduce the effects of wind or air resistance. In order to draft, the rider(s) behind the lead rider must enter the slipstream behind the leader. Once inside the slipstream, the drag from the wind is greatly reduced, making it much easier to pedal. O,. While often reserved for racing situations, drafting can be employed during friendly rides and in very windy conditions.
  • Derailleur—A mechanical device that pushes the chain from one gear to the next. These are actuated by the shifters, w There is typically a front and rear derailleur.
  • Downtube— The part of the frame which runs from the bottom bracket shell to the headtube.
  • Drivetrain—The entire set of components responsible for pushing the bike forward. It includes the crank, chain, cassette and derailleurs.
  • Dropout—Slots in a frame or fork to which the wheels are attached. There are two kinds: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal dropouts are longer slots, which allow you to adjust the position of the rear wheel.
  • Drops—The lower part of drop-style road handlebars. Riders often “use their drops” when striving for a more aerodynamic riding position or stability when descending
  • Fenders—Plastic or aluminum guards that shield the rider from debris and water thrown up by the wheels.
  • Ferrule—A metal cap placed on the ends of cables to keep them from fraying.
  • Fixie—A colloquial term for a fixed-gear bicycle. This type of bicycle has one gear and a static chain. That is, if you pedal forward, the wheel goes forward, and if you pedal backward, the wheel goes backward. You cannot coast on this kind of bike. You also cannot travel faster than you can pedal, even downhill. You can, however, stop the bike by slowing or stopping your pedaling.
  • Fork— The part of the frame which holds the front wheel and rotates allowing the bike to turn.
  • Frameset—The frame and fork of the bicycle. Framesets come in different materials, depending on the intention of the bicyclist. Steel, titanium and carbon are the material choices of cycling enthusiasts.
  • Freewheel— A method of attaching gears to a hub using a threaded system as opposed to a cassette.
  • Gear Ratio—The ratio between your front and rear gears. This determines how easy or hard it is to pedal. Adjusting your gear ratio to achieve a proper cadence is an important aspect of cycling.
  • Granny Gear—The lowest gear or combination of gears on your bicycle. Visually, this is the largest gear on your rear wheel and the smallest gear on your crankset. The granny gear is great for going up hills, looking after your knees, and holding a conversation!
  • Groupset, or Gruppo—A set of components from a single manufacturer. This usually includes shifters, brakes, cassette, chain, crankset and bottom bracket. Using a complete groupset can help the bike work optimally.
  • Group Ride—A semiregular get-together of bicycle aficionados. Fit and competent cyclists typically attend. One group member is in charge of the route, which is usually different each time the group meets.
  • Guerrilla Camping—Setting up camp without permission in an unauthorized location. While generally not the most desirable option, it is an unavoidable fact of self-supported bike touring life.
  • Head Tube—The part of the frame that connects the top tube to the downtube in the front of the bicycle.
  • Headset—The set of bearings, washers and spacers responsible for connecting the fork to the head tube. It is important the headset be properly tightened, since overtightening can make it difficult to steer and can damage the bike, while a loose headset can cause dangerous riding conditions.
  • Hold Your Line—Mostly applicable in group riding situations. It means, essentially, to keep going forward in a straight, predictable line. Deviations from this line, especially in crowded riding situations, can easily cause crashes.
  • Hub—The inner part of the wheel. The hub is attached to the fork or the rear dropouts with a bolt or quick release. bearings are inside the hub, which allow the wheel to turn.
  • Inner Tube—The airtight rubber tube inside tubular tires. Separate from the wheel, the inner tube can be replaced or fixed without replacing the tires. It’s fitted with either Presta or Schrader valves.
  • LBS—Local bike shop. They can tune your bike, sell you a new bike, help you with fitting, upgrade your bike or fix a flat tire.
  • Levers—Usually attached to the handlebars. Squeezing the levers allows you to engage the brakes. They can be integrated shifter/lever combos (found on most road bikes), horizontal levers (found on most mountain bikes).
  • Mashing, or Pushing—Pedaling slowly in a high gear. You go farther per pedal stroke, but you exert much more energy. This is not the most efficient way to ride a bike and can hurt your knees.
  • Nipples—These screw onto the end of the spokes and connect them to the rim.
  • No-Drop Rides—Group rides in which someone (theoretically) makes sure no rider is left behind. This might involve a sweep rider or a system in which each rider looks out for the person behind him or her. On “normal” group rides, if you get tired or lost, you are generally left on your own!
  • NOS—New old stock. A classification of the quality of vintage parts. This refers to parts that were manufactured a while ago but haven’t been opened or used. NOS parts are highly sought after by restorers and lovers of vintage bicycles and are generally considered “cool.”
  • Panniers—these bags attach to rear or front racks. Many self-supported bike tourists use these.
  • Peloton—The main group of riders in a race.
  • Presta Valve—A type of valve that allows you to inflate a tube. The Presta valve is different from the more ubiquitous Schrader valve, which is identical to the valves found on automotive tires. Presta valves are generally found on higher-end road bikes.
  • Quick Release—An easily adjustable and toolless option for adjusting your seat height and for removing your wheelset.
  • Rim—The outer part of a bike wheel. Spokes are attached to the rim with nipples.
  • Road Rash—Abrasions and scrapes caused by asphalt. Usually the wounds are shallow but large and dirty.
  • Saddle—The bike seat. It can be leather, synthetic or even plastic. Saddles are designed differently depending on your riding style. It is important to get a saddle that properly fits you  to ensure long-term comfort.
  • Sag Wagon—A car or van that follows a group of riders and provides mechanical, nutritional and emotional support.
  • Schrader Valve—A type of valve that allows you to inflate a tube. This is identical to the kind found on automotive tires and is generally found on lower-end bikes and some mountain bikes.
  • Seat Post—An adjustable tube that connects the saddle to the frame. It is inserted into the seat tube and is clamped to keep it from moving up or down. This is possibly the most adjusted part of a bicycle, and it allows different-size riders to fit on the bike.
  • Seat Tube—The part of the frame that extends downward from the seat to the bottom bracket. Along with the down tube and the top tube, this creates the major triangle in the frame.
  • Self-Supported Touring—A long-distance bike ride in which each rider carries everything needed—food, stove, water, tent, sleeping bag, clothes and pad.
  • Shifter—The device that allows you to change gear from your handlebars. There are different styles for different handlebars. Styles also differ between manufacturers and the quality level of the components.
  • Spinning—Pedaling at a high cadence in a low gear. This is usually more efficient than mashing but should be kept within reason. Spinning faster than 120 RPM is generally thought to be inefficient.
  • Spokes—Thin metal rods that connect the rim to the hub and complete the wheel. These are generally made from  steel, and there are anywhere from 8 to 48 spokes per wheel. They can be woven in a number of patterns, which affects both the look and performance of the wheel.
  • Squirrel—A rider who weaves and fails to maintain a proper line while riding with a group.
  • Stem—The piece that connects the handlebars to the fork. You can use the stem to adjust how far from the frame the handlebars are (i.e., how bent over you are when you ride), as well as how high they are.
  • Tempo—The steady pace of a large group of riders.
  • Ti—Titanium. A frameset choice of cycling connoisseurs, it is lighter than steel and more comfortable than carbon fiber. This is an excellent choice for long-distance rides or loaded touring.
  • Trekking Bars—A type of handlebar that curves up and around, creating a closed loop and offering many riding positions.
  • Top Tube—The part of the frame that extends from the top of the fork to the seat. The length of this tube affects the geometry of the bike. A shorter tube leads to a more upright riding position, while a longer tube is more aerodynamic.
  • Velodrome—A track for cycling races. It is usually indoors and oval.
  • Wheelset—A matching pair of wheels One of the easiest ways to upgrade your bicycle is to upgrade the wheelset.
  • Zip Tie—A plastic adjustable strap that can be used in many emergencies.

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