There are so many terms in cycling, it can leave your head spinning. I’ve decided to aggregate as many terms as I can to make it simple to find in one place (as much for my reference as anyone else). There are technical definitions that will be provided, but I’ll try to find a simple definition where possible. It’ll take a while to compile these, so I’ll add them over time. If there are any mistakes, please submit comments and I’ll confirm and correct them.
100k (Metric Century): a 100 km bike ride (approx. 62 miles). This is a common distance for mass start rides.
Aerobars: a set of handlebars – either replacing the original bars or added as extensions to the existing handlebars – that allow a rider to achieve a more aerodynamic position by bringing their arms towards the center of the body, and dropping your chest towards the top tube, giving you a more flat appearance (relative to the ground). These types of bars are very popular in triathlons and time trials, where speed is of utmost importance.
Anaerobic Exercise: anaerobic literally means “without oxygen”. Anaerobic exercise is very intense, past the point where you can catch your breath. Sprinting is an example of anaerobic exercise. Prolonged anaerobic periods leave you short on breath, and will build up lactic acid in the muscles (that burning feeling) faster than your body can dissipate it.
Attack: a sudden sprint or hard effort, usually in an attempt to chase down or create a break.
Belgian Tourniquet / Rolling Paceline: this is a drafting technique employed by skilled cyclists. This formation is useful in two ways. First, it continuously rotates the riders that are taking pulls at the front, instead of each rider having to keep track of their own pull time/distance. Second, in cross-winds, one pace line will act as a wind break for the other. When executing this technique, here are a few things to remember:
- Once the cyclist behind you passes you, shift over onto their wheel as quickly/smoothly as possible, and pick up your pace to match.
- When you pass the rider at the front of the slower pace line, ease up on you pedaling and shift over as smoothly as possible. Usually to match the speed of the slower pace line, you only have to ease up on pedaling or shift down one cog (don’t brake, and keep pedaling).
- When moving onto the front of the slower pace line, don’t pick up the pace! The idea is to keep it rotating, so your time at the front shouldn’t be long on either lines.
Bonk (hitting the wall): this happens when you’ve depleted the glycogen in your liver and muscles. Glycogen is used up during extended periods of intense exercise. Once gone though, you’ll start to feel fatigue build up quickly. You’ll notice that whenever you try to accelerate, you wear down very quickly. Eating and drinking carbohydrate-rich foods will help offeset the bonk, but the body has a maximum uptake rate that prevents you from fully replenishing what you burn while you ride. A typical rider will have about 2,000 Calories worth of glycogen. Depending on how hard you’re riding, and the heat/cold, etc., you can burn through that in 1-2 hours. Training extends this by increasing your ability to sustain a higher pace for a longer time, with a lower heart rate (the lower heart rate drops you into the “fat burning” levels versus the “glycogen burning” levels, and there’s a whole lot more energy in fat than glycogen).
Break Away (break): a group of two or more riders that pulls away from the main peloton.
Cadence: refers to the number of times you pedal per minute. The lower gears you use at a set speed, the easier it is for you to push the pedals and achieve a fast (high) cadence. The higher gears (larger) make each pedal stroke harder, which results in a slower (low) cadence. Cyclists tend to train to high cadences to reduce the amount of force exerted per pedal stroke. This tends to require better aerobic conditioning, but saves wear and tear on the joints, and is usually a more efficient riding style than hammering (see Hammer).
Category (CAT): (1) this is the level at which a cyclist competes at in sanctioned bike races. There are five levels in the Men’s field: Cat 1 – 5 (high to low), with Cat 5 being entry level for all beginning men racers. There are four levels in the Women’s field: Cat 1 – 4 (high to low), with Cat 4 being entry level for all beginning women racers. Moving up from one category to another requires racing in set numbers of sanctioned races, as well as placing in designated top positions. (2) The difficulty rating for a climb. There a 5 levels of difficulty, as judged by steepness and length: Cat 4 (easiest) – Cat 1 (2nd hardest), with the hardest climbs rated as Hors Catégorie (HC).
Century: a 100 mile bike ride.
Clincher: a type of tire that uses a thick bead to hold itself onto the rim. Rims are also referred to as “clincher” to distinguish themselves from their “tubeless” variety.
Clydesdale: A (relatively) large cyclist, as determined by height, weight, or both.
Compact Double: indicates a smaller set of gears on the front gears than a normal double crankset. Typical compact double size is 50/34 (50 teeth on the outer ring, 34 on the inner). A compact double is usually found on bikes that run the middle-ground between racers (that will have larger gears such as a 53/39, designed to reach higher tops speeds) and entry-level bikes that usually come with a triple crankset such as a 30/42/52 (the smallest gear making it easier to climb steep grades).
Component Group: the various components that make up the mechanical elements of the bike, including the crankset, hoods/shifters, derailleurs,
Crankset: the front set of gears located in the middle of the bike and is built into the crank (the arms to which the pedals attach). A crankset has one (fixed gear), two (standard or compact), or three (triple) gears. The number of teeth for these gears vary by manufacturer and bike purpose.
Criterium (crit): a bike race that takes place on a short route – usually about 3 miles (5k) – whose total length is determined by time and/or a number of laps, with the typical race lasting an hour. Criteriums require high-speed bike handling capabilities, including the ability to accelerate quickly and corner well.
Derailleur: these components – usually made up of multiple lots of small pieces – control the movement of the chain from one gear (sprocket/cog) to another. Most bikes have two: a front derailleur moves the chain on the gears that attach to your crank (the arms connected to your pedals), and result in large changes between gears. The rear derailleur moves the chain on the gears that attach to the rear wheel (hub). This controls smaller adjustments in your gears.
Domestique: literally meaning “servant” in French. This is a road racer who’s job is to work for the benefit of their team and/or leaders. A domestique will take long pulls into headwinds for their leaders, or will work to the point of exhaustion pulling their team mates, knowing that they’ll never finish but in turn giving their team mates and leaders a better chance of winning.
Drafting: a technique by which two or more cyclists will ride close to one another (in a paceline or peloton), such their the air flowing around the riders is extended to envelop multiple riders. This allows each riding to contribute their power to moving the group forward. Novice riders may be uncomfortable getting in close enough to another bike to feel the full effects of drafting, but you can start to benefit from distances as much as 3′ away, depending on the pace. Beginners can also feel like they’re cheating – not doing as much work as the rider in front. This is kind of true, but remember, eventually you’ll be the one up front, and others will be able to draft off of you. Good drafting technique requires a lot of practice, good bike handling skills, and lots of concentration. A mistake in a paceline or a fast-moving peloton can wreak havoc on a lot of riders at once. Also note: drafting isn’t just beneficial for the people who are in the draft positions. The leader also experiences a slight energy savings due to the pocket of air they ride in being extended further down the line (it’s not much, but it is noticeable amongst a solid group of riders).
Drops: the lower-ends of the handlebars that curve back towards the rider. These lower extensions allow a cyclist to achieve a lower, more horizontal position on the bike.
Frame: consists of several segments or “tubes” that make up the primary body of the bike. These segments include the top tube (cross bar), head tube, down tube, seat tube, seat stays, and chain stays. The most common materials for frames include aluminum, carbon fiber, and steel. More exotic materials include titanium and wood. Frames that are made from metal have these segments joined together via welds or lugs.
Gears (sprockets, cogs, rings): these are the rings with teeth attached to the crank (middle) of your bike (also called the crankset), and the rear wheel hub of your bike (called the cassette). The front set of gears usually contains two (double) or three (triple) rings. For these gears, the smaller the gears, the less effort required to push the pedals. The number of teeth on the rings are used to indicate the size of the gears. For example, a “50/34” indicates the outer/larger ring has 50 teeth, and the inner/smaller ring has 34 teeth. On the rear wheel, your cassette (a set of gears) will usually have 8-10 rings (though these days 11 is also becoming common). These work in reverse of the front: the large the ring, the less the wheel turns as the pedal turns; the smaller the ring, the more the wheel turns per revolution of the pedals. For sizing, the numbers are written a A-B, indicating the number of teeth on the smallest and largest ring. For example, a cassette may be listed as 11-28: the smallest ring as 11 teeth, while the largest ring has 28 teeth.
Hammer: used to describe a continuous, concerted effort by a cyclist. If you “hammer” up a hill, this means you’re probably in a large gear, applying a lot of force. There’s also “putting the hammer down”, in reference to a full-out sprint.
Handlebar Tape: the material that wraps around the handlebars. This can be made from synthetic materials, gels, cork, and cloth. Different materials and manufacturing processes yield various weights, comfort/padding, durability, and tackiness. Like most things with cycling, wrapping handle bars requires practice to do well.
Head Tube: this is a portion of the frame located at the front of the bike, in a relatively vertical position. In contains the bearings for the fork, as well as the headset. The top of the head tube connects to the front of the top tube, as well as the headset. The bottom of the head tube connects to the front of the down tube. The fork (part of the steerer tube) protrudes from the bottom of the head tube.
Hoods: these components are attached to the handlebar of a road bike, and most modern hoods contain mechanisms that control both braking and gear changes. This is also where your hands most commonly rest on the bike. In most bike setups, the left hood controls the front brake and derailleur, whereas the right controls the rear brake and derailleur.
Hors Catégorie (HC): meaning “beyond categorization” (literally, “out of category”), this is used to indicate the hardest climbs in the world of professional cycling.
Hubs: the center of your wheels. Hubs contain bearings that allow the wheel to rotate freely from the body of the bike. The bearings in the hubs are typically made of steel or ceramic. The rear hub contains an internal ratchet that engages whenever you pedal forward (or spin the rear wheel backwards), but allows the wheel the spin freely (forward) when not pedaling.
Intervals: a form of exercise that alternates between periods of work and rest.
LBS : (1) Abbreviation for pounds. (2) Initialization for “Local Bike Store”.
LSD: Long Slow Distance. This often refers to early season rides when building a base for your training season, or the incorporation of a long-mileage, light-effort ride in your training.
Mass Start (Critical Mass) Ride: a type of touring ride, where all the riders start together at a designated time. These rides often have several routes of varying distances during the same event. Riders can choose which route they would like to attempt. Common distances include 10, 15, 30, 50, 62 (100k), 75, 100 (century), and 125 (200k) miles. These rides usually have designated rest areas throughout the route.
Pace: the time it takes to cover a particular distance, or the effort expended over a particular distance. For example, in running you may have a pace of 8:00/mile (an 8-minute-mile). Or you can ride at an “easy pace” (light effort over distance) or “hard pace” (heavy effort over distance).
Paceline: a line of cyclists working together in drafting positions, so as to maximize their collective speed, save energy, and minimize wind resistance (drag) for the majority of the cyclists. Also see Peloton and Drafting.
Peloton: literally meaning “little ball” or “platoon”. This is the main group of riders in a bike race. The larger and closer spaced the group, the better the drafting qualities (see Drafting). The reduction in drag amonst a well-formed peloton can be as much as 40%.
Recumbent: a type of bi- or tricycle that places the rider in a reclined position, with the crank located out in front of the rider. Recumbents tend to be heavier due to the longer wheel base and construction techniques than standard bicycles. They also have a much lower center of mass, and a very low overall rider profile, making them very aerodynamic. Some recumbents have fairings – a large plastic wind screen – that provides increased aerodynamic benefit. Because of the differences in riding dynamics between recumbents and standard bicycles, it is difficult to ride in a regular paceline in a recumbent bike.
Rims: this is the outer-most component of a wheel. It holds the tire in place, and has the brake track (the surface upon which the brakes connect to slow the bike). The depth and cross-section shape of the rim can greatly affect the aerodynamics of the wheel. Deeper rims (higher rim depth above ~25mm) can reduce drag, but can also mean more material and a heavier rim weight, and/or more difficult handling in cross-winds.
Sandbagger: a rider competing in a group of cyclists well below his/her ability, usually in an effort to attain better race results. For example, a strong Cat 3 racer who cats down (requests to lower their rating to compete in Cat 4 races).
Seat Tube: the portion of the bike frame where your seat post inserts into. This post is relatively vertical, though usually leans towards the rear tire. The top of the seat tube accepts the seat post, and connects to the end of the top tube. The rear portion of the seat tube (usually near the top) connects to the seat stays. The bottom of the seat tube connects to the bottom bracket (where your crank is). The rear portion of the seat tube at the bottom connects to the chain stays. The front derailleur is usually mounted to the seat tube, along with a position to mount a water bottle cage.
Spoke Nipples: these are where the spokes connect to the rim, and for most wheels are used to increase tension on the spokes.
Spokes: connect the hubs to the rims of your wheel. Spokes need to be properly tensioned in order to maintain the roundness of your rim. Spokes can be round, tapered (larger on one end than the other), bladed (flat, like a helicopter blade), or oval. A wheel with a broken spoke should not be ridden.
Top Tube (cross bar): the portion of the frame that connects the head tube (vertical tube on the front of the bike) to the seat tube (relatively vertical tube where your seat post is). The top tube is usually relatively horizontal to the ground, though. Compact frames tend to have a more exaggerated angle or curve to them, decreasing in height from the head tube to the seat tube.
TPI: Threads per inch. This refers to the number of threads woven into the casing of the tire. As the thread count increases, the threads themselves are much thinner, and the casing becomes more compliant (flexible) and can conform better to the road. This increases handling characteristics and comfort. The thinner threads can also yield a lighter tire. However, as the threads are thinner than on lower TPI tires, this can also mean that the casing can be more puncture-prone.
Tubeless: this is a type of tire (or tyre, for our British friends) that don’t require a separate inner tube. Only rims that are “tubeless ready” can use tubeless tires.
Wheel Base: this is the horizontal distance between the location where the seat stays connect to the chain stays, and the end of the fork.
Wheels: I know, I know, this one’s obvious, right? Well, wheels have lots of different components. These include the tire, inner-tube (for clincher-type tires), rim (including brake track), spokes, spoke nipples, hub, bearings, spindle/skewer, and – in the case of the rear wheel – an internal hub ratchet. Each component of the wheel can affect the dynamics/performance of the wheel, which is why you almost never find comparisons of one wheel set to another – too many variables to take into account.