Glossary of Bicycle Terms
The following are a collection of terms often used in bike shops, on the trail, on manufacturer's websites and in publications. Often, it is more opinion than fact, but the following are a quick stab at what they might mean. When we started this, we had no idea how big the list would be. Needless to say, it's a work in progress.
Send us a note if you find something to add or edit: email@example.com.
Commonly Used Bike Vernacular
Aerobic: exercise at an intensity that allows the body’s need for oxygen to be continually met. A marathon runner needs lots of this.
Aerodynamic: a design of cycling equipment or a riding position that reduces wind resistance; aero for short.
All mountain: a type of mountain bike that has full suspension, lots of shock travel and good for most all mountain bike applications.
Anaerobic: exercise above the intensity at which the body’s need for oxygen can be met. A sprinter needs lots of this.
Attack: an aggressive, high-speed jump away from other riders in the group, often may be planned and accompanied by other fellow riders to ensure the breakaway succeeds.
Balaclava: a thin hood that covers the head and neck with an opening for the face. It’s worn under the helmet to prevent heat loss in cold or wet conditions.
Balaclava: if you are careful at night, you might see a Ninja wearing this. Many riders claim that the balaclava makes them faster and stealthy in a race. You decide.
Beach cruiser: usually a relaxed, long wheelbase bike, with sweeping handlebars, suitable for casual riding along the beach or park.
Bead: in tires, the edge along each side’s inner circumference that fits into the rim.
Beater bike: usually a retired bike that’s seen better days, a beater bike, also called a clunker, is still in good working order.
Bike Size: Usually measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. Most manufacturers have gotten away from this measurement and now label bikes in general categories: small-medium-large. Sloping top tubes have made this measurement ambiguous. The top tube length is the effective reach. It is measured from the center of the seat post to the center of the head tube on an imaginary level line.
For road bikes, the common measurement is metric:
45cm-48cm (18”-19”) for riders around 4'9" to 5’
49cm-51cm (19”-20”) for riders around 5' to 5’3”
51cm-53cm (20”-21”) for riders around 5'3" to 5’6”
53cm-56cm (21”-22”) for riders up to 5'6" to 5’9”
56cm-58cm (22”-23”) for around 5'9" to 6’0”
58cm-61cm (23”-24”) for around 6’0” to 6’3”
61cm-64cm (24”-25”) for around 6'3" to 6’6”
For mountain bikes, the common measurement is English:
13"-15” (XS) (33cm-38cm) for riders around 4'11" to 5'3"
15"-17” (S) (38cm-43cm) for riders around 5'3" to 5'7"
17"-19” (M) (43cm-48cm) for riders around 5'7" to 5’11”
19”-21" (L) (48cm-53cm) for riders around 5’11" to 6’3”
21"-23” (XL) (53cm-58cm) for riders around 6'3” to 6’7”
Bike chain: the bike chain, or the loop of chain links that encircle the gears, make the wheels turn. This is the most common wear point, after tires, needing maintenance.
Blocking: legally impeding the progress of opposing riders to allow teammates a better chance of success.
Blow up: to suddenly be unable to continue at the required pace due to overexertion.
Blow/pop a tire tube: another tube bites the dust. It can be a slow leak or a total blowout. Don’t fret, flat tires happen to the best of cyclists, which is why riders always carry extra tubes and a portable CO2 canister or pump to re-inflate the tire when on the go.
BMX: a compact design patterned after children’s bikes, popularized by Haro and others, for doing tricks or riding on a closed-circuit track. BMX bikes are made stronger that most, to withstand continual punishment. Size is measured by the length of the top tube.
Bonk: a state of severe exhaustion caused mainly by the depletion of glycogen in the muscles because the rider has failed to eat or drink enough. Once it occurs, rest and high-carbohydrate foods are necessary for recovery.
Bonk: runners call it "The Wall," cyclists call it "Bonk." Bonk is a state of utter exhaustion most often felt by riders who skimped on breakfast or didn’t hydrate well. Bonk recovery requires rest, H2O, and high-carb foods.
Boot: a small piece of material used inside a tire to cover a cut in the tread or sidewall. Without it, the tube will push through and blow out.
Bottom bracket: the part of the frame where the crank-set is installed. Also, the axle, cups and bearings of a traditional crank-set, or the axle, retainer rings and bearing cartridges of a sealed crank-set.
Bpm: abbreviation for beats per minute - in reference to heart rate.
Brain bucket: bike helmet – always wear a helmet.
Break, breakaway: a rider or group of riders that has escaped the pack.
Brakes: a handy addition used to slow the bike. Road bike brakes come in a variety of styles and are usually found near the shifters. The left brake puts the kibosh on the front tire and the right brake slows the back tire. To abruptly stop, squeeze both brakes.
Bridge or bridge a gap: to catch a rider or group that has opened a lead.
Bunch: the main cluster of riders in a race. Also called the group, pack, field or peloton.
Bunny hop: a way to ride over obstacles such as rocks or logs in which both wheels leave the ground.
Cadence: also known as pedal rhythm, cadence (often measured in revolutions per minute, or rpm) depends on the cyclist’s pushing power and the resistance from the bike and the incline of the road. Everyone has a cadence sweet spot, commonly between 60-90.
Cassette (also, freewheel): The cassette, or rear block, is the set of sprockets next to the rear tire. The back wheel typically has five to 12 sprockets. The biggest sprocket (the innermost, closest to the wheel) is for easy pedaling or climbing. The smallest, outermost sprocket allows for faster speeds, but is harder to pedal unless the bike is zooming downhill.
Catch air: when both wheels leave the ground, usually because of a rise or dip in the riding surface.
Categories: the division of racers based on ability and/or experience.
Century: a 100-mile ride.
Chain suck: when the chain sticks to the chain ring teeth during a downshift and gets drawn up and jammed between the small ring and the frame.
Chain ring: a sprocket on the crank-set, attached to the pedals. There may be one, two or three. Short version is "ring."
Chain stay: the thin frame tube that extends from the rear dropout to the bottom bracket, where the bike’s crank-set is located. There is a chain stay on each side of the rear wheel.
Chamois: let’s set this straight now. Chamois, or the padded bike shorts cyclists wear, should never be worn with underwear. Total cycling faux pas. All that comes between sit bones and saddles should be the spandex chamois (aka “shammy”), which limits chafing, blisters, and saddle sores (see below).
Chasers: those who are trying to catch a group or a lead rider.
Circuit: a course that is ridden two or more times to compose the race.
Cleat: a metal or plastic fitting on the sole of a cycling shoe that engages the pedal.
Clincher: a conventional tire with a separate inner tube.
Clip-ins: clip-ins (aka step-ins and clip-less pedals) are a type of bike pedal that lock onto the cleat of a special cycling shoe so that the rider is firmly attached to the pedal. Old-style systems had the rider strap their foot onto the pedal in a toe-clip. The term now refers to the system that eliminates the need for the strap and toe-clip, thus the term "clip-less."
Cog: a sprocket on the rear wheel’s cassette or freewheel. The gears on the front are called chain rings, while the gears on the back are cogs. You might just be a cog in the wheel of life - i'm not sure if that puts you at the front or the back of the pack.
Comfort bike: A very broadly used term to describe a bike with a relaxed fit and longer wheel base. Used for casual rides.
Commuter bike: Any type of bike focused on durability and reliability. Usually larger tires and a heavier frame. Meant to hold up to a bit of abuse.
Contact patch: the portion of a tire in touch with the ground.
Corncob: a cassette in which each cog is only one tooth larger than the previous one. Also called a straight block.
Crank-set: part of the drive train, the crank-set (aka front chain rings) collectively refers to the sprockets closest to the front wheel (next to the pedals) and the crank arms that rotate them. I've been called cranky, but never a crank-set.
Criterium: a criterium, or “crit”, is a short cycling race on city streets that typically lasts less than an hour and covers 5k or less. Uses a mass-start race covering numerous laps of a course that is normally about one mile or less in length.
Cross-country bike: Like a commuter, but with extra strong wheels and lots of places to attach gear and bags. Also called a trekking bike.
Cyclocross bike: Typically, a modified version of a road bike with disc brakes, more durable wheels and larger tires.
Cyclocross: a fall or winter event contested mostly or entirely off pavement. Courses include obstacles, steps and steep hills that force riders to dismount and run with their bikes.
Derailleur: the derailleur (or front and rear mechanisms that move the chain) moves the chain from gear to gear whenever the shifters tell it to. There is a derailleur in the front for the crank-set and another in the rear for the cassette.
Dirt jumper bike: A BMX bike with larger wheels, built to take a pounding. It may have front suspension. Good for doing tricks at specially built parks with big ramps and jumps.
Downhill mountain bike: A mountain bike with very long travel, full suspension and heavy duty tires and wheels. Usually built on a very long frame for high speed stability. It’s ridden down the steepest and most challenging hills or at special bike parks.
Downshift: to shift to a lower gear, i.e. A larger cog or smaller chain ring.
Drafting: riding closely behind another rider to take advantage of the windbreak (slipstream) and use about 20 percent less energy. Also called sitting in or wheel-sucking.
Drive train: a bicycle’s drive train is the mechanical system that converts a cyclist’s pedaling power into forward movement. It’s the components directly involved with making the rear wheel turn, i.e. The chain, crank-set and cassette. Also called the power train.
Dropout: on a bike frame, the slots into which the front and rear wheel axles fit. Single-speed bikes only have one cog in the back, eliminating the derailleur, making the dropout easy to use. Dropouts can open to the back, to make it easy to adjust chain tension on a single speed, or to the front to allow for alignment adjustments on the wheel and derailleur. Some bikes have the a vertical dropout, to help keep the wheel from twisting loose under hard pedaling.
Drops: the lower part of a down-turned handlebar typically found on a road bike. The curved portions are called the hooks.
Echelon: a form of pace line in which the riders angle off behind each other to get maximum draft in a crosswind.
Endo: an endo is when a cyclist flips over the handlebars, end over end. To crash by going over the bike’s handlebar. Short for end over end.
Fartlek: a Swedish word meaning “speed play,” it is a training technique based on unstructured changes in pace and intensity. It can be used instead of timed or measured interval training.
Feed zone: a designated area on a race course where riders can be handed food and drinks.
Field sprint: the dash for the finish line by the main group of riders.
Fixed gear: a direct-drive setup using one chain ring and one rear cog, as on a track bike. When the rear wheel turns so does the chain and crank; coasting isn’t possible.
Fixie bike: Bikes that are ridden on a velodrome track come without a freewheel. You must pedal the bike. Stopping the pedals also stops the bike. Most “fixie” bikes sold come with a rear wheel that can be flipped around, with a freewheel on one side and a fixed gear on the other. That way, you can ride the bike and coast too. Fixie bikes are very light and inexpensive.
Folding bike: Specially made for travel. Folds down for easy transport.
Frame: the frame is the bike’s backbone, or the geometrical tubing connecting its parts. Always hollow and made of lightweight material, the frame comes in all different shapes and lengths. A properly fitting frame size is important for efficient energy use and pedaling posture.
Full suspension bike: Usually a mountain bike. It means that you get free movement of both the front and rear of the bike, making difficult terrain more manageable.
Full tuck: an extremely crouched position used for maximum speed on descents.
Gears: bikes have two sets of gears. The stack of saw-toothed metal disks parallel to the back wheel and the gear at the front, connected to the pedals. A big gear in front makes large changes in the gear ratio. The gears in the back are much closer together. Climb hills with the small gear (chain ring) up front and a larger gear in back (freewheel/freehub/cassette). Go fast downhill with a big gear in front and a tiny gear in back. (See: "High Gear.")
General classification: the overall standings in a stage race. Often referred to as “GC.”
Granny gear: the lowest gear ratio, combining the small chain ring with the largest cassette cog. It’s mainly used for very steep climbs. Named after the gear that grandmothers use most frequently.
Gravel bike: Like a cyclocross bike, but less focused on racing and more purpose built for riding efficiently on dirt roads, keeping weight to a minimum (not a mountain bike), but strong enough for bumpy roads. Usually no suspension.
Hammer: to ride strongly in big/high gears.
Hard tail mountain bike: Meant for less rugged trail use. It has a front shock absorber on the fork and is much less complicated than a full suspension mountain bike. Also lighter and cheaper.
Headset: the parts at the top and bottom of the frame’s head tube, into which the handlebar stem and fork are fitted.
High gear: refers to the 1870s popularity of the penny-farthing, big-wheel bike. A larger wheel, thus higher off the ground, is harder to turn, resulting in faster speeds, giving rise to the term high-gear. 50” to 60” wheels were common and are used to describe a modern-day, bicycle gear ratio, for any of the gears selected. Modern bikes range from 30 gear-inch for climbing (low gear) to 115 gear-inch for fast downhills (high gear).
High step or step over bike: Most manufacturers have moved away from designating bikes as men’s or women’s. It’s really an obsolete term. Most modern bikes have a top tube that is quite a bit lower than the past. You now have a choice to either step over the frame or get a bike that allows you to step through the frame.
Hitting the wall: synonymous with bonking, where you have run out of glycogen stores and are unable to continue at an endurance pace because you have not had enough to eat or drink.
Hybrid bike: a bike that combines features of road and mountain bikes. Also called a cross bike. However, hybrid could apply to any bike that combines the features of different bikes into one.
Intervals: a structured method of training that alternates brief, hard efforts with short periods of easier riding for partial recovery.
Kludge: A work of art to some, a mess to others. Some parts work well together, while others do not. A kludge is a bike put together in an unconventional way, albeit haphazard, makeshift or clumsy.
Lube: Not WD-40. Maintain the chain by applying sparingly periodically. You should lube the bearings of the bike once a year, unless they are sealed.
Mass start: events such as road races, cross-country races and criteriums in which all contestants leave the starting line at the same time.
Metric century: a 100-kilometer ride (62 miles).
Minuteman: in a time-trial, the rider who is one place in front of you in the starting order. So called because in most “TTs” riders start on one-minute intervals.
Mountain bike: A purpose-built bike meant to ride off of paved roads. Made to take a beating, absorb shock and keep the wheels in contact with the trail surface (you can’t brake or steer if your tires are off the ground).
Off the back: describes one or more riders who have failed to keep pace with the main group. Also referred to as “OTB.”
Pace line: a group formation in which each rider takes a turn breaking the wind at the front before pulling off, dropping to the rear position, and riding the others’ draft until at the front once again.
Panniers: large bike bags used by touring cyclists or commuters. Panniers attach to racks that place them low on each side of the rear wheel, and sometimes the front wheel.
Peak: a relatively short period during which maximum performance is achieved.
Pedal-forward bike: Typically, a beach cruiser style bike with a relaxed ride geometry. It allows the rider to sit on the seal with his/her feet flat on the ground, but still get full leg extension while pedaling.
Peloton: the main group of riders in a race or large event.
Pinch flat: an internal puncture marked by two small holes caused by the tube being squeezed against the rim. It results from riding into an object too hard for the air pressure in the tube. Also called a snakebite.
Preload: the adjustable spring tension in a suspension fork or rear shock. It determines how far the suspension compresses under body weight and how much travel remains to absorb impacts.
Presta: the narrow European-style valve found on some inner tubes. A small metal cap on its end must be unscrewed before air can enter or exit.
Prime: a special award given to the leader on selected laps during a criterium, or the first rider to reach a certain landmark in a road or cross-country race. It’s used to heighten the action. Pronounced “preem.”
Psi: abbreviation for Pounds-Per-Square-Inch. The unit of measure for tire inflation and air pressure in some suspension systems.
Pull, pull through: take a turn at the front, allowing other riders to travel in the benefit of your draft (breaking the headwind).
Pusher: a rider who pedals in a large gear at a relatively slow cadence, relying on the gear size for speed.
Quick release (QR): the quick release is a bolt and lever that allows bikers to manually adjust different parts of the bike. There is a QR that adjusts seat height, and another that clamps the wheel. Unhinge and twist the QR to raise the seat or remove the wheel as needed.
Randonnee: a long-distance event in which riders must navigate a prescribed course while passing through intermediate checkpoints within certain time limits.
Reach: the combined length of a bike’s top tube and stem, which determines the rider’s distance to the handlebar.
Recreational bike: A generalized term for a bike meant for pleasure/fun/casual use. Not a racing bike.
Recumbent bike: A specially made bike that permits the rider to sit low, with the pedals out front. It’s design is targeted for riders want to eliminate back fatigue. Recumbent bikes can be two-wheel or three-wheel, with the principle goal of a reclined riding position.
Resistance trainer: a stationary training device into which the bike is clamped. Pedaling resistance increases with pedaling speed to simulate actual riding. Also known as an indoor, wind, fluid, or mag trainer (the last three names derived from the fan, liquid, or magnet that creates resistance on the rear wheel).
Rigid frame mountain bike: A bike built for trail use, but without any suspension. It’s usually lighter and faster, but it does lose contact with the ground while rolling, so is not suitable for rugged trails.
Road bike: Easy, it’s the traditional bike made for riding on paved roads. It can be made of carbon fiber, titanium, steel, or aluminum, (even bamboo, wood or plastic). Road bikes come in a range of shapes and sizes to fit the athletic needs and body of the rider. Unlike your average bicycle, a road bike is more lightweight, has extra gear combinations, and features sports tires that are narrow, inflated at high-pressures, and smooth. All these features make road bikes fit for speed.
Road race: a mass-start race on pavement that goes from point to point, covers one large loop or is held on a circuit longer than those used for criteriums.
Road rash: any skin abrasion resulting from a fall. Also called crash rash. Wear your helmet!
Road/racing tires: Racing tires are made narrow, without much tread, and kept at high pressures to minimize friction and maximize speed. The tires are usually inflated to 110-120 psi (pounds per square inch).
Roadie: a roadie, or road geek, is a devoted road cyclist. Roadies know what’s up in the cycling world and could probably teach a rookie biker a thing or two about steeds and riding techniques. Befriend a roadie if you can!
Rollers: an indoor training device consisting of three long cylinders connected by belts. Both bike wheels roll on these cylinders so that balancing is much like actual riding.
Saddle sores: skin problems in the crotch that develop from chafing caused by pedaling action. Sores can range from tender raw spots to boil-like lesions if infection occurs.
Saddle time: time spent cycling.
Saddle: The saddle, or bike seat, is where rear ends can rest while the legs spin away. Not known for optimum comfort, the saddle will at least hold you steady during a long day on the road. And newer saddle designs, promise to improve comfort.
Sag wagon: a motor vehicle that follows a group of riders, carrying equipment and lending assistance in the event of difficulty. Also called the broom wagon.
Schrader: a Schrader valve, found on most tires, is used to inflate the tube found within a cycling tire. An inner tube valve identical to those found on car tires. A tiny plunger in the center of its opening must be depressed for air to enter or exit.
Seat stay: the thin frame tube that extends from the rear dropout to the top of the seat tube. There is a seat stay on each side of the rear wheel.
Shifter: Allows cyclists to maintain constant cadence despite changes in resistance or incline on the road. On most bikes the shifter on the right side of the handlebar makes fine-tuning changes to the back gears. The shifter on the left side adjusts the front gears, used for more major shifts. Cyclists spend most of their time shifting the rear gears in search for their cadence sweet spots.
Single speed bike: Not as specific as a “Fixie.” A single speed bike is an economical way of building a less complex drive system, saving cost.
Single-track: It’s a trail so narrow that two cyclists can’t easily ride side by side, which makes passing difficult or impossible.
Sit on a wheel: to ride in someone’s draft.
Slingshot: to ride up behind another rider with help from his draft, then use the momentum to sprint past.
Slipstream: the pocket of calmer air behind a moving rider. Also called the draft.
Snakebite: see pinch flat.
Snap: the ability to accelerate quickly.
SPD: Unlike looks, cleats of an SPD-style shoe cleat (developed by Shimano) improves pedaling dynamics, are built inside a recess in the shoe’s sole and allow for steadier walking. Once locked in place, they help the rider maintain a perfect riding position, improve power transfer and bike control, reduce fatigue, and permit a more complete use of muscle groups.
Speed work: a general term for intervals and other high-velocity training, such as sprints, time trials and motor-pacing.
Spin: to pedal at high cadence.
Sport bike: A general term for a lighter and more road focused bike.
Sprocket: The gears, chain ring, or cogs, used to propel the bike.
Stage race: a multi-day event consisting of various types of races. The winner is the rider with the lowest elapsed time for all races (stages).
Super suit or kit: A matching outfit, that may even match the bike, making the rider look cool.
Travel: in suspensions, the maximum distance a fork or rear shock can compress.
Trekking bike: Made for going long distances on multiple days. Built rugged with extra fastening points for gear and bags.
Tubeless: a tire that attaches to the wheel and doesn’t require a tube because it airtight when you add a liquid sealant.
Tubular: a lightweight tire that has its tube sewn inside the casing. Also called a sew-up. The tire is glued to the rim.
Turnaround: the point where the riders reverse direction on an out-and-back time trial course.
Ultra cycling: used to describe the side of the sport involving the longest endurance events. Also called ultra marathon.
Un-weight: the act of momentarily lightening the bike through a combination of body movement and position. It’s integral to jumping over things such as potholes or railroad tracks.
Up shift: to shift to a higher gear, i.e. A smaller cog or larger chain ring.
Urban bike: Like a commuter, but more general. Used for short trips.
USCF: U.S. cycling federation, the organization that governs amateur road, cyclocross, and track racing in america. A division of USA cycling.
Velodrome: an oval banked track for bicycle racing.
Vo2: the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed during all-out exertion. This is a key indicator of a person’s potential in cycling and other aerobic sports. It’s largely genetically determined but can be improved somewhat by training.
Watt: a measurement of power produced/used. It tells how much energy is used on an e-bike to turn the pedals.
Wind up: steady acceleration to an all-out effort.
Windchill: the effect of air moving across the skin, making the temperature seem colder than it actually is. A cyclist creates a windchill even on a calm day, a situation that must be considered when dressing for winter rides.
Wonky: anything that is off-kilter when cycling, whether it is a bike part or another rider’s mood, is deemed wonky.
Yard sale: a crash that leaves all your gear scattered around you on the ground, as if for sale. Or, as in, there is nothing left of your bike except pieces to sell at your next yard sale.