Glossary of Cycling Terms
À bloc (ah block; at block) Giving it all a rider has, going all out, riding as hard as one possibly can, which can be risky for it leaves one in a state where recovery is needed, and therefore vulnerable to being attacked. Example: “I really gave it all in the last kilometers, although I didn’t think it was possible until I crossed the line. I just went “à bloc.”
Alpe d’Huez A legendary Tour de France climb to the French ski station of the same name, Alpe d’Huez is renowned for its brutal steepness and 21 switchbacks, each bearing the name of a past Tour stage winner.
apex The shortest distance through a turn.
attack To quickly accelerate while riding in a pack, or in smaller numbers, with a view to create a gap between yourself and other riders.
attack position The alert and well-balanced position you ride in when you approach, or ride on, rough terrain. It is characterized by bent knees, rear above the saddle, elbows slightly bent, and a raised head.
auger or auger in To involuntarily take samples of the local geology, usually with one’s face, during a crash. Also face plant. A catastrophic crash.
autobus A group of riders in a stage race (typically non-climbers and suffering domestiques) who ride together as a group on the mountain stages with the sole intention of finishing within the stage’s time limit to allow them to start the next day. Also known by the Italian term gruppetto.
baby heads Small boulders about the size of, yep, a baby’s head.
bacon Scabs, cuts, scars, and road rash on a cyclist’s body.
bagger A person that habitually bags out. Also known as a loser.
bagging out Canceling a ride for something other than a death in the family.
bag of spanners To totally lose all ability to pedal smoothly after overexertion but still remain on one’s bike. Expressive: “He’s pedaling like a bag of spanners.”
bail or bail out To ditch (or jump off) in order to avoid an imminent crash. Or, to give up on a ride because of unfavorable conditions.
baroudeur A rider who loves to attack and mix it up.
bear trap To slip off one pedal, causing the other pedal to slam one in the shin. When one gets cracked with a pedal. Also, the toothlike scars resulting from being beartrapped.
beat To ride with reckless disregard to one’s equipment, well-being, and/or the ecology of the trail. A term used to describe something that is not good. e.g. “It’s pretty beat that the yellow trail is closed.”
beater A bike of such little value as to be able to beat on, or a bike that reaction after prolonged beating.
berm An embankment on a trail.
beta Insider information about a ride. Running or auto beta is someone telling you how to do the moves as you go (as in “can you please shut up with that running beta, I want to find out myself”).
beta flash Leading a ride through technical singletrack with no dabbing or dogging, but with a piece of previous knowledge hints on how to do those crux moves. Even seeing someone do the ride already classifies as “previous knowledge.”
Beyond category See hors catégorie.
bidon A water bottle.
Bidon au miel (pronounced “bee-don oh mee-ell; bottle of honey”): You might know this French term as a sticky bottle—when a rider pretends to be getting a water bottle from the team car but hangs on and gets a tow. It’s become a general term for getting a push or pull when you need one.
bike throw A bike throw occurs in the final moments of a bike race, usually within the last few feet. A sprint is involved, and at the end of the sprint, the rider pushes his arms forward, stretches his back out, and attempts to move his bike as far forward as possible, getting to the finish line before his competitors.
blast To begin a big climb or ride, after reaching the foot of the long or daunting hill. “We’re gonna blast after a snack at the bottom of the wall.”
blocking Legally impeding the progress of opposing riders to allow teammates a better chance of success.
blow up A rider who has gone into oxygen debt and loses the ability to maintain pace is said to have blown up, variations include popping, exploding and detonating. This is a more temporary condition than cracking or hitting the wall.
bog or bog out To be riding in a circumstance where much pedaling force is required, such as through mud or up a steep hill, and to fail to generate the required torque, generally a result of over gearing, being a wimp, or picking your line incorrectly.
bomb To ride with wild disregard to personal safety.
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.
bowling ball Someone coming quickly through the pack after getting caught. Soon to be dropped off the back.
boost To catch air off of a jump.
Booter A large jump that requires a lot of commitment.
boulder garden A section of road or trail that is covered with basketball sized or larger boulders.
Break or breakaway A splitting of the field, where some riders race ahead, trying to avoid being reabsorbed by the larger and more aerodynamically efficient peloton..
brevet Pronounced “brevay,” it is a long-distance event used to qualify riders for major randonnée events (see below) such as Paris-Brest-Paris. The typical brevet series has rides of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km.
brick A rider who is a slow climber but an efficient descender.
bridge, bridge a gap To catch a rider or group that has broken away or opened a lead.
Bring home a Christmas tree To ride (or crash) through dense bushes, so leaves and branches are hanging from your bike and helmet. See prune.
broom wagon The last vehicle in a race caravan, that “sweeps” the course and picks up crashed, broken-down and off-the-back riders who can’t continue.
BSO “Bicycle-shaped object.” A cheap bike designed to look like a real road or mountain bike. Often bought from a supermarket.
bunch The main cluster of riders in a race. Also called the group, pack, field or peloton.
bunch sprint The riders arrive near the finish in massive numbers to contest the victory and attempt to draft their sprinters in a good position to claim the victory. Speeds higher than 60 km/h are to be expected.
bunny hop A hop that you incorporate into your riding technique so you can clear obstacles such as logs without stopping.
Burrito A Rim braking surface that’s bent inward towards the tube, forming a section that looks rolled like a burrito.
bust A term used the same as the verb “to do” only with more emphasis. e.g. “He busted a huge air over that jump.”
caravan The motorized “circus” that accompanies most major professional stage races and even some amateur events, the caravan is composed of officials’ vehicles, motorcycle police, team cars, medical vans and photographers hanging precariously off the back of even more motorcycles.
Cento per cento (chento pear chento; 100 for 100): the Italian version of a 100-percent, full-gas effort.
chain suck The dragging and jamming of your chain that occurs in sloppy conditions.
chasers Those who are trying to catch a group or a lead rider.
cheese grater To grind off your skin against gravel, asphalt, bike parts, or the like.
chicane A sequence of tight turns, often s-shaped, usually most important near the finish of a road-race or during a criterium.
circuit A course that is ridden two or more times to compose the race.
clean To negotiate a trail successfully without crashing or dabbing. “I cleaned that rock garden!”
clydesdale A large rider.
contact patch The portion of a tire in touch with the ground.
corndog To become covered in silt, usually after a fall.
crack When a cyclist runs out of strength or energy, they are said to have cracked.
cranial disharmony How one’s head feels after augering in. “When my lid nailed that rock, I had a definite feeling of cranial disharmony.”
crater 1) to fail to remain on the trail next to a steep drop-off. Usually painful, as in “One of those death cookies joggled my wheel and I almost cratered on that section that looks down on the river.” 2) to bonk.
crayon a mostly road-specific verb that refers to the leaving of skin and viscera on the asphalt after a crash. “I’m not sure Lisa’s going to make it tonight. We locked wheels this morning and she crayoned all over the place.”
dab To put a foot down in order to catch your balance on a difficult section of trail. “I made it without crashing, but I had to dab once.”
dance To ride out of the saddle. usually in a taller gear than normal, and rocking side to side for leverage. Referred to as danseuse (pronounced “danser” by the French).
death cookies Fist-sized rocks that knock your bike in every direction but the one you want to proceed in.
death grip An overly tight grip on the handlebars caused by fear of terrain, resulting in an endo or other unfortunate mishap.
death march A ride that turns into a test of your endurance. “The bridge was out, and I had to go all the way back the way I came. So, the morning’s nice, easy ride turned into the Bataan death march.”
dialed in When everything on your bike is running smoothly, you are said to be “dialed in.”
diesel A rider who has an even energy output, without any bursts of speed, is said to be a diesel or diesel engine.
digger A face plant. “Look at that guy on that gnarly single track… he’s going to go over the bars and do a digger.”
dolphin hop A technique much like a bunny hop but executed differently. The rider pulls a wheelie, then moves far forward to pitches his bike down, transferring the wheelie to the rear as an obstacle passes underneath.
domestique A racer who sacrifices his own chance of victory to help a teammate win. Tasks of a domestique may include: carrying extra bottles and food for fellow riders, chasing breakaway groups, and even giving their bikes to the designated team leader should he/she have a mechanical problem.
door prize A term used when a rider collides with the open door (usually having just swung open) of a parked car while cycling.
drop To be dropped is to be left behind a breakaway or the peloton for whatever reason (usually because the rider cannot sustain the tempo required to stay with the group). To drop someone is to accelerate strongly with the intent of causing following riders to no longer gain the benefit of drafting.
dropping in Dropping in a steep single track when other riders are around.
drops The lower part of a down-turned handlebar typically found on a road bike. The curved portions are called the hooks.
échappée bidon (esh-a-pay bee-don; water-bottle escape) Aside from the image of riders leisurely sipping water while others attack off the front, the literal translation from French makes little sense in English. This is a breakaway that’s more or less allowed to escape because no one is worried the riders will stay away—traditionally to give a team a chance to get some TV airtime, or to let local riders lead the way into their hometowns and make their families proud.
echelon A diagonal paceline, which modifies the single-file formation for a crosswind.
El gancho (ell gan-cho; on the hook) Spanish for being at your limit—those times when if the pace picks up even a tiny bit, you’ll be finished. Like a fish on a hook being pulled from the water, a rider in this state is leaning far forward and gasping. The same experience is al gancio in Italian, though it references the idea of hanging like meat in an abattoir.
endo The maneuver of flying unexpectedly over the handlebars, thus being forcibly ejected from the bike. Short for “end over end.”
enscarfment A food break at the edge of a cliff.
faire l’élastique (fair lass-teek; doing the elastic) In English, when riders who’ve been struggling to hang onto a group finally lose contact we say they’ve broken the elastic; this French phrase, more like praise for resilience than a condemnation, refers to the valiant struggle to hang on, when the rider repeatedly lets a gap open then claws back to the group.
fare il buco (far-ray eel boo-koh; make the hole) In Italian, you are at the rear of a paceline and fading backward, so someone else has to fill your spot—either because you’re too cooked to contribute to the group effort, or you’re thinking tactically and want to save energy for later.
flash Clearing a technical pitch without dabbing, especially if the rider has no previous experience on the route (See also on-sight flash, where the rider has never seen the trail before, and beta flash, where the rider has seen or studied the route.)
foot fault When a rider can’t disengage his cleats from the pedals before falling over. See horizontal track stand.
gap A distance between two or more riders large enough for drafting to no longer be effective. Also used as verb, “Geraint Thomas has gapped Froome!”
general classification The overall standings in a stage race. Often referred to as GC.
Giro d’Italia In English, the Tour of Italy. It is the second most important stage race on the professional calendar after the Tour de France and one of the three Grand Tours.
gnarl Extreme technical sections. Characterized by very rough, rooty, slippery, or rocky sections. Commonly found in the Pacific Northwest and New England. “He has got some great bike handling skills and can really scream through the gnarl.”
gravity check A fall.
granny gear The lowest gear available on a bike, which only a grandmother would need to use; designed for steep uphill climbing, but extremely easy to pedal in on flat ground.
grimpeur An especially gifted climber.
grinder A long uphill climb.
grunt A very difficult climb, requiring use of the granny gear.
gruppetto See autobus.
half-track A trail so narrow or overgrown that you’d hesitate even to call it singletrack.
half-wheeler A rider that rides half a wheel in front of another no matter how much the pursuer speeds up.
hammer To ride fast and hard. Also to “put the hammer down” or “drop the hammer” to overtake or drop another rider.
honk To vomit due to cycling exertion. Appropriately proceding the definition of hors catégorie.
hors catégorie A French term used in stage bicycle races to designate a climb that is so difficult that it is “beyond categorization.”
huck Performing a large jump without any real thought for the consequences. “I can’t believe he hucked that 20 foot drop!”
in bagnomaria (in ban-yo-ma-ria; in a double boiler) Italian for being caught dangling alone between groups. The image refers to a bowl suspended over or placed into a boiling pan of water for cooking—always thinking about food, those Italians.
impedimentia All the junk on a bike that impedes performance and looks bad.
involuntary dismount A crash.
jam A period of hard, fast riding.
jet To accelerate quickly; to go very fast.
jump To aggressively increase speed without warning, hopefully creating a substantial advantage over your opponents. Also (more usually) denoting an attempt to bridge a gap from one group to another while riding.
kick Accelerating quickly with a few pedal strokes in an effort to break away from other riders (e.g. “Contador kicks again to try to rid himself of Rasmussen”).
kicker A steep jump that gives you a lot of airtime. “I just flew off that kicker!”
kite A rider who climbs very well but is a poor descender.
knock Referred to as “the knock.” Short for “hunger knock.”
la fuga (la foo-gah; the flight) A colorful Italian term for a breakaway. (Careful with this in groups speaking multiple languages—in Spanish la fuga means ‘leaking,’ which could cause all kinds of confusion.)
lanterne rouge This is the competitor in last place in a cycling race such as the Tour de France. The phrase comes from the French “Red Lantern” and refers to the red lantern hung on the caboose of a railway train, which conductors would look for in order to make sure none of the couplings had become disconnected.
lead-out A race tactic in which a rider accelerates to his maximum speed for the benefit of a teammate in tow. The second rider then leaves the draft and sprints past at even greater speed near the finish line.
leech A rider who drafts behind others to reduce his effort but does not reciprocate. Also wheelsucking.
line The desirable path or strategy to take on a tricky trail section or portion of road.
loam A specific type of loose, dry dirt. Desired for its grippy characteristics and the ability to create roost. “The loam here is amazing!”
maglia rosa Italian for “pink jersey,” the maglia rosa is the jersey worn by the current race leader in the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), which is the second most important professional stage race after the Tour de France.
maillot jaune Pronounced mayo – june, it is French for yellow jersey and what the leader and winner of the Tour de France wears.
mash Pushing hard on the pedals.
mud diving What happens when a bike slows abruptly in mud, throwing the rider into wet goo.
musette Also called a musette bag, this pouch with shoulder strap is stuffed with food and handed to racers as they pass through the feed zone.
magic spanner The situation where a mechanic in a support vehicle will appear to be making adjustments to the bike but in reality they are giving fatigued riders a break by holding onto the car and getting a massive push-off when the commissaires get too close.
MAMIL Abbreviation of middle-aged men in lycra, a popular bicycle buying demographic for high-end bicycles.
mandibular disharmony How one’s jaw feels when it and the handle bars attempt to occupy the same space and time.
mantrap Hole covered with autumn leaves or similar, resembling solid earth and effective at eating the front wheel of the unsuspecting rider.
mo Momentum. “If you don’t get in gear at the bottom of that hill, you’ll lose your mo.”
moto or motor official. A race referee or official who uses a motorcycle during the bicycle race event.
mud bogging Riding through muck for fun.
mud-ectomy A shower after a ride on a muddy trail or the act of becoming clean.
muur Dutch for wall. A short, steep climb. Originates from the Tour of Flanders locations such as Muur van Geraardsbergen and Koppenberg.
nose wheelie Lifting the rear wheel of the bike using the front brake and shifting the rider’s weight forward.
off-camber Sloped ground that makes handling difficult.
off the back Describes one or more riders who have failed to keep pace with the main group.
onsight flash To clean a section with no previous knowledge of its layout or elements (See also beta flash).
On the rivet A rider who is riding at maximum speed. When riding at maximum power output, a road racer often perches on the front tip of the saddle (seat), where the shell of an old-style leather saddle would be attached to the saddle frame with a rivet.
On your wheel The condition of being very close to the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you. Used to inform the rider that you have positioned yourself in their slipstream for optimum drafting. For example: “I’m on your wheel.”
organ donor A cyclist who rides without a helmet.
overlap Riding in a position such that the leading edge of one’s front wheel is ahead of the trailing edge of the rear wheel of the bicycle immediately ahead. Overlap is potentially dangerous because of the instability that results if the wheels rub, and the simple fact that it allows the trailing rider to turn only in one direction (away from the wheel of the rider ahead). In road bicycle racing, overlap can be a significant cause of crashes, so beginning riders are instructed to “protect your front wheel” (avoid overlap) whenever riding in a pack.
paceline A line of riders (all it takes is two, yet the more there are, the better it works) traveling closely together and taking turns in the lead in order to save energy, share the work and travel more quickly than possible if riding alone.
pack The main group of riders sticking together in an event or race.
palmarès A bicycle racer’s list of achievements, accomplishments or wins.
panic skid To try with all one’s will and strength to prevent an impending stack by attempting to implant one’s heels as deeply as possible in the ground. Usually not a good idea.
pavement polish The small parallel grooves you find on your bike and its expensive components after you wipe out and smear all aver the blacktop. Pavement polish is the bike equivalent of road rash.
pedal strike When your pedal slams into your shin or vice versa. Usually followed by words not suitable for printing, as well as a nasty mark.
pedaling circles Pedaling smoothly and efficiently.
pedaling squares Not so much.
peloton (from French, literally meaning little ball or platoon) The large main group in a road bicycle race. May also be called the field, bunch, or pack.
pinch flat A tire flat that is caused when the tube is pinched against the rim internally. It results from riding into an object too hard for the air pressure in the tube. Also called a snakebite.
pinned To ride fast. “You were pinned on that burrito!”
portage To carry your bike.
poser Derogatory term for people with expensive bikes that never actually ride. Usually found near a trailhead or coffee shop and never dirty or sweaty. Synonym for Fred.
potato chip A wheel that has been bent badly, but not taco’d.
powder run An extremely dusty section of trail.
prune To use one’s bike or helmet to remove leaves and branches from the surrounding flora, usually unintentional.
pull, pull through To take a turn at the front.
puncheur An aggressive rider who loves hills.
queen stage The most difficult stage of a multi-day road race, typically involving multiple difficult climbs.
rag dolly To wreck in such a way that one’s person is tossed like a flimsy scrap of cloth. “Did you see me rag dolly back there? I think I pierced my ear on a tree branch.”
rail To ride a corner so well it is as if you are “on rails.” “You totally railed that berm!”
ratchet A riding technique in which you pedal in partial strokes in order to clear obstacles.
RDS Abbreviation for Rapid Deceleration Syndrome. Military term for the very sudden medical condition that happens when the free-flight following a high-speed involuntary dismount is interrupted by something solid.
road rash Also called a “raspberry,” “strawberry” or “bacon,” this is the painful scrape(s) suffered from crashing and sliding down the road.
roadie Someone who favors road riding.
rockectomy Removing rocks, dirt, gravel from one’s person after a yard sale. “Some betty stopped by and performed a rockectomy on my knee after the wreck, I think she digs my scene.”
rock garden A section of trail with so many large, immovable rocks, it takes skill to ride through it without putting your foot down or walking.
roost Dirt that is kicked up behind a rider as they ride sideways into a corner. “He kicked up so much roost on that turn!”
saddle The seat of a bicycle.
saddle time Time spent cycling.
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. SAG is an acronym for “support and gear” or “support and grub.”
sand dig Section of trail with deep soft sand, tending to bog bikes down. Usage: “There’s a long sand dig from here to the mountain.”
schwag Also, sometimes called “swag,” it’s free bicycle goodies, such as posters, caps, bottles, stickers etc. you pick up at cycling events, races, shops.
scream To ride really fast.
session To repeatedly ride a section until you have perfected it. “I need to session those turns until I don’t have to dab anymore.”
shapes To pull or throw shapes (origin: Irish slang for acting the “hard man”) is to pedal in an ungainly and un-fluid manner, usually due to exertion; a sign that a rider is about to crack or has cracked. Can be used in expressive ways: “He’s throwing a whole basket of shapes.”
shelled A rider who is having extreme difficulty keeping up with a fast pace race in a way they did not anticipate.
shred Negotiating trails with a higher-than-usual level of expertise.
sit up In a race, if a rider eases his or her efforts and stops pulling or maintaining the pace of the group, the rider is said to have sat up.
sit-on To ride behind another rider without taking a turn on the front, often in preparation for an attack or sprint finish.
slicks Tires with so little tread that they appear bald. Very fast and grippy.
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.
soft-pedal To rotate the pedals while applying very little power.
soil sample A face plant.
speed check If you are approaching a jump too fast, you may need to slow down by making quick speed check. In other words, braking.
spin To pedal at high cadence.
squares Similar to shapes. pedaling squares is pedaling without fluid rhythm. Pedaling in a labored fashion.
squirrel A cyclist who has a tendency to swerve unexpectedly and maintain inconsistent speed. Considered dangerous to follow at close range for the purpose of drafting.
steed Your bike; the reason for your existence.
step-down A jump where the landing is lower than the takeoff.
step-up A jump where the landing is higher than the takeoff.
sticky bottle When someone in a support vehicle holds on to a water bottle they are handing to a rider for a time in order to drag the athlete and let him rest. This is usually tolerated by the race commissaire if the bottle is held for one or two seconds but may result in a sanction if an exaggeration is perceived.
stoppie A nose wheelie.
superman A rider who flies over the handlebars and doesn’t hit the ground for a long time. This may result in injury, but when it doesn’t, it’s really funny for everyone who witnesses it.
surfing Two-wheel slide on loose trail debris. Usage: “I couldn’t even touch my brakes without surfing.”
swing off When a cyclist who has been pulling other riders leaves the front of the pack by steering his bike to the side.
taco’d A term used to describe a seriously damaged wheel that appears folded over like a taco.
take a flyer To suddenly sprint away from a group.
taking a pull Going to the front of the group and staying there for a while to give followers a rest.
tea party When a whole group of riders stops and chats, and nobody seems to want to ride on.
thrash Sloppy or poor riding skills.
three-hour tour A ride that looks like a piece of cake at the outset but turns out to be a death march. Derived from the theme song to “Gilligan’s Island.”
throw the bike A racing technique in which a rider thrusts the bike ahead of his or her body at the finish line, gaining several inches in hopes of winning a close sprint.
tombstone Little rock protruding out of the trail which you don’t notice because you are having a heart-attack climbing the hill.
tornado To balance on your front wheel while turning your back wheel 90-180 degrees in either direction.
Tout à droite “All to the right” “as hard as you can go” (When the chain is in the farthest right position on the chainring and the cassette, you’re in the hardest gear.
trackstand A maneuver where the rider stops the bike and attempts to remain standing.
trail apples Evidence of the passage of horses. Usage: “I ran into the brush trying to dodge the trail apples.”
turkey An unskilled cyclist.
unobtanium Describing a bike or accessory made from expensive, high-tech material. A play on “unobtainable” and “titanium.”
vegetable tunnel A singletrack that is heavily overgrown with foliage, so a rider must duck and bend to get through it.
velo Word for bicycle from the early French term “velocipede.”
vultures Spectators who line up at dangerous obstacles in hopes of seeing blood.
wall A road that looks like it goes straight up, because it practically does. Generally used for grades steeper than 10%, depending on region.
wack Something that is not good. “It’s pretty wack that my bike broke in two.”
washout or wash To have the front tire lose traction, especially while going around a corner or when inadvertently locked. Generally results in the wheel ending up somewhere other than under the rider.
washboard Small, regular undulations of the soil surface that make for a very rough ride.
weight-weenie A bike owner (not even necessarily a rider) who is more concerned with how many milligrams a certain component saves off the bike’s total weight than with how to be a better rider.
wheelsucker Someone who drafts behind others but doesn’t take a pull.
whiteknuckle To rapidly descend on a trail that’s sheer gonzo when you were expecting a cake walk.
wild pigs Poorly adjusted brake pads that squeal in use.
wonky Not functioning properly.
work To do “turns on the front,” to aid a group of riders by sharing the workload of working against air resistance by “pulling on the front” of the group. Similar to pull.
yard sale A horrendous crash that leaves all your various “wares” — water bottles, pump, tool bag, etc. — scattered as if on display for sale.
yellow jersey What the leader and winner of the Tour de France wears.
zone out A state of mind where you think you’ve reached The Zone, but you really just stopped paying attention to what you’re doing. Usually used as an excuse for a particularly embarrassing biff.
zone, the A state of mind experienced while riding. You don’t think, you just do. A truly Zen experience that can’t be fully explained, but when you get there you’ll know it and strive to reach it again.