How To: Talk like a cyclist
Have you ever been sitting in a café, in a bike shop or stopped at the traffic lights and overheard a conversation between cyclists and thought to yourself…
What the hell are they on about?!
This piece is my confusion-reduction contribution. When you’re new to riding or racing, cycling lingo can feel like a foreign language. This handy guide will help you understand the cyclists that surround and learn to sound like one, too.
There I was, wide-eyed and eager, riding with a bunch of mates out to the Dandenongs when my riding partner said to me: “Will you quit half-wheeling?” And I had absolutely no idea what it was I needed to stop doing.
And thus begun was my introduction to what can seem like the ever-so-mysterious cycling lingo to the uninitiated.
I asked for the definition of “half-wheeling” and learned that this very, very annoying action is riding about a half-wheel ahead of the person next you. It’s a bunch riding faux-pas of which I’m still guilty of on occasion.
From there the new terms came fast and furious. The more and more I rode my bike, the more immersed I got in cycling culture, the more I encountered the lingo. I’ve become a quick study of the cycling language.
After speaking with my Specialized Securitor teammates, I have put together a list of terms that you may hear and their most commonly accepted definitions. As always, the comment section is a great place to add to my list or let me know where you agree/disagree.
Important note before I dig into the topic at hand. While I encourage you to master the terms below please – don’t start sounding like this.
Alright, your dictionary awaits:
Aero. Short for aerodynamic. A phrase often used to describe your riding position, bike set up or equipment that reduces wind resistance.
Back on. A term used to describe when a rider has lost contact with the peloton or group and then manages to reconnect.
Being aggressive. When riders and/or teams constantly attack and/or ride hard during a race with the general aim to splinter the peloton or get in a breakaway. This is how you should ride the SKCC crits.
Bonking. When you effectively lose all energy in your body and feel like you are riding backwards. This is common when riders do not eat enough during a race. Used in the phrase, I’m bonking or I bonked.
Bibs. Or bib knicks. Bibs are cycling knicks that are held up by a bib – or suspenders instead of a regular elastic waistband. They are probably the most common and comfortable style of cycling knicks (in my opinion).
Blowing up. Similar to bonking, but generally applies after you have done a huge effort. Often used like, I blew up.
Big dog. The largest chain ring on your crank set. Often used in the phrase, why are you riding in the big dog?
Breakaway or the break. A break forms when a solo rider or group of riders attack the peloton. They form a group (or solo move) that rides ahead of the peloton. They have broken away from the peloton.
Bridge or bridging. To catch the rider/s in front who have a gap. Used in the phrase she bridged over or I bridged the gap.
Chasing. When a rider or riders chase a group or rider in front. Chasing also occurs if a rider attacks and riders chase them down so that a break does not establish.
Chammy. Also known as Chamois. Refers to the padding in your cycling shorts/bibs. You’ll regularly hear: chammy time is training time.
Chewing the handlebars. A term use to describe the feeling when you are completely in the hurt box, often focused on your Garmin, stem, ground or in the general direction of your handlebars. Used it this way: the climb was so steep that I was chewing the handlebars in pain.
Chopping wheels. When a rider cuts sharply in front of your wheel. This can cause crashed. It can happen when a rider tries to push in to a spot or to fill a gap too quickly. Often heard: she chopped my wheel.
Cooked. When you are exhausted after a big day on the bike. Used like: I rode 100kms today into a headwind, I’m cooked.
Creepin’. Underperforming despite your best efforts or when hungover. Urgh, I was creepin’ out there today. Often accompanied with a lot of wheel sucking.
Drafting. The art of sitting behind someone’s wheel. Riding directly behind someone is the most aerodynamic and efficient place to be. By drafting you can use up to 40 percent less energy than if you were riding in the wind.
Echelon. Generally described as a long string or line of riders that are in a formation that shelters them from the wind. The front rider will pull off the front, towards the direction of the wind and make their way to the back of the line.
Filling gaps. If there is a gap in the peloton, fill it. Often gaps form in the peloton from riders moving round or dropping wheels. Not filling gaps is a recipe for getting dropped, because you are exposed in the wind and if the bunch surges, you have more distance to cover to maintain contact. Always fill a gap.
Getting dropped. The moment when you lose touch with the peloton or group and end up riding on your own.
Grupetto. The last group to make time cut in a race. The group ride together to make time cut. Also known as the laughing bunch or riding the bus.
Granny gears. The lowest gear ratio on your bike, often used when climbing.
Hammer. Generally refers to when someone rides away from a group, starts riding faster than everyone else, or attacks. Used in the phrase: they dropped the hammer.
Head bobbing. Often a symptom of riders who are suffering in a race. They generally bob their heads and bodies to get power into their pedals from every part of their body apart from their legs. It is not very effective.
Half-wheeling. When your riding partner rides with their wheel half of a wheel in front of yours. They are half-wheeling you. As I have found out many times, it is incredibly annoying for you and your riding partner. Stick to a consistent speed and don’t half wheel.
Hubbard. Generally a rider identified by an unmatched and or baggy kit, no knowledge about cycling, no bike handling skills, unshaven legs and an awkward presence on the bike.
Leading out. This is a tactic used by teams or individuals to set up a sprint. Riders line up and drive the pace, putting out a sustained effort before peeling off until the last rider is left to sprint for the win. This is an effective way of driving the pace in the build-up to a sprint.
Lumpy. When the race or ride profile includes, undulating, rolling hills and is essentially not flat.
Noodle arms. A disorder suffered by climbers when them move their arms around like noodles when climbing. If climbing effectively, your arm movement should increase torque and power. When not done effectively, you look like a noodle.
Motor-pacing. A method of training that cyclists use. A car or motorbike is used to draft behind to allow for training at increased speed.
Moving up. An important skill in bike racing. You must always move up the bunch/peloton. This will mean that you will always be riding towards the front.
Off the back. Similar term to that of getting dropped. When a rider loses touch with the peloton and is effectively off the back.
Popped. When you can no longer keep up a pace. Used in the phrase, I absolutely popped today when I was climbing or I was popped from the bunch because they were pushing the pace.
Peloton or pelo. The main group of riders racing or riding in a bunch.
Pile up. When riders crash in a pile on the road.
Pulling turns. When you are on the front (driving the pace) and pull off to let someone else continue the work. The cycle continues as each rider pulls off after pulling her turn. This enables a faster speed to be maintained as each rider puts in a hard short effort.
Pointing. Often used to take a wheel that you want without being obnoxious or aggressive. A simple point of the finger to indicate where you would like to go generally results in you ending up where you want to go.
Responding. This happens the moment after someone in the peloton attacks. The rider responds by chasing.
Sitting in. The art of using the peloton or bunch to conserve your energy. Sitting in the middle of the bunch means that you are protected, out of the wind and using less energy than everyone else. She sat in all day and sprinted for the win.
Smashed. When you are physically and mentally exhausted from riding or when you are riding strongly to exhaust others. Used in the phrase, that was a hard climb, I’m smashed or she was smashing the boys today on the climb.
Stomping. A rider who is riding and performing well on the bike. They may be particularly fast, strong, winning or stealing all your Strava QOMs.
Stealing a wheel. When someone is following the wheel you want in the peloton, you move to steal it from them. Use it like: she stole my wheel or I stole her wheel.
Surfing. The fine art of navigating your way around the peloton. Done with grace and ease and always ending in the perfect position.
Splinter or split peloton. When the peloton is split up, usually as a result of an attack, chase, terrain, sprint point, wind etc. The peloton is splintered into smaller groups.
Tempo. Riding at a fast to moderate cadence or effort.
The washing machine. What happens to your position within the bunch when trying to maintain a position towards the front. You are churned around like a washing machine – one moment at the front, one moment at the side, one moment at the back.
The wheel. A term to describe a rider. Used this way: I was on a good wheel when the sprint started.
Up the road. A term that refers to riders, generally in a break, that have left the peloton and are riding further up the road than the main bunch.
Up up up. A method of alerting the peloton to an attack. Need to alert your teammates to an attack you’re hoping they can cover? Yell this (but know it’s a bit annoying).
Using the convoy. If you are ever dropped from the bunch, it is important that you use the convoy, which is the group of cars that make up the caravan behind the race, to get back on. This generally involves motor-pacing behind various team cars, resting and then moving to the next one until you eventually make it back to the peloton.
Wheel sucking. When you follow the rider in front of you, drafting, and sucking their wheel as if your life depended on it. On a windy day, you will realise how important this ability is. Drop that wheel and you will regret it.
Watts. Measurement of power produced through your pedals. Measured by a power meter.
Zig Zagging. A zig zag movement across the road. Generally used when you are on the front of a peloton and want to get off and everyone follows you not allowing it, when you are playing cat and mouse in the lead up to a sprint or when the gradient is way too steep to ride up in a straight line.
About the author
The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.
She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.