To an outsider, a conversation between cyclists can sound a lot like a foreign language. Heck, there are terms out there some cyclists may not know, no matter how long they’ve been around the peloton.
Whether you’re trying to impress your friends on your next group ride or simply want to better understand the banter between legendary Tour de France commentators Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett, the obscure lingo below is sure to put you ahead of the curve.
1. Bacon: Do you know what your skin looks like after you’ve scraped it against the pavement and suffered a severe case of road rash? That’s right. Bacon.
2. Beyond category: If you’ve ever encountered a road leading up the side of a mountain that makes you ask, “Just where the hell does this thing end, and can someone please remind me why I’m doing this to myself?” then you may be familiar with a “beyond category” climb. This classification of mountain is also sometimes referred to as Hors Catégorie, which is as long and steep of a road as man has decided to build. Think Alpe d’Huez or the alien landscape of the Mont Ventoux.
3. Bidon: Yeah, you could just say water bottle. But the term “bidon” is more pro.
4. Blow up: This commonly occurs when a rider continues at a pace far above that which he or she is able to maintain. Though it is possible to recover from “blowing up,” the aftereffects are generally unpleasant and not ideal to experience on the side of a mountain.
5. Brick: A “brick” is a cyclist who has the speed of a Yugo going up a mountain and that of a Ferrari coming down it. It’s a common term for big cyclists who lack the power-to-weight ratio needed to excel at climbing. Because of his or her added weight, the rider bombs the downhills to make up for lost time.
6. Broom wagon: If you see the broom wagon in a race, consider your efforts a major fail. Typically, this is a support vehicle that “sweeps” cyclists who are unable to continue from the roadway.
7. Clean wheels: No, this does not refer to the cleanliness or “sweetness” of your steed. Showing another cyclist a “clean pair of wheels” is to leave them in your wake, setting a pace that is unattainable for your competitors. A bowed head, disgust, oxygen debt and begging for mercy are common results of being shown this action.
8. Hammer: You probably know what happens when a hammer hits a nail. When a group or peloton is cruising along and one of the cyclists from the pack decides to drop the hammer, he or she puts the proverbial nail into everyone else’s coffin — displaying a need for speed that is unmatched.
9. Jump: Similar to being jumped by a group of thugs in a dark alley, jumping other cyclists means to increase your speed suddenly, aggressively and without warning. The result is a distance advantage over your opponents that most likely cannot be duplicated.
10. On the rivet: When every ounce of your power is being pushed into the pedals, you are said to be “on the rivet.” Though saddles don’t have rivets on the tip of their leather coverings anymore (outside of Brooks, perhaps), the term is derived from the tendency to move toward the front of the saddle when your effort reaches maximum capacity, which is also when you might begin to slobber on yourself.
11. Palmarès: If you’re a pro with no palmarès (list of races you’ve won), you’re a nobody. If your name is Eddy Merckx, your picture is next to the word in the dictionary.
12. Sticky bottle: So cheating doesn’t happen in cycling, right? Tell that to those who perfect the “sticky bottle” technique. When done properly, a cyclist can turn a simple task like taking a bidon from the team car into an opportunity for a few seconds of rest and relaxation (done by holding on to the bottle for far too long while the car pulls you along).
13. The wheelsucker: A most hated term in cycling, a wheelsucker is the name of a disgraceful individual who sits on the rear wheel or another rider or group — without putting in his or her share of work at the front — in order to conserve energy.*
*Please note that this strategy is also an excellent way to win races and add to your palmarès.