17 Terms Every Rider Needs to Know | Cycling 101

by Meghan Rabbitt
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17 Terms Every Rider Needs to Know | Cycling 101

For a sport you probably learned how to do before you could even read, biking can certainly sound more complicated (and daunting) than it actually is. Whether you’re new to cycling or you’ve been riding for awhile and still don’t know the difference between your bike’s crank and cassette, this guide will help.


Short for aerodynamic, this term is used to describe everything from bike frames and wheels to helmets and other gear that have been designed for minimal wind resistance. While you probably won’t hear the average cyclist use this term often, it’s a top priority for riders who race in time trials or triathlons.


This word is another way of saying you’re too pooped to keep going. When your body’s glycogen stores are depleted (glycogen is stored in the muscles and gives them energy to fire on demand), you’ll hit the proverbial wall — and it’s more likely to happen if you haven’t fueled yourself properly by drinking enough water and eating enough food before and during your ride. You’ll know you’ve bonked if you start to feel lethargic or light-headed, your muscles start cramping and you need to get off your bike. The solution? Rest, lots of water and high-carb eats.


This is a fancy word for rotational speed or the rate at which you’re pedaling. While experts agree there’s no ideal cadence, finding the right number of pedal strokes per minute (aka rpm, which we’ll explain in a bit) can help you get into a groove on your bike.


This is the arm that connects your pedals to the chainrings.


These are the circular metal discs with spiky “teeth” next to the pedals and connected to the cranks on your bike. Bikes have one, two or three chainrings; they’re responsible for transmitting the energy you create by pedaling to the rear wheel, via the chain.


This crucial bike part isn’t just fun to say (de-rail-ee-er), it’s also the mechanism that moves your bike’s chain from gear to gear whenever you shift. The majority of road bikes have one derailleur for the chainrings in the front, and another one in the rear for the cassette. (Read: the pyramid-shaped set of gears on the rear wheel that the chain moves up and down, depending on what gear you’re in.)


When a group of cyclists ride in a line, one behind another, they’re drafting — a technique used to reduce wind resistance and help riders expend less energy as a result. (In fact, even the leader enjoys a little less wind resistance than he or she would if riding solo thanks to a low-pressure air bubble between riders, which pushes the leader forward.)  


You know the curved part of the handlebars on a road bike, which you probably only see really serious riders using when you’re on the road? Those are the drops, and they’ll make you less comfortable and more aerodynamic. Even if you’re not out to race, you’ll want to use the drops when you’re descending a hill, as it’ll lower your center of gravity and give you more control of your bike at higher speeds.


This is slang for a fixed-gear bike, which is a single-speed that has no brakes. Before you hop on a fixie with your favorite hipster (fixed-gear bikes are popular among that crowd), know this: A fixie can’t coast, which means that whenever the bike is moving, your legs need to be moving, too.


This is the third, smallest chainring, called the “granny gear” because it’s an extremely low gear that’ll help you move your pedals (Read: keep riding, rather than hopping off your bike to walk like your grandma would) when you’re riding up steep climbs.

11. KIT

This is a fancy term for your cycling outfit. A kit typically includes shorts or bibs (special bike shorts held up by suspenders rather than an elastic waistband, to cut back on chafing and pain when you’re spending time hunched forward in the riding position), a jersey (cycling shirt), shoes, socks and even a little cap worn under your helmet.


Before you fill your tires with air, you should know if you have a Presta or Schrader valve. If you ride a road bike, odds are you’ve got a Presta, which are often found on the kind of high-pressure tubes used on road bikes. You’ll know it’s a Presta if air is released when you press on it. Keep in mind Prestas can be a little tricky to use, and can break at the rim or bend if handled roughly. Schrader valves are easier to use: Simply remove the cap, apply the pump and pump your tire full of air. You probably won’t find a Schrader on a road bike, but you will see them on some mountain bikes and beach cruisers.


This is a term for a pack of cyclists in a bike race. The cyclists ride as an integrated unit — similar to birds flying in formation — to reduce drag and increase their speed.


14. PULL

When you’re riding in a pack, the cyclist at the front works the hardest to ride against the wind, and everyone behind benefits from a draft. When you’re the rider at the front of a paceline or peloton (a group of riders), you’re “taking a pull.” When it’s the next rider’s turn to take a pull, simply drift to the side of the pack and start pedaling again when you’re at the back so you can draft until it’s your turn to pull again.


If you crash and hit pavement, there’s a good chance you’ll have some scrapes, cuts and brush burns. Collectively, these are called “road rash,” and having it means you’ll probably spend some time picking gravel out of multiple layers of skin.

16. RPM

This is your revolutions per minute or the number of pedal strokes you take every minute you ride. If you’ve got a computer on your bike, it’ll give you your rpm. If not, you can calculate your rpm on your own by setting a timer and counting the number of times your right foot reaches the bottom of your pedal stroke for one minute.

17. SPD

This acronym stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, which is a design of clipless bike pedals where a small two-hole cleat on the bike fits into a recess in the sole of the bike shoe.


  • Pondering Life and Liberty

    interesting that the author mentions SPD for road bike and not Look or Speedplay lollipops

  • David Bean

    “Breaks” “de-rail-ee-er” ?? WTF? Looks like Ms Rabbitt has a lot to learn.

  • Keith Miller

    18. “Brakes”: the things that stops your bike.
    19. “Breaks”: what happens to your bones if you don’t use 18.
    (Please fix the misspelling in the definition for FIXIE!)

  • Robert Iams

    this must be for the novice cyclist, I’m 59 and learned these terms when I got my first Schwinn ten speed in 1972. Of course chain rings were called sprockets, which is what they are………..

    • Kevin Rourke

      The terms used may vary even amongst more knowledgeable cyclists. I’ve heard the front chain rings also called chain wheels, whilst the term ‘sprocket’ is usually more associated with the rear cassette. Whilst on the rear derailleur, the guide and tension sprockets are also sometimes referred to as jockey pulleys (or pullys).

      • Robert Iams

        Uhm…..didn’t I already say that. A sprocket is a steel circle with teeth on it, therefore in olden times they were all sprockets.

        • Kevin Rourke

          Yes, the guide does appear to be aimed at newer or less mechanically-minded cyclists.
          I didn’t disagree with you, I was merely trying to point out that terminology may alter with time, possibly due to a change in Technology, or where we become more knowledgeable.

          I suppose the term ‘sprocket’ was more widely used when most bicycles had a single chainring.

          Your description/definition of a sprocket is basically correct, though you missed out the important bit about it usually being associated with a chain (chain and sprocket mechanism).
          And sprockets are not necessarily made from steel; the larger chain rings are often made of aluminium, some cassette sprockets are made of titanium, and the rear derailleur sprockets are usually plastic (polymer) or composite.

  • DugB

    I’d add the following to this list: “Endo” (crashing and going over the bars), “hoods” (covers on the tops of the brake levers, where you can place your hands for a different position), “Looks” (the other type of road pedal clipless cleat, designed by Look (IIRC)), “tubs” (short for tubular rims/tires, and “clinchers” (tires held on by a rigid bead as opposed to being glued to the rims).

  • Brian Scholin

    “Brakes”, not “breaks”. Unless they’re broken…

  • Greg

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that a fixie has no flywheel, as opposed to no brakes? I get it that most (but not necessarily all) fixies have no brakes, but the defining character of a fixie is that the rear hub has no flywheel, which is why they can’t coast.

    • cedamon

      It’s called a “freewheel” not a “flywheel”.

      • Greg

        Durrrrr….you’re correct of course, thanks for pointing that out. Not sure where “flywheel” came from. It’s fixed now.

    • cedamon

      It’s called a “freewheel” not a “flywheel”.

  • Claudio

    “Schrader” not “Shrader” – You got it right in the small text, but I reckon it’s hard to notice when big and bold. BTW, fixies can coast. Early bikes had foot pegs that allowed this practice, although ordinary riders liked to hang their legs over the bars.

  • cedamon

    The most distinguishing difference between Schrader and Presta, the most obvious, is their size.

  • cedamon

    The most distinguishing difference between Schrader and Presta, the most obvious, is their size.