17 Terms Every Rider Needs to Know | Cycling 101

Meghan Rabbitt
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.

1. AERO

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.

2. BONK

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.

3. CADENCE

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.

4. CRANK

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

5. 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.

6. DERAILLEUR

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.)

7. DRAFTING

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.)  

8. DROPS

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.

9. FIXIE

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.

10. GRANNY GEAR

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.

12. PRESTA VS. SHRADER

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.

13. PELOTON

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.


READ MORE > 10 CYCLING HAND SIGNALS YOU NEED TO KNOW


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.

15. ROAD RASH

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.

About the Author

Meghan Rabbitt
Meghan Rabbitt
Meghan is a freelance writer whose work is published in national magazines and websites, including Women’s Health, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Yoga Journal, Prevention, Runner’s World, Well + Good, Refinery29 and many more. When she’s not writing, she’s doing yoga, swimming or riding her bike in Boulder, Colorado.

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