Cycling Gear and Gadgets 101

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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Cycling Gear and Gadgets 101

New cyclists can be forgiven for feeling like cycling lingo is confusing and ever-changing, heck even experienced cyclists get confused reading about new bottom bracket standards and the latest tire size debates. Since a bike involves many parts, and cyclists have many different goals, your gear knowledge must span mechanical, aesthetic and performance-oriented aspects.

Here are five key areas to know a little about:


Example phrase: “My DI2 shifters are great in the mud because there are no cables to create friction, but it would have been nice to have a 50-tooth cog on the climb today.”

The chain, chainrings and cogs move you forward driven by your pedaling. It is the movement of the chain along the cogs and chainrings, instigated by your shifters and derailleurs, that makes it possible to climb hills easier and descend fast without spinning like crazy.

The trend has been to reduce the number of chainrings (the front gears near your pedals) and to add gears to the rear cassette (the rear gears near the hub of the rear wheel.) Road bikes generally come with two chainrings while mountain and cyclocross bikes generally have one chainring. While there are fewer chainrings there is an increased number of gears on the rear cassette (the gears near the rear wheel) to span a bigger range between a very small and big cog.

A big change in gearing has been electronic shifting, which eliminates the need for shifter-cables that can get sticky, affect shift quality and literally make shifting as easy as pushing a button. In some top-of-the-line shifters, you don’t even need wires because the shifters are wireless, which also makes installation relatively easy.


Example phrase: “My calipers were heating up on the long descent I was braking so much, I might need to look into a bigger front rotor now that we are riding in the mountains more.”

Disc brakes have been standard on mountain bikes for many years but only recently have they become standard in cyclocross and on the road. Disc brakes are used in cars and basically move the braking surface from the rim surface (near the tire) to a disc/rotor attached to the hub.


Example phrase: “My aluminum frame rides harsher than the carbon frame I used to have, but it is surprisingly light compared to older aluminum frames.”

Bike frame and materials have not changed much lately, but new iterations and mixtures of the standard carbon fiber, aluminum, steel and titanium have allowed for progress in durability, lightness and comfort. There is still a large group of people who prefer to ride steel frames for many reasons including nostalgia, durability and price.

The bigger developments in frames have come from customized frames to optimize aerodynamics by molding the frame to catch less wind and comfort by using linkages and the flexible properties of carbon fiber to allow for slightly more flex in certain parts of the frame.


Example phrase: “I have a dropper post on my mountain bike and I’m using 740mm bars.”

Seat-posts attach your seat to your frame and are a popular topic lately with the advent of dropper-posts, which allows your saddle to be lowered for technical mountain bike descents. These special posts have even found their way onto the occasional cyclocross, gravel and road bike!

Handlebars are an important accessory so there tends to be a lot of talk about the width of the handlebar (typically measured in millimeters) and the qualities of the bar as far as its sweep (curve back toward the rider), rise (an upward curve from the center) and, for road handlebars, the qualities of the hooked drop portion of the bar. The key thing to know is you have options so if it doesn’t feel right, try tweaking your bars or looking into new ones!


Example phrase: “I am running 40C tires at the local gravel race on the weekend set up to bless.”

Tire discussions have always been heated with tread patterns, width, suppleness and whether to go tubeless among common decisions. For width, the trend in almost all disciplines is to go wider to enhance comfort and control.

Many cyclists are using tubeless tires, meaning that, like a car tire, there are no tubes inside the outer casing. To help seal the tire and prevent flats most tubeless tires have a sealant inside.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at


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