25 Terms Every Cyclist Should Know

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Before a novice can really learn to love, appreciate, scrutinize, and grasp the big picture and minute details of a sport, they must have a basic knowledge of the common terminology that goes along with it.

Cycling is no exception. For a sport that is typically learned before the age of 10, there are many known terms and many unknown terms used both in the United States and in other parts of the world.  

Here is a quick list of 25 important cycling terms:

Aero - short for aerodynamic, this is a commonly used adjective to describe cycling gear that is streamlined and built to reduce wind resistance. You may hear this term applied to bike frames, wheels, helmets, or to the rider themselves. It is an important quality for the more experienced riders dealing with timed stages and trials, as being aero can make a big difference in speed.

Alpe d’Huez - according to Pactimo.com, Alpe d’Huez is a legendary Tour de France climb “renowned for its brutal steepness and 21 switchbacks, each bearing the name of a past Tour stage winner. The Alpe became the Tour’s first mountaintop finish when the then-unpaved climb was used in 1952. Fausto Coppi won the first stage to use the 8.6-mile, 7.9%-grade climb with a time of 45 minutes and 22 seconds. Now paved, debate remains as to who holds the record for the fastest ascent of the climber’s crown jewel. Marco Pantani is generally acknowledged to be the fastest at 37’35”.”

Attack - less violent than it sounds, an attack occurs when there is a sudden attempt to get away or pull ahead from another rider or group of riders.

Bail - to toss away or ditch your bike immediately prior to the crash

Bibs - a type of comfortable, functional shorts that look similar to overalls. Many cyclists prefer bib shorts due to the absence of a waistband which can cause discomfort and the lightweight, breathable fabric. Think stretchy shorts that have built-in suspenders similar to a singlet.

Bonk - used to describe extreme exhaustion or “hitting the wall” in terms of energy. Most often, this feeling is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the blood and muscles. Endurance athletes must sustain their energy by eating complex carbohydrates at specific intervals and staying hydrated throughout the workout.

Break, Breakaway - a rider or group of riders that has separated or is separating themselves from the pack

Cadence - another term for pedaling rate or the number of pedal revolutions per minute (RPM). While there is no set “ideal” cadence, a professional cyclist will want to fine-tune their RPM in order to get into a groove while traversing long distances.

Caravan - a grouping of non-riders composed of officials’ vehicles, motorcycle police, team cars, medical vans, and photographers following extremely close behind the riders in a stage race or other event.

Domestique - this is a racer who sacrifices a chance at victory to help another rider on his/her team win. Obligations of a domestique may include carrying extra water and food for teammates, chasing breakaway groups, or even possibly giving their bikes to the assigned team leader should they have a mechanical problem.

Drafting - when a rider positions themselves behind another rider to take advantage of the windbreak. This helps the rider to use less energy, perhaps while traveling up a hill or on a windy day.

Echelon - a formation of riders that form a diagonal line to receive protection from the wind.

Field, Pack, Peloton, or Bunch - the primary group of riders in a race.

Grand Tour - the term used to describe one of the three European Grand Tour races.  These include the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España.

Jersey - According to Greatist.com, “Plenty of athletes wear jerseys, but in cycling, they’re a bit different. Cyclists wear zip-up jerseys that wick away sweat and often have pockets on the back to hold essential supplies. Successful pros can even earn special jerseys as trophies. In the Tour de France, the four most well-known ones are the coveted yellow jersey (for the overall race leader), the polka dot jersey (for the best climber, or “King of the Mountains”), the green jersey (for the rider with the greatest number of stage points for sprinting), and the white jersey (for the best young rider under 25 years old). Another impressive piece of swag is the rainbow jersey, worn by the reigning world champion.”

Mechanical - slang for an issue with your bicycle

Pull, Pull Through - taking a turn at the front of the pack/group. Typically the hardest working rider, as they are not benefitting from drafting.

Queen Stage - the hardest, most challenging stage of a race, typically at higher elevations

Soigneur - USA Cycling describes this as a “French term for cycling’s equivalent of a trainer. A soigneur usually looks after the physical health of a rider and gives massages”

Stage Race - a multi-day event that combines several races over many different locations and settings. Lowest cumulative time is the primary goal.

Sprint - a last-minute, sudden burst of speed to break away from the pack or before reaching the finish line

Summit Finish - levels of a stage race that ends atop a mountain or includes a major climb in elevation

Time Trial - an individual or group/team race against the clock

Throw the Bike, Bike Throw - racing technique where a rider thrusts the bike ahead of their body at the finish line, gaining several inches in hopes of winning a close sprint.

Velodrome - oval-shaped, banked track for indoor cycling

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