Every sport and pastime has its own jargon and sayings, and cycling terms are no different. In fact, the variety and nature of the sport mean that there are a wealth of bike terms that are unique to cycling!
You won’t often need to use cycling expressions while you are riding. However, when it comes to chatting over your day with a post-ride beer or figuring out what the guy in the bike shop is saying, it’s a good idea to learn some cycling terms!
With our complete A-Z guide to cycling terms, we’ve got you covered. Think of it as a cheat sheet of cycling expressions to give you a head start when it comes to bike talk.
Ready to know your Fred from your fishtail?
Let’s get started!
The Essential Cycling Terms: A-Z
When you want to ride as fast or efficiently as possible, you need to be as slippery through the air as possible. ‘Aero’ is short for aerodynamics, the art of reducing drag, just like a racing car.
Cyclists can make themselves more aero by wearing tight clothing and specially shaped helmets. They can also tweak their riding position to cut through the air more efficiently. For example, you can fit your bike with aero bars to reduce drag.
‘Back on’ is one of the cycling terms that is used in racing. It describes when a rider has been disconnected from the peloton or group but manages to rejoin it.
‘Bibs’ – also known as ‘bib shorts’ – are cycling bottoms held up with suspenders over the shoulders. These are different from traditional cycling shorts with elasticated waistbands.
‘Blowing up’ is bike slang with a similar meaning to ‘bonking’ (see below). This refers to how you feel after putting in a massive effort, burning through all your glycogen stores in the process.
Bonking is one of the most common cycling expressions for people who have just lost all their energy – some cyclists liken it to the feeling of riding backward. It’s similar to marathon runners talking about ‘hitting the wall’ (though this can have a different meaning in cycling – see ‘hitting the wall’).
The best way to avoid bonking is to fuel yourself properly during a race or ride.
A breakaway is when a solo rider or a small group of riders attacks the main pack of riders in a race. The breakaway sprints ahead of the peloton, trying to build a large enough gap to avoid being caught again before the end of the race.
When you ‘bridge’ during a race, you catch the riders in front of you, closing the gap. For example, you might hear Tour de France commentators saying, “he bridged over to the breakaway”.
The ‘bunch’ is one of the cycling terms that refer to the group of people you are riding with or racing against. The bunch is also often called the “pack,” which comprises three or more riders.
A ‘century’ is a ride that is either 100 kilometers or 100 miles long, depending on whether your country uses the metric or imperial system.
Every cyclist will get a ‘chainring tattoo’ at some point. This is the oily mark you get from accidentally touching your calf with your chainring.
‘Chasing’ is one of the fairly self-explanatory cycling terms. It is simply when you chase a rider or group of riders at the front. Riders will often chase to prevent a breakaway.
‘Chammy’ is bike slang for the chamois, which is the soft padding in your cycling shorts or bib.
Chewing The Handlebars
‘Chewing the handlebars’ is one of those cycling terms that goes hand-in-hand with ‘bonking’. This term describes when you are leaning with your head over the handlebars, suffering with every turn of the pedals.
‘Chopping wheels’ is something you need to be wary of when riding close together. This is when another rider cuts sharply in front of you, which can cause a crash.
Chopping wheels happens when someone tries to fill a small gap quickly and recklessly.
‘Cooked’ is one of the many cycling terms that refers to how you feel at the end of a long day riding.
‘DFL’ is bike slang for the last person to finish a race. The three letters stand for ‘Dead F***ing Last’.
Not to be confused with ‘DNF‘ (Did Not Finish) or ‘DNS‘ (Did Not Start).
‘Domestiques’ (French for ‘servants’) are the riders in a cycling team whose only role is to assist their teammates or team leader, rather than attempting to win races for themselves.
Domestiques are crucial to cycling tactics. Their main job is normally to cycle at the front of the group, allowing their teammates to draft behind them, but they might also be required to lead attacks on their leader’s rivals, or even collect food and water from support vehicles.
‘Drafting’ is when you ride behind someone, right on their back wheel – the most aerodynamic and efficient place to be. Drafting is an excellent way to make it easier to keep up with the pack.
The rider in front breaks up the air for you, so you use less energy than if you were in front. Many triathlons ban drafting, and you’ll receive penalties or be disqualified if you’re caught doing it.
An echelon is a long line of riders in a formation that protects them from the wind. The rider at the front of the echelon will pull off towards the direction of the wind and move to the back of the line.
When your bike ‘fishtails’, the rear wheel has locked up, causing it to skid or slide sideways. You can avoid this by not pulling too hard on your rear brake lever.
‘Floating’ is one of the rare cycling expressions that refer to how easy you are finding your ride. This is when everything is so easy, your riding looks effortless even when you push hard during a race.
A ‘Fred’ is bike slang for a new cyclist that is still learning the ropes. It’s often meant derisively, but go easy – we were all ‘Freds’ once!
Getting dropped is bike slang for the depressing moment the pack gets away from you. This is when you end up riding on your own as you watch everyone else peel away from you.
Your ‘granny gear’ is the lowest gear on your cassette. It is the one you use when climbing steep hills.
In bike terms, the ‘hammer’ is when someone rides away from the pack faster than everyone else.
‘Half-wheeling’ is bike slang for when a fellow rider rides half a wheel ahead of yours. This technique is frowned upon, as it forces you to constantly pick up their pace.
Hitting The Wall
‘Hitting the wall’ is one of those cycling terms that can have two meanings. The first meaning is when the road inclines so much, it feels like you are riding up a wall.
The second meaning is similar to bonking. You lose energy because you haven’t eaten enough for the ride.
KOM or QOM
‘King Of The Mountain’ and ‘Queen Of The Mountain’ are cycling terms for the rider who got to the top of the climb first. Summiting first gives you bragging rights and is a common goal for Strava users.
When you manage to be KOM or QOM on Strava, you are the fastest person in that segment, and everyone will know it.
The Tour De France also has an internal points-based ‘King Of The Mountains’ competition, the leader of which wears the polka-dot jersey.
‘Leading out’ is a race tactic that lets a team or individuals set up a sprint. The riders get in line and push hard, driving up the pace while preserving the energy of their sprinter. They will then peel off until the last rider – the sprinter – launches for the finish line.
‘Motor-pacing’ is the same as drafting, but the cyclist will draft a car or motorbike instead of following other riders.
Off The Back (or OTB)
‘Off the back’ has a similar meaning to that of getting dropped. When a rider loses contact with the peloton, they are effectively off the back.
Some people may abbreviate the term to OTB, but it’s worth noting that OTB means something entirely different for mountain bikers: ‘over the bars’. This is the terrifying moment when you fly head first over the front of your bike.
The ‘peloton’ is the main group of riders during a race.
A pile-up is when a group of riders crash and pile on top of each other during a race. A great example of a pile-up is this one during the 2021 Tour de France.
Pulling turns is when you lead the group but then pull away to let someone take over at the front. Each rider in the group will take their turn at the front, so the group can maintain a faster speed.
When someone in the peloton attempts a breakaway, ‘responding’ is when a rider starts chasing them.
Ripping Your Legs Off
‘Ripping your legs off’ is one of the cycling terms that describes how hard you are working. When you are riding with someone that is making you work hard, you are “ripping your legs off.“
‘Sitting in’ is when you use the peloton to protect you from the wind and conserve your energy. Hiding within the peloton for too long is regarded as bad etiquette – especially if you sprint for the win at the end of the race!
‘Stomping’ is bike slang for when you are performing well. You may hear the term used when a rider is always riding in a large gear.
Stealing A Wheel
When you are in the peloton and someone is following the wheel you want to follow, ‘stealing a wheel’ is the move to steal their position.
‘Tempo riding’ is when you ride at a fast to moderate cadence or effort.
Biking slang to describe the rider in front of you.
Up The Road
‘Up the road’ is one of the cycling terms that refer to the breakaway. The riders up the road are the ones who have left the peloton ahead of the main group.
‘Wheel sucking’ is closely related to drafting. This is when you are doing your best to stay on someone’s wheel. Being able to do this is beneficial, especially on windy days.
‘Watts’ is the unit of power you produce through your pedals. You can measure your output by using a power meter.
With this list of cycling terms, you’ll be able to join in with conversations and better understand what is going on during a ride!
Learning the lingo is a great way to be more confident and knowledgeable as a member of the cycling community. You’re now one step further away from being a ‘Fred’!