An A-Z of cycling terminology

August 24, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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As you know, this blog has become quite the go-to destination for the nervous newbie. Here, you can ask the daftest of questions, safe in the knowledge that I probably don’t know the answer either. This time, I’m turning my attention to cycling terminology.

Like any hobby, cycling has its secret handshakes and obscure rituals. Many of these are reflected in arcane language. This creates a feeling of smugness in participants, and baffles outsiders, who slink out of bike shops ashamed at their inability to distinguish Rego from Ergo. Ever happy to help, I present here a dictionary of common cycling terms, so that you can approach your next bike-related conversation with confidence.

Aero: Sadly, this has nothing to do with chocolate, and won’t help you with bonking. Aero positioning is trying to minimise your frontal area so that you are less affected by wind resistance while riding. Popular aero tricks for everyday cyclists include doing your jacket up.

Bonking: This isn’t as delightful as it sounds, either. ‘The bonk’ is what happens when you don’t eat or drink enough and suddenly decide, half way up a hill, that you hate cycling. And sunshine. And cheery people. Cures for the bonk include the café stop.

Café stop: This is an opportunity to refuel and rehydrate on long rides, and get out of the freezing rain while secretly wondering if there is a bus from here that goes anywhere near home.

rainy shot of a bike near a cafe in kew, London, England

Frontal area: This isn’t as exciting as you might imagine (you may sense a theme developing, here). Your frontal area is the bit of you that there is more of when you sit up, and less of when you lean over on your bike. Maximising your frontal area is recommended when wearing hi-vis, and is easiest to achieve on a hybrid.

Hi-vis: Short for ‘Hi, I’m a visiting student!’ Refers to any clothing that is fluorescent (in the day) or reflective (at night). Mostly worn so that daydreaming motorists can’t claim SMIDSY.

Hybrid: Although it’s tempting to graft bits of washing machine on to your tubes, this is best left to the professionals. A hybrid is a bike that’s a bit of both: frame and wheels like a road bike, but with handlebars like an MTB. Therefore, hybrids are the teenagers of the cycling world, prone to identity confusion and writing bad poetry.

Giant hybrid bicycle set up for touring (Tsukigata, Hokkaido, Japan)

Hybrid bicycle, musing on the fragility of life

MTB: Multi-Terrain Bike. Or maybe Moun-Tain Bike. Perhaps it’s My Terrific Bike. Nobody seems to be sure. It’s the one with the flat handlebars and the knobbly tyres, anyway.

Road bike: This is what your Dad used to call a ‘racer’. Drop handlebars, narrow tyres. Modern road bikes come with pre-installed race face.

Race face: Serious expression, compulsory on road bikes. Best employed when chasing down retired schoolteachers on three-speeds.

The author, demonstrating how *not* to do race face

SMIDSY: Sorry, Mate, I Didn’t See You. An abbreviation of the more accurate SMIDSYBIWTTCTCDWEASCTASWMK (Sorry, Mate, I Didn’t See You Because I Was Trying To Change The CD While Eating A Sandwich, Checking Twitter And Steering With My Knees).

Tubes: Every bike has several tubes. These are easily distinguished through clear naming. The top tube is the one at the top. The down tube is the one that goes down. The seat tube is the other one that goes down. The tubes that hold the wheel on are called forks, unless they’re the other ones, which are called stays. You should always carry a spare inner tube, unless you’re riding tubular tyres, in which case you should always carry a spare wheel.

Wheels: You need two of these, ideally the same size. Both should be kept on the ground at all times.

Well! I hope that’s cleared a few things up. Cheerio for now, or, as we say in cycling circles, ‘Is that your back tyre hissing?’

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