An A-Z of cycling terminology

August 24, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

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?’

Are you road race ready?

August 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

After I raced and MEDALLED and PODIUMED last weekend, curious readers have inundated* me with requests for advice. If no-hopers like me can race, maybe they can, too! What do they need to know? Do I have any tips? I’ve put together this handy questionnaire, so you can test your understanding of race etiquette and tactics. Consider your answers carefully.

1. What is through and off?

a. Something that happens if you don’t pay attention while you’re knitting
b. Working with other riders in a line, taking turns on the front
c. That thing where you jump your skateboard up and slide along the edge of a bench

2. If someone shouts ‘Get on my wheel!’ what do they mean?

a. Ride closely behind me, to shelter from the wind!
b. Here! You can have a go on the unicycle, now
c. Let me win, and I’ll leave you my fortune!

3. When you’ve taken a turn on the front, you should swing off. What does this mean?

a. Do a little slalom through the dotted lines, to demonstrate your bike handling skillz
b. Throw a punch at the nearest spectator
c. Move to the side to let the next person come to the front


4. When riding into the wind, you should adopt an aero position. What does this mean?

a. Sit up straight, so you can eat your chocolate without choking
b. Get right down over the handlebars so there’s less of you in the wind
c. Ride along with your arms sticking out going NNEEEAAAOOOW

5. In long races, you may need to refuel. Does this mean:

a. Ride no-hands and boss your gel like a PRO
b. Get someone to hand you up a Subway every three laps
c. Pick up a couple of bags of charcoal for the post-race barbie

6. Before racing, you should make sure you are adequately hydrated. Does this mean:

a. Take on isotonic fluids in small but regular quantities
b. Have a couple of shandies, and a Berocca chaser for the vitamins
c. Get someone to tip a bucket of water over your head

Beret Baguette_39

7. In sprints, you should always hold your line. What does this mean?

a. Don’t let go of the bungee attaching you to that fast guy
b. Mid-race coke-snorting is inadvisable, and best left for the after-party
c. Don’t veer all over the road

8. If you win, which is the correct podium arrangement?

a. 1st puts two arms up, 2nd puts right arm up, 3rd puts left arm up
b. All jump up and down waving excitedly, kissing medals etc.
c. 1st looks ecstatic, 2nd looks murderous, 3rd looks confused

9. If you win, which is the best podium speech?

a. I’d like to thank God, my agent, my mother, my mechanic, my tyre sponsor, my hairdresser and that person who comes to all my races but never says hello
b. You like me [sob]. You really like me!
c. Mum! MUM! Press the button on the top! No, the big button! The other one! Did it make a noise? No, that’s just it focusing. Press it harder! Did I have my eyes closed?

10. If you lose, which is the best excuse?

a. The sun was in my eyes
b. Knew I should have run tubs instead of clinchers
c. Oh! Were we racing?

podium cake 3

* One person asked me, anyway

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.