The bluffers' guide to cycling jargon

Cycling has its own language. So it can be difficult to blag your way as an expert if you can't get your head around some of the key terminology. Here's just some (and by no means an exhaustive list) of the phrases you might need to if you're going to thrive in the cycling crowd

Erwin Vervecken rides the route of the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo
Erwin Vervecken rides the route of the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo

1. Leading out/getting dropped

Igor Anton gets dropped, Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage four

This is what getting dropped looks like, as presented by Igor Anton (Watson)
(Image credit: WATSON)

One means you're probably doing quite well, the other means you're definitely not.

2. Through-and-off/Chaingang

Simpson Memorial ride Donny chaingang

The chaingang is daunting prospect. Particularly if you don't know what it is.

No not a group of prisoners, but a slipstreaming formation of riders out for a hard ride. Can be quite confusing for the beginner, and requires a fair amount of practice so the other riders in your group can trust you not to surge at the front and or cause an accident.

3. Half-wheeling

Erwin Vervecken rides the route of the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo

We couldn't find any pictures of half-wheeling, so here's this.

The perennially annoying habit of having a riding companion stick half of their wheel in front of yours. This ends up pushing the pace up and up until you're all blowing, in which case, you might end up...

4. Bonking


So that's what bonking is...
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

Easily misinterpreted during your first experience among other cyclists, but get that out of your mind you dirty sod. You may be more familiar with the term 'hitting the wall', but either way this is something unpleasant and more likely to hit you early in your cycling life. If you want to get all scientific about it, it's all about depletion of glycogen stores or something. Get to grips with it here.

5. Chammy

Chamois manufacturing by Cytech

Extracted chamois pads

"What is a chammy and why do I need to cream it?"

To a regular Joe, this is a perfectly legitimate question, but once you've been riding for a while or even a few days straight in fact, you'll start to realise why. The chamois is that padding inside your shorts FYI, and the cream helps to prevent chafing, saddle sores and possibly worse.

>>> Chamois cream explained

6. Cross

National Trophy Cyclo-Cross, Milton Keynes 2014

If you prefer to carry a dirty bike rather than riding a clean one, cyclo-cross might be for you
(Image credit: Andy Jones)

Like riding a road bike in the mud, but also you run over stuff as well. Some of us still don't quite get the attraction of this, but it's big in Belgium in the winter.

>>> Cyclocross bikes: a buyer’s guide

7. Echelon

Echelons, Tour of Qatar 2013, stage 3

Exhibit A, echelons (Watson)

Caused by crosswinds and there's no point just riding in lines anymore. Big groups start to split and spread across the road as riders try to shelter at the side of one another. Generally a daunting experience for any newbie when you have no idea what's happening and your heart rate is at 190, no matter what it's called.

8. 53x11 (or any other gear ratio)

Ultegra groupset: high-end kit that won’t miss a shift

Gear ratios - who knows and who cares?

This will mean literally nothing to you when you start out, and it doesn't really matter. Eventually you'll know what's what, and then you can lord it over the next newbie.

9. Peloton

The peloton in the 2015 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

(Image credit: Watson)

Frequently incorrectly written as peleton, this is just a fancy French term for a bunch of riders.

10. The Race of Truth/Contre-la-montre/Testers

Ben McIntosh, National 10-mile time trial championships 2014

Time trialling, just because.

These are words for a time trial and those sadistic enough in nature to punish themselves by riding one. Check your local bypass for more.

11. Clipless pedals

Clipless pedals

Clipping in to clipless

Actually, they're most definitely clip-ins, so don't ask questions.

Any more? Let us know what we've missed that you think should be included.

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