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Learn the Lingo: The Language of Cycling

By Sarah Kim Bonner

The Language of CyclingThere is nothing worse than smiling and nodding along while fellow cyclists talk about power to weight ratios, Di2, or how they were 53/11 in a break while you have no idea what they are talking about. It takes a while to learn the lingo of cycling. Here is a list to get you started.

Bonk: “Bonking” on a ride means running out of energy, past the point of being hungry.

Break/ Breakaway: A breakaway, or break for short, is a group or individual rider who forges ahead of the main bunch of cyclists.

Echelon: To be protected from a crosswind, a wind coming from the side, riders will position themselves, not directly behind one another, but behind and to the side of the rider in front of them.

Hoods and Drops: There are different areas a rider holds on the handlebars. The drops are the lower part of the handlebar, the piece of metal that curves down. The hoods are on the top of the shifters.

BB: Short for “bottom bracket,” a BB is the mechanism of bearings that allows the cranks to turn. It’s located where the cranks are attached to the base of the frame.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain refers to the group of moving components that make a bicycle move forward, consisting of the front chain rings, chain, and cassette (back gear sprockets).

Tubbies and Clinchers: While both tubbies and clinchers are types of tires, clinchers are a tire system that hooks on the rim of a wheel and requires a separate tube. Tubbies, or tubular tires typically used for racing, are a one-piece, seamless tire and tube combination that is glued to the rim of the wheel.

53/11: Is the standard gear ratio (53 teeth on the front big blade, 11 teeth on the hardest (smallest) back sprocket) but the phrase refers to a rider who is going as hard as they can. Other common phrases for a rider giving maximum effort include: flatbox, redzone, full gas, flat out.

Di2: Di2 is the name of Shimano’s electronic shifting system that uses battery powered electronic signals to change gears instead of traditional cables. The shifters on the handlebars look the same but there is a battery pack attached to the frame by the front derailleur. The brake system is still operated by cables.

Power to Weight: The power a cyclist pushes into the pedals can be measured in watts by a power meter. The watts are then divided by the rider’s weight (in kilograms) to produce a power to weight number. For example, if a 50kg rider pushes 200 watts up a climb, their power to weight ratio on the climb is 4 watts/kilo.

Sarah Bonner


Sarah Bonner the author of a new e-article, The Clean Girl’s Guide to Cycling: How to Clean Everything from Bar Tape to Sports Bras, has lived and cycled in Canada, Africa, and Europe. Currently, she splits her time between the Netherlands and South Africa where she trains and competes at an amateur level. With a Masters in English and a Diploma in Sports Management, Sarah combines her love of writing and passion cycling to share honest advice and inspiring stories. Follow her at sarahkimbonner.wordpress.com

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