Sunday, January 31, 2021

From the Archives - Bicycling Glossary


You know what’s a real hassle? Reading! It’s much easier to just kick back, click Play, and let the ocean of words wash over you (and perhaps occasionally pummel you). On that note, below is my vlog version of this post, and if you don’t like it, you can a) get somebody else to read the post to you, or b) just read it yourself as the full text follows below.


Lately I’ve been going through a bunch of decades-old Winning magazines, including their special oversized Tour de France special editions, and I have to chuckle at the ubiquitous full-page cycling glossaries. They always have a bunch of terms that no newbie really even needs to learn. For example, “bottom bracket.” When’s the last time a Tour de France stage was won or lost due to a bottom bracket? The other is “bidon.” Nobody actually calls a water bottle a “bidon” except those Velominati clowns. The glossary also claims that “tubs” is a nickname for “tubulars” and I’ve never heard that in my life.

Many years ago, I wrote a (satirical) cycling glossary for the online magazine Daily Peloton. Alas, when DP’s server crashed a few years back, evidently without having been backed up, all my stories there were lost. One by one I’m rerunning them here on albertnet. Look, here’s the glossary now!

Veteran’s Dictionary of Modern Biking Usage – March 13, 2008

A couple of days before the Tour of California started, I checked the official website for a start list, and couldn’t find one. But right away I found the inevitable glossary of bike racing terminology. It had all the normal cycling terms: attack, bonk, etc. (You can tell this glossary was written for American readers because it has “bonk” in it. My wife and I used to ride with her British Reuters colleagues, and one day she told her boss, “I brought a Powerbar in case I bonk.” Her boss blushed and stammered, “I beg your pardon?!”)

This got me thinking about all the cycling glossaries I’ve seen over the years in the backs of race programs and such, and I realized how incomplete they all are, like they’re all quoting from the same out-of-date document. Cycling has a rich oral tradition that is highly regional and evolves rapidly. I fear that some of the newer riders on my (or any) bike club may not be up on some of the more obscure cycling terms, while we veterans may not be familiar with the newest additions to the vernacular. Thus, I created this dictionary.

ABCs: Angry Biker Clothes, also known as costume, strip, uniform, or kit. See Angry biker.

Angry biker: a biker who has a fancy bike, fancy clothes, and usually a stern expression, who really needs to lighten up. In other words, just about everybody on the road.

Arseless: a generic term for your bike, especially the old three-speed you ride to work. [Origin: from a novel by Irish writer Roddy Doyle, shortened from “Arseless Horse.”]

Backwards: slow, especially when you’re supposed to  be going fast; e.g., “Dude, I was so blown, I was going backwards.”

Bald: the condition of a veteran biker’s scalp being hopelessly worn out. Also refers to bike tires suffering the same affliction.

Ballast: the aesthetically ameliorative but physically cumbersome padding that a veteran angry biker tends to develop despite his or her best efforts to remain skeletal.

Basso Lamento: 1. [Music] Also called “descending tetrachord.” A musical scale of four notes, bounded by the interval of a perfect fourth (an interval the size of two and one-half steps, e.g., c-f). 2. The widespread sorrow surrounding Ivan Basso’s admission to doping (or “planned doping,” the lying sack of shit).

Bibs: cycling shorts with shoulder straps instead of an elastic waistband. Popular among juniors who fear being “pantsed,” and among older riders for the comfort and corset-like effect.

Bike porn: glossy bike catalogs that incessantly arrive, unbidden, in your mailbox.

Biker: the preferred term for “cyclist” among crusty old veterans, as they mock the relative newcomers who insist on being called cyclists. Note: particularly senior riders may despise the term “biker,” as they were around when this term was used contemptuously (perhaps because real bikers rode Harleys).

Bike widow: a wife forced to seek companionship outside her marriage, especially during weekends, because her angry biker husband is always off pursuing his suffering centers.

Bitter biker: an angry biker who is also old.

Bleb: the almost, but not completely, broken membrane on a gel packet, when the top has been torn off at just the right point so it won’t dribble out but can be zipped into your mouth. [Etymology: unknown; possibly borrowed from medical nomenclature.]

Blow chunks: to ride very poorly; e.g., “Dude, I totally blew chunks in the time trial.” [Originally a term for projectile vomiting, though this only happens in the minority of cases.] See Backwards.

Bonk: 1. To lose all energy while cycling due to depleted blood sugar. 2. To lose all energy while cycling for reasons you’re still trying to figure out. 3. To partake in a non-athletic but nevertheless vigorous activity with a compatible partner, which is far more enjoyable than cycling [chiefly British].

Break:1. Short for breakaway. 2. A respite from cycling that, when it inadvertently becomes permanent, is called Retirement.

Bulby: see Young Bulb, The.

Carbo-load: to eat a whole shitload of carbs, because you love them and because you can, and because you despise the Atkins craze. Not to be confused with the training nutrition système once used by Bernard Hinault, which just about nobody actually understood.

Cawbun Fibuh: carbon fiber. [Origin: crazy Berkeley-area angry biker who assailed a fellow bike shop customer who was innocently checking out a steel road bike. The crazy biker ranted, “Steel frames suck shit! Cawbun-fibuh! You want cawbun-fibuh”! The crazy biker was eventually asked to leave the store. Neither customer ever returned, and steel framesets are now a rarity.]

Chamois (pronounced SHAM-ee): the soft pad sewn into cycling shorts (originally made of the leather of the eponymous antelope but now almost always synthetic), designed to give angry bikers another thing to complain about. See also Mr. Flippy Floppy, Skid Mark.

CO2 inflator: a malfunction-prone device used by an angry biker to increase his blood pressure, while adding needlessly to our landfills, all because he’s too lazy to use a proper pump.

Coked to the gills: see Lubed. [Etymology: from the short story “The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber.

Crapture: gratifyingly swift evacuation of the bowels, especially right before a race.

Crash hat: bike helmet.

Cripple: a triple crankset, used by angry bikers who are not only weak and worthless, but also shameless.

Cyclo-sportif: a popular type of amateur race popular in Europe. Almost the opposite of an American race; instead of dozens of bikers paying $40 each to suffer for 40 minutes riding around an industrial park, thousands of bikers pay $20 each to suffer for 8 hours tackling some of the more amazing mountains on Earth. The most famous cyclo-sportif in Europe is La Marmotte in the French Alps.

Datas: the arguably interesting but probably valueless information that can be gleaned from modern bike computers and heart monitors. [Etymological note: this odd double-plural form derives from instruction manuals poorly translated from the German.]

Dawn patrol: post-ironic term for a very early morning group ride.

Derailleur: the component on a bicycle which shifts the gears, and which is often used as an excuse for losing a race (e.g., “Dude, I would’ve made the break but I threw my chain!”).

Detonate: to suddenly become unable to pedal the bicycle. Usually the consequence of going too hard for too long on too little training, or from just being fricking old.

Dr. Shimano: The big brother of this guide’s author, a college team’s mechanic known for proselytizing about the superiority of Shimano components.

Flat: The sensation you have at the beginning of a ride that your tire is flat, or you’re dragging an anvil behind you. Formerly used to indicate the state of being overtrained, as if that were ever actually possible within our amateur cohort.

Flats: a popular Berkeley area ride, known to be about the flattest ride in the area as it features only 1,400 feet of vertical gain.

Float: the foot rotation offered by modern cleats, to allow your feet to do any damn thing they want instead of being fixed where they ought to be.

Geriatric sports: bonking. [Chiefly British.]

Glycogen windowthe period of 30-40 minutes after exercise during which an angry biker eats gobs of sugary snacks because he has convinced his wife/girlfriend and/or himself that this is actually useful somehow.

Goggles: sunglasses. Used by those who arguably go a bit far in avoiding the use of terms like “eyeshade système.”

Gooseneck: preferred term for handlebar stem, intended to indicate lack of techie-dweebhood. Real old-timers can remember when a stem actually slightly resembled a goose’s neck.

Grind: anything undesirable; e.g., “Dude, those Speedplays are such a grind.” [Etymology: post-ironic mimicry of the Wheels Manufacturing founder’s favorite expression.]

Hardtail: a word used by dorks to describe non-suspension mountain bikes and moreover to demonstrate their utter dorkiness.

Intervals: the increasingly long periods between a veteran biker’s rides. Formerly used to describe some kind of training method that is too distant and painful a memory to recall in detail.

Kitsee ABCs. [Etymology: the widespread myth that expensive clothing can turn you into a great biker, like assembling something from a kit.]

Knackered: Totally exhausted, either through completing a difficult ride or race, or having detonated during a failed attempt.

Light it up: see Throw down.

Lima bean: a frame with compact (i.e., undersized) geometry such that more than a foot of seatpost is showing. [Origin: an area rider’s analysis of these frames: “They’re like lima beans ... I suppose they have a right to exist, but I don’t like them.”]

Lubed: assisted by illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Material: see Ride.

Mech: derailleur (not to be confused with the French “mec,” meaning big thick guy).

Megamix: post-ironic term for an MP3 playlist created for working out on the stationary trainer. [Origin: overheard by an area biker; uttered by some dip standing in line for an early-80s U2 concert.]

Mr. Flippy Floppy: a biking-shorts-related ailment occurring only in males; usually results from geriatric sports.

Muffin ride: an easy ride, whether or not a bakery exists on the route.

Novocain legs: an all-encompassing muscular complacency making it impossible to ride hard, usually resulting from geriatric sports.

Out of shape: a term of deceit used by an angry biker to indicate that he secretly plans to attack you and hopes you’ll underestimate him; e.g., “Dude, let’s go super-easy today because I’m soooo out of shape.”

PCT: peak conversational threshold. The degree of effort beyond which a rider can no longer keep up a conversation, and a useful indicator of who’s got the upper hand.

Plastic: a derisive term for carbon fiber. See Cawbun Fibuh.

Pocket climber: a very lean, slight biker who specializes in hill climbs. Generally used bitterly by someone too heavy to climb well.

Podium: the three-tiered boxy platform that winners get to stand on, not to be confused with a lectern, which is the stand that holds a lecturer’s notes. [Etymology: Latin, from Greek podion, base, diminutive of pous, pod-, foot. Okay?!]

Positive sensations: general feeling of surprisingly plentiful strength. [Origin: countless bike racing news stories; either a popular expression in the European peloton, or a lazy approximation of one or another non-English expression.]

Post-ironic: indicative of a biking term that was mimicked in the spirit of mockery until it gradually evolved into standard usage.

Psyched: caffeinated, especially in accordance with an un-doping regimen. See Un-doping.

Race weight: the weight of your bike without pedals, as if you could pedal without them. [Origin: formerly referred to a rider’s weight during the racing season, before the focus shifted from fitness to equipment.]

Rack: see Stationary trainer. [Origin: short for “torture rack.”]

Rain bike: the second road bike that an angry biker would ride on rainy days, if he actually rode on rainy days. Mainly used when the primary bike has a flat tire.

Recovery: the occasional return to an area biker of one or more of his stolen bikes. Formerly used to indicate restoration of a biker’s physical capacities, back when this was actually possible.

Retirement: the phase of life during which an angry biker pretends he doesn’t race anymore, but actually merely refocuses his competitive impulses on friends and innocent strangers. See Break.

Ride: a bike; e.g., “Dude, just four more months and I’ll be rockin’ my brand-new ultimate super-fly ride!”

Road Look: term that describes a relative novice who is shaming you; e.g., “I was going about as hard as I could and then this frickin’ Road Look dude passes me.” [Origin: from the saddle with “Road Look” printed on the back that came on cheap Fuji road bikes in the 1970s.]

Royal: the coffeeshop at the corner of College and 63rd in Oakland, regardless of what the current owners feel the need to call it. Meeting place for local angry bikers.

School: to shame by outperforming on the bike. See Road Look.

Sew-ups: bicycle tires with a casing, usually made of silk or Egyptian cotton, that is sewn together so that it completely surrounds the inner tube. These must be glued to the rim (ideally with Vittoria or Clément cement known as “red death”). They are gradually going extinct because they’re a total pain in the ass.

Skid mark: discoloration of the chamois caused by sweat—only sweat, I swear!—and the reason for the modern chamois being blue or black instead of brown.

Soaps: See Sew-ups.

Spank: see School.

Spare tube: the contents of a veteran biker’s spare tire. See Ballast. See also Carbo-load.

Stack hat: see Crash Hat.

Stationary trainer: apparatus that enables an angry biker to turn his regular racing bike into a stationary bike; used primarily as a paperweight or conversation piece.

Stuffing: the sum of an angry biker’s physical resources; e.g., “Poor fellow, he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him.” [Chiefly British.]

Système: a fancy word for “system,” used by somebody who is trying to seem sophisticated and Euro; e.g., “Dude, these aren’t sunglasses, this is a highly advanced factory eyeshade système, okay?”

Technova: 1. Overly modern, gimmicky, unproven, and/or shoddy; e.g., “Dude, that aero helmet is so Technova.” 2. Defunct nickname for Dr. Shimano’s kid brother. [Origin: model name of awful Panaracer tires that came on late-80s Miyatas.]

Throw down: to attack, usually foolishly.

T.I. : bike bling; e.g., “Man, Eden is really a high-end shop, so much T.I. there.” [Origin: uttered by an area biker who refuses to divulge what, if anything, the letters stand for.]

Ti (pronounced TIE): See Titanium.

Titanium: one of the most plentiful elements on earth, used for increasing bike industry profit margins.

Toe-clip overlap: the characteristic of a properly designed frame, where the shoe hits the front tire when clipped in to the pedal with the crank in the 3-o’clock position. Lack of toe-clip overlap indicates too shallow a head tube angle. Understanding of head tube angles indicates nerdiness.

Tool: 1. See School. 2. Somebody who unpleasantly increases the pace of your group ride at a time when other angry bikers want to loaf.

Torched: see Wappered.

Tranja [pronounced TRON-yah]: energy drink. [Origin: an episode of the original 1960s “Star Trek” in which the Gentle Ben-looking alien says, “Drink ... it’s tranja. I hope you relish it as much as I.”

Tubulars: see Sew-ups.

Un-doping: the systematic non-consumption of caffeine, designed to create a freakish lack of tolerance for it, so that a single pre-ride NoDoz can instill the effect of an illegal performance-enhancing drug.

Vein: possessed of a specific type of vanity common to bikers with really veiny legs.

Wappered: See Knackered. [Chiefly British.]

Widowmaker: a dangerously rusty bike, or one that has been inherited from a fellow angry biker who is convinced it harmed his knees somehow.

Young Bulb, The: a young rider, especially an enthusiastic one. [Origin: nickname for Paul Kimmage in the early 1980s.]

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