Understanding Cycling Terminology

Like most sports, cycling utilizes a unique set of terminology. Whether it’s Road cycling, Cyclocross, Mountain Bike, Track racing or BMX, many terms are good to add to the vocabulary. Below is a list of the most common terms used throughout the sport of cycling.

ATTACK: A sudden attempt to get away from a rider or group of riders.

BERM: An embankment on a BMX track.

BIFF: Another term for a crash.

BLACK LINE: A 5-centimeter-wide line at the bottom of a velodrome track which defines the length of the track.

BLOCKING: When a rider impedes the progress of another rider, usually done as part of a team strategy to slow down the main field when a team member is ahead in a breakaway.

BLUE BAND: The section between the racing surface on a velodrome and the infield. Technically, it’s not illegal to ride on the Blue Band, but it is illegal to advance one’s position while riding on it.

BMX: Abbreviation for Bicycle Motocross.

BONK: When a rider completely runs out of energy.

BREAKAWAY: A rider or group of riders who has separated themselves ahead of the main pack.

BRIDGE THE GAP: When a rider or group of riders attempt to advance from a group of riders to one further ahead.

CARAVAN: The line of cars which typically follows a road race; includes team cars, race officials, media, medical, VIP and neutral support vehicles.

CHASERS: Riders who are attempting to advance to a rider or group of riders ahead.

CHICANE: A series of tight, technical turns.

CRITERIUM: A multi-lap road race on a course usually a mile or less in length.

DIRECTOR SPORTIF: The traditional name for the team manager.

DOMESTIQUE: A rider who typically rides in support of a designated team leader.

DRAFTING: Riding in the slipstream of another rider ahead. A rider drafting off another generally expends 30% less energy.

DROP: To leave another rider or group of riders behind by attacking.

ECHELON: A line of riders positioned behind one another to receive maximum protection from the wind.

ENDO: A crash which results in a rider going over the front handlebars.

ESPOIR: A French term used to describe the Under-23 category of riders aged 19-22.

ETAPE: A French term for a stage of a stage race.

FEED ZONE: A designated section on a road course where riders can receive food and water from their soigneur.

FEEDING: When riders receive food and liquids throughout a race, usually from a team car that follows the race or a soigneur positioned in the feed zone.

FIELD: The main group of riders, also known as the Pack, Peloton or Bunch.

FIELD SPRINT: The final sprint between the main group of riders in a race, not always for first place.

GEAR RATIO: The combination of gears used between the front chainring and the rear gear cluster.

GRANNY GEAR: The lowest gear ratio on a multi- speed bicycle, smallest chainring in front and largest in back.

HARD-TAIL: A mountain bike which only has front suspension.

HOLE-SHOT: Taking the lead position out of the starting gate going into the first turn, used in BMX racing.

JUMP: A sudden acceleration, often at the start of a sprint.

KICK: The final burst of speed in a sprint.

LANTERNE ROUGE: French for Red Lantern, as found at the end of a railway train. Used to describe the last-placed rider in a race.

LEAD OUT: A team-oriented move in which one rider begins a sprint to give a head start to a teammate riding in their draft.

MOTO: Used to describe a heat of a BMX race.

MUSETTE: A bag filled with food, water and

energy drinks distributed to riders in a feed zone.

NEO-PRO: Cycling’s term for a rookie at the professional level.

PELOTON: The main group of riders during a road race.

PRIME: A mid-race contest in which riders sprint for points, cash or prizes during a criterium, sometimes used to animate a race.

PROLOGUE: A short individual time trial at the beginning of a stage race; used to assign a leader’s jersey for the first stage.

PULL THROUGH: When a rider moves to the front of a paceline and takes their turn blocking the wind at the front.

PULL OFF: When a rider moves to one side of a paceline to allow another rider to pull through.

SAG WAGON: A vehicle that follows a race and picks up riders who are unable to finish.

SINGLETRACK: A narrow off-road trail which is only wide enough for bikes to ride in a single-file formation.

SITTING IN: When one rider refuses to take a pull and break the wind for a group in which he’s riding.

SLIPSTREAM: The pocket of air created by a moving rider, just as in automobile or motorcycle racing.

SOFT-TAIL: A mountain bike that has both front and rear suspension.

SOIGNEUR: A French term for cycling’s equivalent of a trainer. A soigneur usually looks after the physical health of a rider and gives massages.

SPRINT: The sudden burst of speed before the race’s finish or an intermediate sprint point.

SPRINTER’S LANE: The space between the Black Line and The Sprinter’s Line on the velodrome. A rider leading in this zone cannot be passed on the inside.

SPRINTER’S LINE: A 5-centimeter-wide line 90-centimeters above the Black Line.

STAGE RACE: A multi-day event which combines several races. The rider with the lowest cumulative time is declared the winner.

STAGIAIRE: An amateur rider who gets an opportunity to compete with a professional team during the season in order to gain experience at the pro level.

TECH ZONE: A section on a mountain bike course where riders can exchange parts or receive mechanical assistance from others.

TAKE A FLYER: When a rider attacks the main pack and creates a solo breakaway.

TIME TRIAL: An individual or team race against the clock.

TRACK STAND: Balancing a bike without forward motion. This is a technique used in track racing in which competitors come to a complete standstill in order to force their opponent to take the lead.

VELODROME: An oval, banked cycling track used for track racing.

WHEEL SUCKER: A derogatory term used to describe someone who rides in a pack without taking a pull at the front and blocking the wind.