Every sport has its own vocabulary. It’s exclusive and sometimes cryptic, and often the best way to talk about the activity in question.

Take rock climbing, for example. I started climbing a few years ago, and as I’m inclined to do, I jumped in head first. I was climbing 3, 4, sometimes 5 days each week. My fingers were growing some solid little calluses, and my forearms were always achy. Still, I wasn’t yet a climber. I was just a person who liked to climb. I was getting strong and was able to join a group of friends who were regularly driving out to Collingwood to climb outside, and one of my first outdoor climbs went something like this:

“Okay, nice! You’re doing great. Now head up toward that big flake. Cool. You’re going to have to layback and smear on the side wall, then lock off to reach that sloper and gaston until you can land that crimp and bump to the jug. Try a back-flag so you don’t barn door right there.”

If you understood any of that, I’m impressed. I wanted to pretend that I grasped what this well-intentioned friend was saying. Instead, I probably yelled down some angry variation of “what the hell are you talking about” in adrenaline-fueled frustration. When you’re not familiar with the language, even a directive as straightforward as “head up toward that big flake” seems like a secret message intended to point out that you don’t fit in. It’s like this in every sport, and cycling is no different.

When I started working with bikes, I did a whole lot of faking it. That’s the old, cliché solution! I loved riding my bike, but I used the words “tire” and “wheel” interchangeably, and I thought Specialized was an adjective, not a brand.

So, bike terminology. Let’s cover some common stuff. That way, next time you come in with a bike question we’ll all be on the same page, and I won’t seem like a pretentious jerk.

Stem“: I’d bet real-live money that we’re talking about this because you asked how you can get yourself more upright on your bike. Your neck hurts. I get it. This term isn’t as generic as it sounds. It connects your handlebar to the rest of your bike, and sometimes you can move it or change it – what a great system!

Groupo“: All of the stuff that does stuff on the bike – brakes, shifters, derailleurs, cassette… If I’m trying to seem like a long-time pro, I’ll call it a groupo. Otherwise, I’ll call it “all of the stuff that does stuff”.

Drivetrain“: The parts that drive. Cassette (the ‘cogs’ on your rear wheel), crank (the front cogs and arms that your pedals are on), and chain and derailleurs. All pretension aside, this is actually a pretty common one, and I might use it on the floor.

Tires & tubes“: Tire outside, tube inside. Flat tire = punctured/faulty/pinched tube. I’m trying to sell you less stuff – just a ten-dollar tube instead of a shiny new thirty-dollar tire.

Clipless pedals“: Once upon a time, far far away, pedal baskets were pretty standard. They keep your foot in place and bug the crap out of you when you’re trying to get your foot in and they’re upside down. Then, along came cycling shoes with cleats that latch into their  pedal-ey mates, and pedal baskets (often called clips) were banished from the fiefdom. Thus it was a clipless land, despite the fact that you call SPD pedal/cleats ‘clips’. The moral of the story is that although it doesn’t make a ton of sense, “clipless pedals” are actually the pedals that you clip into.

There you have it: most of the esoteric stuff we’re going to talk with you about when you’re in the shop. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this is that when you don’t know what we’re talking about, tell us! We’ll laugh. I forget sometimes that most people are casual riders, not gearheads who talk about hydraulic brakes and new Shimano derailleurs all day. We’re doing our best to be relatable.

See you soon! Can’t wait to change your seats and flat tires.

  • Tori S