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A mini guide to cycling words and phrases that have been lost, found or reborn (and some that are just downright irritating)

Are you a tester who rides with souplesse, or are you out chasing segments on your latest bike build with a brand new cockpit?

We all have cycling terms and phrases that we either love or hate, and over the years they come and go. Sometimes old terms get trendified once more and make a return to our two-wheeled vocabulary.

Of course there are many phrases that have come around again from past, and there are also words that have been consigned to history because of bygone bike technologies or ideals. There are also totally new cycling-specific terms that have emerged in the past few years, often based around general trends of terminology... and of course, there are those spurned by the commentators and media that accompany the sport.

Here is a selection of terms that are seemingly lost, some that have emerged in the past few years, plus a handful that can bemuse or irritate those who do work in the bike industry and cycling media. It's worth noting that this is a slimmed down selection, and you can always check out our A-Z of cycling jargon feature for a comprehensive guide to cycling-specific lingo. 

Do let us know your own favourites, new or old (and your pet hates) in the comments below... 

Gone but not forgotten

High Pressures

2022 Sea Otter Tom Ritchey vintage - 1.jpeg

Skinny skinny (and probably pumped up to ridiculously high pressures)

Long before 700c ruled the rolling stock roost, it was the humble 27x1 ¼ tyres and wheels that were the go-to for most regular sporting and club cyclists - even for competitive riders during the winter months, and for training.

Although they can still be found, the 'HPs' of old are no longer de-rigueur, and thus the term is virtually redundant.

'Tubs' (tubular tyres)

2023 Dauphine Astana Wilier Zero Vittoria Corsa tubular tyre - 1.jpeg

Okay, so tubs - that is, tubular tyres that are stuck onto the wheel rim with glue - are still around, and used in many scenarios by both pro riders and amateurs alike. Step back into the pre-and early era of 700c tyres, and tubs ruled the roost for almost all racers and wannabe racers. Sticky hands, evenings spent trying to repair and stitch them back together... they were fun to ride, but a frustrating and expensive habit.

Souplesse

Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, Puy de Dôme, 1964 Tour de France

This pair most certainly had it

Surprisingly enough, this one doesn’t seem to have made a return to grandeur, in a time where French words seem to be so popular in cycling terminology.

Souplesse, meaning suppleness, agility and grace of movement, was something of a highly-regarded mantle applied to the great and graceful fast pedallers of old, such as Jacques Anquetil. It was something most young riders aspired to be tagged with, but it's a term rarely used today.

Tester

2023 Vuelta a España team time trial (ASO/Charly Lopez)
Testees? 

Still occasionally used, but perhaps not much as it was many years ago. The mantle tester was something applied to time trial riders (who liked to test themselves against the clock), and as time trials were at the core of the British competitive cycling scene for decades, it was a very common term - although when applied by a road racer, it was often preceded with the word 'thick' and a wink...

Skid lid

Giro vintage helmet - credit unknown

When the near-useless, but era-defining hairnet helmets of old were outed and those early dustbin lid-like Styrofoam domes started to top our heads, these ugly monsters were often termed as skid lids. For obvious reasons, it's a term that is used much less these days.

Poseur

eroica jack.JPG
A poseur in the wild

Often used but rarely written down in the pre-internet world, and when it was used it was scribed often with the English translation of 'poser'. It was often applied to those of a fashion-conscious cycling nature, and often without the physical goods to back their image up on the road.

Strapped in

Charge bikes 2011 launch - Bill Amberg custom toeclips

Before the advent of clipless pedals and being clipped in, we were all strapped in. Or rather, our feet were strapped in place with toe straps, as opposed to any other connotation. This is a term that really is lost in its original cycling context.

Clubman

Dawes Clubman - riding 1

Cycling clubs get good and bad raps, and that is understandable, but long ago almost all regular riders were members of the local cycling club. Many of them, and those who didn’t race regularly, were known as 'clubmen', and being deeply involved with the club was all part of meaning. Winning the clubman of the year award was quite the honour back then. 

Cotterless

Cottered crank.JPG
A cottered crank, which is so rare nowadays that the term 'cotterless' is virtually redundant

Those who started cycling pre-1980s were no doubt raised with a hammer and punch in one hand, these being to hammer those rounded wedge-shaped chromed steel cotter pins that held our cranks to the bottom bracket axel, and then to remove them.

Ride back a little further in time and cottered cranks were ridden by all racers too, and they were always steel. Going cotterless was a big step in status in cycling terms, meaning that you progressed to bolt-on tapered alloy cranks, which are still lingering on classic bikes of old.

New or reborn cycling terms

Luft

2023 Cafe du Cycliste Upcycling caps - 2
Luft-tastic

Being the German word for air, luft is a curious one in cycling terms, because its origins aren't really known. The word in its cycling context was arguably popularised by trendy cycling apparel brands who printed it all over peaked caps, which were turned up so that you could read the word luft.

Now the term is widely associated with the art of turning your peak up, for some reason, and it has really caught on in certain cycling circles.

Build

2023 Jacks Ridley Helium SLX - 1.jpg
You say built, I say assembled (expensively)...

For some reason, the term 'build' is now applied to bikes that are fully, or erm, partly customised - or should we say expensive, and simply assembled with mix-and-match components, much like many did back in the pre-mass production era.

Although 'new build' is also applied to houses, in cycling terms it seems to come with a certain price tag and lofty image these days.

Segment

Puy de Dome Strava segment

It’s strange how many cyclists these days talk in terms of segments, which are certainly not like those you used to get in a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Segments need little introduction to most, and is almost certainly derived from Strava speak. It's something that didn’t really exist in cycling terms in the past, although there were always pave 'sectors' in Paris-Roubaix. 

Watopia

2023 Tour of Watopia Zwift

Not unlike Narnia (or Utopia), Zwift’s fictional Watopia seems to be a place that many cyclists find tucked away in their garages and back rooms.

There are no lions around, or certainly not talking ones. I mean, who would have imagined such a place just a few years ago? Let alone it be talked about and 'visited' by countess riders, without ever even leaving their homes...

Helpers

Feedzone soigneur - Gomez/CorVos/SWpix.com
Your friendly soigneur, or simply a helper in plain old English? 

Team Sky introduced us to many new and often dubious cycling terms, with one being 'helper'. 

The term, of course, applies to those who help the riders in a team, erstwhile known as soigneurs (or 'swannies' by many riders).

'Helper' does conjure up all kinds of Little Britain-style images. It's a strange one indeed, especially given the trend towards calling everything cycling-related by French names.

Marginal gains

dave brailsford ineos 2020

When Sir Dave Brailsford rolled out his 'marginal gains' masterplan for cycling dominance, many sneered (included some of his own riders) - and yet, whether he was truly onto something or whether maximal gains are still at the core of performance enhancement, this is one term that is now used to excess, both in belief and in jest.

Cockpit

2023 S-Works Tarmac SL8 vs LAB71 Supersix integrated cockpit
Not an aeroplane

Strangely, apart from the 'bars' there was no mention of 'cockpit' amongst cyclists until bars on some race-orientated road bikes began to look like the flight deck of an F16 - hence the updated terminology, I guess.

Cockpit often comes paired with the term 'build', with those cockpits admired by some. It's something that can be bemusing to many of us who are happy with our good old-fashioned bars... 

Graveleur

dirty reiver road.cc 4.JPG

Graveleurs preparing to go gravelling 

It does sound (and is) a rather French and grand term, and one used for those who like a bit of rough (on the bike, that is) on gravel, as the word suggests. 

This term seems to have caught on, and has its very own cult-like image to go with it. Even if it is a rather large and growing cult, it's one that would surely score a tongue-in-cheek wink from the old-school rough stuffers out there.

Espoir

Evenepoel at 2023 Giro d'Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)
A bang average espoir (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Espoir was a term often applied by the French for their races pitched at younger riders, but it ended up with its whole own identity and category. Essentially, we're talking about a rider under the age of 23, a category that didn’t exist years ago. Now, in a sport which is increasingly dominated by young guns, perhaps it’s time for a re-think.

Thinking about it, there were no masters in the old days either. You were simply a vet when you got to 40 (or 35 for a while).

Granny ring

trek 7-6 triple chainset

The term 'granny ring' came around in the early days of mountain biking. It was used to describe the tiny inner ring of a triple chainset, and somehow it's found its meek way into road and gravel riding, a place where a granny ring was once a simple 42T little ring.

Overused and gear-grinding cycling terms and phrases

Mano a mano

Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, stage 14, 2023 Tour de France (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
(Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Okay, it’s not a new term, but it was arguably Phil Liggett who popularised it within cycling, and it now seems to be applied to any kind of one to one, or even to bigger breakaway showdowns, and it does have a ring of overuse to it.

Chapeau

2023 Trek rider wheelie Giro d'Italia stage 15 Bergamo (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Chapeau on your wheelie, sir (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Thanks again to Phil Liggett (we think), chapeau has been proliferated by commentators ever since he started saying it, and it's now widely used by many cyclists in countless scenarios, although at times it does kind of seem a tad overcooked.

Super

Superman 4.png
Superman > super

It is seemingly impossible so hear an interview with a pro rider these days without the world super being added to every other sentence; “super happy” “super nice” “super hard, super-fast,” but no super trooper - yet.

Embargo

top secret, we were allowed no further

If you are involved with the cycling media, you will know that every other email you get will have an embargo on it. I mean, why not just wait and send it later? (yes, we know why really!)

There are brands out there that are worse than others with embargoed stuff, and it does tend to grind with some. Strangely it can be applied to just about anything a brand does, even a new colour scheme, bar end plug or ambassador announcement.

Drop

Simon Richardson's broken bike
A bike that actually got dropped

Do be sure to thoroughly check any new bike or new cycling product you buy, as we are all well informed that they have been 'dropped'. Not released, not unveiled, and not simply fallen out of the sky if we were to go by the literal meaning... just dropped!

Sure, it’s not only in cycling terms that things are 'dropped' these days, but why? What happened to a good old release, or even a launch? And when a new bike is dropping, it’s almost always been under embargo too! 

What have we missed? Let us know in the comments as always... 

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21 comments

Avatar
lesterama | 8 months ago
1 like

Granny ring:

Granny gear was the phrase we used, way before the days of mountain bikes. Triples and larger rear sprockets have been around for a looong time.

Avatar
Geoff Ingram | 8 months ago
1 like

I really dislike the expression "Queen stage". I mean it works in Spanish as "Etapa reina" and sounds fine but the literal translation just doesn't sound like genuine English to me. Just as you translate "Me ha tocado el gordo" as "I won the jackpot" and not "The fat one has touched me" (the literal translation which conjures up rather disturbing images). Even more irritating is that I can't actually think of a better alternative. So "queen stage" it must remain

Avatar
AidanR | 8 months ago
2 likes

I'm surprised not to find 'lo-pro' in the gone but not forgotten section.

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lesterama replied to AidanR | 8 months ago
0 likes

I had 16 years away from the sport before returning to a TT in 2017. I started talking about lo pros and got some baffled looks.

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The Old Dope | 8 months ago
2 likes

"Geroff and milk it!" Once upon a time, The Tour of Britain was sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board...

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levestane | 8 months ago
2 likes

1 1/4 is 32 mm, hmm we've come full circle!

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Woldsman | 8 months ago
2 likes

Anyone remember these bad boys?

#BringBackTheShortie

Avatar
jashem replied to Woldsman | 8 months ago
1 like

Indeed.

But why did we have them ? They did nothing 😂

 

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marmotte27 replied to jashem | 8 months ago
0 likes
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swldxer | 8 months ago
0 likes

Dropped is from the music industry as when a new album "drops" at midnight. Like vinyl dropping onto a hydraulic press.

Avatar
TheBillder replied to swldxer | 8 months ago
0 likes
swldxer wrote:

Dropped is from the music industry as when a new album "drops" at midnight. Like vinyl dropping onto a hydraulic press.

I saw an advert which mentioned new phones dropping. A bad idea in my opinion.

Avatar
bikes replied to swldxer | 8 months ago
1 like

Hmm, or a record being dropped onto a deck for its first play.

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Rendel Harris replied to bikes | 8 months ago
0 likes

I always assumed it meant "dropped into the record stores".

Avatar
lesterama | 8 months ago
2 likes

Does luft really refer to turning a cap peak up now? Mingling as I do with fellow old ex-racers, luft will always mean having a cap sitting on a rider's head with effortless and elegant elevation. Note in the examples below that the position of the peak is irrelevant to the luft.

Avatar
lesterama replied to lesterama | 8 months ago
4 likes

Sean Kelly, King of luft

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lesterama replied to lesterama | 8 months ago
4 likes

Big Mig, another king of luft

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lesterama replied to lesterama | 8 months ago
4 likes

Fuente displaying daring and precarious luft. Saronni doing the luft.

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Kapelmuur replied to lesterama | 8 months ago
1 like

How does one achieve that degree of luft?   

All my casquettes fit like a skull cap, I do have a large bonce though.

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Fluffed replied to Kapelmuur | 8 months ago
1 like

The cap was sort of perched on your hair rather than your skull, it was to show the baldies what they are missing.

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Creakingcrank | 8 months ago
3 likes

Skid Lid was an American brand of helmet with a distinctive cruciform design. There are pictures here and here. The caption on the second link says "were known to exacerbate head injuries". The design, from the mid-1970s, pre-dates the polystyrene foam helmets we like to argue about today. I guess it was made for good ventilation.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Creakingcrank | 8 months ago
3 likes

Wow, that's a blast from the past! I can remember the late Richard Ballantine being an advocate of that brand. Skid lid though was a term adopted rather than invented by that manufacturer: the Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest use, to describe motorcycle helmets, to 1958.

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