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Bike Salmons & Bonking? A Guide to Fun Cycling Slang

Indoor bikes can prep your body for outdoor cycling — but what about your brain?  Serious outdoor riders speak a special language. They mention bike salmons and hubbards. They tell stories of bonking and stomping. In no time at all, their lingo can leave you behind! This FitRated guide to fun cycling slang terms can help you keep up with the pack.

1. Athena: Cyclists have nicknames for all sorts of riders. Athena is a widespread term for any female bike racer who weighs more than 165 pounds. It’s a tribute to the Greek goddess Athena. Her specialties were art, wisdom and war strategy.

Was the goddess a bike racer? Not to our knowledge. But if Athena did compete on Mt. Olympus, she’d have a downhill advantage compared with lightweights. Racing a bike uphill and over flat terrain though, she might have a greater challenge compared with riders moving less body weight.

2. Biff: Biff is one of many slang terms for crashing a bicycle. As used by a mountain biker in northern California: “Brandon never wore a helmet til he biffed with a redwood.”

3. Bike Salmon: In a river, salmon are known for swimming upstream or against the current. On the road, a bike salmon rides against the crowd (and against the law) to take a shorter route. Bike salmon are unpopular in any community because they risk people’s safety. They’re of course most common in New York, San Francisco and other cities with lots of one-way streets.

4. Bonk: Bonk is cycling slang for “hitting the wall” or running out of energy. It usually describes a serious condition, not simply being kinda tired and wanting a nap or caffeine. When you’ve bonked, your glycogen supply is exhausted. Your muscles cramp and your thinking might be foggy. Recovery comes with rest, hydration and high-carb meals.

Example: “My girlfriend bonked yesterday so I’m making her favorite lasagna.”

5. Brain: Road bikes, unlike the best indoor bikes, rarely compute your cycle training stats… but when a bicycle does have a computer, it has a brain in cycling slang.

A bicycle brain will typically show your trip distance, total distance and speed (current speed and your average, maximum and top speeds). Some bike brains show additional stats like elevation, air temperature, and heart rate.

6. Broom Wagon: A broom wagon is a rescue vehicle that follows riders in a race. It “sweeps up” any biker who abandons the route. This cycling slang term dates back to 1910 when the Tour de France first included a broom wagon. That year, riders were challenged to roll higher into the Pyrenees than ever before.The term is a translation from the French voiture balai.

Broom-wagon
By Denkfabrikant – de:Bild:Besenwagen-DM2004.jpg where it was uploaded by de:user:Denkfabrikant, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

7. Clydesdale: In non-slang a Clydesdale is a specific breed of horse you might know from parades or Budweiser ads. Historically a Clydesdale was compact, but today the typical Clydesdale is taller than the average horse.

In cycling slang a Clydesdale is the male equivalent of an Athena: He weighs more than his average competitor, more than 220 pounds. Weight matters in biking because of basic physics… Heavier competitors generally have a disadvantage when they move uphill, but their weight is an advantage on downhill routes.

8. Dialed In: When a rider is dialed in, everything is running smoothly. “Rob was ticked when I forgot snacks but now he’s dialed in! Get that on video.”

9. Endo: Going endo is an especially rough way to biff. This cycling slang term is short for “end-over-end” or flipping over your handlebars in a bike crash.

To minimize your chance of going endo, you can use a website like BikeMaps.org to check a route beforehand. Here riders list potential physical dangers and report bike thefts for specific routes.

10. Hubbard: Hubbards are awkward riders. They lack technical skill and crash often. Here’s an example with two hubbards from the sitcom Frasier:

11. Kite: The best kites stay in the sky… so kite is a pretty clever example of cycling slang. Kites are bikers who do best going uphill but have trouble going downhill. They appear in the cycling nightmares of Athenas and Clydesdales, who tend to have the opposite problem.

To work on descent without scraping your skin, you can train on an indoor bike with decline.

12. Peloton: This cycling slang term is just fun to say. In English it’s pel-uh-ton and in French it’s plaw-tawn. The peloton is the main group of riders in a bike race. The term dates back to early 1700s French and the literal definition is “a ball of string.”

Peloton-cycling

13. Out of the Saddle: To break out of the peloton, it might help to get out of the saddle. This means “standing to ride.” In everyday cycling, you might get out of the saddle to pedal uphill or get a burst of power after a stop. Another cycling slang term for this action is “dancing.”

Of the three types of indoor bikes, spin bikes (a.k.a. indoor cycle trainers) are best at replicating outdoor momentum.

14. Stomping: If a cyclist says you’re stomping, hooray! You’re riding admirably. You’re dialed in and there’s no biffing in sight.

An example from Manhattan: “George usually lags, but he stomps if Marisa is within a mile.”

15. Trail Fairies: Showing that bike slang can be beautiful, trail fairies are part of mountain bike religion. You’ll never see a trail fairy, but you might notice their work — especially if it trips your ride. “The trail fairies raised some roots but we still made good time!”

cycling-Trail-Fairies-biking

Hopefully, this bike lingo helps you keep up with the crowd. What are some fun cycling slang terms in your town? Add your favorite bike slang below!

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