Welcome back to the second and final instalment of posts that will help you learn the basic language you'll need in order to get by when first getting into the road bike scene.
"Road cycling jargon for beginners - Part 1" covered some of the main components you'll find on your bike - from cranks to derailleurs. You might find that post useful too.
This follow-up will focus on some of the things you'll hear, which aren't related to physical road bike parts.
Moving away from all the group set items, I’ve highlighted a few other key terms that I wish I knew when I was starting out… particularly to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing how the hell to respond when someone suggested I was 'bonking'!
Bonking, in cycling terms – and not the bonking you might associate with the enjoyable British ‘Carry On’ films (insert your own, dirty, Sid James laugh here) is when you hit the figurative brick wall. It’s when you are completely shagged, you’ve used up all your energy and feel like absolute crap! It’s a horrible feeling and avoidance can be helped by keeping your fuel tank topped up with fluids and food at small and regular intervals.
If you start to feel thirsty or hungry, then it’s probably too late. So I advise taking sips and nibbles whilst you’re still feeling fairly comfortable. The switch from riding along nicely to feeling shite can hit you quite quickly and unexpectedly. Prevention is most definitely better than cure.
Peloton – not to be confused with the leading provider of indoor exercise machines – is actually the collective noun for a large group of riders going along in a bunch. It’s where said “leading provider of indoor exercise machines” got their brand name from. Riding in a big group can be exhilarating but I appreciate, for newbies (and even some more experienced riders), it can also be quite nerve-wracking. We'll cover the topic of riding in larger pelotons at a later date.
“Drafting” or “slipstreaming” (sometimes referred to as 'hugging the wheel' of the person in front - depending on how close you're comfortable getting to it) - this is where you ride closely to a rider /riders in front of you and benefit from them being a battering ram to the air and wind resistance in front of you. Drafting in another rider's slipstream can reduce the effort you need to exert by approximately 30%. So if you’re looking for an easier time in the saddle, find someone /a group of riders you can keep up with to sit in their ‘slipstream’. Or, if you want it even easier, find a larger bunch of riders and plonk yourself in the middle of the peloton. This way you’ll benefit from less resistance in front and air pressure pushing you from the back whilst being protected from winds coming in other directions.
If you’re drafting with strangers you meet whilst out on the road it’s always good etiquette to ask for their permission to hug their wheel. You may also hear people ask “for a tow” (They’re all the same - asking if you can draft behind them in their slip stream). Some riders can get annoyed if you stick to their back wheel without their permission as it can be off-putting to them. And if they’re new riders too, it might make them nervous. If you're drafting someone and happen to turn off before you get a chance to return the favour then it's always nice to give a clearly audible, "thanks for the tow! Ride safe," as you part ways.
Speaking of etiquette - it’s also advisable that you share the load of being the front rider. Don’t be ‘that guy’. The lazy git who sits at the back whilst everyone else in front does all the hard graft. You might find that the invites you get to join group rides stop coming your way. Besides, being upfront will do wonders for your fitness. Especially if riding into a head-wind. Consider it excellent resistance training… Whilst you’re wiping away the tears of being repeatedly pummelled in the face by Mother Nature. (who can be a cruel mistress sometimes!)
On the subject of different types of wind direction - you have head-wind - the one that is coming straight at you and increases the resistance of the direction you're heading in. You’ll know you love cycling if you can ride up a big climb, when it’s cold and raining, and you’ve 20mph gusts of wind figuratively punching you on the nose all the way. If you get through this and still have a smile on your face then it’s safe to say you’ve been well and truly bitten by the road bike love bug.
A cross-wind is when it’s coming at you from either the left or right side to your direction of travel. Be careful if you have ‘deep-rimmed /deep-sectioned’ wheels (I’ll come back to these in a second) as one unexpected gust of cross-wind can blow you across a road - either towards a curb, or it’s centre. So be sure to hold the handlebars more firmly and ensure you’ve got more control over your two-wheeled steed.
The final type of wind, and by far the most enjoyable, is a tail wind. This is where it’s directly behind you and pushing you along, making things seem easier than normal. If you’re a speed demon then you’ll love a 10mph+ tailwind pushing you along. Especially if you’re going down hill. Please keep arms and legs inside the carriage at all times… And scream if you wanna go faster!
Having just said this though, and perhaps it's just me, but nature has a cruel way of throwing head- or cross- winds your way more often than not. For some reasons, some rides just feel as through every corner you turn is smack-bang into a head wind. How is that even possible?! Not a clue but if you're lucky enough to catch a good tail wind then enjoy it. They don't tend to last long.
Moments ago I mentioned “deep-rimmed” wheels. The rim of the wheel is the bit that you find between your tyre and your spokes. Normal wheels tend to have a rim-depth of approximately 25mm. Deeper rims can go to 60mm+ These are also referred to as “deep-section” wheels. What’s the difference and why would you care? It’s a matter of your riding style preference. Deeper rims means more aerodynamics but more weight. So if you’re going for speed then deep rimmed /deep sectioned / (aka ‘aero’ wheels) might be something you look to invest in. (from a personal point of view they also look gorgeous!... Superficial? Moi? Never. I'm as deep as a puddle!) If you’re more of a climber and want to be better at going up hills then more shallow rims are usually the way to go. Will it make much of a difference to newbie road cyclists? Probably not but it’s worth knowing so you’ve something to think about in future.
And the final piece of “jargon basics” we’ll tackle is cleats. Cleats are the bits of plastic you screw into the sole of your road cycling shoes. And if you’re not familiar with cleats by eye, you’ll certainly recognise them by ear… They’re the annoying clip-clop sound you hear accompanying most cyclists as they walk around – usually through coffee shops. (Coffee [and cake] culture amongst cyclists is a big thing. Think, ‘hand in glove’).
What you really want when you’re walking around like you’ve had something painfully inserted into an orifice that wasn’t designed to have something painful inserted into it, is a pair of noisy plates on your feet drawing every set of eyes within a 20-yard radius right towards you! Cleats do come in different shapes, sizes and names, so check your cleats are compatible with your pedals – not that anyone would be stupid enough to make that mistake, right?... What?... Why’s everyone looking at me?...
Now, I’m fully aware that cleats are a touchy subject – particularly among beginners – and it’s likely some of you will be there thinking: ‘there’s no effing way I’m riding on the road, which I’m already nervous about, with my feet physically stuck to my pedals! For the love of God – (or any other almighty power you believe in, of course) – what’s wrong with you man?!’ And I’ll forgive you for having those thoughts because I’ve been there myself.
When I made the switch to clip-ins, I had many reservations. All I could picture was toppling
over at the traffic lights or going arse-over-tit into a bush as I battled to release my foot from the pedal. And, being completely honest, this is exactly what happened to m2M's very own Daniel-son when he first donned them. I still chuckle (read: 'wet myself') at the memory of him clipping in for the first time; rolling down his road at a break-neck speed of 3mph (that's not a typo); gently hitting his brakes and then, as if like a tree being felled in ultra slow-motion, falling on to the grass verge to his left.
TIIIMMMMMBERRRRR! (think Del-Boy Trotter falling through the bar in that most famous scenes from Only Fools & Horses). There he lay, like a lycra-wearing beetle struggling to roll over from having been turned on it’s back. Obviously, being the concerned mate that I am (ahem), I rushed to his aid... Once I'd wiped away the tears of hysterical laughter I’d experienced as a result of his misfortune. So a key lesson when it comes to using cleats for the first time? Be less like Daniel-son.
Even with Daniel-son's antics and, as myself being a former cleat pessimist turned fully-fledged convert, I can assure you, you’ll be fine and it’ll improve your cycling for many reasons.
One. It really is much safer and easier than you think to release your foot from the pedal with just a simple outward flick of your ankle.
Two. It improves your pedal stroke – both your smoothness of rotation and optimising the transfer of power, taking the input from your feet when you push, drag and pull with your legs. (Don’t worry too much about pedal stroke whilst starting out. That’s something to worry about later down the line. This is enough to know for now).
Three. The alternative, the traditional pedal set-up, has a high tendency to spin out of control when your foot falls off – often punishing you with a generous whack to the back of your ankle or Achilles when it spins back round again… Which can be extremely painful.
And four: while pedal and toe cages seem to be the perfect halfway-house, they come with their frustrating, angering, and often embarrassing downfalls. Picture yourself at the traffic lights… the ride is going great, your supporting leg is keeping you upright as you await the amber signal to stick your foot firmly back into that cleverly designed foot cage and… wait… ‘where’s the foot cage? What’s happening? Shit, it’s facing the floor. Bloody gravity! What should I do? The cars are moving? I’m wobbling. I’m going nowhere. Wait, I’ve got it. No, I haven’t. What’s that scraping along the floor? I hate effing toe cages!...’
You get the picture. The weight of those cages does not defy gravity, so once your foot is off the pedal, they’ll spin to face the floor like the buttered side of a piece of toast. And like toast that hits the floor butter-side down, your pedals will be buggered and need to be tossed in the bin. Save yourself the hassle and jump straight into cleats in the first place. I reckon most of you will have a five-to-ten-minute learning curve before you’re wondering why you didn’t switch to them sooner.
So there you have it. That wraps up a couple of posts that I hope provide enough of the local road bike lingo to see you through the first few weeks of getting into the sport. If there's anything else you've heard, that's left you scratching your head then share in the comments below and we'll happily be your local interpreter.
Until next time my pedigree chums. Ride safe.