Road cycling jargon for beginners - Part 1

Walking into a new hobby such as road bike cycling is like venturing into a foreign country in that it's always handy to understand a bit of the local lingo. Even if you only know as much as Del Boy Trotter speaking French (mangetout, Rodney. Mangetout!)


You're going to hear a whole bunch of words and acronyms, some of which may leave you scratching your head as to what the hell people are talking about.


There's jargon and acronyms for a whole host of bicycle-related things. To save you from awkward moments of looking blankly when people are speaking to you about anything to do with road cycling, I've shared a list of terms to get you started. They won't help you win Mastermind on the chosen specialised subject of, 'road bike cycling jargon,' but they might help you 'fake it 'til you make it' - until you're fluent in the language of the lycra-clad.


To stop this post becoming a long 'War & Peace' article we'll start with the 5 bicycle parts below. We'll shortly do a follow-up post to cover more road cycling expressions you're likely to come across... So you'll end up with two long 'War & Peace' articles. 🙄 You lucky, lucky people.


This post will focus on the main parts of the 'group set', which is basically the term given to the majority of the components that make up your bike that aren't your frame or wheels – everything else you see on a bike falls neatly into the category of group set, from your chain to your brakes and gears.


road bike on a stand so it can be repareed

If you’re ever eyeing up a group set, either when buying your first bike, or to buy and add to an existing one, I’d personally recommend a Shimano 105 as an absolute minimum in quality – or an equivalent standard from another brand.

If you attempt to penny-pinch here, you will save money on your initial outlay but it will be a false-economy. You will lose much more money and time than you save in the medium- to long- run. This will be through endless visits to the workshop to have your vital components repaired, altered, realigned or, worst-case, replaced.


Let’s break it down and take a look at some of the individual group set components so we know exactly what we’re looking at on our bike, how it works, and how we can get the best out of it.

First-up, we have the chainrings. These are the big cogs towards the front of your bike. Typically, when you hear the term chainring, the cyclist is referring to the large front cogs.

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re first buying a road bike, you’re looking at bicycles online or in the shop and you want the one with absolutely everything on it – 'give me 18,000 gears, 4 handlebars and a partridge in a pear tree, guv'nor.' – Or perhaps that was just me when I bought my first road bike? I saw this particular model with three chainrings when most of the others had 2, so I thought: “‘the more the merrier, right? Why wouldn’t I need all of these gears? I’ll show those two-chainring numpties! Mwah haaa haaa haa’...”’ What a knob. 🤦‍♂️


I’m not even sure road road bikes can be bought with three chainrings anymore, but if they are available, just save yourself the ball- ache. Don’t get tempted by superficial numbers. I only ever used two of my chainrings on that bike (badly!), with the third becoming an unnecessary nuisance.


Your rear cassette is the layer of cogs (usually 11 on a road bike) attached to your back wheel, which your chain goes around – a.k.a: your gears.

Moving along - to your cranks. These are the long bits of metal that connect your pedals to the big chainring. These can be removed if you ever need to replace them or clean the chainring. They also come in different lengths. Who knew? I didn’t until about three years into my riding! So check you get the right ones for your body size.

Next are the derailleurs (pronounced 'dee-ray-lee-urs'). There are two – front and rear. The job of the front derailleur is to move the chain from one chainring to another, while the rear derailleur is used to move and align your chain through the cogs on your rear cassette (basically, move it smoothly through all your gears at the back).

And to round up this first instalment of 'Road cycling jargon for beginners' we have the shifters. These are the flappy paddles on your handlebars that house your brakes and ‘gear shifters'. In total you’ll have 3 'flappy paddles' in each hand. A brake (the one you pull towards you [obvs]); gear shift up and gear shift down, which you push on the side, inwards, with your finger tips. The rear gears are controlled by your right hand. Your left will take care of moving your chain between your front chainrings.


So there you have it. Five basic but pretty essential terms to understand as you wonder further into this new-found road cycling land you've recently discovered.


Be sure to tune in next time for more jargon explained, and a funny anecdote about a misunderstanding of the cyclists' use of the term 'Bonking'... Oh how we laughed.

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Until next time, friends. Ride safe.


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