Cycling (Biking or Bicycling)

  • Author:
    Richard Weil, MEd, CDE

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Glossary of biking terms

Aerodynamic: cuts down on wind resistance. Generally in biking, this refers to the frame design and how much you lean forward while riding. The more forward and down you are, the more aerodynamic you are, which allows you to ride faster.

Alloy: a mixture of different metals that are combined to take the best features from each. For instance, aluminum alloys are used for bicycle frames to keep them light because aluminum is very lightweight, but because it's not an innately stout metal, the addition of other, stronger metals gives the bike the strength and durability it needs.

Cage or toe-clip pedals: a platform pedal with a strap and a cage or clip that your foot slips into. It keeps your foot on the pedal and allows for pulling up on the upstroke of the pedal cycle to add additional power. The disadvantage is that your foot is in the cage, and if you were to fall, you must pull your foot out backward to release it. The strap should not be set so tight that your foot cannot release quickly.

Carbon fiber: a light but strong material used for frame tubing. It's also known as graphite.

Chrome moly: Short for chromium molybdenum, it's an alloy that is stronger and heavier than aluminum, but because it's more flexible, it absorbs bumps better. Aluminum by itself tends to be stiff, so the alloy helps.

Clipless pedals: A bit of a misnomer, clipless pedals actually have a clip on them that allows a cycling shoe to clip in to it (clipless originally meant without a toe clip and the term stuck). This system allows the rider to push down and pull up during the pedal stroke to add additional power. Clipless pedals are for experienced bikers because of the potential danger of being attached to the pedal, and they typically are used only on aggressive hybrid or racing bikes.

Cycling shoe: Special shoes that attach to the clip-in system on the pedal via a cleat in the bottom of the shoe. The rider snaps the shoe cleat into or on the pedal with downward pressure and releases it quickly with a twist. Beginners do not need cycling shoes, but as you ride longer and faster, a cycling shoe and clipless pedal may become more appealing.

Diamond frame: A high top tube makes the frame diamond-shaped. This is the traditional, "men's" bike, where the rider must sling his leg over the back of the bike to mount it. It is by design more stable than a step-through frame, but technology and materials today make step-throughs just as stable and safe.

Derailleur: A device that guides a bicycle chain from one sprocket to another in order to change gears. It works when the rider pulls on a shift lever (located on the handlebars), which pulls a cable that moves the derailleur. There are generally two derailleurs on a geared bike - one front and one rear - although some bikes have only one derailleur on the rear (which makes it harder to pedal). The rear derailleur controls from three to eight sprockets on the back wheel, and the front derailleur controls two to three sprockets on the pedal crank. Importantly, derailleurs only work when the bike is moving, so don't try to change gears when the bike is idle or when you are pedaling backward. Good technique while riding is to drop to a lower gear as you stop your bike so that the next time you get on you are already in a lower gear for an easy start.

Disc brakes: These brakes function better in the rain than rim brakes because they are located at the center of the wheel, which means they stay drier and cleaner. The disadvantage of disc brakes is the increased cost, greater weight, and maintenance. There are two types of disc brakes: hydraulic and mechanical. Hydraulic brakes push fluid through a hose to squeeze the pads together; mechanical brakes pull one pad toward the disc with a cable (a simpler and less expensive design than hydraulic).

Drop handlebar: handlebar that is curved forward and down so the rider can lean way over or sit more upright depending on conditions. It's used for racing bikes.

Fork: the front part of the bike frame that holds the wheel.

Geometry: This describes the shape of the bike frame. Geometry of the frame affects how you fit on the bike and how the bike performs. For instance, aggressive geometry means the bike is designed for optimal aerodynamics and speed (the frame will slant forward and the handlebars will be drop-down so that the rider leans way forward).

Handlebar stem: the part that connects the handlebar to the fork.

Knobby tire: a tire with "knobs" that stick out from the tire for maximum traction on trails.

Panniers: These are baskets or bags that attach to bicycles to carry your stuff. Some are small for commuting (laptops, briefcase, etc.), while some may be bigger and hard-framed to carry groceries, while others are designed to hold sleeping bags, food, and others supplies for long-distance road and camping adventures where you might be out there for days or even weeks.

Platform pedal: the standard type of pedal where the rider can rest his foot on either side of the frame and the surface is flat. They are made of plastic, hardened rubber, or metal and typically have some grooves to keep traction with your shoe. The only disadvantage to this type of pedal is that your foot can slip off, but it's the most common type of pedal that you see on hybrid and traditional bikes.

Rim brakes: A brake system where small rubber pads pinch down on the metal ring that holds the tire and the tube. This is the type of brake system you're likely to have on a hybrid or traditional bike.

Saddle: the seat of a bicycle. The narrower the saddle, the faster you can go. Racing bikes use very narrow saddles.

Schraeder valve: the wide valve that you see on most inner tubes.

Presta valve: a valve used for thin tires. It's smaller than a Schraeder valve.

Seat post: the tubular part of the frame that the saddle attaches to. The seat post can be adjusted up and down to fit your leg length.

Step-through frame: This is the old-fashioned "ladies" bike where the top tube (crossbar) is low (in comparison to a diamond frame). Traditionally this was used so women wearing skirts could get on their bikes by stepping through the middle of the bike. Step-through designs are typically weaker than diamond designs but with today's technology the step-through frame can be beefed up for more durability and stiffness.

Tire: the rubber part of the wheel that contacts the road when you bike. Inside the tire is an inner tube that acts like a bladder and inflates with air. Tires come in various widths and tread depending on the purpose of your bike. A mountain bike will have wide, knobby tires for maximum traction, whereas a racing bike will have very thin and high-pressure tires to reduce resistance and increase speed.

Wheel: the part of the bike that consists of the tire, inner tube, hub, and spokes (not to be confused with the tire).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015

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