Thursday, June 28, 2007


As cyclists, there are many things we do or say that mark us as part of the bike culture. Obsession with body weight, leg shaving, and occasional hormone consumption are all things in which cyclists (and the transgendered) engage.

And like any hobby, sport, profession, subculture, lifestyle or obsession, cycling has its own set of words unique to itself. Knowing and understanding these words gives many of us that comfortable feeling of belonging to a larger whole.

Granted, I have a delicate ear, but some of these words have just never sat well with me. Here are a few bits of cycling jargon I could stand never to hear again.


I’m a huge Sheldon Brown fan, but I hate this word. I don’t know if he coined it or simply propagated it, but in either case it makes me wince. It makes me think of SPD sandals, really long quill stems, and hairy legs. (Did I mention I’m a huge Sheldon Brown fan?) And at the same time it is dangerously close to another conjoined word I hate: “brunch.” I’d rather say STI, or Ergo, or even "integrated brake/shift lever." And it’s not like we even have to anymore. It’s 2007—I think we all know what a “lever” refers to on a bike. But I shouldn’t complain. “Brifter” is better than “shrake lever.”


This word is used way too freely, especially by people who have just learned it. When you’re watching the Tour de France, or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, say “peloton.” When you’re talking about the local training series, just say “pack,” or “field,” or “group.” I've never heard of anybody being called “peloton fill.”

Failure Mode

This one is bandied about on quite often. I know there are a lot of cyclist engineers out there, but this is a dire, overblown expression that is far too severe for most bicycle parts. Generally someone will post something like, “What’s the failure mode for a latex inner tube?” Come on, tone it down a little. To me, “failure mode” evokes going down in flames. Say “failure mode” when you’re talking about the tiles on the Space Shuttle. When you’re talking about a bike part, just ask, “How does it usually break?”

Front/Rear Mech (UK only)

I am thankful I do not live in the UK, because I don’t think I could stand to hear these words used regularly. I love Britain and her people, but their cutesy little words sometimes irritate me for reasons I don’t quite understand. Call me a francophile, call me a squanderer of syllables, or call me a pedant, but what the hell is wrong with the word “derailleur?” (And forget about seatpin. A pin goes in a cushion—or if you say “seatpin” around me, in you.)

(as in “wheelset,” “frameset,” “crankset,” etc.)

This is a tricky one because it’s so deeply engrained in cycling parlance—adding “set” to the end of everything. Even I use “[blank]set” regularly, despite the fact that as I’m saying or typing it I immediately regret it. I understand why it exists: for example, a “frameset” ideally distinguishes a frame and fork from just the frame. But now the expression is so common people really don’t even observe the distinction anymore. Hence it loses its meaning. And why do we need to say “wheelset” anyway? They’re just wheels! What would a “wheelset” include that wheels would not? Bags? Tires? OK, maybe skewers. But why don’t we just go all the way, and start saying “saddleset” (includes rails), “seatpostset” (includes clamp), “pedalset” (includes cleats), “tireset” (front and rear, maybe with tubes), and “bar tapeset” (cork and adhesive—now there’s a concept).

*(The one 100% acceptable and appropriate usage is, of course, headset!)


If you’re an anglophone, it’s a bottle.


El said...

the damn dutch, who are prone to speaking english excessively, use the word "shirt" when they mean "jersey."

Pete said...

"Brifters" is only marginally worse than 'gruppo'. Kids, if your ad or posting or the sentence you are speaking is not actually in Italian , it's a 'group'.

john said...

however, "gruppo" is still better than "groupo," and "peloton" is better than "peleton" - I blame craigslist for the proliferation of these misspellings.

Josh said...

My favorite is (speaking of craigslist)..."vintage." A classic steel Ciocc frame with the chrome fork is "vintage." Your crappy 1980 Univega you dug out of your closet is just old 'n busted.

big jonny said...

Two things:

1) I think "cupset" is ok. As in "I got this new cupset for that bb I trahsed on my cruiser..."

2) There is still something nice about the phrase "she's campy right down to the seatpin!"

Good job as always.

prcrstn8 said...

What's wrong with the word "derailleur"? Only the French pronunciation - duh ray yoor. "Derailer" makes more sense.

Sheldon Brown said...

Hey, bum rap! I had nothing to do with coining "brifter" though I do use it from time to time.

I do take full credit for "stokid" but that's the only new word I've coined that has caught on.

I'll add a couple of my cyclinguistic peeves:

"Crank Arm" is redundant. It's a "crank" or it's an "arm" but not both. I hate and despise un-necessary redundancies that serve no useful purpose or function...

"Brake Arch" is a mis-translation from the Japanese.

| Man invented language to satisfy his |
| deep need to complain. -- Lily Tomlin |

BikeSnobNYC said...

Sheldon, please excuse the redundancy, but I'm really really really excited you posted here.

Sorry to blame you for "brifter," but I think the first time I saw it used was by you. Now that the record is straight I can continue my hunt for the perpetrator.

Anonymous said...

i'm kind of glad today. i don't know any of these words and i'm not obsessed with my body weight. that makes me a... fat antisocial biker. yayyy.
(hi sheldon)

mathias_d said...

All right, you can rest assured you have arrived now that Sheldon Brown himself has posted to your comments section.

As to the derailleur question, the British would find it quite abhorrent that you admit being a francophile in any way, shape or closed.

Art said...

"Full [blank]" As in "full Ultegra" or "full carbon fork", which is particularly irritating when the fork in question has an aluminum steerer.

And john, it's not all craigslist's fault. recently spent a full week with a banner pitching the "Peleton Sale".

j said...

I have a good friend who often refers to our local racing scene/community/whatever as the "local peloton," which drives me nuts.

Anonymous said...

you forgot 'tubie' for tubular or sew-up tires. it's not as bad as brifter but it's close.

Stuart said...

Sheldon Brown points to an article by Jobst Brandt which debunks all the "reasons" why cyclists shave their legs.

So, Sheldon Brown references Jobst Brandt's reasons why leg shaving is solely an exercise in vanity.

Unless Mr. Brown states otherwise: Case Closed on any question of the propriety of unshaven legs. (They are legitimate)

p.s. Sheldon Brown reads your blog! You'd better be excited!

mhandsco said...

Three more hateful, hateful cyclo-linguistic faux-pas:

chainwheel - why Lord, why are these anglicisms so prevalent?

sew-ups - one less syllable than tubular, so does cute equal lazy?

fixie - bar none my least favourite

Anonymous said...

this blog is utter douchebaggery--
get a life. All this time spent spewing vitriol could be better spent in the saddle or maybe drilling a hole in your head with a large-diameter steel bit to let out
some of the air. Notwithstanding the occasionally good advice your strict aesthetic tastes are often silly and exclusive. Perhaps you should be a shut in and dust your perfect bike so that your delicate sensibilities aren't offended by the constant assault that is reality.

Anonymous said...


geeimgross said...

I know i'm a little late to this discussion but i feel that the term saddle is worthy of derision not only because i think it's a misnomer but also because it is only used by the snobbish cyclophile, a la "it's not a seat, it's a saddle" I ask you this: Where does your "saddle" get installed? On a SEATpost, not a saddle post.

Steve said...

I'm hating the word "sharrows" these days: they're the "share the road with bikes" arrows we have on the streets here in Seattle. Maybe you gottem there.

Whisper it in the ear of one you love...sharrows...

AnnaZed said...

Okay, so I am really late to this conversation but I just found your site and have spent half of my day off reading it and laughing myself silly.

Just to be clear I am in no way in your league of snobbery because I work in a bike store and I just can’t get that worked up about what people do. I often tell my customers, “hey, it’s your bike, do whatever you want.” (barring anything plain unsafe, and even that once they’ve been warned)

Also I’m a shameless whore of a salesperson and I always know my customer just by the cut of their jib, so if it seems like a gruppo kind of moment while I’m spewing my spiel I go for it, sorry.

Anyway though as to:

“And why do we need to say “wheelset” anyway? They’re just wheels! What would a “wheelset” include that wheels would not? Bags? Tires? OK, maybe skewers.”

In all seriousness I say wheelset to distinguish between a wheelset (with or without bags, skewers or whatever is included – never tires (LOL) that’s always extra) and a single wheel.

I am constantly asked by astonished customers: “Is that the price for just one wheel?”

The answer “Yes that is the price for a front wheel if you need a rear wheel, it’s more, a wheelset is this much.”


PS: Sheldon Brown posted at you site!!! Cool!

Anonymous said...

the English for peloton is bunch..or "the bunch"

Some US cycle commentary is truly appalling.

"he's been gapped" "he is trying to gap him"

front and rear mech are sound terms as well btw

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Brifter makes me think of SPD sandals, really long quill stems, and hairy legs.

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