Cycle jargon

You’ve been cycling for some time, and hear words being mentioned on a ride, but you have no idea what it means. Here is a short list of the words/terms used on a ride:

Cycle Jargon (definitions)

On a ride, you’ll hear many words and phrases being spoken. Some are quite simple to decipher, while others are unique to the situation. The following list should help you decipher their correct meaning.


To quickly accelerate while riding in a pack, or in smaller numbers, with a view to create a gap between yourself and other riders.


Breakaway, or break in short, is when a small group of riders or an individual have successfully opened a gap ahead of the peloton.


When a lone rider or smaller group of riders closes the space between them and the rider or group in front of them. This term often refers to when riders catch up with the main pack (or peloton) of riders or those who are leading the race.


The direction of the wind is from the rider’s left or right, and usually results in a tactic called guttering.


To ride closely behind another rider to make maximum use of their slipstream, reducing wind resistance and effort required to ride at the same speed.


To be dropped is to be left behind a breakaway or the peloton for whatever reason (usually because the rider cannot sustain the tempo required to stay with the group). To drop someone is to accelerate strongly with the intent of causing following riders to no longer gain the benefit of drafting.


(French) a line of riders seeking maximum drafting in a crosswind, resulting in a diagonal line across the road.

Follow a wheel

The ability to follow a wheel is the ability to match the pace of riders who are setting the tempo. Following is easier than pulling or setting the tempo and the term can be used in a derogatory manner, e.g. “He only ever followed”.


To stop pedalling and let momentum keep you moving forward.


A distance between two or more riders large enough for drafting to no longer be effective. It’s much easier for a stronger rider to pull ahead of others once a gap has been achieved, or it’s much harder for a weaker rider to close the gap, causing them to get dropped.


In an echelon, where the size of a draft is limited by the width of the road, to be left with no good position to join the group and be sheltered from the crosswind.


A rider that rides half a wheel in front of another on training rides and group rides. No matter how much the pursuer speeds up to keep up with him/her, s/he stays that distance ahead. Usually these people are frowned upon and less desirable to ride with.


To ride fast (they say, put the hammer down).

Hit the wall

To completely run out of energy on a long ride, also known as “bonking”.

Hold your line

A cyclists needs to be capable of riding a line parallel with the edge of the road, without swaying to their left or right.


To aggressively increase speed without warning, hopefully creating a substantial advantage over your opponents. Also (more usually) denoting an attempt to bridge a gap from the peloton to a breakaway.

On the rivet

A rider who is riding at maximum speed. When riding at maximum power output, a road racer often perches on the front tip of the saddle (seat), where the shell of an old-style leather saddle would be attached to the saddle frame with a rivet.

Off the back

Getting dropped from the group/peloton.

On your wheel

The condition of being very close to the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you. Used to inform the rider that you have positioned yourself in their slipstream for optimum drafting


Riding in a position such that the leading edge of one’s front wheel is ahead of the trailing edge of the rear wheel of the bicycle immediately ahead. Overlapping is potentially dangerous because of the instability that results if the wheels rub, and the simple fact that it allows the trailing rider to turn only in one direction (away from the wheel of the rider ahead). In road bicycle racing, overlap can be a significant cause of crashes, so beginning riders are instructed to “protect your front wheel” (avoid overlap) whenever riding in a pack.

Pace Line

Group of riders riding at high speed by drafting one another. Riders will take turns at the front to break the wind, then rotate to the back of the line to rest in the draft. Larger group rides will often form double pace lines with two columns of riders. Sometimes referred to as “bit and bit”.


(French) is the large main group in a road bicycle race. May also be called the field, bunch, or pack. Riders in a group save energy by riding close (drafting or slipstreaming) near and, particularly behind, other riders. The reduction in drag is dramatic; in the middle of a well-developed group it can be as much as 40%.


To take the lead on a pace line or echelon.

Sit up

If a rider eases his or her efforts and stops pulling or maintaining the pace of the group, the rider is said to have sat up.

Soft pedal

to continue the pedalling action, but with less force on the pedals.


A cyclist who has a tendency to swerve unexpectedly and maintain inconsistent speed. Considered dangerous to follow at close range for the purpose of drafting. Other cyclists normally shout “hold your line”.

Sticky bottle

A technique often used by the rider who takes food and water from the team car during a race. The rider holds on for a variable amount of time to the bottle handed to him by the car occupant, who maintains his grasp on the object, effectively dragging the athlete. This concerted act gives the cyclist a moment to relax. Usually tolerated by the race commissaire if the bottle is held for 1-2 second, but may result in a sanction if an exaggeration is perceived.

Swing off

A cyclist fending the air in front of a group of riders, then leaving the front after producing his effort by steering his bike to the side is said to “swing off”.


Steady pace at the front of a group of riders.


A turn is a rider sharing the workload on a pace line “he took a turn” or “he is doing a lot of turns on the front”. Missing turns can be expressed thus “he has missed a few turns now and has stopped working”. In a breakaway the riders expect to share the work equally in “turns”. A rider who doesn’t take his turn is “sitting on the break”.


A rider who sits on the rear wheel of others in a group or on another rider, enjoying the draft but not working. Wheelsucking is the verb.


To work is to do “turns on the front”, to aid a group of riders by sharing the workload of working against air resistance by “pulling on the front” of the group. Similar to pull. Often used expressively in combination with other expressions: e.g. “He hasn’t done any work all day, he has just sat on the breakaway.” Working is used in many contexts in the peloton and road racing.

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