Bicycle. Noun. A vehicle consisting of two wheels held in a frame one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with handlebars attached to the front wheel.
If your bike jargon knowledge is limited to the above Oxford English Dictionary definition, you’re not alone. For most of us, learning to ride the thing is enough.
A bike’s a bike, right?
Well, no. Ask a cycling enthusiast and you’ll discover there are a lot of names for bikes and a secret language of bike jargon (which, it turns out, isn’t that secret). As with anything in the linguistic realm, bike jargon can be pretty localised. That’s why the best way to learn the lingo of cycling is to take some questions in to your local bike shop or cycling specialty store, such as 99 Bikes.
In the meantime, here’s a general overview of cycling jargon you can use to understand what kind of bike someone is talking about.
BMX stands for bicycle motocross, an off-road style of stunt riding. These bikes are designed to be small and tough so that riders can perform tricks such as hopping, jumping, and flipping.
Cruiser bikes, also known as beach cruisers or beach bikes, are those bikes you see and think, “That’s a cute bike.” They are expressive in style, often maintaining a classical design. These bikes have upright seats and use large tyres, called ‘balloon tyres’, to create a smooth, comfortable ride for casual trips.
Cyclocross bikes are racing bikes designed for cyclocross racing (sometimes referred to as CX, CCX, or simply ‘cross). Cyclocross involves laps of short courses that cover a variety of terrain and often call for riders to dismount and carry their bikes. As a result, cyclocross bikes are light and durable.
Fixie (fixed-gear) bikes have become a favourite amongst urban commuters because of their sleek, simple designs. Where most bikes have a free wheel mechanism that allows them to coast along when you’re not peddling, a fixie has its sprocket attached to the back wheel. This means the bike only moves if you pedal forward, and that you can apply the brakes by resisting the rotation of the back wheel.
Hybrid bikes are an umbrella category used to describe a variety of bikes that take the best attributes from mountain and road bikes and blend them together. The blend itself depends on what the bike is designed for, such as comfort, sport, or commuting in certain environments. Many looking for a good all-rounder bike would be happy with a hybrid.
MTB is the abbreviation for a mountain bike, sometimes also referred to as an ATB (all-terrain bicycle). Mountain bikes are built for off-road riding, with bigger, tougher tyres and suspension for handling uneven surfaces, lower gears for climbing steep hills, and tougher bodies. Basically, mountain bikes are designed to take a beating. But the specifics vary depending on what activity the mountain bike is designed for.
A road bike, sometimes referred to as a racing bike, is designed to travel at fast speeds on paved roads. These bikes are often lightweight with narrow tyres.
So there you have it. A bike is not just a bike. This list only just covers the very basics, but it offers a gateway into a world of fascinating jargon. The best way to understand these bikes and the world of cycling lingo is to get involved in the scene and visit your local bike store. Be a cycling linguistic anthropologist and do some field work!