Cycling slang you need to know

Sign of a bike on the road

From MAMILs to derailleurs and sportives to saddlebags, cycling involves a whole different language. Even with a pretty thorough knowledge of cyclospeak, there are always more words and phrases to learn and for you to use. There are things you probably do everyday on your ride yet didn’t realise there’s an “official” name for it. Here’s a small selection of some of the more inventive and fun cycling speak.

A couple of these come from the excellent Bike Snob NYC, while the rest were chosen as our favourites from the excellent dictionary of bike commuter slang at Bikehacks. Some might make you laugh out loud, others you’ll raise an eyebrow at, and some might just make you go “huh?”

Any new ones you’ve heard? Let us know in the comments?

Bike salmon (Bike Snob NYC)

A bike salmon is when a rider “swims up stream” – by cycling the wrong way down a one way street. Something I must admit I do myself each day for about ten seconds – but it does chop about 8 minutes off my journey.

Cliptastrophy

You can probably work this one out. I see it far too often – cyclists who fail to clip in or out and end up having a little bit of a wobble before saving themselves just in time. We shouldn’t laugh, but

The Chameleon

A cyclist who uses the pavement to turn when the lights are red. In the process annoying pedestrians, unless they dismount. Can also be found riding on the pavement.

Fred

A rider with excessively expensive equipment, equipment that is really designed for professional cyclists.  A Fred’s ability/experience will never catch up to the technology purchased.

Shoaling (Bike Snob NYC)

Ever find yourself waiting at traffic lights when a fellow cyclist practically pushes his way in front of you, before you have to overtake them when the lights go green? That’s shoaling

Eye of Mordor

This is one of my favourites, and you see plenty in London. The Eye of Mordor is the bit of skin visible when someone ‘s wearing a t-shirt not designed for cycling and it’s flapping in the wind. Who needs an air vent?

Firefighter

A firefighter – someone who insists on telling absolutely everyone that they’re on their way by ringing their bell incessantly. A bell can be effective when used rarely – but surely it becomes pointless when in constant use?

Flipper

A cyclist in flip-flops. I tried it once, and it’s almost as bad as trying to drive a car in flip-flops – i.e., you’re asking for trouble. After losing my right flip-flop, I vowed that was that and invested in a pair of espadrilles.

Hasselhoff

When you see a male cyclist riding with his shirt off. Also called a “Pool Boy”. You become a “Hoff” only if you have a chest hair that resembles the Amazon rainforest.

Hopscotch

The fun game that cyclists play in our heads – constantly overtaking, and being overtaken by, a London bus. I play this myself with the number 47, particularly fun when you need to take your mind off the weather!

Hummer

A cyclist that is incredibly serious about off-road riding on the weekends and decides it’s a great idea to commute on his dual suspension downhill bike with huge tyres. You can quickly identify a “hummer” by the sound of them humming along the road as their knobbie tires touch the ground.

Bike Ninja

These are the cyclists that like to ride around with no lights on when it’s pitch black outside. They’ve removed all reflective gear to maximise their ninja status. They frequently pop up out of nowhere.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

66 Responses to Cycling slang you need to know

  1. sweek 08/04/2013 at 9:18 am #

    Not that I have anything against it in case it’s a quiet one way road, but there’s no way 10 seconds of bike salmoning is going to save you 8 minutes. You’re actually saving maybe 20 seconds compared to getting off and walking down that road with your bike.

    • Wendy 08/04/2013 at 12:50 pm #

      I apparently “salmon” for about 1 minute and it does save me 10 minutes .. traffic lights, very heavy traffic and pedestrians all avoided. Also, the one way street in question hardly ever has a car coming in the correct direction.

      • Gary 08/04/2013 at 11:48 pm #

        You don’t ‘apparently salmon’, you do, you admitted it, please see above…… Plus thats not the point…

        I could save about a half hour commute in my car if i went up a one way street, over the cemetery and crossed the football pitch, but I can’t because its not legal, and massively dangerous for all involved…. also the resulting prison sentence would affectively wipe out the half hour I originally gained…..

        I mean would you like it if a car was ‘hardly ever coming the wrong direction’ at you on a one way street…probably not….

        If you’re that pent up about traffic lights, traffic (I believe you have a penchant for heavy traffic) and pedestrians, all of which are common, expected and legally obliged or permitted to use the roads, then I think you would enjoy air cycling…Its like cycling but without the bike, instead you use a plane and you can avoid all those pesky things you associate with riding on a road in a place where actual other people inhabit as well!

        I love cycling, but I also drive, I think if people did a little more of both then they would learn to respect each other on the roads & the laws put in place to protect us all…..

        • Wendy 09/04/2013 at 2:03 pm #

          ha! yeah but I am not driving a two tonne vehicle. I am on two wheels and propelling myself with my leg muscles. It’s not the same thing. Talk about pent up!

        • Gary 10/04/2013 at 3:04 pm #

          Wendy I don’t understand your argument,,,it makes no sense…

          The means of propulsion or mode of transport doesn’t matter, you could be on a bloody penny farthing for all i care, you still have to obey the laws of the road…..

        • Chris 11/04/2013 at 7:42 pm #

          So i take it you never nip across a pelican crossing when the little red man is lit up and there’s no cars around? Technically that’s jaywalking. Of course your mode of transport makes a difference.

        • Ted 11/04/2013 at 7:44 pm #

          So i take it you never nip across a pelican crossing when the little red man is lit up and there’s no cars around? Technically that’s jaywalking. Of course your mode of transport makes a difference.

        • tiago barufi 11/04/2013 at 10:02 pm #

          Gary: no. Cars do not equal bicycles.

          I’m tired of that very old tale of a whacked grandma, having a fractured hip due to a salmoning rider. OK, enough of that. Everybody stick to these anecdotes to yell at cyclists doing it wrong, as if it was the same thing to run wrong-way with a car.

          Now seriously, the amount of people getting run over by cars and killed everyday is the real hassle. Stop pretending all are the same, because they aren’t.

        • tiago barufi 11/04/2013 at 10:12 pm #

          people should not salmon, but your point is very poorly assembled.

        • Gary 12/04/2013 at 12:13 am #

          Chris or Ted or whoever, pedestrians aren’t governed by the laws of the road plus jaywalking isn’t illegal in this country…..

          Tiago, I never said that cars = bikes, Im merely stating that all modes of transport that use the public highways, car, van, lorry, motorbike, cyclists, tractor, segway or one of those pesky ‘L’ plate delivery guys… whatever have to abide by the rules imposed to make it safe, fair and practical for all those who use them.

          Just because your mode of transport doesn’t include an engine doesn’t mean you can ignore them, its the same with motorbike riders who use cycle lanes to cut corners, its not cool…..

          Also in as non-derogatory way as possible, I didn’t understand your first post like mine it was poorly assembled…..

      • Den 12/04/2013 at 8:15 pm #

        I salmon… only the road in question actually has a very poorly signposted bike lane against the traffic. No white line just one little sign scare the shit out of the drivers more than it does me, and totally legal.. Who the hell designed that!!

  2. ChrisLux 08/04/2013 at 9:30 am #

    We need a word for people who have a red light at the front, meaning that you almost collide with them due to thinking until too late that they are riding in the same direction as you.

    Well, apart from halfwit or variants thereof.

    • Tom 08/04/2013 at 9:42 am #

      I call them ‘Rudolfs’ like the reindeer.

    • Eddie Tate 15/04/2013 at 3:21 am #

      Yeah what is it with plebs that have red lights at the front of their bikes? I crashed into one in December in total darkness due to the fact that i saw his red light in the distance i was gaining on him & next thing i know, bang head on! I have a mtb off-road light, but had it on low so i did not blind anyone. Wish i had it on full beam & blinded the twit!

  3. Dan 08/04/2013 at 10:10 am #

    Ninjas? I call them organ donors. Just like red like runners, just as bad as idiot drivers

  4. Justin 08/04/2013 at 10:10 am #

    What about cyclists who are meandering about and then as you overtake them miraculously appear to draft behind you for the next 10 miles. Leeches?

    • Justin M 08/04/2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Wheel suckers I think they are called according to the velominatti :)

      • Barton 08/04/2013 at 2:27 pm #

        What I call them cannot be repeated. Especially when they are drafting in gale force conditions.

    • Perce 08/04/2013 at 10:00 pm #

      I put them out of my mind and pretend they aren’t there.

    • sarina 09/04/2013 at 12:48 am #

      From Sydney:
      ‘Barnacles’ are the cyclists who draft behind you for kms (miles).
      ‘Hubbards’ are the guys you ride past, their male ego is decimated and they think it’s ‘race on’ and struggle to overtake you then drop speed straight away forcing you to overtake again….and it goes on & on until they turn down a side street to recover their self esteem. Then it’s called “chicked”.
      “Scummers’ is what MTBers call “Roadies” and I love seeing MTBers who refuse to look like a scummer when on their road bikes…they wear baggy gear over their lycra pants and use a hydro pack to ensure everyone KNOWS they are NOT scummers. They tend to ride as though balancing precariously on tiny thin wheels which they are very uncomfortable on, thus ensuring everyone is aware they’re not in their natural habitat.
      “Tribal” is what I’d call the different genres of cyclists.
      “EPO-er” is what we call anyone who rides past us….that’s just us justifying our slower pace. :)
      “Xmas Trees” is how we look when we night ride with monkey lights on our wheels, handlebar & helmet lights, Bike glow lights on bike frames and helmets and rear red flashing glow sticks. Better to be a living, moving Xmas Tree than a dead cyclist.
      Underneath all the lights there are Black Ninjas….

      • Callie 09/04/2013 at 9:01 am #

        Hubbards! So true! Had the pleasure of schooling one outside the Greenwich Foot tunnel this morning doing just that. Bless.

      • Chris 09/04/2013 at 1:41 pm #

        I love being overtaken by women actually. I feel like speeding up to ask them for a date. But I can’t catch them.

        Well, actually it’s only ever happened once, but the principle’s the same.

        • Den 12/04/2013 at 8:19 pm #

          Was she on a brompton?

        • Chris 12/04/2013 at 10:54 pm #

          :-)

          No, a rather smart racer as I recall, whizzing down the Hornsey Road at about 30mph. Those Bromptons can be pretty quick though, it’s true.

  5. Pedant 08/04/2013 at 12:51 pm #

    “When you see a male cyclist riding without his shirt off. ”

    I guess you meant to say either “…without his shirt ON” or “…with his shirt off”. What you are saying is a double negative!

    • Andreas 08/04/2013 at 2:10 pm #

      Ooops – thanks for the correction – I’ve updated the article.

      • Gary 08/04/2013 at 11:50 pm #

        can you also change ‘tires’ to ‘tyres’ unless you are american, in which case you are wrong and therefore please see beginning of sentence….thank you

  6. Barton 08/04/2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Where I live, a hummer is sort of the same, but it implies those fat tire bike riders (Surly Pugleys, mainly, as they are ‘based” out of my hometown) who continue to ride the fat bikes even when the snow/ice is gone. Same thing – inappropriate equipment for the conditions – a hum of wheels on the pavement, sometimes w/ accompanying “clicking” sound b/c they still have on the studded tires.

  7. Callie 08/04/2013 at 2:47 pm #

    I got a ticket for salmoning. Saved a couple minutes and avoided a dangerous intersection. When I queried the officer he suggested a route that added 10 minutes to the commute and 8 speed bumps. So now I go the more dangerous way as it’s the marked cycle route. So far, only been hit by one motorbike. :(

    • Steve 12/04/2013 at 8:12 pm #

      You could always step off and walk the salmoning bit. Safe, no tickets, and got to take less than 10 minutes.

  8. Jeffrey 08/04/2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Nuclear-powered squids: dudes who spend all winter killing themselves on their trainer to show up at group rides extremely fit, only to have now idea how to use their handlebars. God bless ‘em if they can hold a line for 10 m.

  9. Daniel 08/04/2013 at 5:51 pm #

    A few more for sonsiderations from the Arvada Sufferlandrians Bike Club :)

    Poser’s – someone who hangs out at trailheads/starbucks with full team garb, carbon everything, grabbing poles and such so they dont have to click out of their pedals, for no apparent reason.

    Sufferlandrians – Formerly human minions who have endured such pain throughout the winter months, that others fear to ride with them, and climbing the hils other shy away from on a regular baisis is their idea of fun. They are a very fierce and aggressive riders. They hear gunshot sounds all throughout rides, and laugh at bent tires, flats and signs that say “Slow Down”. They also have a form of “Terrets” that makes them Sprint uncontrollably while riding :)

    Minions – the working class rider that does his job and shuts up. Works hard and has dreams of speed. Endures all thrown at them and is in the pack of breaks and climbs. A future Sufferlandrian, start life as a minion.

    Week-end Warriors – The once a month rider, with packs and mirrors on their helmets, going slow, but going none the less. The world needs the warriors to exist. They should not be confused with commuters.

    Comutters – People that ride to work on bike, and generally ride pretty well on weekends too! A lot of comutters are pretty tough.

    • PJAitch 08/04/2013 at 11:43 pm #

      Made me smile some of them…

  10. Zoe 08/04/2013 at 7:45 pm #

    As a little fat woman I suffer shoaling a lot and it’s actively dangerous as I then have to try to overtake them, with some taxi squishing me in. It’s also bloody rude. However, it can be fun when I do overtake them, to see the mad peddling as they try to catch up.

    Just because you think you should be faster than me, it doesn’t mean you are. Deal with it.

    • Fitz 08/04/2013 at 10:02 pm #

      *highfive*

    • Wendy 10/04/2013 at 12:36 pm #

      Love it!

  11. Justin 08/04/2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Zoe

    I believe the Velominati refer to this as being ‘chicked’.

    It’s highly frowned upon. Keep up your good work.

  12. Arron 08/04/2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Um if I’m not mistaken in England maybe only london if on a push bike you are alowed to contravene one way systems could sine look in to the legality s of this?

    • Fitz 08/04/2013 at 10:04 pm #

      I’m pretty sure you are mistaken, Arron.

      • Gizmo 09/04/2013 at 9:57 am #

        Actually salmoning is legal in some places – the whole borough of Islington for example, and there are signs and arrows indicating that cyclists may do it in other parts of London.

        However, I think it’s fair to say that if you’re going the wrong way up a road that is one-way for motorised traffic, normal ‘rules’ about taking the lane etc do not apply and you should exercise extreme caution.

  13. Liz 08/04/2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Slightly snobby, but the LFGSS board introduced me to the concept of the ‘nodder’ – a rider who’s not developed strong enough core muscles to keep their upper body still while they cycle, so as they go along they nod their head from the effort.

    Most often seen when the sun comes out, causing havoc by shoaling, failing to look behind them or signal.

  14. Perce 08/04/2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Kamikaze -red light jumpers, it’s only a matter of time ….

  15. Gizmo 09/04/2013 at 9:59 am #

    I hate bikeninjas.

    In places I hang about though, having a ‘moment’ due to not clipping out of SPDs/similar pedals is known as ‘joining the club’. Anyone who says they haven’t ever fallen over due to forgetting to unclip is either lying, or they missed the “yet” off their sentence.

  16. Matt 09/04/2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Shoalers are the worst sort of human beings. After being overtaken 3-4 times on a single stretch, you’d think they’d get the message and hang back..

    There needs to be another term just to describe a shoaler riding a boris bike too.

  17. Carlos R 09/04/2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Great, great, great!
    I love “Cliptastrophy”. My proposal for a translation into Spanish is “calastrofe” and I’m using it in my blog’s post Gijón en Bicicleta

  18. Pam 09/04/2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Dont forget the Smidsy’s. (Sorry mate I didnt see you)

  19. Wolf Simpson 10/04/2013 at 12:21 am #

    Best one nearest describe me would be a Hummer, not coz I was constantly doing off road. I just got free knobbly tyres with my wheels so used them. But now have moved on to Hybrid ones in case I do go off road or snow rides. No more humming. lol

    • Eddie Tate 15/04/2013 at 3:10 am #

      Me to Wolf, i would class myself as a Hummer due to the fact that i only like off road riding & sometimes have to use the MTB to get to the off road section. When i’m going down the road it must sound like a Land Rover is behind someone. lol

  20. Patrick 10/04/2013 at 1:20 am #

    Salmoning should be made legal! In The Netherlands (which is known for being cycle-friendly) a bicycle is allowed to go both ways on any one way street. It’s a matter of education so both cyclists and cars are aware, and it helps that the signs say “one way street, bicycles exempted”.

    • David 12/04/2013 at 11:55 am #

      I drive down a few one way streets (the right way) that have contra-flow cycle lanes. Now that’s the way to do it!

  21. Simon Wilcox 10/04/2013 at 11:09 am #

    “sunbeamers” – commuters (usually) with MTB off road bike lights so bright they actually blind you.

    They are, if anything, worse than ninjas since they dazzle oncoming drivers. Sunbeamers actually put other road users at risk.

    Although I try to be really zen when riding, sunbeamers tend to get shouted at “too bright mate, point it down a bit!”

  22. Una 12/04/2013 at 9:10 am #

    You forgot new bicycle slang word. When you are “Jerry Browned”, you are passed way to close by a motorist. It is in honor of the Governor of California that has vetoed the 3 foot passing law, not once but twice in California.

  23. Mayowa 12/04/2013 at 10:30 am #

    Me Bike Ninja. Love the article thou

    • David 12/04/2013 at 12:03 pm #

      If you want to kill yourself then go for it. But what about being considerate to other road users? Would you drive a car in the dark with no lights?

  24. Rick Sutton 12/04/2013 at 10:35 am #

    I am a “Fred” but can’t apologise. There are plenty of car owners with expensive high performance models who are not professional drivers.

    Is there not a simply joy in ownership?

    • David 12/04/2013 at 12:01 pm #

      I agree. However I recognise that I will never be Bradley Wiggins and don’t send a fortune on gear (yet). But yes, there should always be a joy in ownership is material possessions give you joy (not a dig just a statement).

  25. David 12/04/2013 at 11:59 am #

    I go out running in early morning and it never ceases to amaze me the number of cyclists who are commuting who have no lights or reflective gear at all. There are a few that also insist on riding on the pavement. Once such cyclist got a shock when my dog and I would not move out of our trajectory thus making him swerve out of the way. He was livid and went apoplectic with me. I casually pointed out the error of his ways and that if a passing officer of the law (said at the correct time as a patrol car was passing) should wish to exercise the law then he would be smacked with a £50 fixed penalty. He mumbled something unrepeatable and took off. I think he learnt a lesson, the next morning he had lights on and was on the road!

    I am a cyclist but I also drive, run, walk etc. It’s worth trying to see these things from all perspectives.

  26. Pontylad 12/04/2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I go Mountain biking with my dog but travel about 600 metres on the pavement before I can get off road (wouldn’t take the dog on the road ) if I met David coming the other way there could be an almighty tangle or at least a doggy romance . Seriously though I get off or stop when meeting any pedestrians and take David’s point about pedestrians having absolute priority . THe dog is very good with her lead over the handlebar (until being set free off road) seeming to sense changes of speed/ braking before I actually carry them out , she did go the other side of a lampost once to the bike and i was glad of the disc brakes that day .

    • Rob Elliott 12/04/2013 at 7:13 pm #

      Pontylad,

      How did you train your dog to walk alongside you?

      I’d love to take my woof for long walks/runs as I can’t walk easily (can’t do long distances on foot), but I’m too nervous about her ending up in my spokes lol.

  27. Kie7077 12/04/2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Cliptastrophic moment

  28. RobbieC 13/04/2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Is there a name for a cyclist who lurks near the kerb in an advanced box and then makes a right turn cutting across all the other cyclist who have positioned themselves to go straight on when the lights change?

    The reverse is the cyclist who position themselves at the right hand side of the box, when they intend making a left turn.

    to be fair, taxi drivers in Parliament Square also have this problem when after they pass the supreme court, they suddenly discover that only the inside lane is for Whitehall and the next two are for Waterloo bridge and that there is ‘only’ a cyclist in the correct lane.

    • Chris 13/04/2013 at 5:26 pm #

      Westminster Bridge, surely? Unless Boris has done something genuinely impressive with the cycling superhighways…

  29. Big Softy 13/04/2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I don’t call them ninjas because ninjas are cool I call them Daft Vaders.

  30. Phil 25/04/2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Anyone trying to salmon me is going to lose; I will not move, or tolerate people doing that. There is only one contraflow road round our way, which has a really great bottleneck half way down so that all the traffic gets bunched up, right where the lemmings step into the road. As for the lightless night riders- death wish is all I can think. The number of people who reach a red light, go up on to the pavement and back on to the road on the other side of the light, as if motorists are magically going to give way has gone right up recently, as the fair weather gang open their sheds for spring.

  31. Ree Gibson 27/04/2013 at 11:06 am #

    What is the name for a Brompton overtaking you? Although, out of courtesy for everyone here, I hang back so that I don’t upset you all… ;)

  32. Dave 20/12/2013 at 3:54 pm #

    As a part time Brompton rider, call me anything you like, the point is, since we pass you so easily so do you ride an MTB, a Boris or maybe Oooh a Pashley, with a basket?

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