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Cycle-Speak can easily confuse. We have tried to clarify what some of the common bicycle terms and product categories mean. Hopefully this will give the reader valuable information on the ins-and-outs of different bikes, styles and products.


Road & Gravel Bikes 101

Mountain Bikes 101

Hybrid & Comfort Bikes 101

Car Racks 101

Bicycles A - Z


ALUMINUM: Aluminum is light and does not rust, though it will corrode if exposed to salt. By weight, it is not as strong as steel, but it weighs 1/3 what a similar volume of steel weighs. Aluminum is one of several materials that are quite suitable for making bicycle frames, as well as most major parts; cranks, chainwheels, rims, handlebars, stems, brake parts and derailleur parts. Aluminum is not suitable for spokes, cables, or highly-stressed threaded fasteners.  


BICYCLE: A bicycle is a two-wheeled vehicle that's propelled by foot pedals and steered with handlebars. They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle once you learn.

When you travel to places like Amsterdam and Beijing you'll see people of all ages using bicycles as their major form of transportation. The word bicycle is also a verb, as in "I think I'll bicycle over to the bakery and buy some muffins." The word bicycle was coined in the 19th century from a combination of the Greek bi, or "two," and kyklos, "wheel."  Source:

BMX BIKE: An abbreviation of the term Bicycle Moto Cross, this closed course type of bicycle racing originated in California in the early 1970's. In 1974 the National Bicycle League was formed to help sanction the fledgling sport. By 1977 the American Bicycle Association was formed to sanction the sport nationally. By the 1980's it was a multi billion dollar industry worldwide. A BMX bike historically uses 20" diameter wheels, with 24" and 26" wheeled versions used for "cruiser" classed racing. Modern BMX racing still uses the three original wheel sizes and has now added 20"+ and 22" wheeled sizes as well. Besides racing, modern BMX riding also incorporates flatland freestyle trick riding, park riding in skateboard parks, dirt jumping and streetstyle riding. See the movie Joe Kid On A Stingray for an excellent complete history on the sport of BMX.

BOTTOM BRACKET: the bearing and center axle assembly of a crankset. There have been many different standards introduced over recent years, more so than any other bicycle component.


CARBON FIBRE: Also called graphite fiber or carbon graphite, carbon fiber consists of very thin strands of the element carbon. Carbon fibers have high tensile strength and are very strong for their size. In fact, carbon fiber might be the strongest material there is.

Each fiber is 5-10 microns in diameter. To give a sense of how small that is, one micron (um) is 0.000039 inches. One strand of spider web silk is usually between 3-8 microns.

Carbon fibers are twice as stiff as steel and five times as strong as steel, (per unit of weight). They also are highly chemically resistant and have high-temperature tolerance with low thermal expansion.

Carbon fibers are important in engineering materials, aerospace, high-performance vehicles, sporting equipment, and musical instruments--to name just a few of their uses.

COASTER BRAKE: a rear wheel hub wherein the brake is applied by pedalling backwards. Commonly single geared, but also available with multiple gears.

CYCLOCROSS BIKE ('CROSS BIKE): originating in France in the early 1900's, these bikes are made for competing at the end of the road racing season on closed courses. Cyclocross races offer a very social festival atmosphere, with spectating being almost more important than the actual racing itself. Riders are required to dismount and run over obstacles and up and down muddy hills, as well as compete in all sorts of weather, usually the worse the better. Watch the short YouTube video Cyclocross: An Hour In Hell. Cyclocross bikes are normally used as sloppy weather training bikes and were sometimes used as loaded touring bikes.


DAMPING: Causing vibrations to stop, usually by the use of friction. In suspension systems, this is commonly done either by direct rubbing friction, or by pistons forcing fluids through small openings.

DERAILLEUR: A mechanism for moving the chain from one sprocket to another to change gears on a multi-speed bicycle.


E-BIKE: common term for ELECTRIC BICYCLE. The majority of these bicycles are "electric assist", which means that an electric engine assists the rider as the rider pedals the machine. Some types of e bikes also have a throttle, which allows the bicycle to be used without the need for the rider to pedal. In Canada this form of bicycle is generally limited to a top speed of 32 kilometers per hour and commonly has a battery range of approximately 70 kilometers. Currently e bikes need no insurance or operators licence, however, the rider must be old enough to obtain a driver's licence and must wear a helmet while operating the machine.


FAT BIKE: originated in the United States in 2004. Fat bikes were designed to be overly capable off road mountain bikes with 3.8" and 4.8" wide tires for maximum grip and floatation over extremely wet or technical terrain. Although not originally designed for winter, it was soon discovered that the huge tires were excellent on snow and ice, and many people adopted them for winter riding.


GRAVEL BIKE: a bicycle that is specifically designed to endure the rigours of riding rough gravel roads over long periods of time. The frame geometry, particularly the bottom bracket height, offers stability over slippy terrain and the taller handlebar height offers the rider comfort on rough surfaces. There is frame clearance for exceptionally wide tires. These bikes are most often equipped with extra mounts for additional water bottle cages, racks and bags. Many people use them as modern loaded touring bikes.


HYBRID BIKE: also called a COMFORT BIKE or CROSSOVER BIKE, this type of bicycle uses an upright riding position, comfortable seating and an easy gearing range for recreational riding, day touring or commuting. Commonly referred to as "kickstand bikes", these bicycles can be fitted with a wide range of accessories such as kickstands, fenders, mirrors, carrier racks and bags in order to customize the bike to the owner's individual needs. These bikes are surprisingly quick and smooth due to their larger diameter wheels.


INDEX SHIFTING: Indexed shifting means that the shift control has positive detents or click stops that provide discrete positions corresponding to different gears. Parts must be matched for index shifting to work correctly: the shift control must match the derailleur and cassette sprocket spacing.


JOCKEY SPROCKET (JOCKEY PULLEY, JOCKEY WHEEL): The upper pulley on a rear derailer. This is the pulley that actually guides the chain from one sprocket to another.




MOUNTAIN BIKE: originating in Mount Tam, California during the 1970's, these bicycles were commonly Schwinn Exelsior and Hawthorne "newspaper boy" bikes that were modified using BMX and motorcycle parts in order to make them suitable for offroad adventuring. Commonly called "KLUNKERS", with the activity known as "klunking", vintage enthusiasts still build and ride these types of bikes to this day. Check out the Facebook group Klunkers And Other Nonsense, and the movie Klunkers. Modern mountain bikes use 26", 27.5" and 29" wheels with tires in various widths. Frames are made of cromoly steel, carbon fibre and aluminium and use suspension forks. Many cyclists have returned to using mountain bikes as loaded pack touring machines for venturing off the paved road.

M.I.P.S.: a helmet technology known as Multi Impact Protection System. Invented in Sweden in 1995, MIPS is a slip-plane technology that mimics the brain's protective structure during an impact. It allows the outer shell of the helmet to move opposite the inner structure of the helmet, minimising the chance of concussion during a crash.




PLUS BIKE: commonly called a "MID-FAT", a plus bike is a mountain bike that uses a 27.5" or 29" (Surly Krampus) wheel diameter and a 2.8" wide tire to offer more float on loose terrain than a regular mountain bike while also using a suspension fork.



RIM: the outer part of a complete wheel, commonly made of aluminium but also made of carbon fibre or steel.

ROAD BIKE: a lightweight, minimalist bicycle with drop handlebars designed to be used on paved surfaces. Usually made of carbon fibre, aluminium, cromoly steel or titanium. These bikes are fast and nimble.


SADDLE: Frequently called a "seat", a bicycle's saddle is not intended to support the rider's entire weight. It needs to fit the Isctal Tiburosities (Sit Bones) correctly for comfort.


TRIATHLON BIKE (TRI-BIKE): an extremely aerodynamic road racing bicycle with very aggressive geometry, that commonly uses handlebar extensions to make the rider as fast and efficient as possible. Modern triathlon events entail swimming, cycling and running, and began in California, with the first being held way back on September 25, 1974. Duathlon events entail running, cycling and running.


UNICYCLE: a cycle that uses a single wheel and a "fork" with a saddle on top. Single speed, with the most common unicycle being direct drive in nature, much like a child's tricycle. There is no coasting involved. Taller unicycles can use a chain driven system but are still single geared. The most common wheel diameters are 20" and 24" but there are traditional "circus" unicycles that use a massive 36" diameter wheel. Offroad mountain and trials unicycles, or Munis, as they are commonly called, usually use a 26" fat bike wheel and 4" or 5" wide tires with low air pressure to tackle obstacles and rocky terrain. These types of unicycles are often fitted with hydraulic braking systems for added control.


VEE BRAKE: also called LINEAR PULL or DIRECT PULL. Shimano created a new side pull version of the then common cantilever rim brake. Because the cable attaches directly to the brake arm itself, without the use of a cable hanger or second straddle cable, they are called direct pull brakes. Because the arms move the exact distance as the cable moving within it's housing, the system is also called linear pull.


WHEEL: a bicycle wheel is the sum product of a rim, spokes and hub.




ZWIFT: an indoor video training system that uses a "smart" stationary trainer and a computer or television screen to allow a cyclist to ride and compete in a multiplayer virtual environment consisting of several worlds, much like a video game. It was introduced in beta test form in September of 2014. The actual consumer product launch was in October of 2015.