How to Understand Bike Terminology – A Guide of Bike Terms

Are you considering purchasing a used or new bike and are perplexed by all the cycling jargon? Do you want to ensure that you understand what the advertisements represent and what the salespeople are saying? This is a brief reference guide to bicycle terminology that will assist you when searching for a new or secondhand bike.

Bike Terminology

Aluminum bikes – These have aluminum frames, which have become the standard for the majority of modern bicycles. They are often lighter and have wider tubing than steel bikes.

Bottom bracket – the portion of the bicycle to which the cranks are attached.

Caliper brakes – check below for Rim brakes.

Cantilever brakes – check below under Rim brakes.

Carbon-fiber bikes — these have carbon-fiber frames and are extremely light, but also very expensive. They lack the tensile strength of aluminum or steel. Certain aluminum bicycles do integrate carbon fiber components. Carbon forks, for example, are pretty prevalent on higher-end hybrids and road bikes, and they are excellent for smoothing out rough urban roads.

Commuter Bikes — Any bicycle equipped specifically for commuting, including fenders, a rack, and lights. See our How to Set Up a Commuter Bike post for more information.

Components – This term refers to the components that are attached to the frame to equip the bike, such as the gear system, brakes, shift levers, crank set and pedals, seatpost, handlebars, and derailleurs. Superior-quality bicycles feature superior-quality components. An advertisement that states “top of the line components” signifies that the bike’s components are of higher quality. Of course, in order to verify that the seller is telling the truth, you would need to conduct your own research on the components (see Kinds of Shimano Components below).

Cranks – the components to which the pedals attach.

Chromoly – is an abbreviation for Chrome Molybdenum Steel. A robust, lightweight steel that is frequently utilized to construct relatively light, responsive, and long-lasting frames. Occasionally referred to as CRO MO.

Cruiser bikes or cruisers – these are typically equipped with balloon tires, an upright seating position, and single-speed transmissions. They are rather straightforward bicycles, frequently with quite beautiful and interesting designs. They are substantial in weight but robust in strength. They were extremely popular from the 1930s to the 1950s and have recently regained popularity. These are excellent bikes for casually riding about a park, and they have a large following. Indeed, if you reside in a large city, you may be able to join a Cruiser Club.

Derailleurs — the term derailleurs is derived from railway line derailleurs, as these are the components that transfer the chain from one chain ring to the next. There are two of them, one at the front and one at the back of the chain. They require frequent cleaning and oiling and are a high-maintenance component of the bike (like the chain). They are also critical to maintain — clean derailleurs contribute to the smooth operation of your bike by ensuring that your gears operate efficiently and smoothly.

Disc brakes – most frequently found on mountain bikes, disc brakes are more expensive and heavier than other types of brakes. They are almost never seen on road bikes because to their weight and the fact that they perform best with fat tires. They are essentially a metal disc linked to the wheel hub. When the biker applies the brakes, the pads compress the disc, causing the wheel to slow down as kinetic (motion) energy is transformed to thermal (heat) energy.

Disc brakes are classified into two types: hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical disc brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes are regarded superior to mechanical disk brakes but are more expensive. Personally, I prefer hydraulic disc brakes since they provide greater braking precision and are especially handy when commuting in really wet conditions. Mechanical disc brakes, on the other hand, are easier to repair. However, rim brakes stop your bike just as well.

Electric bikes, or ebikes, are bicycles equipped with electric aid, which makes cycling uphill and in general simpler. The majority of these bikes combine pedaling and electrical assistance, with the support being powered by a rechargeable battery. These bikes are fantastic because they make cycling more accessible to people who are older or have physical disabilities such as knee pain. Additionally, they enable physically able individuals to commute great distances without experiencing undue weariness or sweating.

Fixed gear bikes, colloquially referred to as Fixies, are bicycles that are rear-wheel drive, lack a freewheel, and are incapable of coasting. Pedals are mounted directly to the rear hub. Essentially, you must pedal continuously, as these bikes typically have only a front brake, and occasionally none at all. When they lack brakes, they must be stopped by cycling backwards. Additionally, they often only have one gear.

I’m not sure why anyone would want a fixie, but if you do, please try one before you buy, as they demand a completely different riding technique. I remembered having one of these when I was a small child, and recall having to brake by stomping hard on the pedals. I was overjoyed to progress to a proper bike… However, because these bikes now have an air of “hipster-cool,” you should expect to pay a premium for them, despite the fact that they have fewer amenities.

The fork is the component that houses the front wheel. It is coupled to the main bike frame and consists of two blades (most of which are round, some of which are flat) that go downward to support the front axle, allowing the cyclist to steer. Some are equipped with suspension, while others are not.

Frame pricing – the typical hierarchy of frame prices is as follows: entry-level steel, entry-level aluminum, entry-level carbon, high-end aluminum, high-end steel, and entry-level carbon.

Full suspension motorcycles – motorcycles equipped with front and rear suspension to cushion the ride (see also Suspension).

Hybrid bikes are a cross between road bikes and mountain bikes that are ideal for commuting in the city. Some older people find that hybrids are easier on their backs. The tires are thinner than those on mountain bikes but thicker than those on road bikes. (Tires can be changed, but only to the extent that the rims allow – for example, a fat mountain bike tire will not fit on a thin road bike rim.)

Hybrids typically have straight handlebars and a fairly upright riding position. Riding upright allows you to see better in traffic. Keep in mind that the riding position can be easily adjusted by changing the handlebars or the riser (the part that attaches the handlebars to the frame).

Hydraulic disk brakes – see the section on disc brakes above.

Some advertisements will proudly refer to a lugged frame. Lugged steel frame construction is a method of constructing bicycle frames that uses steel tubing mated with socket-like sleeves known as lugs.

Lugged steel frame construction is a method of constructing bicycle frames that uses steel tubing mated with socket-like sleeves known as lugs.
Mechanical disk brakes – see the section on disc brakes above.

Mixte/Step-through – These bikes lack a cross bar, making them easy to get on and off. They are sometimes referred to as “lady’s bikes,” but they are popular with people of all genders. They’re especially useful if you have limited mobility or are nervous about riding a bike after not doing so in three or four decades. They’re also great if you want to ride your bike while wearing a skirt. A mixte’s top tube is usually replaced by smaller-diameter twin stays that run from the top of the head tube down to the rear dropouts, bisecting the rear triangle.

Mountain bikes (also known as all-terrain bikes or ATBs) are bicycles designed primarily for off-road use, with straight handlebars, a strong (but heavier) frame, and fat (but heavier) tires. Many have front suspension shocks, which add comfort (at the expense of weight). Suspension shocks with a lockout feature are a feature I really like because it allows you to turn off the shocks when you don’t want or need them. Although these bikes are referred to as mountain bikes, many of them are never used off-road because they are also suitable for rough urban commuting.

Keep in mind that their weight means you’ll have to pedal harder to achieve the same speed you’d get on a hybrid or a road bike. As a result, if you look at the flocks of urban cycle commuters that are becoming more common in modern cities, you’ll notice far more road bikes than mountain bikes. According to research, 95 percent of people who own mountain bikes never ride them on mountains or even off road.

Pedelec – a bike with an electric motor that assists the cyclist in pedaling but does not replace pedaling. This is the design of the majority of electric bikes on the road today.

Recumbent bikes (recumbents) are bikes with a seat that is tilted back and low to the ground, with the pedals usually on top of the front wheel. Although the rider appears to be lying down, recumbent bikes are said to be the fastest type of bike because they are so aerodynamic. They can also be beneficial to people who suffer from back pain. According to an older rider I know, every dedicated cyclist eventually ends up on a recumbent! I’m still waiting to see if it happens to me – they look like a lot of fun.

This is a particularly attractive recumbent bike. This is an ICE Adventure Full Suspension 26″ Rigid bike, which means it has no suspension. This is not necessarily a bad thing; many of my favorite bikes are rigid! Suspension improves comfort, but it also adds weight, reducing cycling efficiency.

Rim brakes – as the cyclist applies the brakes, friction pads apply braking force to the wheel rims, slowing the bike. Rim brakes are inexpensive and simple to maintain, but they are ineffective in wet conditions (especially on steel rims). On the plus side, you can easily upgrade these types of brakes by purchasing higher quality brake pads, which are inexpensive. (Even if you buy a brand new bike, this is an area where manufacturers frequently save money by using low-quality pads, so you may want to upgrade the pads even if you buy a new bike.)

Rim brakes come in a variety of styles, including V-brakes, caliper brakes, and cantilever brakes. Caliper brakes are self-contained and are attached to the frame of the bike with a single bolt. Because the arms reach downward, they must be long enough to wrap around the tire.

Caliper brakes are self-contained and are attached to the frame of the bike with a single bolt.
Cantilever brakes attach to the side of the frame or fork, necessitating the use of special brazed-on fittings on the frame. The brake is made up of two separate arms, each of which is attached to the frame or fork separately.

Cantilever brakes attach to the side of the frame or fork, requiring special brazed-on fittings on the frame V-brakes (also see V-brakes below) evolved from cantilever brakes and are considered the most cost-effective way to achieve powerful and reliable braking. The older style cantilever brakes, on the other hand, are well suited to the design of road bikes.

Road bikes (also known as racing bikes) are lightweight bikes with thin tires and (usually) drop handlebars that are designed for speed and a more aggressive riding style (your back is close to parallel to the road when your hands are in the drops). Although they are primarily designed for racing, many people use them for commuting. They are without a doubt the most efficient and fastest bikes. Personally, I think the tires are too thin for the potholes that commonly litter cycling routes.

Shimano – Innumerable advertisements will state that the bike has “Shimano components” or “Shimano gears.” This indicates that the bike’s components or gears were manufactured by Shimano, a Japanese manufacturing company. For your purposes, this means almost nothing. Shimano controls 50% of the global bicycle component market, which means they offer a full range of products from entry-level to high-end.

Shimano products can be near-garbage or near-heaven. Use the table below to determine which is which. You can also ignore the Shimano reference and focus on other aspects of the bike. You can take solace in the fact that Shimano manufactures components for some of the world’s best bikes, so there must be some kind of positive spillover effect to the rest of its product line. (Campagnolo and SRAM are Shimano’s main competitors in the bicycle component market.)

Shimano components of several types, with the greatest grade at the top.

There is one more level, right at the bottom: Shimano parts with no model numbers or names; they are for department store bikes and are cheap and ugly. So just because the ad says “Shimano” doesn’t imply you’re getting a good deal. Determine what type of Shimano parts they are and compare them to the table to see where they fall.

Single speed — these motorcycles have only one gear. They are also referred to as fixies. They’re hot right now for reasons I don’t understand. My daughter wants one, so I asked her, “Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a century of cycling technical advances?” Her response was a withering pity look and a grunt: “They’re cool.”

I still believe they are not the ideal option, as they make it difficult to go up hills or even get the bike started. On the bright side, they are typically less expensive and lighter than geared bikes. They also lack a geared derailleur system, which means one fewer component that can become dirty or broken – and one less thing that could be defective on a used bike.

Steel bikes are those with steel frames. Steel is heavier than other materials, yet it is flexible and provides a comfortable ride. The majority of vintage bikes are composed of steel. There is nothing wrong with a steel bike – don’t be fooled into thinking you must have an aluminum bike.

Suspension – a technology that suspends a cyclist to make the ride more comfortable. (See also, above, Hardtail and Full suspension bikes.) Most commonly found on mountain bikes, but also on many hybrids. Suspension is typically placed into the front fork, but it can also be built into the rear of the bike, the seat post, or the hub. Mountain bikes with both front and rear suspension, known as full suspension bikes, are becoming more popular.

Good ones are still prohibitively pricey. If you are considering purchasing a secondhand full suspension bike, keep in mind that owners of these bikes frequently ride aggressively on tough terrain or confidently hurtle down mountain slopes, thus the bike may have been thoroughly wrecked and possibly ruined. These should be inspected even more thoroughly than conventional bikes.

Touring bikes – (also known as Trekking bikes) bicycles intended to withstand the rigors of cycle touring. Cycle touring, by definition, means pedaling long distances while carrying large loads, and touring cycles are designed to make this possible. They may, for example, have a larger wheelbase so that your heels do not slam into your saddle bags when pedaling (a very annoying thing).

They are built to be extremely sturdy, and the frames have many mounting places to accommodate various panniers and luggage holders. Given that bike tourists may spend many hours of the day in the saddle, they are frequently designed for comfort as well.

Touring bikes are built to be extremely sturdy. Their frames include many mounting points, allowing them to carry various panniers and luggage holders.

Trailer bikes are bikes that are pulled along by another cycle in front of them. A tow bar connects it to the bike pulling it. The trailer bike consists of only a back wheel, a seat, pedals, and handlebars for the little rider to grip. These are intended for younger riders, allowing them to securely accompany their parents on rides. The guy in front must be physically healthy and strong!

Shimano invented V-brakes, which were derived from cantilever brakes. (See also, above, rim brakes.) V-brakes are a side-pull variation of cantilever brakes that are installed on the frame like cantilever brakes. Mountain bikes should have V-brakes or disc brakes.

Vintage – in common usage (particularly in advertising!) The definition of “vintage” is “characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal; classic.” Many older motorcycles are marketed as vintage. As with automobiles and people, ancient age does not always imply perfection… As a result, this is unquestionably a case of Buyer Beware! If you’re drawn to a bike labeled “vintage,” do your homework to ensure you’re getting delicately aged quality (rather than simply cleaning something rusty out of someone else’s garage). Also see “High Quality Vintage Bikes” below.

Women-specific bikes (also known as Women Specific Design, or WSD) – certain bike manufacturers are now producing bikes that have been modified to accommodate variances in anatomy between men and women. The frame geometry may alter significantly (for example, the top tube may be shorter), the brake and gear controls may be smaller, and the wheels may be smaller. But keep in mind that everyone is unique, and not all ladies require a WSD bike. The key, like with everything else in biking, is to find a bike that feels good to you. So, if you’re a man, don’t freak out if the bike has a tiny “WSD” anywhere on the frame!