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Glossary: the language of bikes – page 1

From Aheadset to Ziptie, this list covers most of the odd word and phrases that you are going to need in order to talk about bicycles and their mysteries. It‘s easy to get confused since many of the names that refer to specific parts also have more general meanings. Stick with these definitions and you should be okay.

  • Aheadset: The bearing that clamps the fork securely to the frame, while allowing the fork to rotate freely so you can steer. The now-standard Aheadset design works by clamping the stem directly to the steerer tube of the forks, allowing you to adjust the bearings by sliding the stem up and down the steerer tube with an Allen key.
  • Air spring: Used in both suspension forks and shocks, an air spring consists of a sealed chamber pressurized with a pump. The chamber acts as a spring, resisting compression and springing back as soon as any compressing force is released. Air has a natural advantage as a spring medium for bicycles – it‘s very light.
  • Antiseize: This compound is spread on the interface of two parts, preventing them sticking together. It is vital on titanium parts, since the metal is very reactive, and will seize happily and permanently onto anything to which it is bolted.
  • Axle: The axle is the central supporting rod that passes through wheels and bottom brackets and around which they can rotate.
  • Balance screws: These are found on V-brakes and cantilevers and allow you to alter the preload on the spring that pulls the brake away from the rim so that the two sides of the brake move evenly and touch the rim at the same time.
  • Bar ends: Handlebar extensions that give you extra leverage when climbing and permit you to use a variety of hand positions for long days out.
  • Barrel-adjuster: This is a threaded end-stop for the outer casing. Turning the barrel moves the outer casing in its housing, changing the distance the inner cable has to travel from nipple to cable clamp bolt, and so altering the tension in the cable.
  • Base layer: A close-fitting vest worn in cold weather, that wicks perspiration away from your skin, keeping you warmer, drier and more comfortable.
  • Biscuit: (1) Useful things, like odd nuts and bolts, you keep in an old biscuit tin for emergencies; (2) A suitable offering you can take to your bike shop in exchange for past and future favours.
  • Bleeding: The process of opening the hydraulic brake system, allowing air to escape, and refilling the resulting gap with oil. Bleeding is necessary because, unlike brake fluid, air is compressible. If there‘s air in your system, pulling the brakes on squashes the air, rather than forcing the brake pads onto the rotors.
  • Bottom bracket: The main bearing connects the cranks through your frame. Often ignored because it‘s invisible, the smooth running of this part saves you valuable energy.
  • Bottom bracket cups: These threaded cups on either side of the bottom bracket bolt onto your frame. The right-hand cup has a reverse thread and is often integral to the main body of the bottom bracket unit.
  • Bottoming-out: This suspension term means that the fork or shock has completely compressed to the end of its travel. Sometimes accompanied by a loud clunk, bottoming-out is not necessarily a problem – if you don‘t do it at least once every ride, you‘re not using the full extent of the travel.
  • Brake arch: On suspension forks, this is a brace between the two lower legs that passes over the tyre and increases the stiffness of the fork. It is called a brake arch even if your brakes are down by your hub.
  • Brake blocks: These fit onto your V-brake or cantilever brakes. Pulling the brake cable forces them onto your rim, slowing you down.
  • Brake pads: On disc brakes, these hard slim pads fit into the disc callipers and are pushed onto the rotors by pistons inside the brake calliper. They can be cable or hydraulically operated. Being made of very hard material, they last longer than you‘d expect for their size, and, unlike V-brake blocks, do not slow you down if they rub slightly against the rotors. Contamination with brake fluid renders them instantly useless.
  • Brake pivot: This is the stud on the frame or forks onto which cantilever or V-brakes bolt. Brakes rotate around the pivot so that the brake blocks hit the rim.
  • B-screw: This component sits behind your derailleur hanger and adjusts its angle. Set too close, the chain rattles on the sprockets; set too far, your shifting is sluggish.
  • Burn-in time: New disc brake pads need burning in; they never brake powerfully fresh from the box. Burn new pads in by braking repeatedly, getting gradually faster, until the brakes bite properly.
  • Cable stop: This part of the frame holds the end of a section of outer casing but allows the cable to pass though it.
  • Cable: This steel wire connects brake and gear levers to shifters and units. It must be kept clean and lubricated for smooth shifting and braking.
  • Calliper: This mechanical or hydraulic disc brake unit sits over the rotor and houses the brake pads.
  • Calliper brakes: Found on road bikes, these are simple and light. A horseshoe-shaped brake unit holds a brake block against the rim on either side.
  • Cantilever: (1) This older rim brake type connects to your brake cable by a second, V-shaped cable; (2) A suspension design that sees the back wheel connected to a swingarm that pivots around a single point. These designs are simple and elegant.
  • Cantilever brake: See cantilever.
  • Cartridge bearing: These sealed bearing units are more expensive than ball bearings, but they are usually better value since the bearing surface is part of the unit, and so is replaced at the same time.
  • Casing: Usually black, this flexible tube supports cables. Brake and gear casings are different: a brake cable has a close spiral winding for maximum strength when compressed; a gear casing has a long spiral winding for maximum signal accuracy.
  • Cassette: This is the cluster of sprockets attached to your back wheel.
  • Cassette joint: Not to be confused with a cassette, this is a fiddly metal contraption fitting over the sprocket of Shimano hub gears. Rotating the cassette joint, using the gear cable, selects one of the internal gear ratios.
  • Chain-cleaning box: This clever device makes chain cleaning less of a messy chore, increasing the chances of you doing it. (Now you just need a chain-cleaning-box-cleaning box.)
  • Chainring: This is one of the rings of teeth your pedals are connected to.
  • Chainset: See crankset.
  • Chainsuck: A bad thing! When your chain doesn‘t drop neatly off the bottom of the chainring, but gets pulled up and around the back, it jams between chainring and chainstay. Usually caused by worn parts, chainsuck is occasionally completely inexplicable.
  • City bars: Curving upwards and backwards towards you, these handlebars are comfortable and allow you to sit quite upright – the style of bars often seen on Dutch town bikes.
  • Clamp bolt: This holds cables in place. There is usually a groove on the component, indicating exactly where the cable should be clamped.
  • Cleat: Bolted to the bottom of your shoe, this metal key-plate locks securely into the pedal and releases instantly when you twist your foot.
  • Clipless pedal: This pedal is built around a spring that locks onto a matching cleat on your shoe. It locks you in securely and releases you instantly when you twist your foot.
  • Coil spring: Usually steel but occasionally titanium, coil springs provide a durable, reliable conventional spring in forks and rear shocks.
  • Compression damping: This is the control of the speed at which forks or shock can be compressed.
  • Cone: This curved nut has a smooth track that traps bearings while allowing them to move freely around the axle without leaving room for side-to-side movement. The amount of space available for the bearings is adjusted by moving the cone along the axle, which is then locked into place with the locknut.
  • Crank: Your pedals bolt onto cranks. The left-hand one has a reverse pedal thread.
  • Crank extractor: This tool removes cranks from axles. There are two different kinds available – one for tapered axles, the other for splined axles.
  • Crankset: The crankset is made up of three chainrings that pull the chain around them when you turn the pedals.


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