The cycling jargon you really need to know

The rolling dales of rural England will be a mass of pedals, pelotons and colourful jerseys when the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race swerves its way through the four counties this week.

Riders in the Tour de Yorkshire power through the streets.

It’s still a young event, only starting in 2014 when Yorkshire hosted the start (or Grand Depart) of the Tour de France, but it has now become a prestigious race in its own right. And like any major sporting event, it brings its own collection of phrases and jargon which require a little explanation to newcomers. So that’s what we’re going to do for you right now.


You’ll hear this word used a lot in cycling commentary, whether it’s the Tour de France or an Olympic road race. Quite simply, it’s a large group of riders bunched together on the race route.

Peloton is the French word for a small ball.

A good way to gauge how successful a breakway rider’s bid for glory can be is checking the distance between their bike and the peloton. In French, the word means 'small ball' or 'group' and dates back to the 17th century, when it referred to a small group of soldiers (or ‘platoon’).


Similar to peloton, but stretched out across the width of the road. The echelon is where riders position themselves at slight angles alongside each other, to ensure they get the best protection from a crosswind and preserve energy for later in the race.

Cyclists riding in an echelon formation.

A peloton can be made up of a series of echelons and it’s an example of the racers working together for the good of the event. The word means ‘rung of a ladder’ in French and has its background in military use, although ‘upper echelons’ is now used to describe the top ranks in many different occupations.


Another example of the sportsmanship involved in road cycling, participants will say this to someone who had has a particularly good day at the races.

Chapeau is French for 'hat' and is seen as the equivalent of doffing one’s cap to someone who deserves your admiration.


No, it’s nothing violent (or anything else you think ‘bonking’ may mean…) but if you’ve ever heard the term ‘hitting the wall’ used in long-distance running, then this is its cycling equivalent.

Bonking happens when a cyclist uses up their last energy reserves.

To cycle any long distance, your body needs fuel in the form of food and drink. Skimp on that and you run out of glycogen - a type of glucose - stores and your body just can’t go on, like a car using up the final drops of fuel. It’s at that point you are bonking.

So, keep an eye out for cyclists bonking in Yorkshire during the coverage of the race. They usually need a good rest and something to eat after all that exertion.


Everyone needs to save energy and this is one way cyclists can do it. If a cyclist positions themselves behind another, they can take advantage of the slipstream created and coast along, using around 20% less energy than they were beforehand.


Similar to drafting, this involves taking advantage of the draft created by a front rider and using the momentum created to move ahead of them.


Never been on a bike before, or rode in a cycling race? Then this is the term that describes you, as it refers to an unskilled pedaller.

It may be better to be a turkey than a squirrel, though. The latter refers to a rider whose nerves have got the better of them, leading them to move in an unsteady line.

Yard sale

This must be one of the cruellest things that can happen to a cylist.

A precursor to a yard sale? (picture posed by model).

Anyone who comes a complete cropper and winds up coming off their bike with all their equipment and possessions scattered around them on the ground is said to be having a yard sale - as it looks like their property is on sale to allcomers.

Hopefully there’ll be none of that in Yorkshire.

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