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Beginner’s Guide to Road Bike Racing and Riding

Whether you are new to the sport or you’ve been riding a road bike for years, if you are interested in getting involved with group rides, charity events, sportives, or signing up for your first race, here are some common terms you need to know!

Road Cycling Lingo – from A to Z

Aero: Or “aerodynamic.” Aero can be used to describe a bike or gear with features that help reduce wind resistance or a body position on a road bike. Aero bikes and gear come in handy during time trials and while sprinting. Liv makes an aero road race bike, the EnviLiv, and well as an all-around road racing bike with aero features, the Langma.

Jeff Clark Photography.

Breakaway: A small group of riders (or single rider) who rides away from the group (or peloton) in a road race. Just because a group has sprinted away from the pack doesn’t mean that one of the members of this group will be the winner of the race. Breaks are often caught by the peloton because the larger group can work together to go faster with less effort than a smaller group of riders (see drafting).

Century: A Century is a 100 mile or 100 km ride or race. Many sportives and charity rides will have a century or metric century option.

Criterium (crit): A crit is a type of road race that is on a short course, usually around a city or town. The race is generally closed to traffic and features tight corners, fast-paced riding and multiple sprints and changes in the peloton. The riders will complete multiple laps on the course in a defined amount of time.

Drafting: When you ride in the space behind the rider in front of you to reduce the amount of effort it takes to go the same speed. When drafting, the lead rider can be working 15-30% harder than the riders behind him/her, depending on their distance. Road racers use drafting as a team so select riders can save their energy for the final sprint. Learn more about how to draft HERE.

Jeff Clark Photography. 

Gran Fondo: Translated from Italian, Gran Fondo means “big ride” and is a type of sportive. A Gran Fondo is generally a long-distance supported ride (not a race) where riders of all levels participate in pushing themselves on a challenging, often scenic, course. However, timing for Gran Fondos is often included so you can push yourself to a personal record or try to “win” the event.

Half-Wheel: This term is used to describe a faux pas in group ride etiquette. If you find yourself riding with your front wheel ahead of the person beside you in a double paceline, then you are half-wheeling him/her. You should always match the speed of the slower rider in a double paceline.

Paceline: Using a paceline allows a group of road riders to travel faster with less effort. Pacelines utilize a determined formation, rotation, and length of time each rider should “pull.” A single paceline or double paceline are very common, however, formations can get complex depending on the group with which you are riding. Be sure to communicate before the start of a group ride to ensure seamless rotation for an efficient paceline!

Parts of a Bike: If you need to brush up on your bicycle terminology, check out our handy parts of the bike guide.

Peloton: The peloton refers to the largest group of riders in the road race. This group can also be referred to as a “bunch” or a “pack.” If riding in the peloton, a racer can reserve energy and take advantage of the other riders for drafting.

Cor Vos Photo. 

PR: Riders who claim to have achieved a “PR” are saying they have gotten a personal record or personal best time on a segment of road or length of a race.

Pull: When you “take a pull” you are riding at the front “pulling” the other riders. In this position, you are doing the brunt of the work. In group rides, you will rotate through the paceline so you are not “pulling” for the whole ride.

Road Race: A road race is any race that has a mass start, where riders will begin at the same time and race over a certain distance. The length of road races can vary greatly and can be raced as a point-to-point, large loop, or over several laps.

Sportive: Any mass participation cycling event that is not sanctioned, but can be competitive or non-competitive with timing, results, and sometimes prizes. Any fitness level can compete and rides will usually have a few different lengths to support riders with a variety of road cycling goals. The benefits of signing up for a sportive are mechanical support, feed stops, support vehicles, and being able to enjoy a fun, social ride.

Stage Race: A multi-day road race ran over consecutive days. The Giro Rosa and Tour of California are examples of stage races. These races often have a variety of different races in one event, including time trial, team time trial, criterium, and road race.

Cor Vos Photo. 

Time Trial: Individual or team time trials are races where the rider or team starts at a set time and must race over the course alone. Aerodynamics is very important for these races, so skin suits, special bikes, and aero helmets are worn.

Tour: A tour is another name for a stage race.

Now get out there and get your race on with a little more confidence!

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