12 Bike Terms Every Mountain Biker Should Know

If you hang out with mountain bikers long enough you’ll hear words and phrases that sound very foreign. Nobody wants to feel left out when talking about mountain biking, so here are 12 terms every mountain biker should know.

1. Presta and Schrader

Presta and Schrader valve

These are the names of the two valves used on bike tubes. Presta valves are more common on bike tubes. They are more slender and have a lock nut you need to open before pumping your tire. Schrader valves are most common on car tires.

They have an internal spring inside instead of a lock nut. Both require different attachments for your bike pump—though many pumps come with an adapter for both Presta and Schrader valves.

2. Granny Gear

This is the lowest or easiest gear available on your bike. It’s designed for steep uphill climbs so it isn’t helpful when pedaling on flat ground or downhill. So, next time you hit a “grinder” (a long, steep uphill section), downshift into your “granny gear” and just pedal away!

3. Cadence 

This is your pedaling rate–the number of times your pedal goes all the way around per minute. While road cyclists aim for high cadence (90 to 100 rpm), most mountain bikers agree that 60 to 80 rpm is a good cadence for riding the trails.

4. Derailleur 

This is the device that changes gears by moving the chain from one sprocket to the next. Your bike probably has a front and rear derailleur. The rear derailleur keeps the bottom of the chain at the right tension and switches the gears by moving the bottom of the chain from side to side.

The front derailleur moves the top part of the chain to change gears, meaning that when you switch front gears you should ease off the pedals because the top of the chain loop is under more tension than the bottom part of the chain loop.

5. Crankset 


This includes the “crank arms” on your bike that the pedals are attached to, the chainrings, and the bottom bracket. The crank arms are attached to the chainrings or the front gear sprockets and the bottom bracket, the part that holds it all onto your bike frame and allows you to pedal easily.

6. Bonk

To “bonk” or “hit the wall” is to run out of energy. It’s when you suddenly feel like you can’t go any farther. This occurs when your body has burned all its glycogen stores. Usually, a snack, some water, and a short rest are all that’s needed to recover and keep going but it can be serious if you push your body too far and don’t replenish the glycogen stores along the way.

7. Bunny Hop

This is a helpful technique to learn so you can clear logs, rocks, or other obstacles without stopping. To bunny hop, you lift your front wheel then rear wheel off the ground at the same time to “hop” your bike over the obstacle. It takes a lot of practice but will be a worthwhile skill to develop.

8. Upshift and Downshift

Aluminum, Metal, Steel, Cycling

To upshift means to shift into a harder gear. When you upshift you are moving the chain to a smaller cog in the rear and the bigger cog in the front to have a bigger gear ratio. When you downshift you are shifting to an easier gear to pedal. To downshift you move the chain to a bigger cog in the back so there is a smaller gear ratio.

9. Line 

This is the best path through a tricky section of the trail. Choosing a line is choosing the safest, most navigable path through the obstacles in a way that allows you to keep your speed.

10. Pinch Flat or “Snakebite” 

This is different than a “puncture flat” that happens if you run over a sharp object that punctures your tire and tube. A pinch flat happens when you hit a sharp edge with enough force that it presses the inner tube against your rim hard enough to cut the tube (hence, you are “pinching” the tube hard enough to get a flat).

Pinch flats often have two holes side-by-side that look like a snake bite, so they are sometimes called “Snakebites.” The best way to avoid pinch flats is to keep your tires inflated to the right pressure or you can go tubeless and eliminate the inner tube all together!

11. Hardtail

Young woman cyclist carrying mountain bike on summer forest trail

This is a type of mountain bike that has a solid frame and no rear suspension, though it might have a suspension fork on the front. The nickname references the “harder” ride on your rear end without the suspension to absorb some of the bumps. Hardtail bikes are budget-friendly and especially good if you plan to ride mostly smoother trails.

12. Full-Suspension

As the name implies, these bikes have suspension on the front fork and the rear of the bike. They are more expensive but are much smoother to ride on rough trails with many obstacles and bumps. Suspension systems do require some extra care and maintenance but if you are hitting rough trails it’s definitely worth the investment.

What is your favorite mountain bike word or phrase? Share in the comments!


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