What Did You Say?

I am trying to learn more about cycling, but I am struggling with a language gap.  I am speaking English when I ask questions, but then I get answers in jargon.  I spend a lot of time trying to translate and I know that people who are trying to help wonder why I look so lost.

Jargon is the way that group members identify with each other.  You can know instantly if someone is part of your social group, or a peer in an activity just by listening to him or her talk.  You can also tell if they are new to the activity.  This happens everywhere and we all accept it.  We hear people talk in certain situations and know we will have no idea what they are talking about.  Trying to listen to two doctors talk about you is impossible to understand unless you have medical training or have spent too much time on Web MD.

All sports have their own jargon.  This has never been much of a problem for me because most of the time I have competed in team sports or sports were large groups of people competed at the same time.  Bowling is a great example of a sport with incomprehensible jargon that you can learn by listening to others talk.  You might hear “I left a stone 9 after missing the 8 board and hitting the oil wall with too much thumb”.  What the heck does that mean?  Well, someone threw a 9 on their first ball, leaving the 9 pin.  The ball didn’t hook enough to strike because the player didn’t spin the ball enough and threw it through the part of the lane with the most oil.  If you hang around a bowling alley and listen to people talk as you bowl, you can pick this stuff up.  You will be able to infer meaning from what is happening as people talk.

Cycling is different for newbies.  Most new cyclists ride alone on trails.  They do this for many reasons, but I will talk about mine.  The first reason is that I am slow.  I think I am slow.  I really don’t know.  I know that most group rides will ask that you keep a certain pace.  The last notice I saw was asking for an average pace of 12 miles an hour.  I am a fat guy on a bike, and I don’t think I hit that pace.  I also ride the trails because I am still afraid of traffic.  I have read that this is a normal thing for cyclist to feel, and you get over it.  I am not sure I will ever feel comfortable sharing the road with teenagers that are more concerned with texting while piloting 2 tons of metal death than looking out for me.  The solitary nature of being new makes learning jargon a little difficult.

The other problem is when I do meet other cyclists, it is after a ride.  There is no context to reference when they are talking to me about what happened on their ride.  It’s not ongoing.  I recently heard “I was stomping the cranks, in the drops, on the big ring, when I bonked hard and had to ride through it as I refueled”.  It sounds like it sucked, whatever it was.  I found out that it meant that the rider was pushing hard to go fast, down low on the bottom part of his curled handlebars, using his higher gears, when he ran out of energy because he hadn’t eaten enough.  He had to keep going and ride through the feeling as he had an energy bar.  Thank you internet.

I end up reading magazines and the internet in an effort to try to understand what other cyclist, and sometimes the magazines, are trying to tell me.  A great tool is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycling_terminology.  Another is your local bike shop.  They will know you are new the minute you walk in.  My shop is constantly helping me to figure out what I need, and they offer lessons learned from their own experience.  I would be lost without them.  I feel like I will understand so much more once I get through this language barrier!

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2 Responses to What Did You Say?

  1. Great insight from a beginner cyclist’s point of view. I always feel like I have a terminology gap, even after years of cycling. Someone is always talking about something that is beyond my grasp at the moment. I’m sure you’ll continue catching up, though. Let me know if you need help…just don’t ask me what that rear derailer-thingy does.

    • Joe Johnson says:

      I think I am picking more up. I have started visiting my local bike shop more and more and I am learning a ton. It can be a little intimidating to ask questions at a shop at first, but good ones take the time to help out newbies!

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