GLOSSARY OF MTB TERMS
As with all specialised activities, there is an almost impenetrable specialised language that accompanies them. Call it technical lingo, call it shop talk, call it what you like, if you don’t know the terms then it’s hard to join in a conversation.
We’ve put together a list of the most common terms that you will hear used (and misused) so that you can exaggerate and tell outright lies with the very best of us after your ride.
FULL RIGID: a Mountainbike with no suspension mechanism of any type. These bikes are favoured by folks who are so poor they live in a cardboard box under a bridge, or those who are so purist and retro as to think that it’s cool. These people can be helped with intensive psychotherapy
FULL RIGID SINGLE SPEED: as above, but with no gears. These things are stealth bombers on the trail…you will never hear one approach from behind! Be warned, the folks who ride these are beyond the help of therapy.
SINGLE SPEED: as above but with a suspension fork on the front
HARD TAIL: a Mountainbike with no suspension mechanism on the rear but a suspension fork on the front. These are usually favoured by weight watching race snakes who don’t participate in technical XC racing, superduper skilled riders who do participate in technical XC, or anybody else not willing to spend R15,000 on a Mountainbike (yet…you will)
SOFT TAIL: a Mountainbike with a suspension fork on the front with a very limited amount of travel in the rear chain stay/ seat stay structure. There are no pivots in this type of suspension. The system relies on either an elastomer/ air/ spring unit in the seat stay that makes the chain stay flex. Having no pivots makes this very light, but metal will only flex for so long before fatigue sets in permanently. Very popular with race snakes who are weight weenies but have an adrenalin addiction that steers them toward the technical events.
FULL SUSPENSION: sometimes called full sus in the print media by those who only use 1 finger to type and rely heavily on the thesaurus function of Word in order to have any vocabulary at all. These bikes have a suspension fork in the front, and pivots on the rear that allow the seat stay and chain stay to interact with a spring unit. This “spring” will be either elostomer, air , coil over spring, or hydraulic in nature.
SUSPENSION FORK: mechanism that allows the front wheel of a mtb to move in concert with the terrain to insulate the rider from the worst of the shock and allow greater control in rough terrain. The mechanism for this will be elastomer, hydro-coil, or air. Some versions have rebound, lockout, small bump sensitivity, auto lockout, travel and main spring preload adjustment.
SAG: the amount of compression measurable in suspension from the rider climbing very gently onto the bike until it is weight bearing.
PRE-LOAD: the amount of tension added to a spring mechanism to counteract SAG. Each suspension manufacturer has a recommended amount of sag for their product. Download the user manual…and read it!
REBOUND: the speed at which suspension returns to it’s “at rest” position after compression. If your rebound is too fast then your suspension snaps back into position and it feel like you are riding a pogo stick; if your rebound is too slow then multiple impacts in rapid succession will cause you suspension to bottom out
LOCKOUT: in front forks this is used to make the fork rigid for better out of the saddle sprinting or extended climbing. In rear suspension this is used to counteract the pedal induced bob that is inherent in some suspension designs. Now that we are in the 21st century, be suspicious of any rear suspension design requiring manual lockout.
AUTO LOCKOUT: as above but the suspension unit is smart enough to take care of it for you! Typically your suspension unit will be locked out to maximize pedalling efficiency until there is bump input at the wheel, at which point it will become fully active. You will have to ride it to believe it!
SMALL BUMP SENSITIVITY: the adjustable function of suspension that allows absorption of small inputs without activating the main spring
TRAVEL: the range of movement accommodated by suspension
DABBING: the very undesirable practice of touching the ground to avoid falling on it. In order to be acknowledged as being able to successfully negotiate a trail a rider needs to finish without dabbing or dismounting or crashing.
BERM: a banked corner that allows the rider to maintain high speed. An expert rider will exit a berm faster than he entered
WHEEL NET: the growth at the edge of a non-bermed corner that catches a riders front wheel just before it all ends in tears. An expert rider will deliberately use the wheel net on a bend to maximise the speed he can carry into that bend
OFF CAMBER BEND: a corner that slopes away from the direction of the turn which effectively increases the degree of lean that your bike is at, thus decreasing traction available for turning input.
HARD-PACK: the heavily compressed soil encountered on well used trails
TRAIL TREAD: the area of a trail cleared for riding
TYRE TREAD: the pattern on a mtb tyre. Different weather and trail conditions require different tyre tread designs.
HARD-PACK with LOOSE COVER: usually the loose cover will be small pebbles left behind on the top of hard pack after the dust that accompanied them has blown away. This will usually be created by inexperienced riders skidding the rear wheel (real losers skid the front wheel but you wont do that too often) and eroding the hard pack.
OFF CAMBER HARD PACK WITH LOOSE COVER: trouble! Check medical aid exclusion clauses.
SKIDDING: forgivable (if annoying) in 5 year old boys, but after that it is just a display of inadequate riding skill or disregard for other trail users
RAILING: negotiating a berm in total control at high speed
DOUBLE: two mounds of soil designed to be jumped together using the leading slope of the first mound as the launch and the trailing edge of the second as the landing
SIX PACK: three doubles together providing new and interesting ways to commit suicide on a mountainbike
TABLE TOP: as for a double, but with the gap in between filled in so that if you get it completely wrong and jump short you wont imbed into the leading edge of the second hump. A good way to learn to do doubles
RAMP: in colloquial SA lingo this term is used to describe anything to do with a jump (much like the term highway is used to describe any major arterial road that the describer is on or near at the time), but in mountainbike lingo worldwide is used to describe constructed (usually of timber) riding features that lead in an upward or downward direction
BRIDGE: anything that leads from one thing to another that is designed to be ridden over
SKINNY SKETCHY HIGH BRIDGE: those that love ‘em love ‘em to bits, but check your medical aid exclusion clause
SHORT COURSE: a 3 to 5 km loop with no real obstacles and run along the same lines as a road criterium (a certain amount of time and then 5 laps with lapped riders removed from the track)
XC RACING: the Union Cycliste Internationalle (UCI) defines this as a race consisting of multiple laps of a 6-7 km course with anything including the kitchen sink thrown in the mix. The Provincial and National race series are XC, and it is still considered the jewel in the crown of mountainbiking despite the media attention now given to Downhill.
POINT TO POINT RACING: the UCI defines this as a race starting in one point and going to another, but is also happy to have it start and finish at the same point. The focus of this format is lots of climbing and lots of distance. Internationally, SA riders excel at this format of racing. The Mazda Drifter series is a good example of this format.
MULTIPLE DAY STAGE RACING: just what it says…point to point racing conducted over several days. The Cape Epic and the Sani to Sea are fine examples of this racing.
DOWNHILL RACING: you get taken to the top by ski-lift and negotiate a very technical course to get to the bottom as fast as possible. Rider with the best time is the winner. South Africans also excel at this format of racing on the international stage.
FREERIDE: encompasses all the disciplines of mountainbiking, and was probably fathered by Hans “no way” Rey, it often involves plunging off the side of cliffs without a parachute.
NORTHSHORE FREERIDE: a specialised version of Freeriding that focuses on manmade structures above the forest floor, the higher the better. This type of riding originated in British Colombia (Canada) on the northern shoreline forest above Vancouver.
URBAN FREERIDE: utilises man made structures also, but like building and walls and fountains and shopping malls and stairs and roves…you get the idea
DIRT JUMPING: these full throttle maniacs actually prefer to get their huge air on hardtails that allow for great handling whilst not on the ground so they can do all manner of tricks that involves taking feet off pedals and hands off bars in the air…your worst nightmares come true!
AIRTIME: nothing to do with Vodacom. See Dirt Jumping
FREERIDE BIKE: often having a dual crown fork, but certainly a 1.5 inch steerer fork so that you can have 6” plus of travel, and the same in the back. The head angle will not be as relaxed and stable as a Downhill bike but not as twitchy and responsive as a XC bike either.
DOWNHILL BIKE: Lots and lots of travel front and rear, very relaxed steering geometry making it very stable at high speed but heavy and unresponsive at slow speed. These rigs are strong, but heavy. Not really designed to be peddled far they have a single chainring up front. Usually ridden with Flats rather than a Clipless Pedal System although this is strictly rider preference
TRAIL BIKE: with 5” travel front and back, this is the most popular mtb worldwide. The focus is on strong rather than super light and on geometry that instils confidence in the rider (often more than he should have) and makes it easy and fun to negotiate treacherous terrain.
XC BIKE: purebred race machines. Regardless of whether the frame set is hardtail or dual the emphasis is on super light and the steering is responsive and the pedalling position is all about power transfer to wheel and high speed steering and climbing
TOE CLIPS: also known as Rat Cages, these diabolical things were invented during the Spanish Inquisition to encourage Mountainbikers to repent by: trapping their feet onto pedals when they fall; by being impossible to get your foot back into after the aforementioned unpleasant experience; and by catching on everything on God’s green earth when you finally abandon trying to get your foot back into the foul things in favour of forward motion
CLIPLESS PEDAL SYSTEM: comprising of a cycling specific shoe that has a rigid sole to support the foot, a cleat that attached to the bottom of the shoe aligns the bones of the foot with the pedal axle, and a pedal that the cleat clips into. Yeah I know…Clipless refers to no toe clips much and all as it seems that this system should be called Clip-in or something!
FLATS: wide supportive pedals that allow the rider to remove feet instantly (for performing tricks) and wear casual shoes (for looking cool on video) these often have adjustable grub screws for traction
MANUAL: other than the thing that nobody ever reads till they mess up their new equipment, this term is also used to describe lifting the front wheel off the ground and using a shift of body weight to keep it there…either to show off that you can or negotiate an obstacle
WHEELIE: as for Manual but with pedalling too!
NOSE WHEELIE: terrifying unless it is deliberate! Achieved by either a very dodgy landing from a jump, or extreme application of the front brake with accompanying weight shift.
TRACK STAND: this comes straight from the velodrome and involves keeping your feet on the pedals whilst stationary and balanced
BUNNY HOP: both wheels come up off the ground to negotiate an obstacle. Trials riders and Fritz Pienaar are experts at this and can get more height than you can imagine.
STEP DOWN: obstacle that requires the front wheel to drop down a step whilst the back wheel is still at the original high level. Often this needs to happen at slow speed because of an obstacle that follows, rather than just jumping it.
DROP OFF: a little bigger than a step down
VERTICAL DROP: bigger yet, and usually involving a period of free fall and then rolling out onto a smooth landing
VERT: as above
STEP UP: the exact opposite of a step down and requiring the front wheel to be lifted onto the step and then the rear wheel to be unweighted so that it can follow
EATING YOUR GREENS: veering off the track and into the bushes, with or without mouth open, staying mounted or not!