Worcester, Mass.
August 17, 1997

There ought to be a word ...

By Lynne Tolman

   Like any pursuit, bicycling has its own evolving lingo.  It doesn't take long on the road or trail before a rider understands the meaning of "bonk," "endo," "wheelsucker" and "tacoed wheel."
   But sometimes language falls behind experience.  There are still some things in cycling that there ought to be a word for, Mark Dodson of Atlanta writes in the Southern Bicycle League newsletter.
   For example, what do you call the thing you do when you stop at a red light and are just about to take a drink from your water bottle and the traffic signal changes?  Dodson calls it a "greengulp."
   We also need a word, he says, for the tense situation created when a car is coming up behind a rider, an oncoming car is approaching, and the road isn't wide enough for all three vehicles, which appear to be headed for the same point at the same time.  Dodson's word is "daggerwhop."  Add an animal running across the road, and it's a "megadaggerwhop."
   It sounds like riding in Georgia is a lot like riding around here.
   My own made-up cycling glossary would have to have a word for a headwind that changes direction whenever you do, so that it's always coming at you.  How about "facebluster"?
   I've never heard a word for the painful result of your foot slipping when you step on your pedal so that the crank spins around and the other pedal whacks the front of your leg.  But if I said, "I did a shincracker at the last intersection," I believe no further explanation would be necessary.
   My riding buddy calls it "Lycra disease" when your stretchy black shorts get those white-spotted, threadbare patches from too much wear and washing.  With tights for cool-weather riding, this evidence of overuse first appears in the knees, as if tiny insect larvae have infested the fabric -- I think of it as "knee weevils."
   These words are just like Sniglets, of course -- a trademarked name for the invented vocabulary that was popular on 365-words-a-year calendars and such a few years back.  Two actual Sniglets that have come to mind on many bike trips:

   This one's not necessarily bike-related, but it's a keeper.  I met some bikers from Arlington this year who came up with a word for the gut-sinking fraction of time in which you close the door, locked, and simultaneously -- but too late -- realize you've left the keys inside:  "ignosecond."
   My personal bike lexicon also contains a shorthand term that is catching on, at least in my own circle of cycling friends.  (If it turns up in Bicycling magazine, I'll have secured my 15 minutes of fame.)  This term is for my favorite road sign, depicting a truck heading down a steep hill, with the hill symbolized by a right triangle.  I got the term from some riders from Florida I met at a bike rally in Wisconsin.
   Florida people aren't used to hills, of course, so they had never seen this sign before.  Being tourists, they had been bombarded with sightseeing pitches for Wisconsin's pride -- cheese production.  They thought the triangle was a wedge of cheese and the sign meant to watch out for traffic ahead at a cheese factory.  "Cheese truck!" they exclaimed every time they saw the sign.  And that is my abbreviation for "Caution:  steep downhill."
   If I'm at the bottom of a "cheese truck" hill, heading up, I might call it a "laughing hill."  That's my shorthand for a description I just loved when I heard it from Harry Rutten, a former Holden resident and member of the Seven Hills Wheelmen who lives in Pennsylvania now.  "Some days," he lamented, "the hills just stand up and laugh at you."
   On better days, tough grades are mere "speed bumps," or so I've heard them tagged during barely-out-of-breath bragging by macho cyclists (male and female) who like to turn every ride into a race.  You know the type:  Someone passes them, and they feel compelled to speed up to defend their manhood.  The competitive juices really start flowing, and pretty soon everyone on the ride is hammering -- it's a "testo-festo."
   What words would you add to a cycling dictionary?  Send your vocabulary ideas to me by e-mail at, or mail them to Lynne Tolman, Telegram & Gazette, PO Box 15012, Worcester, Mass., 01615-0012.  I'll use the best in a future column.
   The Larz Anderson Museum of Transportation, 15 Newton St., Brookline, in conjunction with Bicycle Classics of Needham and Peter Naiman, will present a bicycle show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Sunday <Aug.24>, featuring displays and demonstrations of vintage bicycles, a swap meet, bike rides, mountain bike trials demonstrations, a repair clinic and a cycling expo.
   There will be judging and prizes for bicycles entered in the Concours d'Elegance, a display of bicycles from all periods.  There is no entry fee.  Swap meet space costs $35 for businesses, $20 for individuals.  Admission to the show is $5 for adults; $3 for children 6-16, students and senior citizens; free for children 5 and younger.  Picknicking in Larz Anderson Park is encouraged.  For more information, call Peter Naiman (617-522-6547).

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