Theee events inspired me to reflect on the rich history of the bicycle this week. The first was the 104th edition of the Tour de France. Le Tour closed out its second week and there is a buzz after Frenchman Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) won Stage 13 on Bastille Day. The second was recent 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle. Though it’s not easy to track the exact point in time, many credit Baron Karl Drais with the invention the bicycle in 1817. The third was a trip I took to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum which, in addition to its collection of classic cars, has an impressive array of early bicycles and bicycling memorabilia.

Happy 200th, old friend. You look better than ever–slimmer, lighter, better paint schemes.

How to commemorate the occasion? A parade? Some Daft Punk? An HC climb? A Strava segment PR? No, all of these would be repetitive and/or would require way too much energy. How then? Well, I’ll share a carefully curated A-Z list of bicycling terms and titans.

I have selected these “terms and titans” because they represent great personal achievements (e.g. Induráin), significant technical breakthroughs (e.g. quick release) or lingo that everyone who throws a leg over the top tube ought to know (e.g. étape).

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A: Alps. The Alps are the heart of the cycling universe, the forge from whence the bicycle was born and the shrine that pros and amateurs visit annually. The climbs are iconic and the crowds are intense. The Alps have to be on any cyclist’s “bucket list” for the challenges they present and the history they hold. Honorable mention: Anquetil, Armstrong, Allez!

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B: BMX. If the Alps connect cyclists to a higher plane, BMX bikes connect them to each other. BMX bikes introduce kids to the sport, connect them with their communities and give them a chance to explore beyond their own neighborhoods. (Little know fact: BMX is an acronym for Bicycle Motocross.) Honorable mention: Bianchi, Bell, “Breaking Away.”

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C: Campagnolo. The Italian parts maker has a cult following thanks to its magnificent engineering and its near-mythic qualities. Campy represents both the legacy of cycling’s golden age and leadership for the future of the industry . Honorable mention: Coppi, Champs-Élysées, carbon, century, Cannondale, cruiser.

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D: Derailleur. The creation of a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another made it possible to pack 5, 10, 15, even 30 speeds onto a bicycle. This meant mortals could tackle varied terrain without dying trying…on the ascent or the effort to change wheels.  Honorable mention: Dura Ace, doping.

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E: Étape. French for “stage,” an étape is the basis for all grand tours. The Tour de France has 21 stages spread over three weeks. Some a flat and fast. Some are sloping sufferfests with grades over 15%. The real test of a stage race? Finishing and getting to the starting line for the next étape. Honorable mention: L’Équipe, Euskaltel–Euskadi.

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F: Free wheel hub. If the derailleur gave cyclists a wider spread of gears to tackle new tracks, the free wheel hub gave us a chance to take our breath and imagine new applications, like BMX vert, CX and mountain biking. Imagine a world with no coasting!? Honorable mention: fixie, the free wheel hub’s inverse.

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G: Garmin. A GPS giant, Garmin has become a leader in the bicycling world, producing cycling computers, developing software to track and plan rides and even sponsoring Pro Tour teams. Where riders once logged rides in notebooks, now they can track distance, HR, cadence, power and more. Honorable mention: Giro, Giant.

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H: Hinault. Bernard Hinault is the sports ambassador and one of France’s greatest living athletes. He won the Tour de France on five occasions and stands as only one of three riders to win all three Grand Tours. The respect he earns borders on reverie. Honorable mention: Hors categorie.

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I: Induráin. Miguel “Big Mig” Induráin won the Tour de France five times and the Giro d’Italia twice. He achieved the double (Tour + Giro) in 1992 and 1993. Synonymous with power and panache, Induráin was as successful in grand tours as he was in Spring Classics like Paris-Nice and
Dauphiné Libéré. Honorable mention: Ironman, Independent Fabrication.

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J: Jerseys. In Grand Tour parlance, the word “jersey” means leader in overall, points, KOM, young rider competition. Riders dream of wearing one for a day and domestiques turn themselves inside out to help their team leaders onto the podium. For pro teams, on and off the podium, the jersey is equal part technical kit, sponsor statement and origin story. Give the way contracts and UCI qualifications work, the relationship of kit, team and sponsor in unlike anything else in sport. To the rest of us mortals, jerseys represent personal style or proud achievements. Honorable mention: Jensie.

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K: KOM. King of the Mountains–it can be an accomplishment on the grandest stage and an aggressive Strava effort. I’ve always like the golf adage “Drive for show, putt for dough.” If there is a equivalent on the cycling circuit it’s “Sprint for show, climb for dough.” Even some one-day amateur rides like the B2VT recognize epic efforts in the mountains. Honorable mention: kilometers, Kona.

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L: Lemond. A 3x Tour de France Winner and a 2x World Champion, Greg Lemond combined tactical expertise with technical innovation. He was the first to experiment with power metrics, he introduced tri-bars to TT racing and he was among the first to adopt Oakley glasses. His 8 second margin over Laurent Fignon in 1989 stands as one of the most thrilling Tour finishes of all time. Honorable mention: LOOK, Litespeed, lowrider.

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M:  Merckx. Eddy Merckx is to cycling what Michael Jordan is to basketball. He is a champion among champions, a brand unto himself and the standard against which all pros are measured. His wins are epic. His style is enduring. His legacy is eternal. Honorable mention: Mavic, Michelin.

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N: National Champions. Cycling truly brings together riders from every continent, the luck of whom wear their national flag on their jerseys. They wear these jerseys proudly in the peloton throughout the racing season, representing their nations and their fans. Jump on Twitter on race day to see a plethora of polyglot pundits. See also: “jerseys” and “rainbow jersey.” Honorable mention: Nairo.

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O: Oakley. Cyclists are a fashionable lot. Look at the classic black and white photos of Coppi and Co. and you might as well be looking at movie stars. They were icons, heroes, heartthrobs. As stylish as they were, however, cycling fashion and wares stayed inside the walled garden of the sport. Oakley changed that. What began as an experiment in the late 1980s exploded into a billion dollar business in the years that followed. Form and function came together, as did athletic and leisure styles. The result, the Oakley phenomenon that is strong still and even boomeranging back. For proof, look at the offerings from Oakley and POC in the 2017 peloton. Honorable mention: “On your left!”

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P: Pneumatic tire. It is difficult for the modern cyclist to imagine a world without free wheel hubs,  indexed shifting, and composite materials. Still, all of these creature comforts amount to “Zipp” without pneumatic tires. The earliest bicycle “tires” were iron bands on the wooden wheels. IRON ON WOOD. 23s, 25s, clinchers, tubulars…all of these options and the buttery smooth ride them provide are available thanks to the invention of the pneumatic tire. Honorable mention: Pinarello, peloton, Paul & Phil, palmarès.

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Q: Quick release. Like the free wheel hub and pneumatic tire, the quick release transformed who cycled and how far away they could roam. Invented in 1927 by Tullio Campagnolo, the QR revolutionized the ride, making tire and wheel changes more reasonable. Though we are now into the era of disc brakes and thru axles on top-tier rides, the QR skewer has a place 0n modern machines and in cycling museums. Honorable mention: Quick-Step.

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R: Rainbow Jersey. The reigning champion in each cycling discipline has the year-long privilege of wearing the Rainbow Jersey. There are few sights so beautiful or immediately recognizable in the peloton.  What’s amazing–and frankly difficult for US fans to understand–is how so many different titles and competitions can coexist. National championships, world championships, Classics, stage races, Grand Tours, “friendlies,” Fondos… It can be even harder to tell which games correspond to which competition in soccer, but true fans know. They also know that the Rainbow Jersey represents the beauty of the sport like nothing else. Honorable mention: Roubaix, Raleigh, Rapha.

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S: Steel. Although material design has come a long way in cycling, steel is still the gold standard for cyclists. Yes carbon is lighter, stiffer and easier to lay-up for specific applications. Yes, aluminum is enjoying a renaissance because it is lighter and easier to work with than before. Yes, titanium is less prone to corrosion and more impact resistant. Still, “steel is real.” Its ride is ethereal and its style is enduring. Iconic makers like Columbus, Raleigh, Ritchey, Pinarello, Cinelli, and Colnago have turned out stunning steel frames for a century. Modern outfits like Seven, Firefly, IF, Honey and hundreds of other boutique brands craft frames that respect the past while testing the tolerances of the material. Honorable mention: Shimano, SRAM, Strava, Specialized, Schwinn.

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T: Taylor. Major Taylor, “The Worcester (Mass.) Whirlwind,” was perhaps the sport’s earliest and least likely heroes.  Taylor torched the track at every possible distance, including a win at the 1899 World Championships in Montreal. According to the Major Taylor Association “Major Taylor broke through the ‘color line’ a decade before boxer Jack Johnson and half a century before ballplayer Jackie Robinson. We can learn a lot by looking at the forces in society and the personal traits that played into that.” Honorable mention: Trek, Tourmalet.

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U: USPS. Even though the litigation is ongoing and the “sins against cycling” are still being suffered, the United States Postal Service team is undeniably a part of cycling history. How did a government agency get involved in high-level sponsorship in a sports that was so far from the national consciousness? How did they pull together such an amazing group of athletes? How did it all go so wrong when all eyes were watching. For answers to many of these questions, read Tyler Hamilton’s exposé. Still, The USPS run launched a generation of riders to get on the bike and work to understand the sport of cycling. Honorable mention: Ultegra, Ullrich.

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V: Vélocipède. Not only is this term synonymous with cycling and cycling history, it was the word for the discipling for decades. It was only later that “bicycling” became part of the parlance; in fact, “vélo” serves as a more noble way to describe the sport today. Honorable mention: Ventoux, ¡Venga!

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W: Watts. Watts are the essential measurement of power for cyclists. In the 1980s, elite cyclists switched from HR and miles to watts. A club rider might be capable of 500, whereas an elite sprinter like Marcel Kittel might hit 1,500 watts in a sprint. There are many advanced ways to combine and overlay stats but watts are also stupid simple: power to the pedals. Honorable mention: Wevelgem, wheelie.

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X: CX. Long a discipline with amazingly dedicated fans and riders in Europe, cyclocross (CX) has gained popularity in the US over the last 20 years. Why? The looping courses give fans a sense of intimacy and intensity. The courses test hearts, lungs and minds. The seasons, fall and winter, mark the end of the cycling for the year–especially in northern climes. Also, there are the brews and (cow)bells. Honorable mention: XC, XTERRA.

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Y: Yellow. No other color is so dyed-in-the-wool of cycling: the sunflowers, “The Race to the Sun,” team ONCE, team Renault, team Peugeot and, of course, the Tour de France leader’s jersey. The race leader is the yellow jersey, riding with all the privileges and pageantry that comes with it. A day in yellow makes a career; a ride down the Champs-Élysées in yellow makes history. Honorable mention: Yakima

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Z: Zipp. Zipp, based in Indianapolis, produces elite-level wheels, stems, bars and seatposts. You will see Zipp wheels in all profiles on any kind of ride: Pro Tour, tri, TT, crits, Fondos, charity rides, shop rides. Honorable mention: Zubeldia.

 

 

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