Mountain bikers can be difficult to understand. They use a coded lexicon that sounds like some combination of jargon and birds of paradise mating calls. I’ve been hanging around mountain bikers for the past decade and I’m still adding permutations to the endless inventory of synonyms for “stoked.” This is not a comprehensive guide. But if you study this dialectical primer to get rolling, you’ll be mastering the vernacular in no time.
Knowing Your Gear Terminology
Derailleur (noun) – The mechanism dangling from your rear axle that is responsible for moving the chain (derailing) between different gears—it’s the component that allows you to shift gears. If you’re able to perform maintenance on a derailleur, friends will never stop asking you to.
Plus (adjective) – A burgeoning tire-width size between standard mountain bike tires (1.9”–2.5”) and fat bike tires (3.7” and over). The wider profile provides more traction and comfort than traditional tires without the cumbersome feel and high-rolling resistance of fat bike tires. It’s okay to be confused about which tire width is ideal for each situation. We all are.
Dialed (adjective) – A term used to describe gear that is performing optimally. If your suspension feels supple over small bumps while providing stability on larger impacts, and your drivetrain accurately shifts without sounding like a slow-moving freight train, your gear is dialed. Typically, this only occurs on your first ride with a new bike or immediately following a three-figure tune up.
Describing Trail Conditions Accurately
Brown Pow (noun) – A malapropism originating from the ski world to describe ideal riding conditions, usually following a just-right helping of precipitation. Unlike its colder cousin, powder snow, brown pow doesn’t erupt into a sparkling cloud but instead provides copious levels of traction and stoke.
Loam (noun) – A near-mythical trail surface that seems to exist only in riding videos from British Columbia. Loam is a fertile soil composed of sand-containing humus and clay, which when shredded by bike tires behaves far more like actual snowy pow than brown pow does.
Moon Dust (noun) – The talcum-powder-like trail surface commonly found during the arid midsummer months. Moon dust is loose, slippery and unpredictable and not at all like the loam the internet videos promised. Moon dust in July provides a humbling dose of reality after enjoying a moderately humid spring of brown pow.
Identifying Trail Features
Double (noun) – A jump with a gap between the takeoff and the landing. Unlike a tabletop, in which the takeoff and landing are connected by a continuous flat surface, a double's takeoff and landing are two separate features, usually mounds of dirt. A double requires the rider to clear the full distance between the two features for a smooth landing on the downslope. It is not recommended to case (verb)—bonus vocab meaning to come up short—on a double.
Berm (noun) – A raised, supported feature on the outside of a corner. Berms make cornering at high speeds much easier, thus making riders feel superhuman. They’re ubiquitous at bike parks and on new flow-style trails. Berms are very enjoyable, and curmudgeons who tell you differently are the type of people who are generally difficult to satisfy.
G-Out (noun) – An abrupt change from a steep angle to a less severe angle found on a downhill. A g-out could be a very steep roll with a flat exit or a sudden dip in the trail. When riders encounter g-outs, their mass continues downward as the terrain forces the bike back upward. Check out any mountain bike fails compilation on YouTube to see g-outs wreaking havoc on unsuspecting riders.
Explaining our Actions
Manual (verb) – To lift the front wheel and balance only on the rear wheel while riding. This is different from a wheelie in that you are not pedaling, but instead using only the rearward movement of your weight to keep the front wheel up. Manualing a bike can be difficult to learn, but you will forever impress everyone you know once you’re able to do it.
Stack (verb) – See also: crash, biff or “eat it.” The term is best used to describe a fall in which the rider’s body ends up crumpled on top of itself, and it will provide instant credibility when used correctly as part of a captivating tale over a frosty beverage with fellow riders. Common causes of stacking include coming up short on a double or being unprepared for a g-out.
Whip (noun) – A maneuver in which riders throw the back end of their bikes perpendicular to the direction of travel while jumping. Whips are elemental expressions of mountain biking and are to be revered by all.