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The ABC of Mountain Biking Slang

By Martin Atanasov

Just like with any other type of cycling, in mountain biking, communication is crucial. Not just because it’s a social activity and being a gloomy, self-conscious and closed-off person is way out of character for someone speeding down a mountain trail but mainly because it concerns your safety. One would think that with such importance, communication in the MTB community will be straightforward and easy. Well, one would be mistaken.

Just like any other subculture, mountain biking’s linguistics has evolved through the years, and now an outsider would have to bring a dictionary to get what these mud-covered, two-wheel-dwelling people are talking about. Luckily for you, we are on the inside, and we can be the translator you need. Since covering all words will take far too long, we will concentrate on the most important slang terms so that you can easily understand key features and improve your safety.

MTB trail
One would think that communication in the MTB community will be straightforward and easy. © Profimedia

Talking about bikes

When it comes to MTB, your bike is the centre of the universe. There is no wonder that so much of this type of riding’s linguistics covers every aspect of your bike. So, when you hear someone is saying something along the lines of “Alloy 1X14 29ner AM”, they are not having a seizure but are describing an Enduro bike with 140-160 mm suspension, 29-inch wheels, aluminium frame, and one gear at the crankset and 14 gears on their back wheel. If you want to describe the bike type by its suspension, there are four types of bikes:

  • XC – up to 120 mm suspension
  • Trail – 120-140 mm Suspension
  • AM (all-mountain)/Enduro – 140-160 mm suspension
  • Downhill – 160+ mm suspension
  • They can be Alloy or Carbon

On the other hand, they can be 26ers, 29ers, 650Bs, which refers to the different wheel diameters. Finally, 1x, 2x, 3x (pronounced “one by”, “two by”, “three by”) refers to the number of gears you have at the crankset (upfront).

MTB Cycling
Which MTB do you possess? © Profimedia

When it comes to other parts of the bike, you should know that the Cockpit is referring to your handlebar and everything attached to it. It’s basically where the rider controls the bike.

Clips and Flats refer to the type of pedals you are using. Clips are pedals that you (surprise surprise) clip into with special shoes. On the other hand, Flats are flat pedals that can be ridden with any type of shoe. They are specially designed with small spikes so you will be more stable on them.

  • Coward Leavers – Keeping in mind that we talk about people that speed down slopes that many climbers find hard to climb, it’s not a surprise that Coward Leavers means breaks.
  • Dinosaur – Once again, this is easy to guess. It means an outdated old mountain bike that’s been kept in somewhat ridable condition.

Talking about trails

If you are in an underdeveloped region, chances are you have ridden on a Bandit Trail. Bandit Trails are routes that were formed on private property without the knowledge or consent of the owner. These are usually on abandoned properties where the features occur naturally.

MTB trail
Can you name the trails properly? © Profimedia

If you are not into riding in restricted areas, there are all sorts of trails with different terrains out there. However, if you ask an avid MTB rider about the terrain, he might tell you that it was:

Backcountry (meaning hard to get to) or Crunchy, meaning that it has loose rocks, making the ride very technical and challenging. A trail can also be:

  • Tight – A trail packed with features that make finding the right flow very difficult.
  • Technical – Trail full of rocks, roots and other complex features that prevent you from high speeds and, instead, you need to rely on your technical skills.
  • Singletrack – A trail that consists of a single narrow line without any deviation options and a B-line for the features. They are typically not for beginners.
  • Spine – Just like a Singletrack but on steroids. It’s a steep, narrow path that leads you through various features down a mountainside. Often Spines are very Crunchy. 

The most important thing to remember, though, is never to go down a Climbing trail. They are typically longer and easier and naturally are used for riders to get to the starting point. Therefore speeding down a Climbing trail will probably end up very bad for you and the other rider.

Distinguishing features

MTB Woods
When it comes to MTB, your bike is the centre of the universe. © Gorilla / DPphoto / Profimedia

The features are the highlight of any trail. They are the most exciting part, and it’s paramount to know how to refer to them if you don’t want to get way over your head literally and figuratively. First of all, it’s good to know that typical features have A-line and B-line.

  • The A-line is the path you can take that will get you through the feature, while the B-line is the one that avoids it. Not every feature has a B-line, though, so be mindful of your skillset when you go down a new trail.
  • The Apex is another term you will need to know. This is the midpoint of a corner where it’s far too late to squeeze the coward leavers. If you do, at best, you will kill your momentum. At worst, you will crash hard. Breaking is done before the Apex.
  • Baby Heads, though, sounding like a scene from a horror movie, is actually a feature where part of the trail has round rocks the size of a baby’s head. They are pretty fun to ride if you have the correct bike. A Berm is another type of corner that people had intentionally banked to provide better grip and increase the trail flow. Riding Berms is one of the first skills you will learn when starting to ride an MTB.
  • If you hear someone refer to a specific part of a trail as Chunder, be sure you are in for a tough ride. The same goes for Chute. The difference is that the Chute is not just rough but also steep and fast. If you are a beginner, avoid these two.
  • When it comes to MTB riding, you are surely going to spend some time in the air. You will indeed fly a lot while speeding down a nice steep track. There are a lot of jump-related slang words in MTB culture.
  • For starters, the take-off point of a jump is known as Kicker, and the very end of the Kicker is known as a Lip.
Just like with any other type of cycling, in mountain biking, communication is crucial. © Profimedia
  • The Double is probably the most well-known feature – a jump with a gap between the Kicker and the landing point.
  • Dirt Jumps are rarer and can only be seen on Black trails. The lip is very steep and is made to increase the air time and allow the rider to perform tricks.
  • Hips are one of the most dangerous jumps. There, the take-off line is different from the landing line, so you have to shift your direction mid-air.
  • Step Ups and Step Downs are easier but just a bit. The first one is when the Kicker is lower than the landing platform, while the latter is the other way around.
  • The easiest of jumps, though, without a doubt, is the Tabletop. This is where every beginner starts learning how to jump. The feature has a dirt filling between the Kicker and the landing point, and even if you come short, you won’t necessarily crash (although it won’t be so pleasant either).
  • Drops are the second most-highlighted feature. They are vertical sections that can’t be conquered without getting some air. This makes them a bit dangerous and usually are not featured on Green trails. However, they are a lot of fun.

Other outstanding features may include:

  • Flat Corner – A corner where there is no berm or any other kind of assistance. This means that you will need to slow down for it.
  • PumpTrack – a part of a trail or a separate track, with small rollers, berms and jumps. The pump track is perfect for practising your riding technique.
  • RockRoll – A giant rock that you can roll down from. They look quite scary but are easy and, when conquered once, become favourites.
  • Skinny – a man-made narrow wooden bridge that is slightly above the ground. It’s where riders train their balance.
  • Switchback – This is a 180-degree turn. Switchbacks are used to navigate through very steep slopes and most often have some sort of artificial support.
MTB Trail
Adopt the right lingo. © Profimedia

Riding your bike

Finally, it’s time to talk about what you will be doing on those amazing trails and features. One of the most essential skills you will need to know is the Bunny Hop. This is a term used when you jump with your bike without the help of a ramp, kicker or a lip. It’s a cornerstone skill you will need if you want to ride down a steep slope and anything but the Green trail.

  • The Bunny Hop is a must if you want to feel the Flow (when you are in total control of your bike).
  • Another crucial skill is the Manual. This is when you shift your body weight behind the rear axis and ride your bike on the back wheel without pedalling. This skill is great for practising your control and bodyweight shift.
  • You will also have to learn how to Dab (to put your leg on the ground while riding, to help you balance through a corner), Drift (when your wheels momentarily lose grip and slide for a bit) and most importantly: Bail (jumping off the bike to avoid crashing).
  • If you are willing to get to the Red and even Black trails, you will also have to practice your Attack Position (getting your butt up from the saddle and actively balancing on the bike).

The MTB language is not something that can be explained in an article. It’s something that you should experience, and if you are looking more and more often at the Red and Black trails, you will learn it soon enough. Nonetheless, understanding the terms we shared with you is crucial for your safety, so it’s better to know them than to learn them the hard way (as we did).