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How to chat bike bollocks

I’m fascinated by language, words and phonetics. I love learning about their origins and how they came to be (I love a good episode of QI). Sadly I’ll have to admit though that like most English people I am only fluent in English. That said I am always adding pointless new words to my vocabulary and constantly researching words when helping startups come up with a name for their brand.

I was recently inspired by Russ of Path Less Pedaled Pannier episode (link to watch this at the end) to share some fun words I regularly use a lot when talking about riding (they are not specific to riding) and thought I’d give a bit of the backstory behind them. You’ll probably know a few, but hopefully you’ll learn something new!

Chapeau — Hat (French)

“Good ride, chapeau.”

In the most English sense of the word, it means to doff (take off, raise or tip) your cap. This is used as sign of respect to another rider. I’ll admit I use this more online than I actually do saying it in person, but it’s one that pretty ingrained in cycling heritage and so worth a mention.

Allez — Go (French)

“Allez, Allez, ALLEZ!”

Another popular cycling term. This one is usually a heckle, commonly shouted on a climb as encouragement for a rider to keep going or ride faster. It has been popularized by French cycling races like the Tour de France.

Scran — Food (Scottish)

“Are you hungry? We should get some scran.”

Love this one. It’s believed to be derived from the Nordic for food scraps — more specifically Icelandic from Skran meaning junk and was popularised in English around the 1800's.

There is a common misconception (and was actually my understanding of its origin until I learnt otherwise) that the word was a Navy acronym for Sultanas, Currants, Raisins and Nuts but this is a myth and there is no record of it. However — that sounds like an awesome cycling snack and kinda makes it feel even more relevant!

Bonk — Hit (English)

“If we don’t have some scran soon, I’m going to bonk.”

How great are onomatopoeic words! Bonk has to be one of the most fun. As a child my association with this word was through comics when someone from the Dandy or Beano bonked someone on the head. In cycling this term has come to represent “hitting the wall”. That point of no return. If you bonk on a ride it is genuinely really hard to recover from and will usually mean having to duck out and finish your ride early or going hard on fuelling yourself back up and pushing through the pain. If you bonk it’s the cycling equivalent of going into limp mode.

Pootle — Move or travel in a leisurely manner. (English/German)

“Hey, you up for a pootle this weekend?”

I use this far more than I realised, which is probably a good representation of my pace in life.

The origin of this is pretty funny to me. I used to have a neighbour who had poodles, for whatever reason I was scared shitless of them (for reference I love doggos, may be it was just the owner…) however I always loved the word poodle. I wonder if this is why I enjoy the word pootle so much now?

Without meaning to digress, the funny bit is it actually derives from the word poodle, which is a German derivative from the onomatopoeic word pudel or pudeln which means to “splash about”. Doggo fact: In France Poodles are called Caniche which literally means Duck Dog as they were bred as waterfowl hunters. How great is that!

As far as where the the transition from splashing about to wandering about was made I can’t answer that. If you know I’d love to hear!

Here’s to pootling along!

Tamp — To stomp vigorously. (English/Welsh)

“Mate, this trail is tamping.”

My Welsh blooded friend Rob introduced me to this word and I found it hilarious at the time. It’s actually an English word (to ram or compact something repetitively with force) that has been commandeered by the Welsh to mean extremely angry, without any resource to its origin in Welsh other than the English definition I can only assume that the tamping is to do with your feet and a interpretation of the English term stomping mad. Although my introduction of the word was in Welsh, I have gone full circle with it and use it in reference to trails that are probably more commonly known as bone-shakers. Going on the tamp is just a bit more of a fun wait to say you’re hitting the rough stuff!

Pannier — Bag (French… or Cornish?)

“Oh you have a pannier rack, you must bike tour. Where are you SPD sandals?”

Definitely a more traditional cycling term and as it’s what prompted this post, I’ll finish off by letting Russ wrap things up with his video on how to pronounce Pannier correctly (I honestly had no idea so may people pronounced it so differently!) and a bit of history behind it’s origins, it’s a really lovely word when you know the context. Spoiler alert, subject to the comments it not pronounced bags!

What does Araf mean? Learn all about that here:

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