Bike Terms Pronunciation: A Semi-Guide

Image: Seattle Summer Parkways Central District Event with Bike Works, by Seattle Dept of Transportation, cc.

One of the gorgeous things about new hobbies is the new vocabulary they come packaged in. As a self-proclaimed word nerd, I deeply enjoy the sharp specificity of a newly learned term. (Aside: Another thing I deeply enjoy? The app’s Word of the Day, complete with audio pronunciation, example sentences, and etymology. Mmmm, etymology….)

Okay, so, one of the things I’ve been doing while pretending to know anything about bikes is actually learning about bikes at the fabulous Seattle institution, Bike Works. They have loads of rad youth programs—so rad in fact that lots of other places use their freely available curriculum to teach kids elsewhere about bikes. Fortunately, Bike Works also endures adults like me, for whom mechanics is far from intuitive. I highly recommend their Bike Repair 101 course, and I further recommend my teacher Liz, who I’m pretty sure could build a bike with her mind if she felt like it. But I digress. Back to pronunciation.

One of the first obstacles I felt to getting into biking was knowing how to pronounce some of the key terms that go along with getting outfitted. For some reason (feel free to toss it in the comments if you know), some of the terms are French. But then these terms came to America, and we found casual new ways of saying them, as we American-ly do. However, that leaves newbies like me a tad in the lurch: overdo the French? (I’ve done it. It’s not pretty.) Under-do the American? Or cop out altogether and just say “bike bags” instead of “panniers”? (Totally fair option.) Anyway…


Probably I shouldn’t have started with this one, since I’m still not clear on how to pronounce it. (Yes, that’s how useful this blog post is going to be. You’re welcome in advance.) I’ve heard “puh-NEERS” and “PAN-yers” and “puh-NYEERS.” I’ve somewhat settled on the first one myself, but sometimes I toss in one of the others just to make other people uncomfortable. Please chastise me in the comments.

In any case, these are the handy bags that attach to racks on your bike. Mine are these dope-looking, waterproof red ones from Ortlieb, and they can hold quite a bit of stuff while freeing up my sweat-prone back from backpack suffocation. An investment, to be sure, but they will probably outlive me, so… worthwhile!


Derailleur, by Walt Jabsco, cc.

Obviously, you want to say this one as if the back of your mouth is stuffed with croissant, but no need, friend! Just subtract some of those letters and go with “de-RAIL-er.” This is the cool gadget that moves your chain along its gears—literally derailing the chain from one gear to another so you can beast those uphills or coast the down. (My bike not pictured since I have a wacky, wonderful internal gear hub and belt drive.)

Tire boot

Sadly, not a tire boot. Shoes 10, by Anna M, cc.

I very much wanted this to be an actual little boot, something perhaps that clipped onto a tire as a wee kickstand with fashion and attitude. Alas, it is not. Instead, it’s something that can save your bacon if you get a nasty puncture through your tire. It lies flat against the puncture between the tube and tire and should hopefully hold you over until you can get to the bike shop in the next town. I’ve heard a dollar bill will do even, in a pinch. Pronunciation? Nothing mysterious here. Actually, probably doesn’t belong in this post. Oh well!


I saved the best for last, in part because I’ve even got a creepy video to help.

“SHAM-mee” refers to the nice padded insert in bike shorts that helps reduce friction between the seat and your parts. You pair it with “chamois butter,” a special kind of lotion generally rubbed on yourself, to avoid “saddle sores.”

And here I want to give a shout-out to a particular staffer in REI’s bike department who managed to explain to newbie me precisely all the advantages of chamois shorts and butter without ever using the anatomically correct terms for what he was referring to. He was, like, a freaking poet of prudeness! Keepin’ things reeeaaal profesh in that shop (because naming lady bits is decidedly not profesh). Anyway, he’s my fave, and I have repeatedly sought him out for assistance just because he is so dang helpful and unwittingly hilarious. High fives!

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