3 Words All Cyclists Must Know

01.19.2012 | 10:51 am

201201190647.jpgA Note from Fatty: This Sunday at 9PM ET / 6PM PT, I’ll be one of the guests on TourChats. The other guest is Tara McCormick, the 16-year-old sensation who’s already gone pro, riding for Team Exergy Twenty12 this upcoming season. Frankly, I’m a lot more interested in Tara’s story than mine, so I’ll be showing up mostly to see what she has to say.

Anyway, it’ll be live, and there will be both audio and moving pictures, as well as textual chatification.

I’ll talk about myself, in a way that is both heartfelt and compelling, without being pretentious or self-aggrandizing.

So please, mark your calendars: Sunday, January 22, 9PM ET / 6PM PT. See you there. (Although actually I won’t see you there. You’ll see me. It doesn’t go both ways. So it’s kind of like television. Or a creepy peep show.)

I will bring props. And I’ll might give some stuff away.

3 Words All Cyclists Must Know

Before I begin, I have a confession to make: I briefly considered titling this post “Terms of Engearment.” And then I remembered: puns are the lowest form of humor. So I changed the title to something more hyperbolic, but completely pun-free.

You’re welcome.

And now, let’s make with the defining.

(This, by the way, is the shortest introduction I have ever written on my blog.)


[snot-juh-luhm] (noun) – The mucousy, sweaty viscous goop (usually 0.5 – 2.5 inches in length) that dangles from the tip of your nose, swinging side to side in time with your cadence as you ride.

Generally, a snotulum forms when you climb on cold days. The outside temperature causes your nose to run, while your effort causes you to sweat. The two substances meet at the tip of your nose, resulting in a mixture ideally suited to hang from the tip of your nose.

The snotulum has several interesting characteristics. First, depending on the ratio of snot to sweat, the snotulum may be anywhere betweeen half an inch and 2.5 inches in length, with unconfirmed reports of snotulae (plural of snotulum) reaching lengths of up to eight inches.

Next, the snotulum, regardless of its consistency, has the ability to dangle indefinitely. Once it reaches its optimal length, it will swing — some say “hypnotically,” while others say “repulsively” — for hours or until you finally wipe it on your glove, thus totally grossing yourself out.

Finally, the swinging of the snotulum has the interesting characteristic of constantly moving into and out of your direct vision, thus drawing attention to itself multiple times per minute.

Interesting snotulum trivia: If you try to shake a snotulum off or blow vigorously through your nose, it will instead swing around and stick to the side of your face.


[win-r] (noun) – A person who, upon not making it to the top of a podium for a given event, begins a campaign to rectify the huge injustice he has experienced. This campaign may take several forms:

  • Discrediting the course: Explaining what was wrong with the course, from poor marking to poor opportunities to pass to bad course conditions. A whinner is not required to account for the fact that all other competitors dealt with the same course.
  • Blaming the competitors: Explaining how other competitors would not yield, or perhaps cut the whinner off, or maybe even had the audacity to fall. If it weren’t for other racers being so discourteous as to actually exist, the whinner most certainly would have won.

There are actually two levels of whinners. The first — and most common — is the whinner who explains why he should have whun (the verb form of whinner is “whin,” with “whun” being the past-tense form) to friends, family, co-workers, and miscellaneous passers-by.

The second type of whinner is the racer who actually takes his case to the race director. This person is called a “true whinner.”

Interesting whinner triva: The best and simplest way to silence a whinner is to tell him that he is in fact, a whinner. This is due to the fortuitous coincidence that “winner” and “whinner” sound exactly the same. Thus, a friend can react to a whinner by saying, “Yeah, you totally whun that race. You were robbed.” Similarly, a race director can appease a whinner by saying, “You are absolutely the true whinner today.”


[klee-ta-struh-fee] (noun) – The terrifying and usually painful moment when a clipless pedal releases the cleat, allowing all kinds of horrible things to ensue.

Cleatastrophes generally happen for the following reasons:

  1. Pedal Strike: Many MTB pedal systems (Eggbeaters, mainly) have the cleat engagement mechanism engineered so that the part holding onto your shoe is connected to the part facing the ground. This is fine unless you do something stupid like ride your mountain bike in the mountains, in which case you may at some point go over a rock or log or something, striking the bottom of your pedal forcefully on said rock. At which point the pedal will release its hold on the cleat, allowing your foot freedom with a suddenness that is only matched by its unwantedness.
  2. Ancient Cleats: If you let your cleats wear long enough, your pedal won’t have anything to hold onto. So, you know, it might not be the worst idea in the world to take a look at the bottom of your shoe once in a while. Trust me on this. I know.
  3. No Reason Whatsoever: Sometimes — generally in the worst place possible, your pedal will release your shoe for no reason at all.

The causes of cleatastrophes are not as important as the most common locations of cleatastrophes, which include:

  • While going over rocks and logs: See reason 1, above, to understand the causality here, but also note that when a cleat comes out while you’re partway up a technical move, the timing for this cleatastrophe always feels exceptionally poor.
  • While standing and climbing: Generally happening on grades of 8% and greater, cleatastrophes while doing a standing climb on a road bike inevitably lead to the rider striking his stem with his kneecap with enough force to shatter whichever is softer (generally the kneecap).
  • Anywhere else: Sometimes you’ll have a cleatastrophe for no reason whatsoever. This generally results in swerving, sticking ones leg out at a comical angle while you try to regain your balance. Oh, and also it usually results crashing and serious injury.

Interesting cleatastrophe trivia: Of the people who at one point rode with Crank Brothers Egg Beaters pedals but no longer ride with Egg Beaters pedals, the cleatastrophe is the cause of switching to a different kind of pedals for 98% of this group.

The other 2% didn’t actually switch; they simply had such a terrifying cleatastrophe that they have given cycling up entirely.


  1. Comment by tom | 01.19.2012 | 10:55 am

    Thanks for the whinning post! pretty funny

  2. Comment by TheMillionMan | 01.19.2012 | 11:16 am

    I had a #2 Cleatastrophe one time. Was sprinting up the last small hill on a group ride to try to take the “town sign sprint”. My cleat was apparently too worn out and completely popped out of the pedal on an upstroke of the sprint. I’ve since switched to the circular pedals.

  3. Comment by Steve Campbell | 01.19.2012 | 11:22 am

    Alternate definition of cleatastrophe: The tendency of someone learning to ride with clipless pedals to fail to unclip when coming to a stop and thus fall in full view of multiple witnesses. With cell phone cameras. And youtube accounts. Not that I’ve ever suffered this kind of cleatastrophe.

  4. Comment by Mike | 01.19.2012 | 11:29 am

    Since I know everyone is thinking it- the plural of snotulum is snotula, as it is clearly a neuter noun and not feminine (snotula in the singular). 11 years of Latin really paying off right now.

    Also, Fatty, I feel like the nerd in you probably appreciates this.

  5. Comment by centurion | 01.19.2012 | 11:31 am

    You can usually tell when someone that is out of sight has had a cleatastrophe, because it is almost always followed by that someone screaming “WTF!?!”(the real word) at the top of their lungs.

  6. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.19.2012 | 11:46 am

    Vini, Vidi, Vinci ! Inspired post today. My MTB Cleats fall into Cat 2, but I consider it part of the challenge of bicycling, and it causes me to focus knowing that (now I know the word for it) CLEATASTROPHE is just a stroke away.

    On another note:
    …have whun (the verb form of whinner is “whin,” with “whun” being the past-tense form)

    How are those Parent Teacher Conferences going?

  7. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.19.2012 | 11:56 am

    Tour Chats (really???)

    You’re following Bill Gifford (Outside a product advertising magazine), and Jane Aubrey (Cycling News) This should be interesting. Or, I totally misunderstood the tone of comments from last week’s blog.

    Give ‘m Hell, Hairy!!

  8. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.19.2012 | 12:06 pm

    egg beaters are for CX, not MTB. That is the only place where they make sense – because you are required to not only dab, but actually get off the bike and run, then jump over a barricade and jump back on, quickly.

    Class 1 cleatastophes usually happen while trying not to dab.

    In CX, you just have a facius plantus instead, by tripping over the barriers.

  9. Comment by Gunnstein | 01.19.2012 | 12:09 pm

    Snotulum – yet another thing I didn’t know existed, and am glad I am not affected by, due to riding recumbent. It’s nice to have gravity on my side for once. (Being able to see the road ahead, instead of staring at the front wheel all the time, is another plus.)

  10. Comment by teamvelveeta | 01.19.2012 | 1:19 pm

    You missed mentioning my all time favorite flavor of Cleatastrophe the airborne Cleatastrophe. Usually spawned by a bunnyhop at high speed (as executed by those of us who do it “wrong”, not using handlebars but by jumping). When an airborne Cleatastrophe occurs, the best outcome is that you come down hard on your genitalia. A much less desirable outcome is the rag-dolly crash.

  11. Comment by roan | 01.19.2012 | 2:33 pm

    Under heavy exertion (climbing) I sometimes have spontaneous nose bleeds, especially in cold weather. Thus my snotulum takes on the appearance of those iciles that I get driving around Bend, OR. Fatty you probably get get the same iciles in Utah, they have a weird shape and a reddish color. Fortunately these snotula are not rigid like iciles. Then they reach just the right length & no one is looking I suck them in. Reminds me of egg whites with ketchup…if I have a cold, egg whites with ketchup AND avocado.

  12. Comment by roan | 01.19.2012 | 2:36 pm

    Forgot to mention my gloves & sleeves are kept clean. and no one is the wiser.

  13. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.19.2012 | 3:13 pm

    Wow! Sometimes I learn things here I really didn’t want to know.

    Note to self: Ride in front, way in front, of Roan at Davis.

  14. Comment by sdcadbiker | 01.19.2012 | 3:25 pm

    Alternate Eggbeater cleatastrophe: the broken spring; this results in immediate and permanent disengagement requiring an extended ILT workout to get back to civilization.

  15. Comment by dgaddis | 01.19.2012 | 3:53 pm

    @teamvelveeta – I had that style cleatastrophe last weekend! Going ober a big log my right foot unclipped, I came down and the saddle slammed the left side of my groin (missed the good stuff thankfully!) and I slid down against the saddle whilst crashing until the saddle caught on my ribcage. So now I have a bruised groin and ribs. Awesome.

  16. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 01.19.2012 | 4:59 pm

    Classic: “At which point the pedal will release its hold on the cleat, allowing your foot freedom with a suddenness that is only matched by its unwantedness.”

    @roan: Nope, don’t think I can eat my dinner now. ;-)

  17. Comment by LidsB2 | 01.19.2012 | 5:32 pm

    Hmmm. But I LOVE the Eggbeaters on my MTB. Of course, the only other pedals I’ve tried are the crappy Shimanos that came with my bike — I never did figure out how to reliably clip into those things. Am I not aggressive enough to suffer the Pedal Strike Cleatastrophe? This post has caused too much self doubt. I hate you, Fatty. But just for today. I’ll be back tomorrow. Am I whinning?

  18. Comment by John h. | 01.19.2012 | 6:36 pm

    @roan…….Ewwwwww,gross. Of course, my wife was kind enough to show me this after I ate..

    Yea, I’ve been this victim of the slow, can’t get my foot unclipped fall………….

  19. Comment by sans auto | 01.19.2012 | 6:49 pm

    I had a cleatastrophe on my fixie in Orem that was a lot of fun. I went through a round-about and stood to accelerate and pulled out of my right pedal.

    My momentum took me forward so I racked myself on the stem and found myself sitting on the top tube with my right foot tickling the front spokes. And my left leg stuck to the pedal and still going around in circles.

    I had the awareness to get my right foot out of the spokes and thinking, “what now?”

    Sitting on the top tube with my left foot still going in circles, I pushed myself back up onto the saddle. I was amazed that it worked and I then had to chase the right pedal around in circles trying to get the foot back into the pedal.

    When I got home I tightened the release on the pedals as tight as i could.

  20. Comment by Pat in Littleton | 01.19.2012 | 9:20 pm

    I want to give credit to Fatty for bringing the subject up and giving us a new vocabulary so we may put a word to our collective problems.
    My Cleatastrophe happened when my cleat became unattached while as I was trying to power up a hill on my mountain bike. Needless to say, I came to a sudden stop, drop and roll with the bike alternately on top and loose gravel on the bottom. After stopping I could not get the cleat out to the pedal. So for the 10 mile return trip to car, my foot would slip off the pedal, usually at the most “exceptionally poor” moment. I lost many pints of blood that day and required a few stitches.
    So to commemorate the event, I now have the new XT pedals with the platform. I will now have more sharp objects to rake my legs when a malfunction happens.

  21. Comment by Nurse Betsy | 01.19.2012 | 10:03 pm

    my Cleatastrophe was unclipping on the right and leaning left. Did it on a busy corner along a trail. So I did it in front of all the traffic and other riders. Thank God for gloves and my first aide kit. Only minor scrapes but they really were bleeding. Felt stupid, but oh well, finished my ride.

  22. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.20.2012 | 12:49 am

    Fatty- I’ve got to ask. If you know any ‘middle aged’ women in your area, could you please poll their opinion on the school problem?

    “New school can’t be Cougars because middle-aged women might be offended”

    ….Still, the Canyons School Board refused to accept the Cougar as a mascot out of fear that it might offend older women. In the current edition of the Webster Dictionary, the second definition for cougar sights a slang terminology that refers to “a middle-aged woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man.”

    Draper, Utah. That’s just ‘over the hill’ from you, isn’t it?

  23. Comment by Barefoot Rose | 01.20.2012 | 12:44 pm

    I’m just here for the pun of it!

  24. Comment by Dave T | 01.20.2012 | 12:48 pm

    One of my Cleatastrophe was of the opposite variety. It was my first time with clip-less pedals. At the start of a rather crowed criterium I road up to the start and promptly forgot how to un-clip then fell over.
    Here is a funny clip on what you might hear other bikers say out on the trail.

  25. Comment by Liz | 01.20.2012 | 1:56 pm

    Yes, I also experienced the opposite cleatastrophe when, unbeknownst to me, a screw had come out of my cleat and the cleat got stuck to the pedal. I discovered this on a road right in the middle of heavy vehicular traffic. Thanks, Mr. or Ms. Minvan, for helpfully honking from behind as I desperately tried to free my foot as I approached that traffic light. That definitely helped the situation.

  26. Comment by Cliff L. | 01.20.2012 | 4:58 pm

    I suffered a cleatastrophe of the worst kind about a month ago. Standing up to pedal up the local pedestrian bridge which I had done hundreds of times before without incident, I suffered a cleatastrophe when my left foot unclipped for no apparent reason. As best as I can re-create the accident in my mind, this sent all my weight to the left side of the bike, causing the handlebars to twist wildly to the left. Couple that with the forward momentum of my left foot now in space, equals to sticking a stick in someone’s front wheel, only replace stick with foot in this instance.

    The only thing I remember is unclipping unexpectedly, feeling my left foot jam into my front wheel, going airborne, somersaulting, and landing on my back, while my bike came crashing to the ground behind me, all in a manner of microseconds. Fortunately I was ok, only my pride was damaged. My bike suffered a bent front wheel and broken rear derailleur.

    Yeah, that was truly a Double-U-Tee-Eff just happened moment.

  27. Comment by Chris | 01.20.2012 | 6:49 pm

    “Unconfirmed reports of snotulae reaching lengths of up to eight inches.” Uh… sure. Chalk that up to the proven inability of men to estimate length in the absence of an actual measuring device. Additionally, those reporting having seen snotulae in excess of six inches are most probably measuring from the root (where the nose ends between one’s eyes) instead of the proper method of measuring from the columella.

  28. Comment by Linda | 01.20.2012 | 6:56 pm

    Blergh. Snotula. Thanks for THAT unfortunate mental picture!

  29. Comment by Robbo | 01.20.2012 | 7:45 pm

    You want cleatastrophe? I give you the onZa HO pedal from the early ’90s. Pedal tension was achieved via elastomers that had an alarming tendency to change consistency juuust enough to make your next clip-out a real journey of discovery… later models were better, but the early ones were truly terrifying.

  30. Comment by ClydeinKS | 01.20.2012 | 9:35 pm

    Another variation to the cleatastrophe, similar to Liz. Upon completion of a charity ride, I was slowly pedaling back to rack my bike when a pedestrian stepped out in front of me. As I was going down, I had forcefully unclipped from my pedal and saved my fall. I attempted to clip back in but had discovered that I had TORN my cleat off the shoe. All screws in tact but now had a shredded mounting plate on my shoe, and a cleat firmly attached to the pedal, resulting in a WTF. Glad I have terminology to fit the incident now!
    Jeff D

  31. Comment by Jim B | 01.21.2012 | 2:49 am

    First, Fatty said, “puns are the lowest form of humor.”

    I have to make a distinction and disagree.

    (1) Bad puns are pretty low on the humor totem pole, but a good pun is worth hearing.

    (2) The lowest form of humor is that type of person who quotes funny dialog from movies or the three stooges. Such is person is funny in the same way a tape recorder is funny. But with worse fidelity.

  32. Comment by LidsB2 | 01.22.2012 | 1:54 pm

    Jim B – All I can say is….”Inconceivable!”

  33. Comment by Kari | 01.23.2012 | 4:06 am

    My brother used to get snotula just from sneezing as a little kid. I don’t want to imagine what it would look like if it were to happen as explained in the definition! Also, I have been “fortunate” enough to experience the reverse of a Cleatastrophe in two seperate ways. #1 of a reverse cleatastrophe (as mentioned above) is a newbie not clipping out of their cleats in time and keeling over. This often happens in the worst possible places and the people suffering from this kind are often multiple offenders (myself included). #2 is when a rider crashes and after the fact cannot unclip for the life of them

  34. Comment by Laura Laker | 01.23.2012 | 7:05 am

    I once had a pedal cliptastrophe at London’s Herne Hill Velodrome, in slow motion, at a complete standstill. This is an injury from which I proudly still bear a lump on the upper extremity of my right tibia.

    PS – Your cleatastrophe classifications made me laugh out loud.


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