Avoir un petit vélo dans la tête and other cycling terms your may hear

British cyclist Lizzie Deignan made history by winning Saturday’s first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix race. We look at three French expressions related to cycling

4 October 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

British cyclist Lizzie Deignan made history this weekend when she won the first ever edition of the women’s gruelling Paris-Roubaix race. 

The women’s race took place on Saturday and the men’s - won by Italian cyclist Sonny Colbrelli - on Sunday.

Anyone who rides over 250km - over 55km of which are cobblestone - in the rain and wind might be said to ‘avoir un petit vélo dans la tête’. We look at cycling expressions to tie in with this weekend’s races.

The French say that someone ‘has a little bicycle on their head’ to suggest that they are a little bit crazy - but in a good sense.

The expression was coined in the second half of the 20th century. It is said to allude to the spokes that spin in the wheel of a bike. Someone who ‘has a little bicycle in their head’ has ideas spinning around in their head like the spokes on the wheel of a bike in motion.

Another saying you may come across is  ‘avoir la tête dans le guidon’.

‘To have your head in the handlebar’ means to be extremely focused on one objective or task, often to the point of being unable to think of anything else.

When in full force, cyclists bend over and tuck their heads down towards the handlebars in order to reduce wind resistance and be able to travel faster.

This position represents determination and focus, and the expression has therefore come to be used to refer to any situation in which somebody is concentrated or intent on a particular goal or task.

You may also hear another variation of this phrase - ‘avoir le nez dans le guidon’ - which has the same meaning but translates to ‘to have the nose in the handlebar’.

However, when somebody loses their train of thought, it can be said that they ‘pedal in the sauerkraut’ (a type of fermented cabbage dish).

Pédaler dans la choucroute’ is also used more widely to refer to somebody who struggles to advance despite their efforts.

It is said that during the first Tours de France, broom wagons (vehicles which travel behind the peloton and ‘sweep’ up those who are unable to make it to the finish line by cycling) were covered in sauerkraut advertisements.

Those who had given up would therefore still finish the race - by ‘pedaling in sauerkraut’. 

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