Bicycle idioms

It’s all about the bike

Every language has idioms.

The thing with idioms though, particularly if you are not a mother-tongue speaker, is that it is often difficult to work out their meanings from the individual words that make them up.  This is because their literal meanings are different to their figurative meanings.

There are idioms on virtually any imaginable topic. Let’s begin with idioms relating to bicycles – as this is something very close to my heart.

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Listed below are some of the most common bicycle idioms. In each case, I have given an explanation of what the idiom means. I have also provided sample sentences to show how the idioms can be used in context.

  1. It’s just like riding a bike: an idiom used to describe a skill that is easy to learn and once learnt, will never be forgotten
    I’ve never done ballroom dancing before but Pete says it’s dead easy. It’s just like riding a bike.
  2. To back pedal: when a person has a strong opinion about something but then has to change his or her mind about it
    The government announced that it will be providing free education for all university students but has since had to do a lot of back pedalling because the country cannot afford to do this.
  3. To get on your bike: an informal, derogatory expression meaning to go away, or to “bugger off”.
    I bought those chips and you’ve eaten them all. Get on your bike Mike!
  4. To need something like a fish needs a bicycle: to have absolutely no need for something
    Since breaking up with Steve last month, I have realised that I need a boyfriend like a fish needs a bicycle. I am doing quite fine all on my own.
  5. To freewheel: if you freewheel when cycling, you do not use your legs to power you forwards, so the expression means doing something without constraint or control; not controlled by rules or limits
    John has resigned from his job and is travelling the world like a complete freewheeler.
  6. To do something in tandem: a tandem bicycle is a bicycle made for two so “to do something in tandem” means to collaborate or to do something together
    A number of private sector companies are working in tandem with non-governmental organisations to build more rural schools.
  7. To hit the brakes: if you hit the brakes when cycling or driving, you will slow down or stop almost immediately so by extension, it means to slow down or stop what you are doing
    Due to the downturn in the economy, the council had to hit the brakes on all lavish and unnecessary spending.
  8. To get back in the saddle: to begin doing something again after a long break due to illness or a setback.
    Following his heart attack, the CEO was on sick leave for six months, but will be back in the saddle again from next week.