Cockpits are traditionally found in motorized vehicles like cars, planes, and boats. Most of us can easily identify a cockpit on first sight. But not so fast. Could you identify the cockpit of a bicycle? This is not a trick question. Manufacturers of bikes and cycle parts are routinely talking about the cockpit as though it is something the rest of us are supposed to understand.

A case in point is an article recently published on the Cycling Tips website. The post’s title is as follows: “Roval announces new range of lightweight carbon fiber cockpit components. We expect contributor James Huang knows exactly what his article is talking about. As for the rest of us, not so much.

This writer visited some cycling boards to find out what cyclists had to say. Unfortunately, it was impossible to come up with a concrete definition of the bike cockpit. Everyone seemed to have an entirely different opinion.

What the Dictionary Says

The word ‘cockpit’ has four different meanings, according to the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary. As it relates to motorized vehicles, the dictionary defines cockpit as “a space or compartment in a usually small vehicle…from which it is steered, piloted, or driven.”

This definition makes it clear that a cockpit is a compartment – or enclosed space. No such thing exists on a bike. The closest you come is an imaginary space that may, or may not be, comprised of the bike’s bars, stem, shifters, and saddle. Even accepting that definition you still have to admit that there is no compartment per se.

With or Without Tubes

Scrolling through the litany of cockpit definitions reveals two primary camps. The one camp tends to lean toward defining the cockpit as anything from the pedals on up, excluding the frame. The other camp seems to think the cockpit is anything that is not actually tubing, with the exception of the handlebars.

If tubes are your baseline, then the cockpit is pretty extensive. According to Rock West Composites, a Salt Lake City company that supplies the bike industry with carbon fiber tubes, a carbon fiber bike frame is made from tubes. The bars are also tubes, as is the seat post. That’s about it, unless you want to stretch things to include the forks.

That would mean everything else is part of the cockpit. Now you are talking pedals, shifters, sprockets, the chain, rims, tires, and any other accessories – like your bike computer and water bottle. Even the saddle itself is part of the cockpit.

If your measurement is the pedals, your cockpit is suddenly smaller. It boils down to those things you use to directly control the bike. This seems like a more reasonable definition for practical purposes. Everything within reach of your hands and feet makes up the cockpit – just like in a car or airplane.

An Unnecessary Term

Quite a bit of research was necessary to complete this post. In this writer’s opinion, the research was unnecessary because the term is as well. It is completely unnecessary to take a group of components on a typical bike and call them the cockpit. Describing a cockpit is only necessary to describe the position of the operator. And everybody knows where the operator of a bike sits.

It seems like assigning a cockpit to a bike is just another means of marketing. It allows bike manufacturers to group together some key components and easily reference that group with a single word. It is unnecessary, but it is also harmless. If manufacturers and cyclists want to talk about their cockpits, that’s fine. It doesn’t affect the rest of us.