It's not obvious for me why and when bike developed as short form from bicycle. Could you explain that, please? And is it odd to say mountain bicycle or motor-bicycle?

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    As I understand it, bicycles, tricycles, etc., were collectively referred to as velocipedes through the early/mid 1800s. Bicycle/tricyle appeared around 1870, and bike/trike within another decade. And although motor bicycle (as one or two words, hyphenated or not) was the dominant form for the first half of the last century, they all sound really "quaint" to me today - akin to calling a car a horseless carriage. Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 20:57
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    Most dictionaries that list the origin of bike will say something to the effect of "by shortening and alteration" -- in other words, bicycle -> bic -> bike. As FumbleFingers notes, the word bike originated about 1882.
    – Gnawme
    Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 22:05
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    The original word bicycle was 3 syllables, with the first one stressed: /'baysɪkəl/. Shortening to two syllables produces /'bayskəl/, then the last syllable shortens to simple /k/. Nothing special here, really. Same way we get Mike from Michael. Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 23:38
  • Motor-bicycle would indeed seem rather old-fashioned nowadays, but motorcycle is still in current use, and less informal than motorbike.
    – DavidR
    Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 9:23
  • @johnlawler the comparison with Michael > Mike seems forced to me. The three to two syllables in bicycle to bic’cle makes sense enough but it seems quite a jump to abbreviate /sk/ to /k/—that is not how we get Mike from Michael. I would more expect bicycle to bi’c directly, or bicycle to bi’cle to bi’c. (Using ‘ as an apostrophe, not to indicate stress. Realize now that could be ambiguous. )
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 6:26

2 Answers 2


This link would seem to be the definitive analysis of this contraction, from bicycle to bike (preview only without subscription):

There is, however, a possible explanation from generative phonology which is quite straightforward. Generative phonology postulates underlying segments that differ from their phonetic realization if doing so will allow generalizations that could not otherwise be captured in the grammar. ....

Apparently, contrary to popular belief, bicycle did not come from French to English, but rather most likely went from English to French.

  • The French purists, I read, have not been very comfortable with having to absorb so many technology words from English, where many such words being of French etymology,twisted and reprocessed in English, makes matters worse and more unpalatable to them. Their linguistics academie seems to have coined compulsory technology words, which reportedly are ignored by many in France (or Quebec?) Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 6:29
  • @BlessedGeek: Yes; le chien chaud is a well-understood joke in Canada. Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 10:41

Originally taken from Latin: bi meaning two + Greek: kuklos meaning wheel; bikuklos not easy to say in French or English! So the first K becomes softened to an S sound or "c", as cycle or sickle, hence "bicycle". Original word "bi-kuklos" becomes phonetically abbreviated to "bike".

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