Condensed answer: Mountain bikers say “yew” before a stunt to alert others, relieve pressure, generate more force, and express excitement.
The Functions of “Yew”
Below is a list of effects that “yew” screaming has:
Shouting “yew” informs other riders of your existence and the fact that you’re about to do something challenging.
A yew scream can prevent a collision by telling others to get out of your way.
- Clear mind
Screaming before a big attempt clears your thoughts.
The scream temporarily mutes the voices of doubt and fear in your head and helps you persevere. Hence why it’s so common for people to scream when doing extreme jumps.
When you’re screaming like a wild animal, you lose your ability to produce deep thoughts in your head which is a beneficial aftereffect in this case. (Thoughts kill action.)
- Showing off
Some people like to scream when doing a cool stunt to get others’ attention and enjoy some admiration.
Screaming “Yew” is such an integral part of some riders’ routine that they feel off when skipping it.
Once the brain is wired a certain way, it’s difficult to break a habit.
In the past, I had a skateboarder friend who would touch his back pocket before every trick. The mini ritual was contagious – many began mimicking him.
- Tension control (grunting)
Sometimes riders scream when exerting a lot of effort during a demanding trick (e.g., bunny hoping something high) as a way to generate more force. The practice is similar to grunting during weight lifting.
According to this study, forced exhalation increases force production.
Quote: Therefore, it is highly recommended that forced exhalation, rather than the Valsalva maneuver, should be used during maximal force production, whenever possible (cf. 21).
The origin of the expression is unknown, but one could reason that the following properties are behind its adoption.
- A High-pitch Sound
“Yew” is a high-pitch sound that acts a bit like a car horn. It’s annoying but also effective.
- Short and simple
“Yew” is a very short and simple expression. Replacing it with a more coherent one would be counter-productive because longer, harder to pronounce words take too much energy and focus – an undesirable trait for high-adrenaline situations.
What Does “Yew” Mean?
When used as a scream, “Yew” doesn’t have a specific meaning. It’s a sound indicating that the person making it is in a state of high adrenaline production which is expected during MTB stunts.
The expression could be replaced by another word (e.g., “yeah”) without changing its purpose. It just happens that the vast majority of mountain bikers have chosen/adopted “yew”.
Having said that, there are species of evergreen trees known as yew, but this fact doesn’t seem to have a connection to the “yew’s” use in MTB.
“Yew” Isn’t Limited to Mountain Biking
Shouting “YYYEEEEWWWWWW” isn’t just MTB slang.
Surfers often scream “Yew” before going for a big wave. Skiers and snowboarders, skateboarders, and rock climbers say “yew” too before a jump or the beginning of a descent.
Mountain Biking Slang
Below you will find a list of words part of MTB lingo:
Hamburger hands – This term describes the look of one’s hands after crashing without gloves
Hike n’ Bike – Getting lost on a trail and hiking to get back home
Steeze – Performing a trick with style & ease.
E.g., His bunny hops are full of steeze.
Tacky – When the trail has the perfect amount of moisture for great traction
Taco – A destroyed wheel after a crash
Dab – Putting a foot on the ground when riding
Dialed – Something perfect or executed with perfection.
E.g., His bike is dialed.
Snakebite – A flat tire puncture consisting of two holes resembling a snake bite
Dude man – A rider with a nice bike and gear but no skills
Sniped – a quick, unexpected failure or fall
LBS – Local Bike Shop
Burb – Momentary air leak from a tubeless tire after a big hit or landing
Wagon wheels – 29-inch wheels
Squish – A full suspension bike with lots of travel
Bonked – Being entirely out of energy
Booter – A massive, scary jump or drop
Kicker – A jump that throws you high in the air
Bomb – Riding without paying attention to safety
Brain – Short for a biking computer
Brain bucket – Helmet
Death cookies – Small fist-sized rocks that throw the bike in an undesired direction
First blood – The first rider in a group to hurt themselves and start bleeding
Gear masher – A cyclist who always rides in high gear
Grinder – A long climb
Hammer – Riding fast and hard
Potato chip – A wheel that has been bent badly but not destroyed
Singletrack – A trail wide enough only for a single rider
Betty – A female rider
Sneakers – Tires
Wild pigs – Squeaking brakes
POD – Potential Organ Donner a.k.a. a rider who takes too many risks
Organ donor – A rider without a helmet
Engine – Another way of referring to the rider
Stomp – To successfully land a difficult trick
Roost – A cloud of dirt behind the rider during cornering
Granny gear – An extremely low gear that only a grandmother would need
Bail – Getting off the bike to avoid a crash
Anchor – A person or an event stopping you from riding as much as desired
Bra – Rim tape (the rubber strip that protects the inner tube from the nipples of the spokes)
1x drivetrain – a drivetrain that relies on a single chainring
Gravity check – A fall
Shark bite – A cut caused by the large chainring after a fall
Grunt – A very difficult ride requiring the use of the easiest climbing gear
R&D – Research and Development
Tea Party – When a group of cyclists is doing more talking than riding
Winky – A reflector set or a light
Wrenching – Working on a bike
Bolt-on – Cyclist lingo for breast implants.
Fred – A cyclist who spends a lot of money on bikes and gear but has little skill
Buttery – Smooth execution of a stung
Bitch crank – A partial rotation of the cranks
Pedal bite – A cut caused by a hit of the pedal
Crispy – Performing a trick in a clean fashion