Unit schizophrenia

One thing that cycling brings home to me is my unit schizophrenia – and that of the UK in general and cycling in particular.

In distance and speed I tend to deal in imperial units: I travel miles, at miles per hour and that seems to fit well with UK signposts and speed limits. I think of myself as about 5’ 10”, not between 177 and 178 cm (indeed I had to look that up to write it).

I had set up my Garmin to measure distance in miles but when I download to Strava the ride appears in km, while it is recorded in Garmin Connect as miles.

The White Horse Challenge is advertised as 150km but the 2014 results showed average speeds in mph. When I look at sportives in general, they are almost always advertised in kilometres but when we design our club sportive, we always think of the distances in miles.

On the other hand, I consider distance climbed in metres – which doesn’t help with quick calculations of average gradients. The only time I would talk about climbing in imperial units would be if speaking to a UK non-cyclist about something like the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux, when I’d probably talk about climbing over 2 and three quarter miles.

Quite a few of the people I ride with have gone completely metric for cycling but in itself that’s pretty schizophrenic as they return to miles once in the car. I’m perfectly happy with km when driving on the continent but I do tend to calculate back to miles most of the time, recognising that the ‘divide by 8 and multiply by 5’ for going from km to miles is a bit of an approximation.

I started a training log last year recording my weight in stones and pounds, before deciding to go to kg within a couple of months. I’m happy to carry on with the kg for weight and am getting more used to it that way – but I still tend to convert back to imperial (again recognising that the 2.2 factor is also a bit of an approximation). Looking back, I see I often put things kg.km and them also in imperial measures! I remember the upheaval caused by the change in the law (introduced Jan 2000?) to ban selling things by the pound – but I see that most fresh produce still also seems to have the pounds equivalent quoted.

Not much turns on it – other than occasional confusion over apparently wonderful or poor performances when not appreciating the units used in the telling. Life might be easier (eventually) if we decided to follow decimal currency with metric measurements but the cost would be huge and the initial confusion even greater, I expect. At least, perhaps the cycling community could decide for itself but I guess this is one that would split families and communities apart! I don’t know if I’m correct but I’m sure I remember receipts in France also quoting prices in Francs for years after the switch to the Euro.

I’m sure that the younger generations are more metric – but miles will continue to be the fly in the ointment I suppose.

At least I can reflect that it could be worse: I have a friend who has the temperature gauge in the car reading in Celsius in the winter (because 4 degrees C means something to him while 39 degrees F does not) and Fahrenheit in the summer (because he can relate to 77 degrees F and not to 25 C).


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