Saturday, February 13, 2010

PBP Tip Number 38(a)

Convert your cyclo-computer to kilometers.

Admittedly, with the rate of technology ‘creep’ (it’s really not creeping up on us is it?) this might be akin to suggesting that you take an extra typewriter ribbon along. But GPS, map-my-ride, and bike route toaster aside I am going to proceed with this any way.

In 2003 as I was preparing for PBP I rode a couple rando events in Canada put on by the world famous BC Randonneurs. We rode the Fleche Pacifique early in the year, it was a faboo ride (HEY! We won a trophy!) however once I crossed into the land of kilometers and litres (after riding all night) I found navigating a slight bit more complicated. All the road signs listed their distances in kilometers. Not a problem, I can do the quick conversion to figure out how much father we ‘really', have to go. But as the ride wore on, and the accompanying exhaustion expanded to fill all the gaps between the synapses in my brain, that simple mental exercise became more and more like an Olympic gymnastics routine.

Later that year, BC Rando’s offered a night start 400Km brevet which I thought would be an absolutely excellent run up to the start of PBP: It would be in a foreign land, it would be a night start, along unfamiliar roads, road signs in Kms, and it was 400k which was similar to my plans for a PBP adventure that would have me overnighting in Loudeac. This time I was one jump ahead of the game, I had set my cyclo-computer to KM’s … HA! This time there would be no mental chess match.

It seemed to work passable fair, but I did notice that towards the end of the event when I was getting tired,  my mind seemed to be a little rebellious, it was not exactly following the commands my mind was sending it (Hey! Who’s in charge here. me or my mind?) As I’d see the distances to go on the cue sheet or road signs, momentary panic would set in: “I thought we were closer!” or, “I’m not sure I can cover the remaining 24 miles in an hour and fifteen minutes!” Then it would come to me; that’s KILOMETERS not miles. The mists of doubt crept in, but were quickly whisked away with the sunshine of a strong finish!

A few weeks later I was cruising through the French countryside. The K’s were ticking off and all seemed right with the world. I was assuming that the miles v kilometers issue was solved.

Au Contraire mon frère! Somewhere around 500Km or so into the ride a cruel reality surfaced from the mind fog and struck me with undeniable force: You can make the switch from Miles to Kms in your cyclo-computer with a few deft pushes of the buttons. Not nearly so easy with the human mind. Yes, the cyclo-compute shows me Kms, yes the road signs tell me how many Kms to the next controle, but the mind: the mind’s hard drive is still stuck computing in miles, yards, feet, and inches and it wants to know, "How many more miles?"  So you are thinking, oh well, it’s a simple calculation right?

Ah non! What is simple when you are fresh and ready to go becomes progressively more complex as the miles kilometers drain away your physical and mental powers. That simple calculation becomes a maddening matematical riddle of multi-dimensional magnitude.And no sooner do you get it solved than you find yourself another couple K down the road and the mind asks, once again “How far did you say it is to Tintineac?” And again you grind more of the edges off the gears in your brain.

Fast forward to 2006: I planned inthe run up to PBP '07 to switch the computer to Kms in the late summer giving myself plenty of time to let the lube of international units of measure soak into the brainworks. As it happened, I had signed up for and been accepted into the VanIsle 1200. This 1200Km grand brevet is run in British Columbia, Canada, a country as you recall that has adopted the world standard for weights and measures. Why not just switch over for that event in July and be done with it? And so I did. Of course I had a few of those late night conversations with God about the nature of time, space, and DISTANCE, but I continued to ride in Km’s from that point on. Through the summer, whenever I got cue sheets for brevets, I would make the effort in advance to reformat them on my computer so that the distance columns on the left read in Km’s and the ones on the right were in miles. I never missed a turn because the distances on my cue sheet or computer were in Kms, but my mind did get more comfortable thinking ‘that way’.

As an added side benefit, you’ll be thrilled to see that you are cruising along at 20.9, and that your average speed is easily holding in the high teens or low 20’s! And, Km’s just fly by compared to miles.

At PBP ’07 I had plenty of challenges, but speed and distance conversion was a non-issue, which was a particular blessing as I was struggling so on the latter stretches of the inbound leg.

The time to do this? NOW! If you are even half smart you are going to do this anyway (high tech devices aside) and the real benefit accrues with familiarity. I mentioned in an earlier post that trying to learn French on the plane trip over wasn’t likely to be the most effective approach, and so it is with conversion to the world standard for weights and measures. Do it now and your brain will be better able to correlate the messages the body is sending at the 440k mark of the ride (this is all about brain training).


  1. Paul - great idea! Thanks for the tip. Never to early to start. Now if I can only find that manual to figure out which combination of buttons to press . . . Still haven't changed the clock back to EST since I was riding LEL this past summer.

  2. George:

    When you tire of rummaging in your big box of bike 'stuff' ... go to the manufacturers website. You wil probably find those instructions on line. (tip number 306)

    Yr Pal Dr C