One Armstrong = 13.5 mph


Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how fast Tour de France riders go up l'Alpe D'Huez, the legendary mountain climb. Using information from the Wikipedia page, I calculated that Lance Armstrong's 2004 ascent had an average speed of approximately 13.5 mph (22 kph). Consequently, I invented the Armstrong, a unit of bicycle velocity, with one Armstrong equal to 13.5 mph. (If I were being fair, I would have used 1 Pantani = 14mph, since Marco Pantani holds the record for the fastest ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez. But I'm not being fair.)

The day after I made this fantastic calculation, I glanced down at my speedometer and realized that my speed on flat ground was significantly less than one Armstrong. That's right, Lance Armstrong went up l'Alpe D'Huez faster than I rode to work on flat ground.

Fortunately, subsequent investigation revealed that my bicycle's speedometer sensor had wiggled out of position and was reporting only about two thirds of my actual speed. My unofficial goal is to be able to go 13.5 mph up the comparatively tiny hills that I have to cross on my way to and from work. It's not l'Alpe d'Huez, but then again, I'm not Lance Armstrong.

Comments (42)
  1. Tom says:

    One Chen = 0.42 Armstrong?

    ’cause 42 is the answer to the ultimate question – One Chen is what percent of One Armstrong?

  2. David Tickle says:

    Having tackled Alpe d’Huez this summer, Armstrong’s pace is truly staggering. In fact, it dawned on me at around the time my heart nearly lept out of my chest that at his pace it would be effective to draft in his slipstream… on one of the hardest climbs in cycling!

  3. Massif says:

    Ummm… My rough calculations on my cycle to work had me going 18mph on perfectly flat ground. (It used to be a railway) with no wind whatsoever.

    Actually it’s a slight incline down all the way to work, which made getting home a real drag.

    God knows how he managed that going up mountains.

  4. flying coder says:

    You might know that you’re not Lance, but how many passing motorists have mistaken you for him?  Maybe we should boil that down to the ratio of ‘Go Lance’ shouts per 1000 passing cars…

  5. Joseph S. says:

    Just for the record, kph is an incorrect way to abbreviate "kilometers per hour". kph would be "kilo per hour" which has no meaning. The correct abbreviation is km/h or kmh^-1.

  6. Cody says:

    Just for the record, kph is an incorrect way to abbreviate "kilometers per hour".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kph

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/kph

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/kph

    http://webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=kph

    http://www.google.com/search?q=kph

    all agree that kph is good for kilometers per hour.

  7. meh says:

    Cody: I just clicked on your first link and found… "the symbol is km·h−1 or km/h but is often, though incorrectly, abbreviated to "kph""

  8. bramster says:

    Raymond — you’re invited to "The Animalaton" — a 14.8 armstrong-hour ride held late June in Ottawa, Ontario. The ride starts at 5 a.m., and ends anywhere from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

    One one of the climbs, my speed is about                         .25 armstrongs.

  9. So, frankly, I’m a little surprised.  I all but expected to see the complete calculation.  That is to say that I expected to see a calculation that took into account Lance’s weight and the average slope of the hill.  I then expected to see you plug your weight into the equation to see how fast you’d have to go on flat to output one Lance Unit.

  10. Cody says:

    Oops.  Well, at least it establishes it as common usage even if technically incorrect.

  11. Tom,

    One Chen = 0.42 Armstrong?

    is not correct

    One Abhinaba = 0.42 Armstrong. If in doubt visit my blog

    http://blogs.msdn.com/abhinaba

  12. Mark Steward says:

    Joseph: kph wouldn’t be kilo per hour, it’d be kilo-pico-hour, if anything.  km/h isn’t SI anyway, so who cares?  kph is well known as a unit because it’s written on speedos, like psi.

  13. Mike Fried says:

    So if kph is not kilometers per hour like mph is (obviously km is the appropriate SI abbreviation for kilometers so kmph or km/h makes more sense), then why does Wikipedia redirect it for you? The answer is because it knows what you mean (and so did everyone who read Raymond’s post).

    Now, if Wikipedia redirected kph to something like kilograms (say of some unit like gasoline, sugar, nicotine, etc) per hour or kilowatts per hour, then perhaps I would say that your point is well received that kph is not short for km/h (I looked up a picture of a speedometer, and it appears that km/h is the preferred abbreviation used there, note that cars which show km/h – in the USA generally don’t label the "normal" mph).

    Is the notation of kph vs km/h worth arguing over? Maybe. The fact that so many other sources including Wikipedia tend to direct it to kilometers per hour indicates that the abbreviation has stuck (at least culturally – I would imagine these sources being predominantly American – I looked it up in the OED and there was no specific article for kph, although there was some reference to a quote using k.p.h. in literature).

    As an aside, it is interesting that the nautical mile’s abbreviation is kn, and it is understood that it is used to measure knots per hour.

  14. Jon says:

    mikefried: The abbreviation for a nautical mile is NM (or simply M if you want to be difficult). A Knot (KT or KTS) is a nautical mile per hour. (Which is the weird thing I think you were trying to point out) A knot per hour is a unit of acceleration.

    If you want to get weird, check out watts and volt-amps. Physicists usually don’t know they’re different units.

  15. Benoit says:

    Well, as an European, I wouldn’t have understand "kph" without the contextual information (that it is an average speed, and it is equivalent to something mph), as it is always written km/h on speed counters.

    Anyway, since the context was very clear I don’t see the need to be nitpicking on that :)

  16. Igor says:

    Message to all ignorant U.S. citizens out there:

    There is a thing called metric system.

    In it, kilometer is abbreviated to km and it stands for 1,000 meters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilometre

    Since the initial letters involved in the word K_ilo_M_eter are _K and M respectively, it should be obvious that writing km/h for kilometers per hour is the only proper way.

    Article I linked to does nott approve kph.

  17. Igor says:

    I have to add that kmph would be acceptable because it still contains base unit (that is km), but kph is nonsense it is kilo per hour but you don’t have an idea what of.

  18. Martin Probst says:

    To get an absolute unit of measurement you should probably factor the amount of anabolica into the equation, for example as one Armstrong per hour and gram of anabolica.

    Bicycling is funny kind of sports. All winners of the Tour de France for 6 years have been convicted of doping.

  19. Anne Onyme says:
    I thought the Armstrong was the unit of chemical doping efficiency ?
    /
  20. McBerrs says:

    That guy is seriously misnamed. It should be Lance Legstrong! But I’m glad he’s gone now. Finally the suspense is about who will win instead of who will come second.

    The Tour must be the ultimate punishment. Not just are climbs steep. They are looong. And 20 days of it. Ugh.

  21. steveg says:

    Raymond, I bought a new bicycle recently and I spent a bit of cash on it (AUD $2000, what the heck I haven’t had a car for 10 years) and my uphill speed’s increased noticably simply because the new bike weighs what seems like nothing. More energy spent dragging 76kg of blubber uphill.

    I’m no pro-cyclist, just a commuter with occasional week-long camping trips, but I can recommend the Giant CRX Zero: http://www2.giant-bicycles.com/en-AU/bikes/road/77/22367/

    I wonder if you can fill the frame of a bike with a light gas to improve the uphill speed. Or helium balloons (hmmmm, drag), sounds like one for Mythbusters.

  22. das says:

    Igor mistakenly opines:

    "Since the initial letters involved in the word K_ilo_M_eter are _K and M respectively, it should be obvious that writing km/h for kilometers per hour is the only proper way."

    Since the initial letter "involved" in the word "Kilometer" is "K" rather than "KM", then writing "km/h" is less the "only proper way" than a conventional way.

  23. The Pirate says:

    Long live Pantani!

  24. Neal says:

    Ok, let’s get it right people.  kph is an abbreviation for the english phrase kilometers per hour.  km/h is the symbol corresponding to the SI/nonSI derived unit representing kilometers per hour.  If you are writing a sentence with literary intent you should generally use kph.  If you are writing it with scientific intent you would use km/h.

    [Who would have predicted that a riff on Lance Armstrong would have taken a back seat to arguing over whether “kph” is an acceptable informal shorthand for “kilometers per hour”! Sometimes I feel like I’ve been transported to bizarro-world. -Raymond]
  25. Tom says:

    I’ve worked out a rule. The amount of time you spend cycling a bike is inversely proportional to the cost. People that go out and buy cheap and cheerful $200 bikes tend to use them all time, people that buy $500-$1000 titanium and carbon fibre uber bikes to try to encourage themselves to get fit tend to end up driving to work. No idea why, but it fits all the cyclists I’ve met perfectly.

  26. Arlie Davis says:

    Message to all ignorant U.S. citizens out there:

    Are Europeans born arrogant, and ignorant, or is that installed later?

  27. Swedude says:

    I can accept english as the "world language", but I’ll never accept the non-standard imperial system. Too bad there’s no incentive for us politicians to support the adoption of the standard metric system.

  28. AL says:

    No way, the kph is not a valid abbreviation for kilometres (kilometers in US) per hour. This is because the unit of measure is the metre ‘kilo’ is just a prefix meaning 1000. The m has to be there.

    As an example would you like to see someone using M instead of MB for megabyte?

  29. chk@combit.net says:

    [quote]

    Message to all ignorant U.S. citizens out there:

    Are Europeans born arrogant, and ignorant, or is that installed later?

    [/quote]

    Just differently ;-)

    Ch.

  30. chk@combit.net says:

    BTW: While we’re at non-SI: kph is kilopondhours ;-)))

    Ch.

  31. Massif says:

    [quote]

    Message to all ignorant U.S. citizens out there:

    Are Europeans born arrogant, and ignorant, or is that installed later?

    [/quote]

    Naahh, we tend to become arrogant when it becomes clear just how superior we actually are.

    Ignorance on the other hand, is a lifestyle choice; and should be left to the individual to pursue.

  32. James says:

    AL: "As an example would you like to see someone using M instead of MB for megabyte?"

    Yes, I see it all the time, including the output of commands like ‘df -h’. If I see a reference to my disk having 400M of free space, I know what it means: the b would be superfluous. Similarly, in speech it’s common to refer to a "ten gig partition".

    Now, if metric had the units right in the first place, so you didn’t need to go modifying it to be any use to anyone, it could be as simple and straightforward as normal units like mph :-)

  33. Peter says:

    Wasn’t 2004 the year they had the time trial on l’Alpe D’Huez?

    If so, then his speed was probably faster than it would be on a "normal year."

    So maybe you can ride at a one "regular" Armstrong pace. :)

  34. Mike says:

    One thing I would find interesting, but haven’t got the data or even skills to calculate, is how much power (in e.g. kWh, but also the average kW output required) would be required to ascend that devilish part of the race.

    I know Lance has an anatomic difference [compared to most other humans] that makes him better suited for (prolonged) physical activity, so for a normal mortal it’s simply anatomically impossible to achieve these numbers. Still, how much power is he actually emitting?

    On a more 50/50 joking/serious thread, could he produce enough power to run a computer with Vista with its "premium" GUI? What if he started the new MineSweeper? :-)

  35. Tom says:

    "Who would have predicted that a riff on Lance Armstrong would have taken a back seat…-Raymond]"

    No-one, I bet.  How about this?

    I blame Microsoft.  They caused this whole kph km/h fiasco when they wrote windows so crappily.

  36. Cody says:

    For the record, arguing against using American English abbreviations (and kph is not uncommon or unheard of in the US) on a blog written by someone who lives, works, plays and seems to have grown up in the US is rather… imperialistic is the term you would use when the reverse is attempted.

    "I blame Microsoft.  They caused this whole kph km/h fiasco when they wrote windows so crappily."

    Thank god Linux does it right and only defaults to m/s and you have to install custom packages to be able to use km/h.  But on the plus side, those custom packages can be scripted to also accept kph, or jabviaaelk as your abbreviation for speed…

  37. boxmonkey says:

    In the height of my fitness, riding in a group of very fit cyclists (some of whom were training for the olympics), I averaged 1.48 Armstrongs over 135 miles in a round trip ride from SW MA to just over the VT border and back. Not l’Alpe D’Huez, but not all flat ground either!

    Now I’m in FL, out of shape, and also struggle to keep an average speed over 1 Armstrong on flat ground.

  38. David Walker says:

    I think the unit should be called a "Lance".  It’s more poetic.  Also it parallels the old length unit called a "rod".

  39. Anthony Wieser says:

    You had me worried there Raymond.  I was going to suggest you tried somewhere flatter and windier to help your average (like Cambridge England today, with 70 knot tailwind gusts from the west).

    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/research/dtg/weather/dailyWeather.cgi?2007_01_18

  40. Igor says:

    das wrote:

    "Since the initial letter involved in the word Kilometer is K rather than KM, then writing km/h is less the only proper way than a conventional way."

    Sigh, I wrote "initial letters", meaning there is more than one, because word "KiloMeter" is made from two words "Meter" and prefix "Kilo" meaning 1,000. I thought I will never have to explain something so obvious but I guess there are Individuals out there that can’t be bothered to read and deduce.

    Davis wrote:

    "Are Europeans born arrogant, and ignorant, or is that installed later?"

    You are the one who is ignoring our unit system and the proper way to use it. Therefore you are the ignorant one, not me and because ignorant people tend to be more arrogant than the others, then you are also the arrogant one.

    James wrote:

    "I know what it means: the b would be superfluous"

    Actually James, M itself is not a unit at least when it comes to computer units. I see you are *nix geek but try to put yourself into a novice user skin. Yhey see M and try to look up what it means. Will they find that it means the same as MB?

    Furthermore, Mb would be Mega bits, not Mega Bytes.

    Also I am really annoyed when someone writes KiB. It is KB for God sake. Not to mention HDD manufacturers redefining MB as 1,000,000 Bytes.

  41. John Dawson says:

    "Also I am really annoyed when someone writes KiB. It is KB for God sake. Not to mention HDD manufacturers redefining MB as 1,000,000 Bytes."

    Actually, the correct SI prefix is lower case k, so it is kB. But the thing is, hard disk manufacturers are technically correct in their usage of MB. Mega is the SI prefix that denotes a factor of one million, though it is alternately used as a factor of 2^20 in IT. Using binary prefixes (KiB, MiB, etc) is the only unambiguous way to write units of information/computer storage.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_prefix.

    I’d say that this is similar to the "kph"/"km/h" distinction.

  42. b100dian says:

    is it only me that have read "One Angstrom"? 10^(-10) meters??

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