Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

09 July 2013

A Frustrated Mechanic?

Most of the world uses the Metric system to measure things. 

My recalcitrant country-men and -women (I'm not politically correct enough to say "countrypeople"!) will have none of it:  We still cling to the Imperial/Avoirdupois system, and measure heat or cold in Farhenheit rather than Celsius temperatures.

About three decades ago, the powers-that-be in the world's bicycle industries talked of adopting a universal standards. At the time, most of the world's bikes came with English, French or Italian threadings for bottom brackets, freewheels (There weren't any cassette freehubs in those days.), headests, stems and pedals.  English measurements were expressed in inches, while French and Italian were in milli/centimeters.  Older and lower-priced American bikes had unique threads and other dimensions that were expressed in fractions and inches. But most bikes from Japan and current or former British colonies had English threads, while most Continental European bikes that weren't from Italy had French threads.

A strange thing happened, though.  French threading was dropped altogether.  Italian bikes--and some French and other Continental (e.g., Belgian) racing bikes adopted Italian standards.  But the rest of the world adhered to English standards--at the same time they started to size their bikes (even those intended for export to the US) in centimeters rather than inches and equipped them with 700C rather than 27" wheels.

I thought about all of this on seeing this graffito:

Was this person protesting the adoption of the Metric system?  Perhaps he/she was accustomed to ordering pints of beer in a bar/pub. Or, perhaps, he or she was a good ol' Amurrrikun mechanic who's sick of the half-Imperial, half-metric system we have in bicycling.


  1. I recall the attempts at metric conversion in the 70s. I believe all that was accomplisshed was that car speedometers and speed limit signs were also expressed in kmh, but that business died in an anti-metric backlash. Do you recall what year Raleigh abandoned its 26 TPI threading standard? I'm guessing mid 80s or so.

  2. Hi MT--I also recall those efforts to "go metric" in the '70's. What's interesting is that it more or less coincided with the North American Soccer League's efforts to make what the rest of the world calls "football" America's next major sport. It died, in part due to backlash from the NFL and people who thought soccer (and cycling) were "un-American" or worse.

    As for Raleigh: I don't know the exact year, but I think you're right: It was some time in the mid-'80's. At that time, the bikes that were made in Japan and Taiwan for Raleigh had standard English measurements, but British-made three-speeds (and lower-priced ten- and twelve-speeds) were still threaded with 26TPI when I was working at Highland Park Cyclery in 1983. Not many were coming into the US by then, but they still had the 26TPI standard. I heard, a couple of years later, that Raleigh abandoned it.