Saturday, November 26, 2011


As always, people look to me to help settle their dilemmas when it comes to the subject of cycling. I suppose that I’m just cursed blessed with this ability to share and apply my vast experience in order to help others enjoy the sport of cycling. Once again, I feel obligated to relate some of the more recent cycling queries with you, my loyal readers.
Dear Bertha – How can I keep my bicycle looking showroom new week after week?  Jeff (address withheld pending notification of next of kin).
There are a variety of products available at the bicycle shops and other stores, Jeff, that will aid in keeping your bike looking like you just bought it – waxes, cleansers, degreasers, lubricants, etc., etc., etc. Along with these, all you need is to dedicate one or two evenings a week and to spend several hours meticulously scrubbing and cleaning each component to a radiant shine. Actually though, I find all of this quite tedious. To always ensure that you are riding a pristine looking bike, I recommend to simply purchase a new one each Friday evening after you get paid. It will leave you with a lot more time to ride. Give me a call and I will drop by to get the old ones out of your way – no charge.
My Dearest Bertha – Should I upgrade my bicycle to the newer eleven-speed components that are available on the market now? Nick (not my real name).
Yes, of course. There is no longer a market for the old 8-, 9- and 10-speed junk. In fact, Nick (I know it’s really you, Nick), it is quite embarrassing now to even be seen riding anything less than the 11-speed drive trains. Go buy the new stuff now – as soon as you finish reading this. And, since the old stuff is so worthless, just give me a call and I’ll come and get it out of your way – no charge.
Dear Bertha – Some people call me nerdy because my bicycle has reflectors on the wheels. Should I take them off? Kevin way out in west Houston – no, I mean the Kevin even further out west than that!
Heck NO, Kevin!! Why? What makes you think that those people even know what’s cool and what is not? My bike has streamers on the handlebars, curb feelers on the fender stays, AND reflectors on the wheels. You don’t hear anyone calling me nerdy, do you? Well, never mind – let’s move on the next question.
Dear Beulah – How much money should I spend on a new bike? Dave (Don’t tell anyone my real name is Robert).
Well, Rob- Dave, this would depend on how often you plan on buying a new bike. Would you buying one every Friday evening or more often than that? By the way, my name is Bertha, not Beulah.
Dear Ms Ashtabula – I’ve been thinking about buying some new, super-light componentry for my bicycle. I’ve been checking it out and I think I should be able to lighten up my bike by about one and a half pounds. Should I go ahead and do this or just save my money and go on a diet to lose some weight. Spike (not my real name either), Huntsville Penitentiary, Texas.
What kind of a question is that, Spike? Buy new bike parts or go on a diet? Buy new bike parts or go on a diet? Bike parts? Diet? Duhh! In case you can’t figure it out, buy the bike parts Spike! Dieting can always be put off until next year.
Well boys and girls, that’s all we have time for this go-around. Keep those cards and letters coming in and maybe I’ll just pop up again to assist you in solving your cycling dilemmas and to help you…
Enjoy the ride!


Some people that know me fairly well also know me as one who does not often like to cook. It has even been rumored that I don’t even know how to cook. Well, to those folks I say “Phooey!” (I think that is a French word but I’m not sure of the spelling.)
I will now share a couple of my nutritious, quick and easy recipes for the cyclist on the go:
Recipe Number One – Spaghetti-O’s. First, you take a pan (I don’t know quarts from teaspoons – it’s about six inches in diameter and will hold about three or four inches of water) and you fill it with about two inches of water. Put this on the stove – on one of the burners. Now, take a can of Spaghetti-O’s and open it. Throw the top in the trash can and place the can into the pan of water. Turn on the burner. While this begins to heat, fix a glass of tea. Pretty soon the water and the Spaghetti-O’s inside the can will start to boil. Maybe stir it a little when this happens. After a bit, turn off the stove and get your pot holder (or some pliers) and lift the can out of the pan of water. Get a spoon and eat the Spaghetti-O’s right out of the can. Drink some tea. Mmmm-mmmm good!
Recipe Number Two – Chef Boyardee Ravioli. This works pretty much the same as recipe number one.

As you gain experience in the kitchen, you will learn to just leave the pan of water on the stove – no need to dump it out each night simply to refill it again the next day. Another handy thing about these recipes is that you only dirty up one spoon and one glass each meal. This makes clean up a virtual snap - which leaves you with plenty of time to…
Enjoy the ride!


I jumped in my van last Sunday morning and headed up to the corner convenience store for a newspaper and to fill up the gas tank. I rounded the corner, pulled into the drive and immediately noticed that the gas pumps under the canopy were gone. “How odd,” I thought, “when did they take those out?”
Oh well – no big deal. There was a Chevron gas station only half a mile up the road. Upon arriving I was greeted by another pumpless gas station canopy. I looked across the street – another convenience store – completely void of gas pumps. I thought to myself, “Seems that something like this should have been reported in the TV news or in the newspaper.” I headed on down the road.
A mile away, as I approach the Exxon station, I could see the closed sign in the window. A block away from that – Texaco – closed. On down the street – Shell – a graffiti-covered building obviously out of business. What the heck is going on here?
I glanced down at my gas gauge. It was on empty. I had driven at least ten miles from the house. Did I have enough gas to get back? I glanced up the highway and it was at that precise moment that I realized I was the only vehicle on the road. I hadn’t seen anyone else driving a car since I’d left home. I was beginning to panic. This was turning into something like an old Twilight Zone episode. I was frantically driving toward my house. I seemed to be getting further and further away from home – no matter how fast I drove. Then the van started sputtering. It died. Oh no! This can’t be! I cranked the key – pumped the pedal. Nothing. The van coasted to a stop. Alone – in the middle of the desert – thousands of miles from my home.
With a terrible jolt, my eyes burst open. My heart was racing – my body wet with sweat. I was lying in my bed – safe in my own house. It was all just a silly dream.
I got up, took a quick shower and dressed. I jumped on my bicycle and headed to the corner store for a newspaper and a gallon of milk. The morning was peaceful and all was pleasant.
I was still thinking about my dream – how foolish it was. Why, there hadn’t been any gasoline anywhere on earth for over twenty years now.
Enjoy the ride!


A few years ago, while on vacation in Cawker City, Kansas (home to the world’s largest ball of twine), I was eating lunch at a quaint café on main street when who do you think I spotted sitting at a table across the room? If you guessed cycling-great, Sterm E. Archer, you are correct – and congratulations for remembering the title of this article which you may have read just a few seconds ago! At this point in the story, I could take up time and space by telling you all about the waitress who took my order, how she looked and what she was wearing and what I had ordered to eat and even what Sterm was eating; or I could mention how casual Sterm looked in his frayed and faded blue jeans topped with a tattered Grateful Dead t-shirt two sizes too big – but these trivial facts have absolutely nothing important to add to our story at all – so let’s just jump right into the interview:
Bertha – Sterm, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see you and to get this chance to talk with you. What do you think of the roast beef and mashed potatoes here at this quaint café in downtown Cawker City, Kansas?
Sterm – You know Bertha, there isn’t too much here in this café that doesn’t taste delicious. I probably have the roast beef at least twice a week. I noticed that you had their famous Twine Ball Platter. That’s one of their more popular dishes – even if it is just spaghetti wrapped around a giant meat ball. Busloads of people come here to order that one.
Bertha – Yes, but enough trivial talk that has absolutely nothing to do with our interview. You’ve been retired from the cycling scene for several years now. What do you do here to pass the time?
Sterm – My wife, Agnes, and I teach calf roping – and macramé. Anything to do with rope is pretty popular in this town. I also collect rope and string, like many others around here – it’s everywhere. I’ve got quite a collection. I find it on newspaper bundles, on tents at campsites, on boats tied to the dock out at the lake. I’ve even got the rope that they used to hang the Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. Of course Agnes has macraméd that into a hanging end table.
Bertha – I’m sure a lot of our readers remember you from when you were famous but, to those new to the sport of cycling, why don’t you take a moment or two now to remind us how Sterm Archer made a name for himself, thus etching his name in the cycling history books for all time.
Sterm – Naturally I raced all of the major races in the 60’s and into the early 70’s. It was in late 60’s though when a new cycling sport burst upon the scene – underwater racing. It was started over in England. I was actually living there at the time and it rained all but about seventeen days during the two years that I lived there. I had joined the local cycling club not long after moving over there and, due to the horrid weather, our activities mostly consisted of eating and drinking at the local pub and waiting for the rain to stop. One day when we were sitting around our favorite (or favourite as they would type) local pub, the barkeep announced that they were out of everything except water – and of course, tea. So anyway, not wanting to pay for water when we could get all of it we wanted for free outside, we decided to just go for it – after all, we were a cycling club – and it was just a little rain. Once we got used to that, there was no amount of water that would stop us from riding. It became addictive. We looked for more challenging places to ride and race. We drew quite a large crowd for our race of the Thames and the English Channel. Stateside you probably remember the Great Mississippi River Race and the two month-long Tour de Great Lakes. Needless to say, you have to possess some pretty good lung capacity to participate in underwater racing.
Bertha – What kind of bicycles did you ride while racing underwater?
Sterm – Mostly they were rusty ones.
Bertha – What are some of your more memorable cycling experiences?
Sterm – There was this one time, I was cycling about a mile or two off shore in the Atlantic and came to an abrupt drop off on the ocean floor. I slammed on my brakes and spun around just in time to keep from plunging into total darkness. At that precise moment, a form came plummeting toward me from above. The form turned out to be another man. He grabbed my shoulders and came to a stop on the very edge of the ocean cliff. At first I thought it might be someone else enjoying the sport of underwater cycling but he didn’t have a bicycle – plus, he was wearing a suit and tie – and a bucket of cement around his ankles. He had some rope tied around his wrists which had also gotten caught in the spokes of my front wheel. I quickly untied it (figuring it would be a nice addition to my collection) and then the ocean floor gave way and he abruptly sped on down the cliff and out of sight. I cycled on back to the shore.
Bertha – Any idea who that guy was?
Sterm – I was never really sure. But a few days later I read in the newspaper that a certain local union leader had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Bertha – That sounds like it truly was a memorable cycling experience. Now, I’m sure that this must be as much of an honor for you to meet me as it is for me to meet you. Do you have any questions that you would like to ask me?
Sterm – Funny you should mention that, Bertha – yes, there is something that I’ve wanted to ask you for quite a while. I am an avid fan of yours and always enjoy your informative and factual articles. A while back I was reading my favorite (favourite) cycling publication and was grossly interested in your Bluebonnet Express Ride Report. However, what happened to installments two through five as well as seven? All I ever saw was Part One and Part Six.
Bertha – Well, Sterm, funny you should mention that. I wrote those segments of my story while I was cycling across northern Kansas. I didn’t have any paper with me at the time so I wrote them all out on a piece of rope I had with me…
Sterm –That makes absolutely no sense at all.
Bertha – How about: Well, Sterm, funny you should mention that. I wrote those segments of my story while I was cycling in the Tour de Great Lakes. Since I didn’t have any waterproof paper…
Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Way back when I first started racing bicycles, we were advised to wear helmets. Most all of the races that I attended required that we wear a helmet if we were going to compete. This was back in the early 70’s – and some of you may remember what bicycle helmets looked like back then. They were leather or vinyl-covered material that we fondly nicknamed: hairnets. We would always joke about them really not doing the cyclist much good – they were primarily intended to save the ambulance drivers from the hassle of having to search for the pieces of our brain in case we were to have a bad wreck.
But the concept was a good one and, like most everything else in our lives, progress and technology have delivered us from the days of the near-useless hairnet helmets to a time when helmets are lightweight, functional, aerodynamic, and a fashionable as well as proven safety feature for today’s bicycle rider.
Participate in almost any cycling tour, race or event and you’ll almost assuredly be confronted with the instructions that helmets are not only recommended but are mandatory. Try getting on any of the off-road riding establishments without wearing a helmet – as soon as the folks in charge spot you, your day of riding on their property will come to an abrupt end. More and more cities are adopting regulations requiring that children wear helmets while on bicycles. Ride with any organized bicycle club and, if you don’t show up with a helmet, more than likely you find someone eager to let you borrow one of their spares for the ride.
There are good reasons for this. Accidents happen. And, a lot of the time the person who gets hurt the worst isn’t always the one who caused the accident. Wearing a helmet is just good insurance that less damage will be inflicted upon your head if and when an accident finds you. On that related note, you’ll notice that there are some clip art images of cyclists accompanying this article. A lot of them are riding old fashioned bikes and they are all sort of smiling and looking like they are have a wonderfully good ol’ time – and they are not wearing helmets. “What’s this?” you say. Well, for your information, all of those people in those clip art images are dead! Probably because they weren’t wearing a helmet and crashed sometime after they posed for their clip art image. Somewhere in my clip art file, I have an image of an old-timey ambulance driver at the scene of an old-fashioned bicycle wreck, looking in vain around the side of the road for pieces of the cyclist’s brain. Thank goodness this clip art is in black and white – it’s not a pretty sight.

Please, don’t run the risk of becoming a piece of clip art – wear a helmet when you…

Sunday, November 20, 2011


As we continue with our story… I could really feel the asphalt taking its toll as I turned right off of Highway 6 onto FM 2988. (Not to mention the need for an even more padded saddle!) Thanks to some guy named Jacques or Ian or Eddy or something like that, I was talked into going for the full 100K instead of just my planned 25-mile course. Now, there I was, just a couple of miles from rest stop number three and it was nearly 10:30 in the evening…
Nah – I’m just kidding – don’t take me seriously. Although I know I do have a tendency to come across as a pretty serious individual! But, as you remember from our last installment, I had just thwarted that attempted burglary on Tompkins Road after losing control of my bicycle on that downhill, crashing through a chain link fence and leaving balloon-tire-sized tread marks up the back of the burglar as he was carting the television set toward the trunk of his car. I’m sure the sponsors of the ride will receive a letter from those folks thanking them for the heroism of one of their ride participants – and possibly enclose a bill for some chain link fence, approximately 35 feet of flower beds, seven ornamental yard flamingos, a storm door, and for some carpet cleaning due to some more of those balloon-tire-sized tread marks.
But, what the heck! – back to the ride…                                                 
I had managed to gather quite a following once other riders found out that I had been riding bikes since I was about five years old. In fact, I was leading a pack of roughly 750 riders south along Mitchell Road. Now, I know that 750 is kind of big for one pack and more than a couple of times I sprinted upwards of eight or nine miles per hour thinking maybe only about 300-or-so would make the break with me – but nooo! – the whole stinking group of 750 were right there with me – right on my tail. What else could I do but to lead them on to the finish line?
As I made the turn onto FM 1488, I could see the lead pack of the 62-mile route riders coming in on the road off to the left. Had I been riding alone, I would have stopped for a while and let them pass. But, with the gigantic mass of riders behind me, the force was too strong to stop. Fearing for my life, I continued on down FM 1488 knowing that the multitudes of riders swarming onto the road at six mph had forced most of those 62-mile riders into the ditch – more than likely resulting in a mangled pile of wheels and spokes and chains and twisted flesh. Fortunately that’s why the ride organizers made sure to have plenty of SAG wagons along the course.
Meanwhile, the pack behind me had grown to over a thousand – and I think that number was including a few dogs, armadillos and a varied assortment of farm animals. As we headed toward the last rest stop, we were pushing an average speed of around five miles per hour. The pack was devouring everything in sight. (After all – remember? – we are on the 25-mile route – we’re gonna get hungry!) We had become a black hole – nothing could escape our ever-growing force. Rest Stop Six stood tough for a while (gotta hand it to those Boy Scouts!) but soon even they gave in and ran for cover. The rest stop was history in a matter of moments. The U-Haul with fresh supplies previously en-route to the rest stop was overtaken by renegade 25-milers near the end of the pack – picked clean in a matter of seconds. We rolled on.
Just a mere four miles from the finish line, the pack had grown to nearly two thousand. I was in the lead simply because I knew I would be run over – I and my bike ground into asphalt much like the cyclists of the late 19th Century were – but that’s a different story. I had never ridden this fast for so long. I feared for the devastation that would surely befall the finish line if this pack kept growing like this. Could nothing stop us?
Stay tuned for…
(And pray that they haven’t run out of hot link wrap arounds at the finish line!)
Enjoy the ride!


Let me take a few minutes of your time to tell you about my first organized bike ride several years ago – the “Bluebonnet Express” out around Hempstead, Texas. I’ve got to admit that it was a gorgeous ride – only slightly hilly – not near what I was used to back near Bodega Bay, California. You want hills? Go ride with the Bay City Cycling Babes in the San Francisco area. Now there are some hills!
But back to the Bluebonnet Express. The ride started off great but I really hated it when we got out of range of that deejay. He was really playing some great music. They need to figure out how they can get him a more powerful amp so the riders can hear him on the entire course. And how about that guy driving the U-Haul truck? What’s the deal with him? I was riding along on my J.C. Higgins cruiser and had both of the side baskets full of those free hot link wrap-arounds that they were passing out before the ride.  I even grabbed a couple of containers of the pickles and onions – because I’m on the 25-mile course, right? I know I’m gonna get hungry. Well this guy keeps waiving me over wanting to know if I’ll give him one of my hot link wrap-arounds. I didn’t mind giving him some of my food but it was going to seriously cut into my cycling time if I stopped. After all, this was my first attempt at riding a 25-mile ride all in one day. But anyway, the ride organizers need to think about stocking this guy up with his own free food so he doesn’t bother the cyclists. Or maybe he didn’t have anything to do with the ride – I don’t know. I suppose there is more than one U-Haul truck driving around near the bike ride.
But back to my ride…  Now, I’m not a real fast rider and a lot of people tell me that I should upgrade my bike to something with gears – (By the way – I do have a new bike on layaway back at the bike shop. It’s a Schwinn Cruiser Six with, get this, six speeds! – and brakes on the handlebars. How cool is that! I’m going to be able to go much, much faster on my next big ride.) Oh yeah – as I was saying – Anyway, I’m not a real fast rider but at this one point in the ride, a pack of riders were coming up behind me – I think we were somewhere in downtown Hempstead. I’m already pretty pooped and one of the fast riders slowed down to chat with me. I think his name was Chet or Bret or Wilroy or Alex or something similar to that and I told him my name and he said, “Hey! I made some of those bike part wind chime thingies that you had put in the cycling newsletter a few months ago.” I replied, “Oh really? How do you like them?” and he said, “Well, they’re only a couple of months old and already they are rusted looking.” – then he sped off to catch up with his friends before I had a chance to tell him that I’m starting up this special service where I go to people’s houses and clean those wind chimes for only $25.00 a month. His loss, I suppose.
Sorry, I got off on a tangent again – back to the ride. I was almost to the first rest stop – and boy, was I needing it – not to mention it was about time to change the tape in my portable VCR (I had packed several movies to help pass the time during the ride). So anyway, there I was, nearly at the first rest stop when I had a blowout on the back tire. I pulled over to the side of the road and almost immediately this guy stopped to help me. I think his name was Bob or Rob or Mack or maybe Alex or something like that. I told him my name was Ashtabula – Bertha Ashtabula (you know, kinda like Bond, James Bond does in the movies?). Then he said, “Hmm. Ashtabula. Now that’s an interesting family name. Where does that come from?” And I replied, “Well, we’re sort of out of room in this article so I guess you’ll have to wait for the…

Enjoy the Ride!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


As we once again near the time of year when we move our clocks back one hour (Daylight UNsavings Time), most of us bike riders will discover that if we’re not at work or school – IT’S DARK!
Yes, this is true. Because of this fact, it’s time to consider rigging the old bicycle up with some sort of lighting apparatus. Sure, you can go into your favorite local bike shop and purchase the latest, greatest, mega-halogen, mama-there’s-a-train-coming-straight-at-us lamp system for your bike – and this is fine. But, before you go out and enjoy you new system, take a moment to realize how good you’ve got it now-a-days.
Back in the old days – before electricity – no one gave much concern about bike riding after dark. The roads weren’t even paved and it was bad enough trying to miss all of the holes and ruts in the road during the daylight hours when you could see. Besides, there wasn’t anything moving faster than you on the roads anyway, so who really cared?
After the invention of the horseless carriage, it became more common to start seeing paved roads. The first paved roads were simply run over bicycles and cyclists which eventually smoothed out over time. As the number of cyclists dwindled (down to about a dozen nationwide – if I remember correctly), they realized that something needed to be done to bring a halt to the senseless slaughter of bikes and cyclists by the petrol and steam driven contraptions that were grinding them into 19th Century pavement. Thus was born the League of American Wheelmen – an organization paying tribute to fellow cyclists who had been wheeled into the ground by bigger, more powerful wheels. The L.A.W.’s main focus of the time was to fight for roads to be paved with material like stones or pavers or some sort of petroleum based substance – and to hopefully protect the endangered few remaining cyclists that were left.
One of the first things that the new group did was to hit on the fact that most of the fatal “paving” of bikes and cyclists occurred during the dark, and maybe, just maybe, if the bicycles could be seen at night, then the “paving” wouldn’t be happening. (Editor’s note – “Paving” is just Bertha’s nice way of saying, “Ran down like a dog and ground into asphalt.”) Herbert Ulysses Bendix, or “Hub” as he was commonly referred to, was the first cyclist to attempt lighted night riding. Hub devised a plan to put a thin coat of kerosene on his bicycle rims and then set them on fire as he rode at night. His plan definitely made him quite visible to other vehicles and at first seemed like it might be a success. Unfortunately, the wheels on his bicycle were made of wood. Hub didn’t take too many long trips while riding at night.
A few years later my great-grandfather, Huey Ashtabula, invented the candelabrum handlebar. The handlebar had twenty ornamental candle holders welded across the top. He then inserted twenty candles and, after they were lit, the resulting light could be seen for several hundred feet. Great-Grandpa Huey only made one trip with his candle-handlebar bicycle. Ever since then he has been on display at the Wax Museum of American in Dodge City, Kansas.
Later, electricity was discovered and the possibilities seemed endless. As more and more bicycles were fitted with electric lights on their handlebars and front fenders, less and less met with an untimely “paving” incident. Of course, the number of cyclists strangled by the extension cords rose drastically. This prompted the League of American Wheelmen to lobby for someone to invent the battery.
Sometime during the 1940’s or 50’s, someone invented the bicycle generator. This was a little gizmo that you could mount on your fork or seat stay which would grind against your tire and, as long as you were pedaling, you’d get a little faint light shining out a couple of feet in front of you. I’m not sure, but I think this was invented by one of the major tire manufacturers so that your tires would wear out faster.
Well, here we are now in the age of computers and LEDs and more technology than we know what to do with. Now, for a mere four or five hundred dollars you can get a few thousand watts of stadium power lighting mounted right to your front fender. Gosh, wouldn’t Hub and Grandpa Huey be proud of what they started!
(What? You don’t have a front fender?)
Enjoy the ride!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Several years ago, I always used to look forward to watching a television show entitled MacGuyver. I remember being fascinated by the unusual ways that the star of that show managed to get out of tough situations – always being able to make the most intricate contraptions out of ordinary junk that he would find along the wayside. I remember also thinking that the show, although quite entertaining, was just a bunch of hooey! Well, thanks to that ridiculous television show, 241 people on board a Boeing 747 flying over the Swiss Alps are counting their lucky starts that they are still alive.
I, along with 75 other passengers and 165 crew members, boarded the plane at Hooks Airport in Houston on the 16th of last August. We were headed to Los Angeles, California. The flight departed from Hooks without too many problems to speak of. Maybe we could have guessed that we were at the mercy of an inexperienced pilot when, after already taxiing for what seem like an eternity, we taxied right up a ramp onto Interstate 45. A few minutes later, we were airborne. (You may have noticed several overpasses are missing now on I-45 just south of FM2920.) Of course, as you have probably already guessed, the other indicator that our pilot was a moron was the fact that we ended up flying over the Swiss Alps during a Texas-to-California flight. But – there we were – several hours out of Houston and flying around over Europe.
After a bit, the captain got on the intercom with the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out your windows to the right, you will see a magnificent view of the Swiss Alps. As a special treat, here shortly you will be able to get an even better view because we are about to run out of fuel and will probably be crashing into the magnificent Swiss Alps!”
Well, let me tell you, there was just a little more than a major amount of mass chaos on board that aircraft. Passengers were running up and down the aisles screaming to the tops of their lungs – most seemed to primarily be mad that they hadn’t even packed for a skiing trip. Flight attendants were running around everywhere you looked. Half of them were demonstrating how to avoid being strangled by the oxygen masks when they came popping out of the ceiling – the other half were trying to detach the floatation devices from under the seats. I’ve often wondered why airlines felt the need to outfit the seats with floatation devices. I can only figure that the reason is one of comfort more than anything else. I, on the other hand, would much prefer sitting on the lumpiness of a good reliable parachute rather than a soft, pansy-wansy floatation device. It was while I was pondering the lumpy parachute thing that I finally snapped back into reality and remembered why I was on this plane in the first place. I was on my way to L.A. with several of my friends to participate in an international gathering of the Senior Ladies Olympic Bridge Playing and Tandeming Grannies Association (or, as we call ourselves, SLOBPATGA. Yes, we know it doesn’t roll off the tongue too easily, but all tandem clubs are required by a law set forth by Leonardo da Vinci, in association with Wilbur and Orville Wright, to form corny acronyms out of their names).
All at once, as fear was running amok from one end of the plane to another, my mind started channel surfing through a series of MacGuyver reruns. It was coming to me – formulating in my brain as I felt the plane starting to lose power at an altitude only slightly higher than that of the mountain tops. Down in the cargo hold, there were thirty-one tandem bicycles. I was certain that these bikes held the necessary key to safely deliver us from the pending disaster. I wasn’t quite sure just how at the moment but one thing I did know for sure was that I had to get down to that cargo compartment. Taking charge in the midst of all of the commotion, I instructed the attendants to gather up about fifty blankets, a coat hanger, and all of the floatation devices that they could find. Oh yeah, and a paper clip. Quickly, I tied the ends of the blankets together and fashioned a rope. I tied one end of the makeshift rope to the seat framework – the other end around my waist. About that time the captain of the plane came running down the aisle, flapping his arms and screaming hysterically. I tackled him, picked him up and slapped him across the face a few times, then used his head to bust out one of the windows. As the cabin began losing pressure, I shoved the captain to one side, grabbed up all of the floatation devices and maneuvered myself into a position to get sucked out of the window.
Once outside, with the floatation devices dangling from my belt, I worked my way back up the rope until I was able to get a grip on the front edge of one of the wings. Just as I pulled myself up on the wing, we flew through a gigantic flock of winged creatures – ooh! – déjà vu from an earlier article.  Moving on, in an effort to slow the plane’s plummet to earth, I began attaching the floatation devices along the length of the wings. (Need I even mention that I would never be caught dead without a couple of rolls of duct tape and a handful of zip-ties in my fanny pack?) All the time I was doing this, I was telling myself that I was sure parachutes would work much better in a situation like this but who am I to question the Department of Aviation? With all of the floatation devices attached to the wings, I swung myself back toward the plane’s fuselage. Clinging to the rivets with my fingernails, I worked my way to the cargo door. I knocked – no answer. This was going to be tougher than I thought. Holding on with one hand, I fished the coat hanger out of my back pocket. Using my teeth, I straightened the coat hanger and then formed one end into a tight hook. I began fishing it through the weather-stripping around the door and started searching for the lock. It took a couple of tries but finally I heard it click – “CLICK!” The door came swinging open and I was able to climb inside. My hair was a mess.
As I climbed into the cargo hold and out of the wind, I was surprised to see that the other women of the SLOBPATGA had already figured out what I was up to. They had taken the elevator down and were already unpacking the tandems. I took a moment to think to myself: “Damn! There’s an elevator?”  I glanced around until I found what I was looking for – canoe paddles. (FAA rule 334.226.2a: Supply each passenger with a floatation device instead of a parachute. FAA rule 334.226.2b: Back up each aircraft with twenty or so canoe paddles instead of a reserve fuel tank.) Swiftly, I clutched the paddles and got another roll of duct tape and half a dozen more coat hangers then headed back out onto the wing. Working at breakneck speed, I attached four paddles to the front of each engine, fashioning the crudest of propellers. Myrna Steeplebottom, my tandem partner, was apparently reading my mind because she came up behind me with a handful of tandem chains and chainrings. I was sure glad that I never leave home without my handy-dandy pocket chain tool. Together, we fastened the propellers to the chainrings and fed the chain around them and then back through the door into the cargo hold. Back inside, the gals had the tandems all set on trainers and had routed all of the chains so that they were working in unison. They were ready – just waiting for Myrna and me to bring in the main drive chain. We hooked up the final chain and jumped on our bikes. Then, the sixty-two ladies of the SLOBPATGA started pedaling. It was a slow start but eventually we picked up speed – the propellers slowly but surely turning faster and faster. We were beginning to really get into it. Simultaneously, we all shifted into the big chainring. With a burst of energy, we felt the plane lift. We pedaled faster. The plane picked up speed. We heard the cheers of joy from the passengers and the crew members above as we cleared the tops of the mountains. We were pumped! We controlled the power of the plane. I called for the captain and, after apologizing for using his head to break out the window, instructed him to see if there was anyone on the plane that knew the shortest way to Los Angeles.  As I pedaled, I reached into my back pocket, pulled out the paper clip and straightened one end of it. I picked a couple of small bird feathers out of my teeth.
I’m sure my ordeal will probably never make it to the television screen. Its realism is not as far-fetched as one of those old MacGuyver episodes. Still, I’m proud to say that I and my sister SLOBPATGAians managed to get the 747 back safely to Los Angeles. The captain even managed to land the plane at LAX without incident. As soon as I disembarked, I was awarded a medal of honor and the key to the city by the mayor – of course, that was after the plane finally taxied to a stop on Interstate 5 just north of San Diego!
Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


It is with great apprehension that I begin this article – let alone consider it for publication in a huge (or whatever) cycling periodical. As most of my loyal readers are aware, I am seen at various cycling events around town, zipping along on my faithful Schwinn Cruiser Six – Sixty pounds of black beauty, chrome fenders, black and silver streamer mimicking the jet stream of my journeys…
I digress. Late on a Tuesday night last May, and being as eager as always to savor new cycling experiences, I climbed the fence at the Alkek Velodrome in west Houston and hoisted my cruiser over behind me.  I would have visited during regular hours when the track was open, but I was a little shy and nervous at this being my first attempt at track riding. I started slowly around the track on the level surface of the inner line. As I grew daring, I began to edge up onto the steep embankments of the track. I increased my speed. I went a little higher up on the sloped ends of the track. I started to get the feel of the place – feeling the spirit of a track racer entering my being. Yeah – I think I could really get into this!
I was just about to let my body slip completely into this cycling fantasy world when I was abruptly snapped into reality by a harsh, scraping sound. My Cruiser Six, not really appropriate for track racing, has a bottom bracket just a bit too low for the steep slopes of a velodrome surface. My pedal began gouging into the concrete – sparks flying with each revolution of the chainring as my bike encountered the steepest portions of the track. I continued to circle with my pedal scraping – transmitting an erratic Morris Code-type of noise and sparks into the blackness of the night. With no neighboring houses too close by, I really didn’t think that the sound would be creating too much of a nuisance to anyone but myself.
All at once, the sky lit up with a thousand lights – way more than the adequate lights that normally light this track at night. I tried to stop bike but no matter how hard I applied the brakes my bicycle continued to whirl me around the track. I was obviously out of control. Then the lights started descending further, closer and closer to the surface of the velodrome. I could see multicolored lights, spiraling lights, laser-type lights, flashing lights… Then I felt the heat of a gigantic spotlight searing its intensity right through to my soul. I felt my bicycle kick into another gear and increase its speed. The track was a blur beneath me. The spotlight was tracking my every move. As the speedometer on my bicycle was reading 120, I thought to myself, “Is this some kind of dream? A nightmare?” Then I felt my tires lift from the surface of the track. Rising above the track, I continued circling; I continued to pedal; I continued to feel the heat of the light; I started to wonder if Bill really wrote all those love letters to Monica. (Obviously, nothing was making much sense at that moment!)
Several hundred feet above the Alkek Velodrome, my bicycle was spinning me in a circle with a diameter of approximately six feet. Focusing on my speedometer, it appeared to be showing the number 375. I wasn’t sure if that was my speed or my cadence. I really could have cared less at that point in time. Finally my bike started slowing down and then came to a stop. I looked toward the light and saw a form. A human form. A human form with a huge head (or maybe it was a helmet). I passed out.
When I awoke, I was strapped to a table. My head was positioned in a remote-controlled device that forced me to look at a wall of videos across the room. In one of the screens I saw my bicycle. It was being dissected by a team of aliens. Another monitor showed aliens beaming into garages all over the United States and letting the air out of bicycle tires at night. Another showed aliens stealing shoes, ripping the soles off of them and actually dropping them into the batter at major energy bar factories. On one monitor I could see aliens carrying out morbid experiments with cyclists and animals - things like swapping the heads of dogs with those of the cyclists. Yet another monitor showed endless back-to-back episodes of All My Children. The bizarreness of the whole ordeal just went on and on.
There it was – right before my very eyes – all of life’s mysteries being explained to me one by one. Bicycles cables don’t stretch by themselves like we were all told they did. Yes, you really did remember to pack your cycling shoes. And there, right in front of me on one of the monitors – just as I had always expected… You know how sometimes you could swear that your pedaling has slowed – like maybe your brake shoes were rubbing or your tires were going flat or something, but when you check it out, they’re not? Well, there it was, an alien, invisible to human eyes, riding along and pressing the brake shoes together and then letting loose just before the rider glances down. That’s just not funny!
And there I was – in their master control room – hovering somewhere over the Alkek Velodrome. But why me? Why was I allowed to see all of this? Learn all of their secrets? Witness all of those things and still be apparently unharmed? As I pondered these things, I felt a presence enter the room. I tried to turn my eyes to see who or what had joined me, but the restraints held my head firmly. I listened. My senses tingled with anticipation. Then – the flash of light.
When I regained consciousness, I was back on my Cruiser Six – still circling the track, albeit it a little slower. I looked toward the sky – nothing but stars. The night was still, calm, peaceful. My bike continued to circle but was slowing to a stop. My instincts told me to keep pedaling but my senses weren’t relaying to my brain that my feet were even on the pedals. I glanced down. I screamed. I screamed again. There, dangling down on either side of the big, wide, cushy saddle of my cruiser – two little tiny, furry legs (looking like they once might have belonged to that fox terrier that chases me from time to time in my neighborhood) with paws hanging about twelve inches above the pedals. My very next thought: “Dang! Where is that fox terrier? I bet it can probably catch me now!”
Enjoy the Ride?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Since I have been an avid cyclist for too many years to count, I find myself, from time to time, in a position to pass along bits of information which can be beneficial to people who are new to the cycling environment. I am by no means a cycling “expert” but I am told by many that my advice is very informative and, in some instances, when recited in court, has proven to have helped people avoid being convicted of criminal charges by reason of insanity. My “Don’t Ride Your Bike While Hooked to an IV Bottle” defense, to date, has been used a total of 27 times by pedestrians who were tripped or strangled while walking down the street.
But space will not allow me to carry on about all of my courtroom victories. There are new issues to cover, and none more serious that the one I’m going to be discussing in this article: Bike Riding While Carrying Sharp, Pointy Objects.
When riding your bike in a double pace line and carrying a pair of scissors in your hand, DO NOT USE THE NORMAL HAND POSITIONS WHEN SIGNALING FOR TURNS! Doing this could prove quite harmful to the rider next to you (depending, of course, on which way you are turning and on which side the rider is – but why take the chance that your brain is going to figure all of that out in mere split seconds?) This rule also applies even if you are carrying that little kiddy-type, rounded end, plastic scissors. If you are accustomed to riding while carrying scissors but do not know what a double pace line looks like, then see to it that you ride completely by yourself until you have gained a little more cycling experience in group riding. In fact, once other cyclists see that you are riding while carrying a pair of scissors in your hand, you should expect to hear helpful, instructional comments such as, “Get the heck away from our group you total idiot!” The same consideration should be given if you find that you frequently ride your bike and carry such things as a fork, a garden spade, a letter opener, a metal spatula (most cyclists will be somewhat forgiving if you are carrying the easily bendable, plastic spatula), a fire place poker, a knife, a rope, a candle holder, a revolver, a lead pipe, or an ax. (What am I saying? Who would be stupid enough to carry an ax while they are riding a bike?”)
While on the subject of sharp objects, let me also say: be extremely careful when riding your bike in your bedroom if you are holding a sharp object (such as the pair of scissors mentioned above) – especially if you are riding your bike on the bed and jumping up and down at the same time. (Many track cyclists practice this, I’m told.) This can be very dangerous! If you were to lose your balance or accidentally come unclipped from your pedal, you most probably would POKE BOTH OF YOUR EYES OUT!
To quote my idol, Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” – Last year in Duluth, Minnesota, two teenage boys were riding their mountain bikes while jumping up and down on a trampoline. When dinner was ready, instead of calling them into the house, their mother brought their dinner out to them while they were still riding their bikes on the trampoline. Usually this would have been no problem for the boys to ride, jump, and eat all at the same time. Unfortunately, this time their mother had fixed steak fingers, carrot sticks, and asparagus spears for dinner and, after a couple of attempts of trying to eat this dangerous food, sure enough, you guessed it – THEY BOTH POKED OUT THEIR EYES!
Well, okay – maybe I did make part of that up. Actually they had sloppy Joes, mashed potatoes, and boiled okra and they just ended up making a big mess. But still – food got all in their chains and derailleurs; all over the brake calipers – it was a horrible sight. They both wished that they would have had their eyes poked out instead!
Enjoy the ride!
(Note: If you have any cycling questions or an issue that you would like to discuss with Bertha Ashtabula, you can email her at Please be prepared to take any or all of her responses with a grain – or two – of salt. More On Cycling would also like to take this opportunity to stress SAFE cycling and does not recommend any sport which involves riding a bicycle while carrying a pair of scissors, regardless of whether they are the sharp, pointy kind or not.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I’ve noticed a multitude of new cyclists on the roads lately. And since I’m still receiving hundreds of letters and emails each week from people who found my Tips for Beginning Bicyclists so useful, what choice do I have but to submit a sequel? Don’t bother to answer that question out loud.
Tips for Beginning Bicyclists – Part 2
1)      Don’t try to save money by wrapping your handlebars with electrical tape. Yes, you can walk into any home improvement store and buy half a dozen rolls of this stuff in just as many colors for a fraction of the cost that a bike shop charges for real handlebar tape. So, “Why not?” you may ask. Well just let me relay this little story to you:

Back before I liked to spend half of my pay checks at the local bike shops, I tried this ingenious cost-savings idea. It was a mid-August afternoon and I had just finished wrapping my handlebars with your basic black electrical tape. It looked pretty groovy! I took off down the highway for a leisurely ride. As you probably guessed by now, the heat of that August sun caused the tape to get soft and ooze goop out from around the edges. Yep, that’s right! The first time I went to reach for my brakes – sure enough – my hands were glued tightly to the bars near the stem. Traffic had gotten thick and I was coming up fast on a slow-moving 40-foot semi. Using my exceptional thinking and quick reflexes, I decided my only course of action was to try and swerve under the semi and ride under the trailer. Hopefully the draft might slow me down or possibly just riding in the shade under the trailer could cool down my handlebar and allow me to free my hands. So, with lightening quick action, I turned to pull along side of the trailer then swerved underneath. This brings me to tip number…

2)      When attempting to ride under a moving semi trailer, check first to make sure that it’s not about to come to an abrupt stop. This was a bit of a painful experience for me. Fortunately I was wearing the proper clothing which included an old fashioned leather cycling helmet so that the ambulance drivers didn’t have to go looking far for the pieces of my brain. Cycling gloves – which have the finger tips cut off of them. But once you pull a stunt like this and completely grind all of your fingers down to the second knuckle, you’ll find that these short-fingered gloves are all your really need now for the rest of your life. Also, I was wearing cycling shorts – which brings us to tip number…

3)      Never wear metallic silver Lycra cycling shorts. Unless you want to hear ambulance drivers say things like, “Gee, what a geek!” I don’t know if we oughta even put this clown in our ambulance!”
Enjoy the ride!


It is with great pleasure that I return to Texas to enjoy the autumn rides. I have heard a varied assortment of rumors as to my whereabouts the last couple of months – the most common one being that I had been brutally mutilated while riding my bicycle as it went through the automatic car wash. I wish it had been something so simple.
Mid-August found me sitting at an outdoor café in my old hometown of Bodega Bay, California. I had cycled up the coast from San Francisco with some of my friends and we were enjoying an asparagus salad when all of the sudden… SWOOOOP! A flock of seagulls came down and carried my friend Grace away. I could not believe what I had just seen. My other two friends, Janet and Eva, had ducked under one of the tables. My first thought was not of me but of my bicycle. I glanced across the sidewalk and there it was – my beautiful Schwinn Cruiser Six – covered with birds! Not seagulls, but some sort of black birds with long beaks – and they were pulling the streamers from my handlebars and eating the stuffing from my saddle.
My adrenalin level rose within me like a bursting thermometer. I darted across the sidewalk with my arms flapping wildly. The birds scattered - their shrieks joining in with the screams of the panicked patrons of the café. I grabbed for my bike. My bike that was once a glistening, shiny black beauty now wretchedly spotted white by these mad feathered creatures. I lifted it above my head (good thing I did that advanced weight saving procedure on it only a few weeks earlier!) and went running across the street towards possible safety.
Half way across the street I heard a different sound. Mechanical.  An engine maybe.  Sort of like… then I was engulfed in a shadow. The noise grew louder. I spun around toward the noise and in that split second before contact was made, my brain registered… A CROP DUSTER! A CROP DUSTER COMING STRAIGHT THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF TOWN AND STRAIGHT TOWARDS ME!!  Then – WHAAAPP! Its landing gear latched onto my Cruiser Six, still firmly in my grasp above my head, and we headed off into the wide blue yonder.
We had been flying for nearly an hour before I was finally able to get my bike unhooked from the landing gear. At the exact moment that I got it detached, another one of those split-second, brain-registering thoughts happened my way – I’M FIVE THOUSAND FEET IN THE AIR!
Free falling through the sky, I managed to pull myself up onto the seat of my bike. If only those birds hadn’t have chewed off my streamers I might have been able to get a little more drag to slow me down for my re-entry to civilization. I clutched the handlebars tightly and prayed that Schwinn hadn’t cut any corners on building these frames as strong as they used to. For my first off-road experience, this was gonna be a mother of a landing!
As I was nearing the buildings below, I began to make out some human forms. It appeared that two men were running and jumping from one rooftop to another. I veered to the right to get a better look. Yes. One man was chasing another one. He had a gun. He was a cop. That’s it – wait. It wasn’t a cop – it was Jimmy Stewart! What luck!  Jimmy Stewart right there just a few feet in front of me - WHAAAACK! The front wheel of my bike knocked the crud out of Jimmy Stewart and he went tumbling down the roof and over the edge – just managing to grab the gutter at the last moment and dangle seven stories above the street below before the whole scene started to freak out like some cameraman was playing with the zoom lens and depth of field all at the same time. (I guess you’d have to be there.) I, on the other hand, went crashing through a skylight and landed on a couch with some psychiatrist who looked like Ingrid Bergman taking notes and asking me questions about my childhood (that 20” Spitfire that I got for my 5th birthday – the training wheels – watch out for that tree – THE TREE!!!) when all of the sudden Gregory Peck walked in and he had a gun. Then the psychiatrist’s office turned into a ski resort embedded deep within some Salvador Dali painting and Bruce Dern was dressed in a sailor uniform and I could have sworn I saw Perry Mason.  But whatever - I grabbed my bike and I went running down the hall - running right past some guy resembling Leo G. Carroll. This was like some kind of a dream – a weird dream – a nightmare!
Outside and safely on the street, I hailed a cab. It had started to rain. I put my bicycle in the back seat and I climbed in the front. Weird music kept playing in my head – the windshield wipers were keeping time. I fell asleep.
I must have dozed for quite a while. When I awoke, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The taxi had stopped and the driver was nowhere in sight. I rolled down the window and peered out into the darkness – the darkness lit only by the intermittent glow of a flashing neon sign – a motel sign – Twelve Rooms – Twelve Vacancies…
But that’s a different story.
Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I recently purchased a six-speed Schwinn Cruiser from my favorite local bicycle shop and I must admit, I thoroughly am enjoying the advancements made in cycling since the time my other bikes were manufactured – sometime between Wars I and II. However, the bike is a bit on the heavy side - weighing in at about 46 pounds. And, since my cycling performance is improving at an astounding speed (Remember, I did participate in the bike ride out in Hempstead, Texas where I managed to do the entire 25-mile route all in one day! And I’m sure I would have completed the 30-mile course on that ride in Katy , Texas in one day – if I hadn’t have been still experimenting with that whole “sport drink in the bicycle tires” thing – but that’s a different story.) – so…  where were we? Oh yeah – heavy bike. This new bike is a tank and I want to go faster. The obvious solution: modify this six-speed behemoth to lighten it up a little.
Now, many people have commented about the streamers on my handlebars – but they don’t weigh much of anything so I just left those alone and headed straight to lightening up that frame. It seemed to me that there was too much steel holding the back wheel on so I took a hacksaw and removed the lower chain stays. While I was at it, I removed the top tube completely. The latter, in effect, made it look like a traditional girl’s frame bicycle and seeing how that is unpopular I decided to put a new lighter top tube back in. Have you ever “thumped” a carbon frame bicycle? Doesn’t it make pretty much the same sound as if you’d thumped one of those cardboard tubes that are in the middle of a roll of Christmas wrapping paper? Well, yes – it does! So that’s what I put back in place. After a little shaping with some scissors and a piece or two of duct tape – who’d ever know? As for the rest of the frame, I simply drilled a couple of hundred 9/16” diameter holes all over the place. I had started out drilling ¼” holes but broke the drill bit lightening up the steel crank arms.
Not knowing what I could actually get away with on the rims, I decided that I could save weight by just removing some of the spokes. The trick here is to not take a bunch out all on one side like I did at first but rather to space them out throughout the entire wheel. I removed two spokes, skipped one, removed two, skipped one, etc. – all around the rim. I’ve noticed a lot of the “high end” bikes have wheels like this – nowhere near the 36 spokes that the cruiser came from the factory with.
The one thing I really like about my bike is the big ol’ cushy saddle nearly as wide as a tractor seat. I sure didn’t want to sacrifice that comfort for the sake of saving weight – so I just spray-painted it a lighter color.  After repainting my modified frame, I was ready to hit the scales again. The new official weight: a sleek 38 pounds. I was proud!
Now, at this point, I must warn all of you loyal readers out there that these are procedures which shouldn’t be performed by amateurs. I’ve been an avid cyclist for over 45 years now and have somewhat fine-tuned my mechanical ability. I’m currently in production on a video dealing more in-depth with the technical stuff highlighted in this article and hopefully it will be on the market in the near future. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments on how you can get the most out of your bike, be sure and drop me a line. If you find that you’re somewhat squeamish about drilling holes in your bike frame, bring it on by my place and I’ll see what I can do for you!
Enjoy the ride!


From time to time, cyclists from all over the world write in to tap my vast knowledge of cycling and related (and often, not-so-related) topics. While I cannot guarantee that I will be able to answer all of the questions, I will definitely try to take a healthy stab at it.

Here’s our latest round of questions:

Dear Bertha – Was that really you in the 1968 issue of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue? A.K – Ft Worth, Texas

Dear A.K. – Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Dear Bertha – What really happened to you last year as you cycled from Los Angeles, California to Honolulu, Hawaii? B.C. – Washington D.C.

Dear B.C. in D.C. – As you can imagine, I had packed quite a bit of gear and food for that trip because I noticed that there were not a lot of towns to stop at along the route. Anyway, I had to pretty much cancel my trip just a few miles west of Los Angeles because of… well, let’s just say that one of the valuable lessons I learned from that trip has to do with why some areas of the maps are colored blue.

Dear Bertha – What do they do with all of the fingertips that they cut off of regular gloves when making them into cycling gloves? A.H. – Dallas, Texas

Dear A.H. – That’s a good question… but I don’t know the answer.

So there you have it loyal readers – just a small sampling of the hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails I receive each month. If any of you have any perplexing cycling questions that you need to have cleared up, don’t hesitate to drop me a line – any time – day or night.

Once again, this is Bertha Ashtabula saying, “Enjoy the ride!”