Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Mprevious article about Christmas gift-giving ideas had barely gone to press before the emails started pouring in. Within only a few days, my mailbox had reached maximum capacity. It seems that everyone wanted to know more information about the handlebar ashtray. I’m sure the manufacturers of the handlebar ashtray had no idea that the demand for their product would far outweigh their production capabilities. It’s always heartwarming to see an American success story such as this.

But, as with many new inventions, all is not so perfect in the world of the bicycle handlebar ashtray. One such imperfection is highlighted in the following letter that I received from avid cyclist and long-time More On Cycling follower, A.K. from Fort Worth, Texas.

Dear Bertha,
My wife and I ride a tandem – so naturally, when we read your article about the handlebar ashtray we immediately ordered two of them. We were quite proud as we were the first in our cycling club to show up at a Saturday ride with them installed on our bike. However, I feel that I must tell you about one minor flaw that we discovered with this product – it is not really all that great for the Stoker on a tandem. Well, let me rephrase that just a tad: It is not really all that great for the Captain on a tandem when the Stoker has one of these handlebar ashtrays installed on the rear set of handlebars. Since the stem of the Stoker’s handlebars is located primarily below the Captain’s saddle, it is a little bit of an awkward maneuver for the Stoker to get the cigarette butt directly into the ashtray. So far, my wife has ruined four pair of my cycling shorts by, shall we say, jabbing her butt into my butt! This is really a fantastic new product but we believe that the manufacturers may need to give a little more thought to all of those tandem Stokers out there – not to mention the safety of the tandem Captains.
A.K. from Fort Worth, Texas (Oh yeah, sorry. You already mentioned that I was from Ft Worth, didn’t you?)

Dear A.K.
Within moments of reading your letter, I felt obligated to contact the manufacturers of the handlebar ashtray and relay your painful experience. They immediately promised that they would put their team of engineers on the task of solving this (their words, not mine) “tremendous oversight” for all the tandem riders in the world. Within a week, we here at More On Cycling received the following communication from them:

Dear More On Cycling,
Thank you and your loyal followers for bringing this “tremendous oversight” for all the tandem riders in the world to our attention. For the last seven days, our team of engineers has worked around the clock to develop a solution to this “tremendous oversight.” We are now pleased to announce our new product that will be on the market within the next couple of weeks – the revolutionary:

Tandem Bicycle Stoker Spittoon!

Naturally we had to “think outside the box” to arrive at this solution and we’re hoping that it won’t impose too much of an inconvenience to all of those tandem riders out there. As you see, our solution will require only a slight modification to the nicotine habits of the tandem Stoker in that they will need to switch to one of the smokeless alternatives offered by the tobacco industry. Thank you once again for all of your support and for always helping us to bring our new products to the cycling masses.
Yours truly,
(Name of manufacturer withheld pending possible lawsuits)

Well there you have it loyal readers - technology marches on. This is a shining example of how one good idea spawns another good idea that will more than likely spawn another good idea. Hmmm – only time will tell!  
Be sure to keep those cards and letters coming in and, as always – be sure to keep finding time to…
Enjoy the Ride!

(Bertha Ashtabula and More On Cycling would like to remind everyone that all kinds of tobacco products are not good for you – unless just maybe you happen to be the owner of a tobacco plantation.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” And, it started beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our local department stores a couple of weeks before Columbus Day!  Can you believe that? Of course, the rage this year is LED lights. I noticed that there are even places that will take your old fashioned lights in on trade. In fact, I think I even saw a few “Rent to Own” LED light stores popping up here and there. In my neck of the woods, I had neighbors putting up their Christmas tree the day before Halloween. Good grief – I just got all my boxes of Christmas decorations put back up in the attic on Labor Day weekend!

But we’re not here to talk about Christmas trees, or decorations or Christmas lights – LED or otherwise. This a cycling article. We’re here to talk about cycling and, as always at this time of year, what to give your cyclist significant other. Yes, it’s time to dip into the old mailbag once again and review a sampling of the thousands of letters and emails that pour in throughout the year by perplexed spouses, partners, family members, etc. – all wanting to know what unique gift they can find to provide their cycling other-half with the best Christmas ever.  So, without further ado…

Dear Bertha
I know everyone always says this to you, but my husband is a cycling nut and he has absolutely everything that one can possibly imagine for his bicycle and more cycling apparel than even fits in our closet.  I don’t even know why I’m writing to you about this – I’ve pretty much just made up my mind that I’m going to go buy him a gold watch or a diamond ring this year. But, I thought maybe you just might have an idea of a unique cycling gift that I haven’t heard of yet.  
Hunting for Ideas in St Albans, West Virginia

Dear Hunting –
Believe me, no cyclist wants gold watches or diamond rings. Whether they are a man or woman, those kinds of frivolous baubles just don’t mean a thing to a die-hard cyclist. Trust me on this. I notice that you live in West Virginia – near Charleston. There’s probably a lot of tobacco farms in your area so there’s a good chance that your husband smokes (whether he tells you he does or not). The cycling accessory that is all the rage this year is the handlebar mounted ash tray. It comes in three basic colors: blue, red, and green. They are also available with the logo of your favorite beer emblazoned on each side.  Believe me, in this day and age when more and more cyclists are becoming self-conscious about just tossing their cigarette butts to the side of the road as they ride, these handlebar ashtrays are a true sign of a cyclist who really cares. I don’t think you can go wrong with this gift.

Dear Bertha
I know everyone always writes in and tells you that their girlfriend is a cycling nut and that she has everything imaginable in the way of cycling stuff. I was one of those people last year. I wrote in to you and told you that I was thinking about just getting her a vacuum cleaner because I couldn’t think of any cycling gift to give her. I don’t remember exactly what lame cycling gift you suggested, but I pretty much ignored you and got her the vacuum cleaner instead.  Well, let me tell you, spending the first three months of the year in the hospital was no picnic for me. As you predicted, the first chance she got, she used the vacuum cleaner to try and suck my brains out through my ear after I had fallen asleep on the couch while watching the football game.  This year, I promise I will pay attention to your suggestions.
Learned My Lesson in East Leroy, Michigan

Dear Lesson Learned –
You just can’t believe how it does my heart good to read letters like this. So many men think they know what is best when it comes to giving their wives and girlfriends meaningful gifts. I’m truly sorry that you ignored my suggestions last year. But hey – it’s a new year. Trust me. This year, I suggest that you give your girlfriend a new garbage disposal.

Dear Bertha
I know everyone always says this to you, but my husband is a cycling nut and there is absolutely not one thing that he doesn’t have – and at least two of, at that. I even got him the new handlebar ashtray for his birthday last August! Please, please, please – I’ve looked at every cycling catalogue and on every cycling website and there is nothing that he doesn’t already have.  I desperately need to find him the most unique cycling gift.
At Wits End in Eddyville, Oregon

Dear Witless –
You are so in luck! I just got an email today from this company that will make – are you ready for this? – a life-sized statue of your cycling nut loved one. Can you believe that? What greater honor can you give your husband? Imagine it – right there in your living room, or den, or on the back patio, or wherever – your husband and his bicycle, immortalized in resin and in full color wearing his favorite cycling kit. (Black and White versions are also available but for some silly reason, they are about 5% higher in price.) Let me tell you about the beauty of how this works. They put your husband and his bicycle in this huge vat about three feet wide, seven feet long and seven feet high. Then, when he is in his favorite cycling position, they insert a tube into each of his nostrils and attach them to an oxygen machine. Next, they fill the vat to the brim with some gooey, yellow substance. The gooey substance turns white as it hardens to make the mold for the final sculpture. Now, none of this is really all that important. What is important is that it takes about 48 hours for this stuff to harden to the point that they can break your husband out of the mold. This is more than enough time for you to go and do whatever the heck you please! Hey, what he doesn’t know what hurt him, right? Plus, this should more than make up for the fact that he bought you a vacuum cleaner for Christmas last year!

Well my cycling friends, surely by now this wraps up our gift-giving ideas for this holiday season.

Enjoy the ride!

Monday, December 12, 2011


So once again, here we are in December. December – from the Latin word decem – meaning the month of the ten-speed. Back during the Roman calendar, when the bicycle was first invented, the fifth month was called Quintilis, from the Latin word quinque (meaning five) for that is the month that King Romulus invented the five-speed bicycle.
It was then that cycling boomed across Italy and by the time they were in the midst of the tenth month, December, Campagnolo had invented the 10-speed derailleur. They then basically took the next 61 days off for winter, during which they did absolutely no riding because those days were not actually assigned to any month and thus they were unable to make any entries into their cycling logbooks.
By the time 713 BC rolled around, King Numa Pompilius really felt the desire to have the kingdom out cycling during the winter time and had January and February added to the calendar to account for those unnamed 61 days. Unfortunately, by the time he was able to get this adjustment made to the calendar, the horse had been invented and most all of the people in the kingdom had taken advantage of the “cash for clunker” offers and had traded in their bikes for horses.
As a result, the bicycle virtually disappeared off the face of the earth for roughly the next 2,550 years and basically no one got to...
Enjoy the ride!

Friday, December 2, 2011


Here we are once again with the holiday season zooming in on us at the speed of light. Likewise, here we are once again faced with having to find that perfect gift for that special cyclist in our life. How often have we agonized at trying to figure out what our cycling-significant other would like or possibly even need in the way of a Christmas present? How many times have we leafed through the pages of the cycling mail order catalogues or wandered aimlessly up and down the aisles of the bicycle shops in search of that one item that shows our cycling companion that we really and truly care for them and their chosen passion? How many of their friends have we bugged to no end about what kind of gift to buy only to find out that they hadn’t bothered to pay any more attention during the last year than we had? For all of you who are finding yourselves in this exact same predicament, well, this is your lucky day (or night, depending on when you are reading this article). Just in the St. Nick of time, it’s:

Bertha’s Answers to Your Cycling Gift-Giving Dilemmas.

Yes, fortunately for all my loyal readers who are now in need of a cycling-type gift for the upcoming holiday season, I have been accumulating letters over the last few months from people all over the country who, unlike a lot of you, were smart enough to not wait until the last moment to realize that they needed help with their cycling-related shopping. Hopefully some of their letters will guide you towards making thoughtful choices and help you to get into a cycling-educated, gift-giving mood. Let’s head directly to that ol’ mailbag right now:

Dear Bertha,
Several years ago in one of your More On Cycling articles, you suggested that in order to save money, one could simply wrap their handlebars with plastic electrical tape rather than go to a bicycle shop and buy some authentic handlebar tape. Well, I took your advice and saved a whopping eleven dollars and thirty-eight cents. However, after a couple of weeks of riding in the July heat, the tape got really sticky and my hands became pretty much glued to the handlebars. At the time, I was descending a fairly steep hill near the lake and wasn’t able to reach for my brake levers when I came to the sharp turn in the road near the water’s edge. Unable to neither steer quickly enough nor stop my bike, I went off the side of the road and plunged into the lake. Fortunately for me, there were some fishermen close by and they were able to haul me and my bike out of the water. Needless to say, I think your suggestion about using electrical tape was pretty stupid and I wanted to know what you have to say for yourself.

Dear Danny – It’s obvious that your problem would have been non-existent if you had been riding a bicycle with coaster brakes.  Readers – please – let’s try to keep our letters on the subject of Christmas gift-giving dilemmas for the cyclist in your life.

Dear Bertha,
Several years ago, I used to read your More On Cycling column in my local bike club newsletter as well as a few other major publications. I must admit, when I saw recently that you requested cycling gift-giving ideas or questions, I wondered what kind of moron would actually write in to you. Oh wait – please disregard this letter.
Name withheld – The Woodlands, Texas

Dear Anonymous – Point well taken!

Dear Bertha,
I remember quite a while back in one of your articles you mentioned that one of the best ways to clean your bicycle was to simply ride it through an automatic carwash. You may remember that I wrote to you about this once before. That time I was merely complaining about all the broken bones and lacerations I suffered from being beaten up by the brushes and rollers from one end to the other of the carwash. So, as time has proven, the body has healed – but unfortunately the bicycle has turned into a heap of twisted framing and rusted components. Needless to say, I think your suggestion about riding through an automatic carwash was pretty stupid and I want to know what you have to say for yourself.

Dear Imelda,
It’s becoming pretty obvious that I’m never going to be able to live down that slightly questionable advice – but, at least we can twist this letter around so that it is a little more to the topic at hand. Yours is not the only bike that has been rendered useless by the harshness of the carwash brushes and cleansing agents involved. Like many before you who have suffered the same unfortunate tragedy, it is simply time to go visit your local bike shop and purchase a replacement bicycle. Or, better yet, make sure your significant other knows you need a new bike for Christmas!

Dear Bertha,
My wife is a cycling nut! She started cycling because I was into cycling when we got married. Now she is just totally into it. She has a titanium bike and she has all the latest specifically-made-for-a-woman cycling stuff. She has all the coolest gear, gadgets and gizmos one could ever need or want for the sport of cycling. She has every book ever written about cycling and has been on every great cycling ride and tour that has ever been organized in modern times. I tell you, I don’t think that there is anything she could possibly need in the way of a cycling-specific Christmas gift. Do you think maybe I should just buy her a vacuum cleaner instead?

My Dear, Dear Jerry,
You truly need to fully understand the term that even you, yourself, used in your letter – cycling nut. A true cycling nut does not have to be satisfied with only one of everything. Go ahead – buy her another titanium bicycle. I swear, if you buy her a vacuum cleaner, I hope she shoves it in your ear and sucks out what little brains you have left!

That’s about all we have time for now cycling-readers. Hope that you and your families have a safe and happy holiday and that you be sure and save a little time to…

Enjoy the ride!

(Let us take this opportunity to once again remind everyone that More On Cycling does not recommend riding your bicycle through an automatic carwash, using plastic electrical tape instead of actual handlebar tape, or using a normal, household vacuum cleaner to try and remove any portion of a human brain via the ear canal – everyone knows that's what a Shop Vac is for!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Due to an overwhelming demand (and along with a little prompting from my sister, Esther) it’s time for an informative round of: Ask Bertha – the forum where everything that you ever wanted to know about cycling gets answered . . . and leaves you pretty much feeling like you’re sorry that you asked. Let’s not waste a single moment as we dive right into our first question . . .

Dear Bertha
I am planning a trip from Houston to Dallas. Is it okay for me to ride my bicycle on I-45?
Bob – Hitchcock, Texas

Dear Bob –
There is no problem at all if you choose to ride on I-45 – as long as you can maintain the minimum 45 mph speed limit. There is one thing that you should keep in mind though while riding through Houston: In case you break down on the freeway, can you make all the necessary repairs in less than six minutes? If the answer to that question is “no,” then be prepared to fork over $75 to $100 to have your bike towed off the shoulder by one of the six tow trucks that will be surrounding you instantly, even before you’ve had a chance to take your spare tube out of your saddle bag.

Dear Bertha
I am planning on riding the MS-150 this year and I am wondering what kind of bike I should buy. What do you recommend?
Norman – Fred, Texas

Norman –
Those who know me know that there is only one kind of bike I recommend – a sturdy, dependable cruiser. My motto is: Anything less than 60 pounds is probably 40 pounds too light. Sure, you can go out and spend two or three thousand dollars on some carbon fiber lightweight bicycle with ultra-modern componentry which will probably allow you to pretty much forego any kind of formal MS-150 training since probably the slightest wind will just push you all the way to Austin – (well, or Beaumont, depending on which direction it is blowing). But anyway, what sense of accomplishment is there in that? I ride a Schwinn 6-speed cruiser and I set out first thing on Saturday morning at Tulley Stadium in west Houston with the best of them. Approximately three weeks later, when I arrive in Austin, I feel that I’ve really proven something and made a difference. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let me know if you want to tag along.

Dear Bertha
Hi. You may remember me from a few years ago when I wrote in and asked about ways to keep my bike clean. You suggested that I go to the automatic carwash and go through the lane on the far right – you know, the one where you just stay with your vehicle as it goes through the wash. Well first, I’d like to apologize for taking so long to write back to you regarding this matter – I’ve only just recently come out of the coma that resulted due to following your suggestion those many years ago. This whole “coma” incident has sort of led me to believe that your idea here might possibly not have been a good one. I think that the brushes may be just a little too rough on the bicycle (not to mention the bicycle rider). Do you have an alternative solution?
Marty – Leck Kill, Pennsylvania

Marty –
Let me start off by saying how truly sorry I am for those last few years. If it is any consolation, I did go and visit you in the hospital on several occasions during that time – as well as with nearly fifty other people who followed that somewhat questionable advice back then. My only real comfort during this whole ordeal has been how glad I am that I don’t write for any widely distributed publications.

But enough about that – let’s get to the real heart of the problem here – how to get that bike clean. Lord knows it is probably covered with years of dust now and needs a really good cleansing! Actually, I wasn’t too far off those many years ago – I just didn’t have a real concept of how strong those brushes were. It became obviously clear to me that the bicycle (and/or rider) needed to be anchored down a little more securely so as to not get tossed around so violently throughout the length of the washing experience. I found that even my 60-pound cruiser, when weighted down with a slightly ignorant volunteer who I conned persuaded to help me run some tests, didn’t fare too well either. Finally, it hit me like a ton of bricks (or in this case, like a 60-pound bicycle followed by a slightly ignorant volunteer) – put the bike on the bike rack on the back of the car and just drive the car through the carwash. How simple is that? Unfortunately my slightly ignorant volunteer drives a convertible and the top is broken in the down position so once again, he didn’t fare too well during the test run – but you get the idea.

Dear Bertha
Where did the first bicycle come from?
Ernie – Grassy Butte, North Dakota

Ernie – Ernie, Ernie, Ernie –
This is really a stupid question and no one really cares.

Dear Bertha –
You wrote several years ago about how it’s not really a good idea to replace the air in your tires with your favorite sports drink. The main reason for this being a bad idea, according to you, was that it was too difficult to get your lips on the valve stem between the spokes when you wanted to take a drink. Well, that was then and this is now! There are countless numbers of wheel manufacturers offering rims with 20, 18, or as few as 10 spokes – all of them easily allowing ample room for one to get a good grip on the valve stem with their lips and suck their sports drink of choice out of their tires when thirsty. This would save weight by allowing a rider to do away with water bottles, bottle cages, backpack hydration systems, etc. Don’t you think that in light of this current technology, you could retract your previous statement and now endorse filling your tires with sport drink as a good idea?
Craig – Lily Pons, Maryland

Dear Craig –
It’s so good to know that you are able to write letters while still in a coma.

Dear Bertha
On a recent club ride, the lead rider went down and took out the six riders directly behind him. The remaining riders started calling out several different phrases to the rest of the pack – among them: a) “Riders down!”; b) “Cyclists down!”; c)”Crash ahead!”; and d) “Seven up!” In order to avoid confusion should something like this happen again, which of these is the correct phrase to use?
Mary – Squirrel Valley, California

Dear Mary –
I’ve got to hand it to you, you almost got me with that one – that is, until I realized that it was a trick question. At first glance, the obvious choice seems to be d) – Seven up. However, right off the bat, one will notice that seven aren’t up – they are down. Of course, “Seven down” just doesn’t sound as cool as “Seven up” so that’s why no one even bothered to call that one out. In the old days, choice a) – Riders down – would have been more correct. But in these modern “it’s-all-about-me” times, it has become more socially acceptable (or vainly acceptable, or arrogantly acceptable, or something) for each rider to actually call out their own name followed by the word “down” as they are going down. Likewise, as they untangle and commence standing up, they will loudly announce their own name again, followed by the word “up.” Cycling packs of the new millennium have found this procedure to be a lot more effective as it takes a lot of pressure off of the riders (who managed to stay upright on their bikes) from having to figure out the correct phrase to start calling out.

Dear Bertha
When do you know it’s the proper time to take the training wheels off of your bike?
Andrew – Arkabutla, Mississippi

Andrew –
Just go for it! Someday, in the distant future, if you find yourself awakening from a coma that was a result of that first training-wheeless ride, write me again! For now…

Enjoy the ride!

(Note: More On Cycling does not recommend that anyone ride their bicycle on I-45 or through a carwash, or drink sports drink out of their tires, or fall down in a pack, or write letters to Bertha Ashtabula, or even take the training wheels off of their bikes – while in a coma.)