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
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
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
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.)