Reinventing the wheel
I am an inventor, with many patents pending. Where I see a need, I try to fill it. This is my mission in life.

I have designed a new apparatus which is in the prototype stage. It is most revolutionary. There are impracticalities, but I am confident I will iron them out. There have been many sleepless nights...

This idea occurred to me in the oddest way, as do all of my inspirations. (Need the reader be reminded that Leo Szilard, the true inventor of the atom bomb, captured his muse whilst waiting for a light to change, crossing a street in London?) No, I did not see a lightbulb, this is a simple layman's device to explain a 'flash of insight'.

One day I was watching a young man ride his bicycle, a common occurrence near where I live. His girlfriend, or wife -- I do not know the exact details of their relationship, merely hazard a guess for posterity's sake -- was also riding a bicycle. She was somewhat slower than him, as is the nature of such things.

Forgive me if I embellish, I can be a foolish romantic at times, but the woman seemed to be gazing at the back of her companion's head with a mixture of affection and weariness.

This sight galvanised me. How is it that we can put a man on the moon, I thought angrily, but remain powerless to unite young lovers?

My wife can attest to my tossing and turning that night, although she sleeps in the other room with the cats. The next morning I cleared my desk and my mind of distractions and set to work.

My failures are too plentiful to recount here, although it would perhaps make an amusing article one day. Suffice it to say, after much trial and error I concluded that the 'double-decker' approach favoured for the old-style bus wasn't going to work. The technical difficulties were too great. After much anguish I placed the riders, one after the other.

How difficult it is at times to arrive at the obvious conclusion!

Details are the bane of the inventor, but also the lifeblood. I cannot reveal here the complete design of my invention, which I call a 'two-person bicycle'. (Perhaps one of your kind readers can suggest a 'snazzier' name? I would be indebted.) Indeed, I am taking no small chance by writing this letter to you. So many have stolen my ideas in the past... But I feel confident that my head-start will propel me to certain success, though it is not fame and glory I desire, merely a humble footnote in history, which reads: 'He cared.'

Albert Simpson

Thanks for your letter, and the accompanying photograph of your prototype, which as per your request we are not printing 'due to security reasons'. We hope you won't be offended by the general consensus in the office that it looks remarkably like a tandem. Unfortunately, in this very issue of CT you will be dismayed to find competitor's versions of your invention already being advertised for sale. As an intellectual, at least you can take comfort in historical precedent.

Beware bicycles
Yesterday I fell off my bike, a brand-new model I might add. It happened the first time I needed to stop. I simply squeezed the brake levers, as per the instructions in the manual, and the bicycle came to an abrupt halt, which surprised me so much that I lost my balance.

This is a very dangerous design feature. I am surprised it has not been on 'Watchdog', but then they waste their time on 4WD all-terrain vehicles and package holidays.

Please warn your readers. I have written to every other cycling magazine but they would not listen; they are fools.

Reginald Femfield

Your unfortunate experience is not a novel one, though your response certainly is. We would suggest that you join a bicycling support group so that you may have access to the expertise of fellow cyclists.

Size DOES matter
During the war I kept a rolled-up copy of Cycling Today in my pocket. It stopped a bullet, and this was when your fine publication was only a 16-pager, printed on cheap pulp stock because of the shortages! Since that time, I have been forever grateful, especially as the magazine continues to expand. If I was called to do my duty today, I'd feel much safer with CT in my pocket than with some other magazines I could mention.

Remember: every page helps.

PS. I have twelve grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, thanks to CT. At my insistence they all subscribe. It's our way of saying Thanks.

Fenster Corduroy

Your letter moved us.

Speed II: cruise control
Recently I was clocked at 43mph on my bike while running an errand in town. Imagine my surprise when I was pulled over by a red-faced officer of the 'law', who proceeded to read me the riot act and finished by writing me a summons which he served with obvious relish.

My point is, all the other cyclists were also speeding. Hell, I was passed by a middle-aged guy with a potbelly who lives down the street from me! He must've cruised by doing 50. I know that 'but the other guy was doing it too' will make a weak defence, but it seems unfair to be singled out in this manner.

Janet Rottweiler

Our legal experts can offer you no solace, Janet. While we're not without sympathy, it must be said that the law's the law, and we disregard it at everyone's peril.

Been there, done that
Truly I have been blessed. I've watched the sun rise in Tierra del Fuego then set over the Aleutian Islands after a 15,000 mile cycle ride. I've shouldered my 'cross bike up the Himalayas alongside sherpas; MTB'd down the pyramids. Journeyed from Hong Kong to the Rock of Gibralter for purest charity. Ridden the Tour de France in an unofficial capacity. Traversed vast oceans of sand in Africa on a whim. Traced the songlines in the Australian Outback. Circled the Taj Mahal on a unicycle. Spelled my name in 400 mile long letters across the steppes of Russia. You name it, I've done it, sometimes twice.

I'm writing to your magazine because I need a new challenge, and some sponsorship wouldn't go unappreciated. What do you say?

Ralph Fiddle
Colwyn Bay

We hesitate to involve ourselves your next outlandish escapade, but here goes: In Britain there's a city called London, and in London there's a street called Oxford. Next holiday season, say one afternoon the week before Christmas, we want you to cycle from one end of this street to the other.
We will sponsor your endeavour but abjure all responsibility.

Close but no cigar
The Cycling Today interview with Bret Easton Ellis was as insightful a piece of journalism as I've read in years. The nuances of the man never fail to astonish me. I await with impatience his next masterpiece.

Edgar Rice Cranberry

The interview to which you refer was indeed a wonderful profile. Alas, it appeared in the February issue of Psychosis Today. We've forwarded your letter to them. All part of the service.

Ultimate lightweight
Weight is my enemy. I have .75% body fat, and shave off all of my mammalian hair. Nothing unnecessary, like gear changers (I simply knock the chain over with my foot) gets attached to my titanium bike. I belong to a group, 'Less is more', based in Milton Keynes. My question is, does your technical editor know of a substance which can be used in the construction of forks which is lighter than the current high-tech materials? I've heard tell of work being done with single-chain polymers.

Leslie Carlisle

Our sources in the world of engineering tell us that such polymers have a long way to go before they are fit to be used in bicycle construction. They suggest you obtain your dream fork from the nearest replicator.

I know that face
Imagine my shock when I turned to a random page in last month's issue and found myself confronted with a picture of my long lost cousin Donald! I haven't seen him since the lawsuit. He was wearing a helmet and facing the other way, and it looks like he's a bit heavier these days, but I'm positive it was him. Could you give me his address?

Francine Helvellyn

While we like to think of ourselves as helpful in extremis, we cannot promise to reunite you with Donald. The photograph in question is a wide-angle group shot, and the photographer regretfully didn't get everybody's name. All we can suggest is that you continue to faithfully buy CT, and if you see him again, drop us another line.

Technical difficulties
I regularly read the magazine cover to cover, and let me tell you, this is getting to be no easy feat. Don't you think the print is getting a wee bit small? Also, I've developed a twitch in one eye. It seems the abrupt transition from small type to large in your pull-quotes causes my pupils to violently dilate. My optometrist is of the opinion I've pulled an eye muscle.

Catherine Hope

The small print is due to natural ink shrinkage (just like when you buy cornflakes, you know?), and is frustratingly beyond our control. We are reliably informed by our printers that this phenomenon is, ironically, also the source of your other complaint. It's known in the trade as the 'snap-back effect', and is caused by occasional over-compensation by the sophisticated but still fallible web press on which CT is produced. Thus your unfortunate condition. Our designer is hard at work on a solution; perhaps we will succeed by the time you read this.

bike store blues
Have your readers gone into a bike store lately? The staff are so unhelpful. I ask for a bike and they say, "What kind?" They're supposed to be the experts! Then they want to know what I'll be using the bike for, which is clearly an invasion of privacy. What is this, Russia? I've gotten such a hard time at all 27 stores I've visited, it's like pulling donkey's teeth getting any help. We're supposed to have such a highly educated workforce these days. Don't believe it.

Michael Heferifer

We think you'll find that bike store personnel are usually a dedicated lot. It surprises us that you've run into so many, uh, bad apples. Be patient with them, Michael, and you should eventually find what you're looking for. Which was...?

Cycle lane pain
For some time now your magazine seems to have been running an unofficial competition for the country's shortest cycle lane. This has all been very amusing. I have a sense of humour, the same as the next person. But have you stopped to consider the pain you may be causing to a completely innocent victim such as myself?

That's right: victim.

I design cycle lanes for a living. In fact, I pioneered mixed-used cycle lanes (photo enclosed). I also support my family. My two children, little Effram and Crosby, can fill their bellies because daddy goes to work every day to create what you and countless readers seem to regard as a joke.

Obviously, you have no conception of the planning and construction of these life savers. The endless headaches. Which paint to use. I could go on. The length of the lane is really the least of our worries, can't you see? You just don't understand. I dare you to print this.

Anonymous, via email

While we cannot truly empathise with your pain, we can award you the letter of the month. Congrats, and may you find the prize as useful as we've found your cycle lanes. Everyone should walk a mile (well, at least 20 feet or so, considering the context) in your shoes. Hi to the kids.

flights of fancy
Your columnist appears to be subject to unscheduled flights of fancy. Last month I was halfway through the People's Survey before I realised it was a lark. I personally know of many similar tales. Please bring back Patrick Field, who was an oasis of rationality, stylistic excellence, and, well, pertinence.

Andrew Hubris
Outer Hebrides

We've been waiting for somebody to ask this. (Sound of knuckles cracking.) The columnist in question, in his rare appearances at the office, has told us that he feels his remit is to provide entertainment of a different order. In this, we think you might agree, he succeeds. He adds that "We can't all be useful members of society." As for your request for Patrick, we are given to understand that he was made an offer he couldn't refuse. Apocryphal gossip has it that one chilly autumn morning he was helped along in his deliberations by waking up next to a messily sheared headset.

Cycling Today, May 1999

------more letters------

I've decided to set up shop as an advice columnist, at least for the duration of this issue of CT. Fortunately I have a huge backlog of questions to draw from. Below are some of the most representative of the lot:

It's only money
Your magazine's recent review compelled me to purchase the Litespeed Tsali, subject to approval of a second mortgage on my house, but that's not the problem. The bank is insisting that whenever I go mountain biking I be accompanied by a bonded security guard. Now, I'm a reasonable man. I'm even willing to go to 5/hr, with some benefits. But the company is insisting that I buy him his own bike. Is that cheek, or what? A collateral issue: My wife has been an angel throughout the negotiations, but I sense she's finally starting to crack. What do you recommend?

William Gates
Royal Tunbridge Wells

Buy the guard his own bike, but don't feel the need to splash out on full suspension. Considering that the Tsali costs 4550, I think you've suffered enough. As for your better half, flowers never go out of fashion. Don't spend too much on them, though; wives can be sensitive about money.

Tool envy
On a recent outing to a local bike store, I stumbled upon their selection of multi-tools. I was particularly entranced by something called 'the alien', which if memory serves, is 22 tools in one. Then I saw another, with over 30(!). Now, as it happens, I already have a more or less complete selection of bike tools at home, some of which I even use. But they're all separate. So it's pretty obvious that I have to get this. But, what if I buy the one with the most tools, then somebody comes out with one that has even more? I'll be devastated. Seeing as you're in the industry, I thought you might have heard rumours of any super multi-tools in the offing.

Otto Malingerer

As the saying goes -- I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Bicycle accessory manufacturers are notoriously secretive, paranoid, even ruthless. Nevertheless, word gets around. I recently slipped into a top-secret trade show (the adjoining convention hall was full of arms dealers) and spied a Topeak prototype which incorporated all the usual allen keys, spoke wrenches, screwdrivers, etc., but also managed to pack an (admittedly flimsy) pump, bike lock, and rain cape into a compact package that should slide right into your, uh, pocket. All in all I counted 57 tools before the rep started looking a little too closely at my badge and I had to make a run for it next door, where security was a bit more lax. I stress that I'm not privy to the release date of this wonder. Sorry to be a tease, Otto, but them's the breaks.

Where is the world coming to when people need to cheat by putting engines on their bikes? You heard me.

Jerry Pacemaker

Got a sneak preview of this month's story on power-assisted bikes, did you? You don't sound like you're looking for any advice from me, Jerry. My apologies for making assumptions, but I assume you're a gritty oldtimer who, if you broke your leg in the middle of a race, would cinch a toe-strap around the protruding bones and carry on. As for the rest of us, live and let live.

smile when you say that
I just had a run-in with a policeman, even though I wasn't doing anything wrong. He stopped me and demanded, "License and registration." I told him that as I was riding a bicycle, I didn't need either. "You trying to be a smartmouth?" he asked me, ambling menacingly to the rear of my bike. "What do you have to say about this broken reflector, then?"

"That's not broken--" I started to answer, when he hauled out his stick and smashed it into a thousand pieces. "Looks broken to me," he snarled. "And your lights. They don't look like they meet British Standards. The judges in these parts don't take kindly to that." Whereupon he whipped out a violations book and started writing me up for everything he could think of, from improperly inflated tyres, to riding while under the influence of an electrolyte, to smirking at a CCTV camera. He even called a buddy on the radio for suggestions. When he was finished he shoved the ticket in the general direction of my hand and laughed, "Hope you got a good lawyer, cycle boy." Needless to say, as he drove away I was bristling with rage. My question to you is, is it really against the law to smirk at CCTV cameras?

Bill Dustbin

Not a smart move. When the next documentary crew gets hold of that it'll make all of us look bad. But to answer your question, no, it's not illegal. Not yet, anyway.

How long should I allow for an end-to-end attempt?

Joan Sevenoaks

3 years to toy with the idea
1 year to solicit charity
6 months to plan
3 months to buy supplies
(The middle bit is up to you.)
1 year to collect from your sponsors
10 years to bask in the glory of your accomplishment.

photo courtesy Guy Andrews

Don't get up
I've been looking for the best post-ride warmdown. After reading through all the available literature, I came across this (photo enclosed). What do you think?

Larry Haggard

I've always been a great believer in body wisdom. If it feels right, go with it.

Lycra lout
I have decided to skip lycra and opt for a (dark) layer of paint. It's cheaper, and the effect is the same. My partner thinks I'm mad. What do you think?

Henry Lumox

There is a fine line between genius and madness. I think you walk that line. Try to avoid lead-based paints, though to be honest it seems as if you've already had your share.

Cycling Today, November 1999

When these faux letters appeared, the publisher of CT reportedly thought they were the real thing.