I've never claimed to be an industry insider, like Carlton, or a font of bicycling knowledge, like Hilary, or bearded, like Dave (and Hilary by contractual obligation), but I have my uses – aside from hoovering the office after the staff have gone home for the evening.

Every once in awhile a certain kind of letter arrives and gets carefully placed into a certain kind of file: an X File, if you will. It's my job to draft a suitable reply to such enquiries, or failing that, return the envelope marked 'addressee unknown'.

What does 'Plus' stand for? Cycling Plus what?
Balthasar Nettle, Lincs.

The magazine you now hold in your hands began life in the 19th century as 'Cycling Plus Dressage', in a nod to the exciting new 'iron horse' as well as the age-old art of guiding Black Beauty and his ilk through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider's hands, legs, and weight. Alas, sales were a nightmare, and the publishers were forced to split the title into two distinct periodicals. A fierce battle was waged in the courts over ownership of 'Plus'. When Cycling won they found their coffers so depleted by solicitor's fees that they were unable to afford a suitable companion for the erstwhile conjunction or an explanation for posterity.

I like to listen to the Ring Cycle when I'm awheel, but I just can't seem to get enough bass. Can you recommend a brand of earphones robust enough to handle Wagner?
Emily Debussy, Leiceister

To enjoy high fidelity you're going to have to budget for speakers. True audiophiles ride in accoustical pelotons and form appropriate arrangements as a piece progresses. Earphones, on the other hand, dangerously limit the full range of dynamic sound.

Some of your readers seem to have a problem with dogs. I thought they might be interested to learn of a surefire remedy. Borrowing an old idea from tribes in the South American rain forest, who ingeniously use the toxic secretions of a species of amphibian, I've adapted my frame pump to fire poison darts. I keep the frogs in my panniers and feed them chips.
Jeremy Sharpe, Wadebridge

Capital punishment is a little harsh, Jeremy. Perhaps you should just throw the chips at the dogs. A slow death from cholesterol to be sure, but it'll keep the RSPCA off your back.


As summer turns to autumn and thence to winter, the days get shorter, at least in my experience, though for some reason my clock still works normally, i.e., the dial continues to be divided into 24 equal units of measurement. I don't claim to understand the physics of nuclear fusion which result in the radiant energy that illuminates and warms our planet, nor the vagaries of a nonspatial continuum. All I know is I need to buy a bicycle lamp. Recently I came across references to so-called flashing lights. I'm lost. What's a 'flashing light'? PS. Incidentally, I have a nervous condition.
Fritz Bethe, Grimsby

Fortunately your letter itself provides a vital clue to an otherwise inexplicable question. May I venture to guess your condition prompts you to blink quite frequently and rapidly? It would seem that your eyes and the light are both 'on' and 'off' at the exact same moments. Extraordinary but not as rare as you might think. I know a rather languid gentleman who refuses to watch the Tour de France because 'They keep jumping all over the place'.

Not long ago my bike started talking to me. But I can't understand what it's trying to say! This mostly one-sided conversation began some months ago, down near the bottom bracket. 'Tick-tick-tick-tick' it said. 'Oh, stop complaining,' I answered to no avail, for it was capable of continuing in this vein without surcease. Before long my rear axle took up the chorus, particularly whilst freewheeling - an occasion, one would think, for quiet contemplation. Add to this the creaking of my saddle and a weird ethereal sound that eminates from nowhere in particular, and you can gather some sense of my immense frustration. I do confess I often end up screaming at the beast, pleading with it to just speak English.
Edward Fiddle, Wessex

Well, you could take your chatty friend to the visiting room of a bicycle shop, but I'm afraid the last thing a mechanic wants to hear is 'It's making this noise...' Those guys have enough troubles as it is. I suggest instead that you cultivate a sunnier disposition.

My last ride was pure agony. Each and every vertebrae in my spine complained bitterly, and my knees nearly gave out halfway through. When I got home my flatmate admitted that he had taken my bike out for a ride the other day and adjusted the saddle down half a millimetre to suit himself. Needless to say I chucked him out. Now I'm starting to feel guilty. I made him homeless, after all. Do you think I was hasty?
Lance Unwin, Foulness

Given the care you evidently took in formulating your ideal setup, rage is an understandable reaction... if mildly over the top. You acted in the heat of the moment. I think he's probably learned his lesson now.

I often see cyclists splendidly bedecked in the latest expensive attire. A friend of mine even owns a waterproof jacket which cost more than my bicycle. Doesn't such conspicious consumption contravene sumptuary laws? I make do with a bin liner just fine.
Lizzie Windsor, Windsor

Those laws were repealed some time ago. There is no legal remedy for the situation you describe. I should think you'd be overjoyed that you can buy 20 jackets for 1.

'Deeply Unfashionable'?
Castor Prolix, Tunbridge Wells

A cautionary tale on the danger of suggesting a column name in jest to an editor.

Cycling Plus, August 2002