The Book (Part I)

As you will see, I haven’t finished this quite yet.  Yes, Karl does exist.  No, I’m not exaggerating about his abilty to destroy stuff.


We are all acquainted with riders who are, shall we say, a little hard on their equipment. Maybe they sit just a little harder in the saddle, grab the handlebar a little more firmly, or shift gears a bit more abruptly than the rest of us. Whatever the reason, lack of maintenance or lack of mechanical sympathy, the result is always the same: this poor benighted soul is constantly plagued by a steady stream of minor (and some not-so-minor) mechanical breakdowns while their friends roll up the miles without incident.

And then there is Karl.

If there is a way to destroy a bicycle-related part or component, Karl will hit upon it and improve it. Chains fracture, wheels wilt, derailleurs explode, shifters become shiftless in his presence. If a bike part can be broken, smashed, shattered, splintered, ruptured, cracked, bent or busted, Karl will make it so. He is entropy’s staunchest ally, royalty among the mechanically maladroit. Karl is to bicycles what Vishnu, the Destroyer of Worlds, is to the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. His native genius for visiting swift and comprehensive ruin upon anything that rolls gracefully upon two slender wheels simply has no peer.

Engineers who design high end racing bikes talk of creating a perfect synergy of man and machine. With Karl, that synergy winds up scaring the hell out of the machine-half of the equation to the point where it rolls over and dies of fright. Karl’s lack of mechanical sympathy is so profound and of such a magnitude that it is best treated as a force of nature, a physical law, and possibly the basis for a new religion. How else do you explain the fact that simply being in Karl’s presence can provoke feelings of despair in non-sentient hunks of metal and rubber? Or why it is that bicycles entrusted to his care uniformly decide that it is better to preemptively explode or commit velocide in any one of a hundred different and surprising ways rather than to suffer in Karl’s service? Things are going to get sketchy whenever inert objects start to develop the capacity to think for themselves and, worse yet, are able to discern the fact that their likely lot in life will be nasty, brutish, and short.

Of course, none of this is the least bit intentional on Karl’s part. He has only dim grasp of the awesome power that he wields. And he tries – Lord knows just how hard he tries – to be easy on his equipment. Like most of us, Karl would simply like to finish a ride that isn’t punctuated by the sound of wheels folding or carbon fiber shattering.As Karl’s dedicated mechanic/confessor I’ve taken it on as a personal challenge not only to repair the carnage that he leaves in his wake but to try and put a bike underneath him that will actually stand up to his talent for destruction. It is my goal that when one of Karl’s bent and mangled bikes is deposited in my workshop, it leaves not only fixed but also improved. It’s been an iterative process; a stronger component choice here, a few more spokes in a wheel there. The end result has been that, over time, Karl’s bikes have evolved into rather burly, heavy duty machines. Bikes with an actual sporting chance of seeing Karl all the way to the end of a century ride.

Flat tires are relatively small potatoes in Karl’s normal repertoire of mechanical mayhem, so I was somewhat surprised to have him appear at the door of my workshop the other day, gingerly holding a set of wheels and complaining that he was having a horrific run of luck with his tires. I hadn’t seen Karl in a while and, more importantly, it had been quite some time since he had last asked me to swap out a pretzled handlebar or to fix a deranged shifter. I had taken Karl’s absence from my work shop to be a good sign; my efforts to keep him on the road were apparently working. If the lack of explosions or whizzing bits of aluminum emanating from Karl’s direction during the weekly Thursday Night Ride was any indication, we seemed to be gaining on it.

Over a coffee, Karl poured out his latest tale of woe. His bike was running wonderfully well except, of course, for all the flat tires. Lots and lots of flat tires. Literally every time he was out on the road, Karl got at least one flat. On some rides there would be two or three flats in less than 30 miles. Because the number of flat tires that he was experiencing was simply off the charts, even for Karl, he wondered if there was something wrong with his wheels.

I was very familiar with this particular set of wheels. They are rather… special. I built them myself, just for Karl. They were to be the pièce de résistance of my efforts to contain Karl’s bad mechanical mojo.

When you think “special” wheel set for a road bike, most people think of svelte, lightweight aero confections, crafted out of fairy dust, the evening mist, and spider webs. Not these wheels. No, when you are trying to contain a destructive force of nature like Karl, lightweight simply doesn’t cut it. We’re talking heavy duty touring rims, laced up with a set of spokes the diameter of telephone poles. Describing these wheels as “sturdy” would be an understatement. Even at low speed you can hear the massive spokes go “whooshwhooshwhoosh” like helicopter blades as they shove the atmosphere out of the way. This set of wheels doesn’t so much cleave through the air as bash it to one side.

A set of wheel s this strong would be overkill on a tandem, but they were seemingly perfect for Karl. And heavy or not, the bottom line is that, for a while at least, the final piece of the puzzle concerning Karl’s vile luck with bikes appeared to be in place; the mayhem ceased, and Karl rolled along very happily indeed until the flat tires started.

Taking the wheels from Karl and shooing him out of my shop so I could work in peace, I inspected my handiwork. I checked for all of the obvious (and not so obvious stuff) – burrs on the rim, bits of glass in the tire, bum rim tape, etc. There was nothing wrong with either the wheels or tires.

And maybe that was the problem. Maybe wheels and all the other “improvements” to Karl’s bike were working just a little too well.

Maybe it was time to consult The Book.

Next: The Book – The Bike Mechanic’s Friend. The Collected Wisdom of Legendary Bike Shop Wrenches handed down through the ages. Part repair manual, part Necronomicon, part Penthouse Letters.


1 Response to “The Book (Part I)”

  1. 1 Karl Hovey
    September 24, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Good to know I exist! I’m honored to be a small part of Humble Scribe’s literary output. Greg, when “THE” book is published (and it will), I’d like a personally dedicated (signed with a flourish) first run copy, which will NOT be immediately sold on *bay for a small fortune…

    … unless I get a truly spectacular offer.

    Happy to provide more material anytime,


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