Archive for January, 2014


Rules are Rules

Rules are good.

Rules bring order to things; they help us to set expectations and to guide behavior.   Like it or not, almost every aspect of our daily lives is guided in some way by Rules, whether formal or informal. The small social conventions that shape how we interact with each other – shaking hands when we greet someone, knowing which piece of silverwear is the dessert fork, respecting the accepted limitations on using the word “dude” in polite conversation – are Rules.  Our legal system is basically a set of Rules.  The Ten Commandments?  More like The Ten Rules.  How about the Torah, the Quran, the Sermon on the Mount, and all those snappy sayings by that Confucius fellow?  Rules, Rules, Rules, and Rules.  There are Rules of Thumb, Rules of Law, Rules of Engagement, Rules of the Game, Rules of the Road, Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Robert’s Rules of Order, and let’s certainly not forget the Golden Rule.

And now our little weekly Sunday group ride has come up with a Rule of its own. We call it the “Karl Hovey Cold Weather Flat Tire Rule,” named in honor of our very own Karl Hovey.

Photo by Mark Baird.  The Rules that define acceptable behavior among cyclists are largely unwritten and mostly self-explanatory.  There are certain conventions that every rider is expected to know and, most importantly, to follow if they are to be accepted into the brotherhood/sisterhood of the open road.  Things like holding your line, not using your aerobars on a group ride, and waiting until you are in the back of the pack before blowing a snot-rocket.  These Rules reflect basic common sense which (if followed) will have the salubrious effect of keeping you and your bike in one piece and your riding gear largely free from other people’s mucus.

Once you move beyond a basic working knowledge of these universal Rules of Cycling, you begin to venture into the realm of what I would call Local Rules; the more subtle traditions and practices that vary by club and whose inspiration and purpose may be a bit more obscure. These are the sort of Rules that you might not be expected to know right off of the bat but that you will need to learn rather quickly if you wish to remain welcome in the group.  Local Rules are obviously somewhat parochial, frequently prompted specific incidents or events.

Or, to say it another way, Local Rules usually represent the product hard-won experience born of unfortunate happenstance.  Behind most Local Rules lies a cautionary tale liberally endowed with the three standard elements of any good cycling story: personal embarrassment, extreme physical discomfort, and copious amounts of unexpected property damage.

So it is with the Karl Hovey Cold Weather Flat Tire Rule.

The Karl Hovey Cold Weather Flat Tire Rule goes something like this: “If the outside temperature falls below 30 degrees and someone gets a flat tire, if it takes more than five minutes to fix said flat then the person with the flat tire had damn well better buy cup of coffee for everyone who waited around and froze their ass off while the tire was repaired.”

We came up with this Rule last Sunday while three of us (Big John, Tree Man Todd, and Yr. Hmbl. Scribe) each shivered by the side of Telegraph Road in sub-freezing temperatures, clad in nothing more than the functional equivalent of fancy lycra underwear and a windbreaker, watching as Karl utterly failed at changing a flat tire.

I suppose that the Christian thing to do is to note right up front that it could have been any one of us who got that particular flat last Sunday. One could also completely suspend disbelief and pretend that, given how cold it was, none of us who stood there and harassed Karl as he tried to change the punctured tube could have done it any faster in those conditions.  And, what the hell, I’ll even concede the point that it certainly wasn’t Karl’s fault that the lightweight plastic that they use to make tire levers and mini-pumps these days turns hard and brittle in extreme cold.  Nor will I cast any aspersions in Karl’s direction for the fact that the tire levers and pump that he chose to pack in his seat bag on that fine, frigid morning were largely made from the stuff.

Yes, I’m willing to hold my tongue – up to a point – on each of these things because Karl paid up; I got my free coffee, as did Big John and Todd.

Still, it is a damn hard way to earn a cup of coffee. I mean, it was cold, and I could have had a stroke and died from laughing at Karl.

Apart from it being ‘effing cold, this particular tire change started out like every other.   Karl signaled that he had a flat and the four of us whoa-ed up and circled back to where he had stopped on the side of the road.  The standard “hurry up and change the damn tire” heckling that always occurs whenever one of your riding buddies causes a halt in the proceedings commenced immediately.  And Karl, being a good sort, didn’t tarry in unpacking his tools and removing the wheel to make the change.  He was cold too.

In fact, Karl was so cold that he was even more ham-fisted than usual in trying to remove the tire from the rim.  The tire wasn’t cooperating and Karl ascribes to the “Get A Bigger Hammer” theory of bike maintenance when things get stubborn, like when a tire won’t come off a rim in 20 degree temperatures.  Let’s just say Karl was giving his those blue plastic tire levers a real work out there on the side of the road.

And, God as my witness, as we stood there freezing our asses off on the side of the road, watching Karl completely go to town on the tire with those poor plastic levers, Todd actually did try to warn him about the cold weather properties of plastic mere nanoseconds before the inevitable occurred.

“Hey Karl, go easy with that tire lever – plastic breaks really easily when it is….”


“…this cold outside.”






“Hey Karl, let’s (*snicker*) pick up the pace on getting that tire changed.  We’re getting COLD standing here. We might get brittle and (*snort*) snap in half.”

However, Karl is made of sterner stuff, and he refused to be defeated by a little thing like a frozen tire lever shattering in his hand.  Neither exploding tools nor the imminent onset of hypothermia could deflect him from the task of getting that tire changed pronto, his way.  No, no, no.   So it was really no surprise at all when Karl confidently-yet-brusquely brushed aside any and all offers of assistance, no matter how slowly the tire change was progressing.   And, yes, the tire change was proceeding slowly.

This, of course, made what happened next so spectacularly hilarious….I mean unfortunate. Yes, most unfortunate.  And, again, I have to credit Todd for attempting to move things along.

“Karl, do you want to borrow my CO2?  We’ll be here all morning pumping that thing up at the rate you are going…”

“Naah. Check this out – this is one of those new pumps like Dave has. You unfold it like this…”

“KARL, just take the frickin’ CO2 and let’s get going.”

“…and it turns into a little floor pump, with a hose and a little plastic foot peg that….”





It was there, standing by the side of the road, holding our sides from laughing hysterically at Karl’s hideously bad luck and freezing our asses off, that the Karl Hovey Cold Weather Flat Tire Rule was born. We, of course, all lived to tell the tale, and Karl good-naturedly paid his debt to society with three large coffees back in the toasty confines of the Pastry Shoppe.  And we actually drank that coffee once our hands had thawed to the point where we could once again hold a coffee cup.

So the moral of the story is this: you have a choice this winter.  You can either take good care of your tires and bring tools that can be relied upon to actually work in the cold, or you can throw lots of extra money in your jersey pocket to buy your friends (at least the ones that stick around when you get a flat tire) coffee after the ride, all thanks to the Karl Hovey Cold Weather Flat Tire Rule.

After all, Rules are Rules.

As for me, I’ll have a cup of the French Roast….black.


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