Keep it rolling: how Cunningham’s trashed wheel made it through EWS Ainsa

Out-of-the-box thinking and ingenuity by Trek Factory Racing mechanic Tyler West kept Ruaridh in the race

Words and images by Matthew Delorme


Ruaridh Cunningham was on a roll in EWS Ainsa, taking ninth on stage one and sixth on stage two. Then disaster struck. Ruaridh punctured early into stage three and it almost cost him a DNF. With stage three being so short, he kept riding to the finish – ultimately finishing 194th – and then attempted to fix the flat. Mechanical failure meant a five-minute replacement time penalty or pulling out of the race. Both disastrous.

The tire had rolled off the rim and had been caught in the rotor, and the damage was so severe that the tire would not hold air. With the help of fellow racers, Ruaridh put in a tube, installed the tire, and then zip-tied it in place. The tire held until about three-quarters of the way through stage four, then it rolled off with a bang at the finish.

With no choice, Ruaridh slung the tire over his shoulder and pedaled back to the castle on the rim, thinking his race had gone into the bin. The rim was trashed by the time he got back, but Trek Factory Racing mechanic Tyler West wasn’t sure the game was over just yet. Out-of-the-box thinking and ingenuity prevailed; the mastermind mechanic went to work.

Back at the house, Tyler found an old rusty pair of snips for trimming horse hooves that were perfect for leveraging the crushed rim bead and pulling it back up and out. Next, all of the newly acquired sharp edges were filed down, and the crack through the seam of the hoop had to be addressed. Tyler threaded a spoke through the inner spoke holes on either side of the crack and twisted it together (extra insurance if there was a failure). Three layers of rim tape replaced the traditional Bontrager rim strip, and a Flat Tire Defender (FTD) was installed. A wire bead G5 was put on the rim and 3/4 of a liter of sealant was injected and, finally, the tire was epoxied onto the rim.

Ingenious stuff.

However, the tire wasn’t holding air. And it was getting late. The valve was removed from the FTD, and a tube was then inserted with sealant inside the tire just in case. Besides, it seemed like it would be a good lubricant to protect the tube in case of sudden harsh impacts. The tire was re-epoxied onto the rim, and then the whole enchilada was inflated to maximum air pressure to ensure the entire thing had a better chance of staying together.

When Tyler came out in the morning to check the wheel, it was still holding air.

Tyler had done his thing, now it was up to Ruaridh to get down the hill over the course of three short stages with the mended wheel in one piece.

The wheel wasn’t easy to handle. The high pressure made it skip about over rough stuff instead of tracking like normal. Then, there was the weight of the thing – 7.83 pounds! It noticeably changed handling dynamics.

Ultimately, Ruaridh made it through the day, and incredibly even took 10th on stage seven. After falling way behind on stage three, he pulled it back to finish in 36th place overall – an unbelievable result under the circumstances and a classic case of a hardworking and dedicated team behind the team.