Recently, Naresh Kumar, a friend of Flowfold and member of our ambassador team shared an incredible story with us that we could not keep to ourselves. 1200 km into a 1708 km bike race high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, Naresh's tire split, causing flats again and again. In a moment of resourceful ingenuity, he fashioned a patch out of his trusted Flowfold wallet. Read his full account below, and be blown away by this inspiring story of creativity and resilience.
Text by Naresh Kumar | @iamarunr
Photos curtesy of SRMR Race Photographers
My misfortunate came in the form of a torn sidewall while I was racing in the Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan. Getting a split in the sidewall of your bike is a common problem. I have had dime-sized splits on the sidewall before that I was able to fix with a $5 New Zealand Bill made out of plastic but this one was worse.
The Silk Road Mountain Race is a fixed route, unsupported, single-stage bike-packing race through the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan. The route uses gravel, single, double track, and old soviet roads that have long been forgotten and fallen into disrepair. There are little tarmacs and several long stretches of the bike-hike section. The total distance is 1708 km (1061 miles) with 28000 m (92,000 ft) of the climbing. The equivalent of climbing Mt Everest over 3 times.
I was 1200 km into the race when I had my first flat. There was a loud noise and the air gushed out. It sounded bad. I fixed the flat and was running my finger along the inside of the tire to check for any shop objects when I had the shock of my life. The sidewall was torn. A full-blown long split that must have been caused by a sharp rock edge that ripped the tire. It left a sizable gash along the sidewall causing the inner tube to bulge out.
I still had 314 miles to the finish line through some rugged terrain and couldn’t count on going with the current state of the tire. The race is solo and unsupported and the next bike shop in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, which is about 3 days ride away. It was time to boot the tire.
Thus began my multiple attempts to fix my tire and find a way to finish this race.
On all my solo and human-powered missions, I carry a water bottle wrapped around with duct tape and zip ties, super glue and a few meters of paracord. I cleaned up the inside of the tire and applied several layers of duct tape along the stretch of the open slit. I pumped up the tires was able to ride with no problem until I started gaining elevation. Going through Shamsi Pass at 3,570 m (11,712 feet), I could feel the tire rubbing against the fork and saw the bulge along the sidewall. The elevation gain increased the pressure and causing the tube to herniate. The duct tape was scratched up and looked like it wasn’t going to hold up for long. With the rough rocky terrain ahead of me, I knew another flat was just waiting to happen. I was right.
Going through a small town, I stopped at a tiny car tire repair shop along the side of the road and asked the guy for help. He looked at the busted tire and gave me 2 car patches. He didn't have any more, so I paid for the car patches and opened the tire, removed the duct tape and glued the car patch to the biggest exposed section of the tire. I stuck my bike patches along the inner side of the tire along the slit with tiny holes. Added a few more extra layers of duct tape and closed it up. The tube wasn’t herniated and the bike was moving but I could still feel the bump from the bulge of the tire hitting the fork. After about 100 miles, the bulge got too bad. Because it was constantly rubbing the fork, the tire was looking more and more damaged.
I was riding very conservatively. I was no longer shredding the downhills, something that you so look forward to after pushing the bike over a steep uphill section. While pushing the bike uphill, when the terrain got extremely rugged, I would lift up the handlebar so that the front wheel will be up in the air and won’t touch the rough rocks. I did the same going downhill. I would step off the bike and life up the front wheel to avoid the front wheel from hitting the sharp rocks. That's when I noticed an old tire lying on the side of the road, half-buried.
I felt a surge of joy at seeing the old tire. I used my pocket knife to shave a good chunk of rubber from the tire and layered it inside to give more protection. The rubber wasn’t really that great but something is better than nothing. However, my joy was short-lived. The tire's hernia became worse as I started my climb to Kok-Ayrik pass, 3845 m (12,614 ft), the last pass, the giant standing between me and the finish line.
Just after crossing the pass, the terrain got extremely rugged. The path was decimated with dozens of landslides with razor-sharp rocks and boulders. As I was cruising down very cautiously, a razor-sharp rock edge pierced right through the tire and caused a flat and destroyed the tire even more.
I shouted. I cried. But I knew I had enough time to push the bike and finish before the cut-off. What should have been a 2-hour ride was turning into an 10-hour death march to the finish line but I was hell bound to finish no matter what.
The Final Attempt
It was starting to get dark and cold soon after the sun disappeared from the horizon. I searched my bag to look for something, anything, for a fix and get through the last 40km to the finish line. That’s when I saw my wallet, a trifold wallet made by my good friends at Flowfold in Maine, USA. It's made with a multilayer composite material that uses sailcloth technology for superior abrasion, water, and most importantly tear resistance. They advertise it as incredibly light, strong and tough enough to last a lifetime on the trail or at sea. It was time to put it to the test.
I emptied the contents of my wallet and layered it inside to cover the entire length of the open slit and placed the inner tube on top of it. Pumped up the tires and it appeared ok. Kept the pressure a little low just to be safe. If only the tire could hold up for the next 14kms of bumpy and rocky terrain, I will get to the highway.
Somehow the tire wasn’t herniated and I was able to cruise downhill on some very rocky terrain. Those who have ridden this section would agree that it was the toughest section of the race. I prayed so hard the entire time. I told God that I would come to church every Sunday if he would take me to the finish line without any more damage to the tire.
As soon as I reached the highway, I lay my head on the handlebar in relief. The wallet fix worked. Just smooth asphalt all the way to Cholpon-Ata where the finish line was. Just 24 km left. I was hit with a torrent of emotions and I rolled to the finish line. 12 days 13 hours and 30 minutes.
I rode wearing the same pair of clothes for 12 days 13 hours and showered only once during the duration of the race. Shower and sleep never felt this good. The next day, I opened up the tire to show everyone all the MacGyver skills I had used to finish the race. Everyone was astonished when I pulled the Flowfold wallet out of the tire. A wallet!
This race taught me the real meaning of resilience. No matter how many times life threw punches to my face, I had to recover, pull myself up and keep moving. Tahnk you to my friends at Flowfold. Your wallet saved my race and helped me to get to the finish line of the world’s toughest mountain bike race!
About the Author:
Naresh is a mountain runner and endurance cyclist who loves to go on long-distance human-powered missions fueled by kindness and peanut butter. An engineer turned endurance athlete, he lives small and adventures lots. As a child born and raised in a poor suburb of Chennai, India, he dreamt big, and worked hard to get a scholarship to study engineering in India. Eventually he ended up in Silicon Valley as a consultant for major tech firms.
In 2014, Naresh quit his IT career to pursue a simple meaningful life. His adventures led him to Nepal where he encountered child sex-trafficking. He made it his mission to use his skills to raise awareness and funds organizations that help rescue and rehabilitate trafficking victims, and that's how he started Freedom Seat.
About Freedom Seat:
Freedom Seat is a human powered journey to help spread awareness about human trafficking and raise funds for rehabilitation of its victims. There are about 40 million people who are trafficked and exploited all over the planet. Freedom is the highest form of living yet there are so many people exploited because of their vulnerability and poverty. As a part of his recent Freedom Seat expedition, Naresh rode a tandem bike 8646 km from India to Germany, picking up random strangers along his way to help his pedal. We will be raising funds and awareness to help the victims of human trafficking and child abuse. 180 people from 18 different nationalities joined me on this mission and helped pedal to raise awareness to #EndSlaveryNow. You can read more about Naresh's organization and biking missions here!
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