Coming up Flat on Tunitas Creek

Profane tire mounting dance View Gallery...

I've played golf far longer than I've cycled... almost thirty-five years in pursuit of the elusive magic of the game. Few might agree but golf and cycling have a great deal in common. At their core both sports are solitary conversations with ourselves, revealing with brutal clarity our true character. Courage, integrity, commitment are tested. Physically we risk more on the bike, but there are worse things to lose than skin (are you listening Riccardo Ricco).

Golf and cycling share another common thread, they create indelible memories and stories that stand the test of time. The most improbable, impossible things happen on the golf course. Sometimes miraculous, often tragic or humorous.

Years ago I watched a playing partner hit his tee shot with everything he had on a long par five. He lost sight of the ball immediately and called out "where is it?" "Wait for it" I replied. Count one, count two, "Where is it" he asked again, his eyes straining into the morning sunshine searching for his drive. "Wait for it" count four, count five. He turned towards me at precisely the moment his ball landed in the pond behind us. "What was that?"

As the ripples expanded across the mirror smooth surface, I explained his ball had flown two inches off the ground and struck a marker on the tee deck directly in front of us. That sent the ball rocketing up and backwards over our heads on a five-second trajectory into the pond. I started to laugh and eventually as it sunk in, he did too. We could have stood on that tee hitting balls until eternity and never reproduced that shot.

Tunitas after the gravel

On Friday, well into the return leg of a coastal loop ride, cycling provided an equally unlikely sequence of events. We'd been climbing Tunitas Creek Road in the cool, muffling shadows of the redwoods. Brendan on his Soulcraft, Tim aboard a beautiful new Cervelo R3 and me on the Enigma when Tim rolled over something sharp and punctured his front tire. We all stopped.

Back in February with the Rapha Continental team I'd seen Ira Ryan fix a flat in three minutes... we'd take a little longer to get rolling again this day. Tim pulled off the wheel and with a tire lever slid one side of the Continental Attack off the rim. While Tim carefully ran his fingers inside the tire feeling for debris, Brendan used his frame pump to put some air in the stricken tube looking for the puncture, and found a tiny slit.

Whatever caused the puncture (we suspected some glass on the last turn) was gone. Tim dropped in a new tube and worked the tire back on the rim. Brendan pumped a little air into the tire and then Tim finished it off with his C02 inflator. Wheel back on the R3 we packed up, remounted and set off. We got exactly ten feet before Tim's front tire blew again. Shit. Elapsed time: 10 minutes.

We repeated the sequence, but this time I suggested Tim remove the tire completely and give it a thorough inspection while we looked closely at the tube. The tube had a pretty large hole in it and with the tire inside out Tim found a tiny tear in the sidewall of the tire. It had been hidden directly underneath one of those “quality-check” paper dots. Weird. I supplied a new bright green latex tube, happy to be getting rid of a light but high-maintenance bladder. (I’ve found Latex tubes need to be topped up everyday, they just don’t hold their pressure like butyl). I applied a pre-glued tube patch to the inside of the tire and then Tim put it all back together. Optimistically he’d only brought a single C02, so he used Brendan’s pump to air the tire up. Elapsed time: 25 minutes.

Tunitas after the gravel

We saddled up and started up the slope, but again before we’d gone 20 feet I heard Tim say “What’s that. It took him another turn or two of the pedals to realize it was the green latex tube bubbling out the sidewall. Frantically he dismounted and let air out of the tire. Bugger. We started to laugh.

If we’d been thinking conservatively we’d have supplemented the tube patch with a dollar bill, but the slit had looked tiny. It was time for a new tire, and I use the term loosely because Brendan produced something with brown sidewalls that looked to have pre-war origins (WWII). Tired of holding the R3, I found a convenient branch and hung it from the saddle. That led to more laughter because it looked like Tim had flown off the road and disappeared into the ravine below.

Back to the service course Tim peeled off the Continental and let Brendan get the antique roadshow replacement on the Rolf rim. The latex tube was still good, so it was redeployed. What happened next will go down as a classic. The old tire refused to go on the rim until Brendan performed a bizarre, profanity laced dance routine back-and-forth across the road with the wheel. See pictures.

The tire finally surrendered or blushed. Elapsed time: 40 minutes. It seemed we finally had the problem licked, until Brendan’s pump snapped the top off the Presta valve. Incredulous, we had entered the twilight zone. Still laughing, I think we were starting to think we’d never get off that road.

One last try. Brendan supplied another tube, and recreated the profane dance one more time to force the brownwall into place. I stepped in with a C02 and gently inflated the tire for the fourth time, collected the Cervelo from its perch and held it while Tim closed the QR. Elapsed Time: 50 minutes.

The rest of the climb and descent into Woodside were uneventful, ending one of the strangest "mechanicals" any of us will ever experience. Brendan's Brownwall deserves to be enshrined in a place of honor in Tim's garage.

It's worth noting that Tim is a very good descender, but I'm still shaking my head at his faith in that relic of a tire as he bombed down King's Mountain past me and Brendan. Must have been the inspiration of the pink Rapha jersey he was sporting.


8 Responses to Coming up Flat on Tunitas Creek

  1. Georges says:

    Aha, riding with Tim is always so eventful ( Sounds like a great way to break in the new Cervelo. Way to go!

  2. Georges,

    Enjoyed your blog post about the recent edition of the Death Ride.

  3. Not sure what’s going on with Tunitas Creek but the first few miles in from the coast have a fresh layer of gravel. It might be the prelude to a major resurfacing. I’ve emailed San Mateo County Roads to see if they can offer more info.

  4. This information kindly provided by Joe Lo Coco, Deputy Director Road Service Division for San Mateo County.

    The gravel that has been placed east of Highway 1 is known as a chip seal. This work is part of a project approximately 22 miles in length, which includes several other rural roads in the County.

    This type of treatment is frequently used by local agencies to add 7 to 10 years of life to an individual road and is considered critical to our agency’s ability to economically maintain its overall network of roads.

    There is no other work planned at this time for either lower or upper Tunitas Creek Road, although the Department is currently evaluating an appropriate future treatment for upper Tunitas Creek Road (the conditions along upper Tunitas Creek road dictate more extensive repairs than that which was recently performed on lower Tunitas Creek Road).

    For your information, the chip seal work provides a roughness to the road surface which diminishes over time. Examples of roads that were treated last year include Alpine Road from Skyline Boulevard to Portola State Park Road; Portola State Park Road and Stage Road from Highway 1 to La Honda Road. While I haven’t personally cycled on these roads since they were treated, I believe that you’ll find that these surfaces have all weathered to the point where they are now a comfortable ride for road bikes.

  5. Tim says:


    Great article (particularly as someone who is also a keen golfer, but arrived at my cycling obsession ‘later’ in life!).

    I know it’s a bit off track, but as a Brit, where can I get the google cycling kit?

    Cheers and regards

  6. Via my other friend Brendan, who works for Google…

    Purchase the Google Jersey from the UK online store

  7. Dave Pankras says:

    I’d like to say i’ve never seen a BETTER QUALITY website in all of my years of surfing. As far as i’m concerned it’s the web equivilent of Rapha’s amazing kit (of which I have tons).



  8. thanks Dave… not sure I measure up to the high praise but I certainly appreciate the encouragement and will continue trying to publish interesting cycling experiences and photography