It's Goathead Season! Tips for Avoiding the Dreaded Thorns

It's September. The air is slightly cooler, but not yet cold, and we all want to enjoy everything that this part of the year has to offer on our bicycles. Unfortunately, this time of the season we can find ourselves spinning along when suddenly that dreaded sound of goathead smacking on pavement is heard, or worse yet, the horrible hiss of air rushing from a puncture to the tube. 

In order to help make the most out of this time of year, we thought we'd offer some tips and hints to help keep you riding, rather than fixing a flat on the side of the road.

A goathead still on the vine. They are frequently found on trails and at the side of roadways locally this time of year.

A goathead still on the vine. They are frequently found on trails and at the side of roadways locally this time of year.

If you haven't experienced a goathead in a bike tire, count yourself lucky, but most of us who ride in Colorado have at one time or another experienced a flat due to these spikey-looking thorns. By the number of individuals who've come by the shop with flats due to goatheads recently, we suspect there are many dealing with similar situations right now. So, how do we prevent getting them in the first place?

Avoidance: These pesky thorns seem to magically find their way into tires because their coloring blends with both paved surfaces and dirt paths pretty easily, or they are often mistaken for small pebbles/rocks on asphalt. If you are riding in an area that is prone to goatheads, when you stop or take breaks, use the opportunity to check your tires to be sure they are clear. It can be challenging to see these thorns at all while riding, but if you are able to, the obvious first solution is to avoid running over them.

Even the most cautious rider can have difficulty avoiding goatheads though, so there are preventative measure that can be taken to help ensure you make it to the end of your ride without a flat.

Inflation: Keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure can help with flats (both in reference to goatheads and in general). If you don't know what your tire pressure should be, you can almost always find it on the sidewall of your tire. Check your tires every time you ride as many factors can change pressure from day to day. 

Tires: How old are your tires? If they've seen more miles than they were designed to travel or if they've been sitting unridden for a number of years, it may be time for a new set. The rubber degrades over time and with use, so in either case, fitting a new set to your bicycle may be a great way to reduce your chances of goathead-related flats.

Kevlar-lined tires also provide additional protection. As pictured above, Kevlar basically provides another layer of protection within the tire that can help keep thorns from getting through the tread to your tube and releasing all of the air.

Tubes: Tubes come in different varieties and some are of better quality than others. Tubes are not the place to try to save money. They play a vital role in keeping your bicycle moving, so spending an extra dollar or two may make sense if you've bought cheap models and have continued to experience flats.

Some tubes even come in thorn-resistant types. Thorn-resistant tubes are heavier than regular versions, but offer extra protection to help keep goatheads and other debris from penetrating the tube. If you've tried puncture-resistant tires or you don't want to invest in a new set of tires and are still getting flats from thorns, perhaps tougher tubes may be a consideration.

Supplemental Protection: If you're already using puncture-resistant tires and quality tubes, it may be time to look at some alternative or additional solutions. Adding a tire sealant or slime to your tube can provide an extra layer of protection. Should you run over an item that penetrates the tire and tube, the sealant moves over the area to seal off the leak and keeps air in your tube.

Tire liners are also available for added insurance. These strips of protection are added between the inside of the tire and the outside of the tube. The benefit of a liner versus sealant is that the liner will usually weigh less and isn't nearly as messy as a sealant can be. Be sure to get the right size for your wheel and tire when purchasing so that you have the best coverage for your needs.

Another alternative for some situations is to go tubeless. If you have wheels that are tubeless-compatible, you don't need tubes at all which can help lower the threat of goatheads because the tires run with no tubes inside. Lest one think going tubeless is the miracle answer, flats are still possible with this set up, and the tires tend to be a bit heavier than pneumatic tires found on most bicycles today. Additionally, repairing punctures can be a bit more tedious with this set up, and not every bicycle is appropriate for a tubeless tire configuration.

Leave It Be: In some instances, you may stop and find a goathead attached to your tire. Sometimes, the instinctual response is to want to pull out the thorn because we know it shouldn't be there. However, if the goathead has been sitting in the tire while you've been riding and it's remained in place, it may make more sense to leave it in until you are home and able to deal with a puncture, especially if you don't have the tools with you to repair a potential flat.

With this option, there is the potential that while riding the goathead may break off or come out of the tire on its own, but leaving it in the tire may provide you enough time to get to a location to fix the issue.

If you do end up with a flat and have to patch or change the tube during your ride, make sure to check the inside and outside of the tire to see what has caused the intrusion. If a goathead, thorn, piece of glass, or other debris is still sticking through the tire, putting in a fresh tube will only result in another flat after re-inflation. You can use your tire lever to run over the inside of the tire to check for debris, or, if you are very careful (definitely use caution with this option as it's easy to end up with a cut or puncture to your hand), lightly run your fingers across the inside of the tube to feel for any foreign object and remove it.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, or you need any of the above items to get rolling again, stop by the shop and we'll get you set up.