The Enemy

We’ve been invaded. After being flat-free for nearly a year, I’ve suddenly had two in one week. The second was quite a doozy with six punctures in one tire, all from the dreaded goathead. I love my off-street bike paths, but they’re a bit like mine fields for bike tires this time of year.

16 Responses to “The Enemy”

  • Tal says:

    I ride with Schwalbe Marathon tires on my commuter bike and have yet to have a flat.

  • Phil says:

    The link to the “dreaded goathead” shows a picture of the little rascals. But what is the plant in your picture? That doesn’t look like any goathead I’ve ever seen in New Mexico or Arizona. Goatheads I know hug the ground, have small leaves and tiny yellow blossoms, and fan out from a central root.

  • Alan says:


    You must be a botanist. :-) We colloquially call any rotten little thorn that causes flats “goatheads”.

  • Jeff says:

    Well, misery loves company. In the last two weeks I’ve changed goathead flats on my single speed, my son’s BMX, our jog stroller, and the Burly trailer. The good news is that I think I found the weedy lot in our neighborhood that contains said goatheads, and have warned the family to avoid this lot.

    The plant in the picture is yellow-star thistle. I’ve had it puncture road tires but it does most of it’s damage to skin.

    – Jeff

  • Doug R. says:

    Hey Alan, I run Mr. “Tuffies” wheel liners in all my bikes,
    and they seem to keep the flats away! I hate those stickers! Down the horse trails they jump out while you are single tracking and cut your legs up good! No pain means no fun, so I live with the little bastards! Oh, there are other wheel liners I use to but I forget their brand name? I get them from LBS. You probably carry spare tubes and slime, however, it is still and inconvience to pull the wheel and all the grease and crap though. Try changing a car or motorcycle tire on the road, that thought alone keeps me in “perspective” if I want to bitch to much about changing a bicycle tire.
    The Rat.
    P. S. on a karmic note, I recently played a game on Trek’s Web site and you know what I won, Of course a friggi’n Lance team Astana yellow Jersey! God hates me!

  • Alan says:


    “on a karmic note, I recently played a game on Trek’s Web site and you know what I won, Of course a friggi’n Lance team Astana yellow Jersey! God hates me!”

    Serves you right. :-)

  • Jim says:

    Goat-heads (my Dad called them “bullheads”) were the bane of my bare-footed summers. As hard as they are on bike tubes, they’re harder on feet until the calluses of late summer offered at least a bit of protection. I don’t know where these plants originated (I’m speaking of the ones in the link, not the thistle on this page), but they were endemic to the Southern California Inland Empire of my youth.

  • bongobike says:

    Man, that is one mean looking plant! We have lots of thornies here in TX, but that is not one of them (at least I’ve never seen one).

    On tire liners, I have used both Mr. Tuffy and Slime liners (not the goo), and Slime liners win hands down. Both brands protect your tubes, but for some odd reason, the Mr. Tuffy liners eventually produce leaks in your tubes where the ends overlap. I had read about this problem from many riders on listserves, and I eventually experienced it. The Slime brand has had no such problem after years of use.

  • dutchess says:

    At our main Bike to Work Day event in Santa Fe, cyclists get a whack at an ugly, giant, evil goathead piñata. Extremely cathartic.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    Beautiful blooms (lovely picture!) but nasty plant!

    Several years ago a reader of my column wrote to tell me how he deals with the goatheads found on trails in Washington state:

    The one thing you might like to try is the urethane-foam-filled “airless” tires I have been using for the last 10 years. They are by Amerityre and I love them. They are not high-speed tires: at about 20 mph they are at their limit. But it certainly lightens my load and mind having them. No pumps, patches, tire levers, etc.. Here in the state of Washington we have “goathead” thorns in superabundance. They leave a hole that Slime … just oozes out of for two minutes before stopping the leak, and even then the leak really only slows down. I get a lot of rest riding with other folks who insist that tire liners and thick tubes are puncture-proof, when they have to stop to fix their flats on a short ride.

    I’ve never used tires like this and don’t know if they still exist, but some cyclists might find it’s worth hunting down these tires.

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Hey Alan:

    I was remarked to my fellow riders just the other day that – due to the wet spring – the goathead crop here in Utah is going to be exceptional.

    We recommend the full Jordan River Parkway Package (named for our major north-south MUP): tires with Kevlar belts, tuffy strips, and sealant-enabled tubes.

    Naturally, you need a carry a pump, since the sealant sometimes takes a minute to coagulate.

    Anything less than the Package, and you are fixing a flat EVERY DAY in August and September.

    Nate (SLC)

  • William says:

    Got my first flat in 6k miles the other day from one of these. Jack Brown tires are still awesome though: for the one that caused a flat I pulled out 4 more that didn’t!

  • philbertorex says:

    I remember those from Idaho. They’re nasty. Not only are they death to bike tires, they’ll break off and evetually work their way through the soles of hiking boots. We don’t have them in Western Oregon.

  • weed slayer says:

    that plant in your photo is yellow star thistle.

    kill it, without mercy. it spreads at an astronomical rate and will destroy native plant communities, leaving only fields of vegetation that deer, elk and moose can’t eat, pops cyclist tires and little else behind. unfortunately, the most effective way of containment (good luck getting rid of it) is to utilize some big nasty megacorporation’s chemical. pulling and much else (goats) don’t do much as effectively as herbicide.

    nate, that’s not on the jordan river parkway yet… the spines go right through leather gloves, jeans, etc. and are super hard to get out of your skin, i’d love to see if that package works!

  • John says:

    Got to second the first commenter’s recommendation: I put Schwalbe Marathon Supremes on my bike almost a year ago and have not had a single flat (or even a slow leak) in a year of everyday commuting. I’ve seen chunks of glass that I’ve pulled out of the rubber, but it doesn’t make it through the webbing.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I have basic Schwalbe Marathons on my LHT and have ridden over broken beer bottles (not intentionally — they were stealth bottles), sharp crushed stone, and window glass, and like John have had no leaks despite pulling glass from tires. I’ve never ridden where there are thorns like the goatheads, though. The worst thorns I’ve run over are berry brambles.

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