If you've never ridden in the American Southwest, you might never have encountered "Tribulus terrestris" - the dreaded "goat-head thorn", but for those of us who have to ride where they live, Summer and Fall can sometimes seem like an endless parade of flat tires - all because of this plant which looks like a medieval torture device.
Any bike ridden off-road can be victimized, which includes your cyclocross or gravel bike.
What is a goat-head thorn?
Goat-heads look like a tiny ball with spikes coming out of it, about 1/4 to 1/2" in diameter. The spikes are pointy and strong enough to puncture even the thickest bicycle inner tubes.
How to avoid goat-head thorns
They commonly fall on un-landscaped areas, like the side of the road, or in vacant lots. They are less likely to occur in high-traffic areas, so stay on the trail or roads. It's a good practice to take a look at your tire tread during breaks, if you pick up any goat-heads you can try to avoid that area on the future.
Preventing goat-head punctures on your cyclocross bike
It might be impossible to avoid the goat-head punctures entirely, but you can slow them down:
- Leave the good tires at home. Goat-head season isn't the time to experiment with your nice tubulars, save those for race day.
- If possible, fit your bike with tubeless tires, and always add a tubeless tire sealant. In some cases the sealant can seal goat-head thorn holes on the fly, so you can keep riding
- Use a belted tire with a kevlar weave underneath the tread
- As a last resort, add tire liners in between your inner tube and tire. These are heavy and add rolling resistance, so you won't want them on your race wheels, but but liners like the Mr. Tuffy brand can work acceptably for training or commuting purposes.