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Preventing Bicycle Flat Tires From Goatheads (Puncture Vine Seeds)

Dan is a licensed electrician and has been a homeowner for 40 years. He has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks.

Goatheads are the bane of bicycles everywhere but can be stopped.

Goatheads are the bane of bicycles everywhere but can be stopped.

Having Bicycle Flat Tires Isn't Fun

A couple of years ago, two of my grandchildren received bicycles for their birthdays, but it didn't turn out very well. The area we live in is known for large numbers of "goatheads," a plant with various names that produces large quantities of sharp, thorny seeds, and those seeds are everywhere.

Dad isn't much of a mechanic, so patching flat tires didn't happen very often, usually just when Grandpa visited. The result was that the kids never had a bike to ride. One short trip down the street was all it took to get several goatheads through the tube.

Since then we have worked to find a solution to this and have come up with several possibilities, some of which have worked very well. Those solutions that have worked, as well as one that did not, are given below; look them over and choose the one that seems best for you.

Goatheads, caltrops, puncture vine:  different names for the same bike-stopping seeds.

Goatheads, caltrops, puncture vine: different names for the same bike-stopping seeds.

Using "Slime" in Bicycle Tires

We started out using "slime tubes." These are inner tubes that contain a slimy solution that is advertised to immediately seal holes up to 1/8" in diameter. They are easy to install (just like putting in any other tube) and the slime is inside the tube, not on the outside.

Unfortunately, slime tubes did not work for the kids, even though the thorns on the goatheads are quite small. It may be because the thorns remain in the tire, working constantly as the bike is ridden, but for whatever reason the bikes still had a constant flat tire to fix.

Some people have had good results with slime tubes, and they are an inexpensive fix, but I cannot recommend them simply because they did not work for us.

Solid Rubber Inner Tubes

Our next effort was to install solid rubber inner tubes. There has been some controversial allegations over the years about these tubes, some of which are certainly true and some of which are questionable.

Solid tubes are certainly heavier than ordinary air filled inner tubes, and will add weight to the bike. Because they are solid, a good deal of the shock-absorbing capability of normal tubes is lost, and the ride becomes considerably rougher. Unless they are a perfect fit, they will either be difficult to impossible to install or feel as if they are flat. These things are certainly true, and if they are of concern to you, you should probably not choose solid tubes.

The other controversy concerns the wheels, not the tires. People including at least one high-class bike shop have told me that the lack of shock absorbency of solid tubes can cause the wheels themselves to break, or to allow the the spokes to loosen from increased vibration. The companies that make the tubes, on the other hand, deny these claims and maintain that their product will cause no harm to the bicycle. You will have to make your own choice.

As the solid tubes were to go on smaller bikes and were to be used by lightweight children rather than adults, none of these concerned us too much and we purchased two solid tubes for each bicycle. These tubes have, of course, completely solved the problem of excessive flat tires as there is nothing to go flat. They are rather expensive when compared to ordinary tubes, but absolutely did allow the children to use their bicycles.

Thorn Resistant Tubes

The next possibility is a thorn resistant tube rather than a solid tube. These bike tubes are similar to ordinary tubes in that they need air and can go flat, but they are constructed of much thicker rubber that is also thicker directly over the tire and thins on the sides and inside of the tube to conserve weight.

I have installed these tubes on both my and my wife's bicycles, with good results. In 3 years we have had only one flat tire to fix. The idea behind the tubes is reasonable, but it should be noted that they are only resistant to thorns, not thorn proof as a solid tube would be. Long thorns, glass, nails or screws will likely go right through the tubes, and while an adult will ride around such things, small children won't.

Bicycle Tire Liners

The last option is to purchase a strong tire liner and install it. These are fairly thick pieces of rubber that cover the inside of the tire, providing additional puncture resistance. Like the thorn proof tubes they are not a failsafe; thorns or other sharp objects can still puncture the sides of the tires, and longer objects can still go completely through the tire, liner and tube.

Nevertheless, they have produced a solution for our most recent grandchild to face the goathead problem. This time a small 16" bike was the recipient and solid tubes are not available, so another option had to be found. We considered the thorn resistant tubes, but purchased the liners instead under the theory that if they helped but did not solve the problem then the thorn resistant tubes could also be used at the same time and probably would stop the goatheads. To date there have been no flat tires, and the liners have done a very good job for the youngest addition to the bicycle brigade.

We were unable to find liners for a 16" tire, but the bike shop told us we could simply overlap it inside the tire. Do not cut them as it leaves a sharp edge that could puncture the tube itself. It has worked well.

It may be that this child, at under 50 pounds, is simply too light to drive a thorn completely through the tire, liner, and tube, but whatever the reason, liners have worked well for us and I would recommend them.

© 2012 Dan Harmon


Wheeler101 on January 17, 2015:

The Bike Shop was incorrect. Tire liners can be cut to fit - and the instructions actually say to do so - as long as there is a few inches of overlap. Just make sure the side you cut is on the tire side of the overlap and not on the tube side - leaving only the original tip facing the tube.

theomajor from New Zealand on March 17, 2014:

Thanks for your link! I've found one vendor that delivers international. I'd still love to know where they're made!

theomajor from New Zealand on March 17, 2014:

Thanks but only selected items are shipped overseas. In other words there may be 20 same items for sale but only one vendor will ship to the other side of the world. Kmart doesn't seem to do that.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 16, 2014:

theomajor, I can't help you with a manufacturer, but Amazon carries them and I see a few on eBay as well, saying they ship worldwide. If you're just wanting a pair or two for yourself, that might be an option.

theomajor from New Zealand on March 16, 2014:

I'd love to know where to source these solid tubes. Bike shops in New Zealand will or cannot stock them. Is there a contactmanufacturer in the USA or a retailer who will export?

Ann Pingrey-Korthas from Utah, United States on February 22, 2013:

I will have to do this with our tires this summer. We are a bike riding family, not anything great and long, but we love our neighborhood rides. My boys are always on their bicycles in the summer and are always coming home a couple times a week with a flat tire due to none other than the "goatheads". My 5-yr old calls them "prickles". :) We have used the Green Slime in the past, but as you have stated, this is not a lasting fix. I will be investing in the tire liners this year when the goatheads and bicycles come out. Thanks for sharing!!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 21, 2013:

Isn't it the truth? Bikes aren't much good with flat tires. When my grandkids got their first bike the tires were flat that day. Fixed the next day (after buying a repair kit) they were flat that evening.

Solid rubber tires work. They're not as comfortable as blow up tires and they're expensive but they work.

NM ranch lady on January 21, 2013:

We used the solid rubber inner tubes for our kids bikes many years ago and loved them. What fun is a bike is you have a flat? I have these tubes in my garden cart and I am looking for another set for another cart. Didn't know if they were still available or not.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on October 26, 2012:

This hub is invaluable to grandparents of small boys with thorny driveways! We have a dreadful driveway, so next time we have kids on bikes that puncture I will know exactly what to do about it. Thanks. Love your photo at the top.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 25, 2012:

@cyclingfitness: I'm positive you are right in your points, and any really serious cyclist will not want any of these on their bike except just possible the liner, and you would know better than I. I looked at the heavier duty tires, but pricing on the sizes we needed was far more; the cost of the tires and tubes was nearly as much as the bike!

The ones we bought were all for young children (up to 9 years old) and none of them do an awful lot of biking. Down the road a few blocks to the playground or a friends house - that's about it. Tire weight isn't a real issue, but the goatheads sure are!

De Greek from UK on October 25, 2012:

What a useful article! Excellent, thank you ;-)

Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on October 25, 2012:

The downside of many of these techniques is the increased rolling weight (which equates to 3x stationary weight while riding) therefore many of these items have negative effects on both acceleration and bicycle handling.

As a road cyclist we've seen solid tires a few years ago and they never caught on due to reliability issues. A solid rubber inner tube is effectively the price of buying a heavy duty puncture resistant tire.

I'd recommend that anyone checks out companies like Continental who offer a heavy duty tire and tube which they will actually refund the cost of your purchase if you have a puncture.

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on October 24, 2012:

I might try out some of these options! Where I live, all the country roads are bordered by whitethorn hedgerows. When I see a backhoe machine in the distance on the road while out mountain biking, I know there is going to be trouble as the road ends up littered with thorns and these usually end up in my tires!

Thanks for the info and voted up!