Tour of Socorro
April 19-20, 2008
Socorro, NM, USA
Synopsis: If you want to stay riding, run self-sealing tubes. Heavy duty tubes are not enough. Tire liners are not enough. If you don't run a self-sealing tube, you will get a flat. If (when) you do flat out, run your fingers all around the inside of the tire before putting it back on. Many spikes aren't visible from the outside of the tire, and will flat it again if not removed.
Ah! The Great Outdoors! Nothing beats a leisurely ride down an old road in the middle of the country! Of course, you'll only be "riding" if your tires stay inflated. Otherwise, you'll be taking a leisurely walk down an old road in the middle of the country, pushing your crippled bike. And plenty beats that.
Well, then: that's chipper. Why on earth would I want to share such pessimism with you? Why? Because in Socorro it's not pessimistic; it's realistic. Consider the following vista, not so different from what you might see should you look down as you ride along.
Seems innocent, doesn't it? Just a few stray, ground-hugging weeds overgrowing the middle of the road. Nothing to worry about! You've jumped stumps higher than your helmet. You've descended rock-strewn cliffs that would scare a mountain goat. You are not afraid of mere weeds!
You . . . will . . . be . . .
So that's what those ground-huggers look like, huh? Kind of pretty, actually. Nice, dark green leaves. Good symmetry. Those "knuckles" where the shoots split off from the root are interesting. But, wait: what are those fleshy, hairy, spiky looking things at the end of some shoots?
Those are goatheads, a particularly nasty seed that grows in abundance around Socorro. The red circles show developing goatheads: they're softer, and fairly well attached to the plant. The yellow circle shows the true enemy of inflatable bicycle tires: the mature goathead. A mature goathead is a solid lump of wood a quarter inch or more in diameter, with several very hard, very sharp, quarter inch spikes arrayed around it.
You've dealt with prickers before. You've dealt with burrs before. You've never dealt with anything like goatheads before. These things are vicious. They go through heavy duty tires with kevlar tube liners like they aren't even there. And you simply cannot avoid them. They're everywhere, and they're attracted to shoes, bicycle tires, and exposed flesh as though magnetized! Remember that first picture? I simply strode out and back through that area, and then looked at bottom of my shoes. This is what I pulled out.
I removed over a dozen goatheads, and pieces of goatheads, from my shoes after just walking through the goathead patch. Any one of these could flat a bicycle tire. Don't believe me? Take a look at the side view.
See what I mean? Goatheads are basically tetrahedral in shape, meaning that--no matter how they fall to the ground, no matter how they get kicked around--they will always have a spike pointing straight up into your tire.
One other thing: just because you don't see a goathead plant doesn't mean you're safe. Goatheads disperse by spearing into something (like, say, your foot), and then travel around with it for a while before getting dislodged. They're pretty much everywhere.
So you can't avoid them, and you can't stop them from puncturing your tire. What can you do to protect yourself? The best (and only, honestly) thing you can do is run a self-sealing tube. The goathead punctures it, it reseals. You might end up with a slow leak, but at least you'll have finished the ride.
Many companies now offer self-sealing tubes, or bottles of goo to convert your favorite tubes into self-sealers. The Socorro Fat Tire Fiesta committee hasn't had the time, money, or intestinal fortitude to test all of them, but we mostly run Slime brand pre-slimed tubes, or convert our own with the sealant from Stan's Tubeless System. Both are excellent products.
If you cannot or will not run a self-sealing tube, I do have a tip for you. When you flat out (and you will), always check the entire tire for spikes. Often, the spikes will break off at the surface of the tire, leaving little evidence on the outside. Run your fingers around the inside surface of the tire, and remove all the spikes you feel. If you don't, you'll immediately flat your tube again when you pump up your tire.
Okay: pop quiz. Care to guess how many goatheads are along the side of the road, in the little yellow square? See for yourself. Self-sealing tubes are sounding better and better, aren't they?