Biking in Boise’s Kryptonite

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The mortal enemy of most bicycle enthusiasts in Boise is the Tribulus terrestris, otherwise known as goatheads or puncture vines.

A familiar situation for students and residents alike is riding down the greenbelt or sidewalk, only to hear the thump of a flat tire. This is frustrating for all, especially for students who rely on bikes to get around.

“I walked out of class and my bike was sitting there with a flat,” said graduate student and computer science major Andrew Rafla. “It was so frustrating, I wanted to scream.”

Goatheads are an invasive species, native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, that made their way here by sticking to settlers crossing the ocean. Found in 46 states, the plant grows best in semi-arid locations. In Boise, the plant flourishes as an annual plant, sprouting in the spring.

The plant is defined by viney branches that produce fruit a week after flowering. The fruit resembles a goathead, with sharp, thorny edges, which are often the culprit for bike flats.

“They will often grow in cracks in the sidewalk where the vine will spread,” said Gabe Finkelstein, coordinator of the Cycle Learning Center on campus. “Constructions sites, gravel areas and just off the greenbelt are where you will often find them.”

The Cycle Learning Center has a steady stream of students coming in to fix their bike flats.

“We get about 30 people a day coming in day from flat tires,” Finkelstein said. “Almost all of them are from goatheads.”

Fixing a flat can provide a short-term solution, but it is just that–short-term.

“I fixed my bike tire, but I had another flat within the next day,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major Cade Greseth. “It almost made me want to give up on biking and just walk everywhere.”

At the Cycle Learning Center, there are technologies available to make bikes more goathead-resistant.

“We have special tubes that have a thicker, harder surface,” Finkelstein said. “This makes it much more difficult to puncture the tube and we actually sell them for under retail price.”

There are also special tires available, made with a harder exterior, designed to further protect the inflated tube. Also available at the Cycle Learning Center is a special slime, put inside the tube, which seals up small punctures made from goatheads.

However, the simplest prevention method is knowing where you are and where these goatheads are located.

“The best way to prevent them is to use the technology available and just know where they grow,” Finkelstein said. “They are all over the place in town.”

In August, volunteers picked up almost five tons of goatheads and their vines, for the Boise Goathead Festival, an incredible amount. However, the plant has a long way to go before being exterminated from Boise, making the information and technologies crucial for better, goathead-free biking in Boise.


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