The Davis Enterprise: June 5, 2009
Davis Bicycles! column #19
Title: The joys of cylcing with a dog
Author: Jay Johnstone
How can you take your dog along on a bike ride when he weighs a trim 95 pounds? Not on the luggage rack, thats for sure!
Weve all seen folks on their bikes holding a leash while their pet trots along on the end. I tried that just once. We got going pretty fast, Strider loping along beside me. Suddenly he bolted across our path. The bike did an endo on the front wheel and I flipped over it, luckily landing on my feet, still holding the leash. Muscle memory from high school gymnastics must have kicked in.
We walked home wiser but unhurt; I was embarrassed but mighty proud of my save.
Soon after that, riding on the American River Parkway, I saw another biker with a big dog cruising alongside. I stopped when they did and asked about his rig. Its called a Springer. Look on the Web was all he had to say to get us started.
Developed in Norway, the Springer is the best solution Ive ever seen for bike dogs. The signature upright steel spring is attached to a U-shaped bar clamped to the tube below the bike seat. It can be removed quickly by pulling a clevis pin. A very short lead from the tip of the bar clips to a simple shoulder harness on the dog.
The dog is thus positioned beside the rider and about 2 feet out, not enough to get ahead of or behind the bike. The spring acts as a shock absorber. The U-bar transfers torque close to the ground, so that if the dog pulls to the side, the force cant pull the bike over. The lead has a break-away feature in case you prong something like a sign post. All that Euro engineering for 50 bucks!
The Web site shows Norwegian police using the Springer with their patrol dogs. It even shows a lady flanked by dogs on both sides of her bike.
The Springer, however, did get us into trouble a couple of times. We once rode up the old logging road beside Big River, the estuary that meanders into the redwoods east of Mendocino. The tide was ebbing, so I carelessly let Strider drink some of the water near the mouth. Arent dogs supposed to know whats good for them?
Six miles up the river he became violently ill, vomiting and crazily thirsty. I let him off the lead to drink from a tributary stream and he dove off the wrong side of the road down a nearly vertical rocky gully. After drinking, he looked up at me helplessly. Only by lying down and stretching full out was I able to grasp that wonderful harness and help him claw his way out.
Another time my shoe had come untied and I had to get off the bike, with dog attached, to retie my shoe. I bumped the bike. Strider jumped. The bike started to fall on him. He took off across someones front lawn, dragging the bike, which only spooked him more. Amazingly, he responded to my stay command and nothing was damaged, not even the lawn. I could just imagine him and the bike plowing through the neighborhoods shrubs and flowers.
Other lessons learned: Dogs should be treated like any other athlete. Trotting is safer for a dogs legs than galloping, especially on hard surfaces over long distance. Work up to up distance. Hydrate often. Dont start too young with still-developing bodies. Avoid hot asphalt that could burn a dogs pads, and other pavement hazards like broken glass.
Strider and I logged more than 1,000 miles together with the bike until he died last year of bone cancer. He still runs with us in spirit, though, past the pond where I taught him to swim, and the hills where he hunted mice. I still have the bike and the Springer and all those great memories.
Jay Johnstone has been the regional librarian in charge of the Stephens Branch of the Yolo County Library in Davis since 1994. When he isnt reading, hiking or kayaking, he and his family ride their bikes around town and while camping in the national and state parks.