Do Dogs and Bicycles Mix?
Here’s How to Run Your Dog Safely
By Karen Kefauver
It’s a painful truth of cycling, so let’s face it: Chances are good that at some point, you’re going to crash your bike. I certainly have. Most of the crashes have been my fault, like the time I was pedaling to yoga class and tried to make a phone call (stupid!)
Another time, I was testing clipless pedals, a system in which cleated shoes snap securely onto specialized pedals. I couldn’t put my foot down fast enough and tipped over on the road. Ouch!
Not all crashes are my fault and fortunately I’ve never caused one. A few years ago, a big dog dashed in front of me on West Cliff Drive’s multi-use path. I swerved to avoid hitting him, but went down hard. I was bruised, scraped and angry at the owner’s blatant disregard for the leash law, injuring me and endangering the dog.
That leads to the question: How well do dogs and bicycles mix? I pondered this again on Bike to Work Day last month, when I saw my friend Anne Berne riding her bike with her leashed dog, Tumi, a Border Collie mix, running next to her. I kept my mouth shut but wondered if it were a recipe for disaster.
I wasn’t the only one concerned. After a Sentinel photographer snapped Anne and her dog’s photo and it was published on the front page, a woman wrote a letter to the editor expressing her dismay.
“I was upset by the Oct. 5 photo of a woman running her dog alongside her bicycle. I see this too frequently around town,” wrote Lin Marelick of Santa Cruz. “This is not a fun and carefree way to exercise your dog, as portrayed in the photo; it is a highly unsafe practice, it’s mean, it should be discouraged, and I hope someday it’s made illegal.”
Anne’s response in the paper, combined with my brief interview, taught me a lot. Here’s a condensed version of both:
1. Why do you run Tumi on your bike?
Anne: He is a young border collie that needs a lot more exercise than we can give him by walking. We are safe be- cause I have two hands on my handle- bars and the pole has three springs inside so he cannot pull me over, nor hit my bike.
2. How did you feel about the critical letter in the newspaper?
Anne: [The writer] was upset that maybe he was wearing a prong collar, maybe I was dragging him and maybe he could knock me over. None of these happen because the harness and the Walky-Dog are made for running dogs. I also agree that running a dog with a prong collar on a leash, where the cyclist does not have both hands on the handlebars, is not safe.
3. How do you make it safe?
Anne: Tumi runs next to me on a pole called Walky-Dog with a chest harness…It’s a pole with one to three springs inside and I attach it to Tumi’s fluffy chest harness. I basically slow him down with my brakes when the path narrows or there are other people on the path. The number two item that helps us stay safe is my bell so I can gently let others know we are running up behind them.
4. You are a daily cyclist and dog owner both, what other tips do you have?
Anne: For safety, you need a heavier bike to get more stability with a fast, young dog pulling you along. There are many hands-free dog bike contraptions out there. Most important: Keep both hands on the handlebars and anticipate what your dog is going to do by scanning the area for squirrels, cats, narrowing paths and of course, cars. I try to bike on less busy streets, watch for car doors and take bike paths.
Readers: I’d love to hear your comments about bicycling and dogs.