Most articles about riding a bike safely with a dog really focus on the dogs comfort. Of course I 100% agree with articles like 7 Safety Tips for Riding Your Bike with Your Dog, which remind you to check for heat exhaustion and dog comfort, however I want to focus on the human side of the equation. Are you ready to begin safely biking with your dog?
There will always be those people who ask if cycling with a dog is cruel. I’ve always thought this was silly. You shouldn’t do anything your dog is not comfortable with, but my dog absolutely loves coming on rides with me. He gets to adventure, and this is not a replacement for his exercise. We bike to different dog parks and activities for him most of the time. It extends his enjoyment because I can travel with him without needing a car.
I have laid out a number of tips that keep us safe and comfortable on the road beyond making sure that my dog is comfortable in his backpack.
Be a Confident Rider
This may sound obvious, but you must remember that riding a bike with a dog means adding a layer of concern (and joy) to your ride. You should be confident in your ability to handle your bicycle. Can you break and adjust quickly? Are you stable and well balanced before you add the extra 10-30 lbs to your back? Keep in mind that a dog is not like a backpack. My dog shifts, repositions, sometimes licks my ear, and rarely but occasionally barks and gets agitated at the outside world. All of these items can break focus, mess with balance, and cause you to readjust.
If you are still getting used to the dog in a backpack situation, I recommend paths and low stress situations. I know have 3 years and counting of experience riding my dog everywhere in the city, out in the woods, and on group rides. The best way to get better at biking… is to bike more.
Do an ABC Quick Check on Your Bike
There will always be scenarios in this world that we cannot control. That is just the reality of life. But, we can give ourselves a fighting chance by removing easily preventable issues from our bike ride. I am going to move into “teacher” mode now as we discuss the ABC Quick Check that you can perform on your bike. Every bike contains 3 systems that make it move. You can remember these three systems with the pneumonic device, ABC. Checking these 3 systems could mean the difference between a delightful time biking with your dog, and getting stranded or worse crashing.
Also, see the video below for a full demonstration of this check, which takes less than 10 seconds to do before you head out for every ride.
A Stands for Air
The number one cause of a flat tire is under-inflation. Make sure to pinch both of your tires to make sure they feel firm. If they feel squishy, you should add air. Review the sidewall of each of your tires to find the PSI needed to fill your tire.
B Stands for Brakes
You have brakes and brake levers. Examine your brakes (rim or disc) and confirm that everything looks good at your wheel. Are your cables attached correctly? Did anything get jostled while parked? Did you close your brake system after taking your wheel off and on again. Then test each lever individually to ensure that both brakes are working as expected.
C Stands for Chain (Cassettes, Chainrings, (C)gears)
This is the easy one. Just review your chain and make sure it is seated properly on your chain rings and cogs. If it has fallen you can take tension off your chain by pushing the end of your derailleur towards the front chain rings and set your chain back in place. Pick up your back wheel and move your pedals forward to make sure the chain runs through smoothly.
BONUS: Quick Stands for Quick Releases
Not every bike has quick releases on the wheels, but if yours does you should do a quick safety check. The quick release (which is slowly falling out of favor in bike trends) is the lever on your wheel that you unlock and lock to get your wheel on and off your bike. If this piece is left accidentally unlocked, it can cause your wheel to fall off! Feel the lever at the center of your wheel (usually on the left) and make sure there is zero movement in it.
Ride More Cautiously
No matter how confident a rider you are, wet metal/wood surfaces, ice, sand, and rocks can trip up any cyclist. One winter (without my dog) I got overly confident going across various ice patches and on the third one I suddenly found myself on the ground in a matter of seconds. Thankfully it was a bike path and there weren’t many people out to see me… but my shoulder smarted for a couple of days.
When biking with your dog, it’s ok to go slow and take your time. There are also some days or weather that you may want to bring your dog such as a torrential downpour or icy conditions. Going slow also gives strangers more of a chance to see your dog and marvel at how cool you are! My dog loves the feeling of the wind in his ears on a downhill, but I definitely go slower with him than alone.
On especially hot or cold days, I limit my pups time in the backpack. However, I did invest in K9 Sport Snuggler to give him an insulated layer and have items to cover his ears. Next step, socks for his front toes!
Do a Final Supplies Check When Walking out the Door
You know the mantra… keys, wallet, phone. I recommend adding leash. I (knock on wood) have only forgotten my dogs leash once and I regretted it. My favorite accessory when biking with my dog is my Wilderdog Utility Pack (they do NOT sponsor me but I love this product!), but any good hip pack will do. In it you can hold the leash, harness (if applicable), snacks, and a water bowl. It sounds a little counter intuitive but I learned quickly that if I take my dog for an adventure in the backpack he has to keep his head up and be engaged the whole time. For a dog that usually naps the whole time we’re at home, this is a lot of work. He needs all of the treats to keep him going.
Take Lots of Pictures and Videos
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people exclaim as we ride by. I have friends tell me that they showed other people my dogs’s instagram. Riding with your dog is a buzz-worthy occasion! However, you should be careful when taking photos or videos of your dog. Be aware of your surroundings and wait until you are away from cars. I spend a lot of time thinking about how cute my dog is while we’re riding and exclaiming over his ears flapping in the wind, but I don’t let that distract me from unpredictable pedestrians and impatient car drivers.
Biking With Your Dog is #BikeJoy
Riding a bike with dog in backpack was a long time dream for me. I knew if I got a dog I would need a way to transport them wherever I was going. What I didn’t anticipate was how much job he would bring to others on our ride. My friends delight in seeing him ride around, strangers exclaim when we pass, and he has become a staple in the Boston Biking community. Someone said hi to him and didn’t even know who I was! Follow these simple guidelines and you will have the time of your life bringing your pup on lots of amazing adventures!