Gia Pets

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Bicycling and dogs

I have recently embarked on a grand adventure of rediscovering bicycling, with a primary goal of enjoying the world at a slower, greener pace…with the side benefits of increased physical exercise.  It’s only natural to want to include my dogs in our adventures via the bike, but that requires some careful planning before we add them to the routine.

First, since we have not been habitual cyclists, we have to regain proficiency as cyclists, and become comfortable with riding, not only in the parks but also on city streets to get from point a to point b.  We have just obtained our first bikes, inexpensive straight-off-the-Walmart-bike-rack bikes.

We chose full suspension mountain bikes as the starter bikes, and will probably end up having to upgrade some features on them, as well as work on general adjustments.  Fortunately for us, we have an authentic bike mechanic as a friend, and he has offered to go over the bikes for us.  Ensuring that they are properly tightened and adjusted is important, especially since we ignored all of our cycling friends’ advice and bought “Walmart bikes.”  In our case, we had an economic motive-we couldn’t afford “good” bikes, and it wasn’t likely we would be able to anytime soon.  We ultimately decided that a bike under our butts was better than no bike at all.

I already know that my bike seat has to be upgraded.  After my initial spin on the new bike, I’m sporting a sore butt.  The new seat, an inexpensive larger gel seat, is waiting to be installed on the bike already.  I have no doubts that a more comfortable seat will help me become more comfortable in general with riding.  It’s hard to concentrate on anything when you are uncomfortable as a result of your seat!

When I was a kid or even as a young adult, I thought little of just riding along on my bike with a dog on a hand held leash.  I was much more agile, and I healed much quicker if I did fall in those days.  Now however, I am more concerned about both my own and the dog’s safety.  Falling presents a very real risk to both the dog and myself.  So, the first thing to search for has been methods to ensure both of us are fairly safe.

I had seen various kinds of arm-like attachments that connected to the bike and then had a leash connection to the dog.  Any of these would probably work, to varying degrees of safety and efficiency.  Most connect to the seat post-a very convenient mid-body location that will spread out potential tugs at the point of greatest safety to the rider.  Attachments to the front wheel or handlebars are the most risky, as a relatively mild tug can turn the front wheel, resulting in a dangerous swerve for the bicycle.

Amazon is a familiar on-line vendor, but the first few offerings I found on a search with them were “out of stock.”  These items may or may not be carried at a future date by Amazon, and were crossed off of my list.

I did find some very attractive ones, like this one called a “bike tow leash”, from Pet Expertise.  I really like it, but…I don’t want the dog on the left side (street side) for safety reasons–cars barely clear bicycles on the streets & roads, and a dog on the left hand side is at more risk.  I want the dog on the right, and yes, I know dogs heel at the left side, but the average dog is smart enough to figure out the difference between bike riding and walking.  Still…it’s worthwhile to find out if it can be used on the right.  However, another down side is the price.  It seems like $119.75 is an awful high price, free ground shipping or not.

The PetEgo Walky Dog Bike Attachment from The Pampered Petmart (Drs Foster & Smith list it at $49.99) looks like a more economical choice at only $37.95.  This one is much more straight forward, and looks pretty much like an arm that clamps to the seat post.  My concern here is the lack of any device to reduce any sudden tugging or jerks, such as a spring. There is also a Walky Low Rider attachment, which allows the Walky to be attached to the rear wheel.

The Springer looks like a great choice, and is designed for use on either side of the bicycle (or even one on each side).  This basic arm has a quick release tab designed to release the dog in the event of something going wrong-not a bad idea!  If the dog goes on the opposite side of an obstacle, etc. the tab is designed to simply snap, rather than delivering a potentially fatal amount of force to bike, cyclist, or dog.  This one is also designed to be used with a harness on the dog, as well as easily be removed when not in use.  Attaching to the seat post is an excellent and simple method of handling the force of a tugging dog.  This one is a bit more expensive, listing at $89.00.

The next issue to check on in regards to these devices is their adaptability to specific dogs.  In my case, there are two dogs–one comes in at 65 lbs, the other at 25 lbs.  They are radically different in size, so I can’t help but wonder how well these devices would adapt between the dogs, or would each dog need their own device.  In our case, that’s not impossible–two bicyclists, two dogs, easy math.

For now, with our limited distance abilities as we relearn about biking, it isn’t a huge concern about distance for the dogs to keep up with us, but as we expand our distance from single digit rides to longer ones, it will become more of a concern.  Neither dog is a young dog anymore-the larger is 8, the smaller is 7.  The larger dog is showing signs of aging with increased stiffness in her joints.  Is it truly fair to expect her to pace a bicycle for long distances, even perhaps something like 5 miles?  We will know more as we start taking her along, and perhaps we’ll return to the basic 1 mile loop at the park with its lower speed limits and more considerate drivers, as well as grass alongside the roads.  Even so, if we do start doing longer distances, it might behoove us to make plans on coping with aging dogs and distance.

The best answer is, without a doubt, the addition of a trailer for the larger dog.  Reading reviews of trailers, they seem to track well behind the bicycles and normally don’t add a lot of drag to a cyclist.  They are prone to increase stability, as well as grant higher visibility to motorists, as well as make them more inclined to passing a cyclist with a trailer with better clearance.  I haven’t bought one or used one yet, but these all seem like great advantages, and the idea that a trailer would add less drag than typical touring panniers is also attractive.

In looking at trailers, specifically for large dog trailers, one stood out from Bike Trailers.com-the DoggyRide Novel.  At $349.99, this is like the Hummer for dog bike trailers.  That’s a fair chunk of change, so you had best be very serious about frequent rides when you fork out that kind of money for a dog bike trailer.  The Bike Trailer company has excellent reviews, and a number of other dog trailers available, so it’s a worthwhile source.

There are a number of less expensive trailers out there, and there is always the option of buying a cargo trailer, then strapping a normal wire or airline crate to the trailer, and making your own covers for shade or weather protection.  In looking at some of these trailers, and being aware of the heat here in New Orleans, I’m a little concerned about adequate ventilation to keep these trailers from being hot–the wire crate with a shade cover might be a more practical solution because of the increased ventilation.  Yes, I know that a wire crate weighs a LOT compared to these nylon fabric & plastic coated commercial trailers, but my primary concern is that the dog can ride safely and comfortably.  I would just have to ensure that the bike trailer’s weight limits were not being exceeded with the combined weight of dog & crate, plus any accessories that may be added.  There is also the possibility of getting creative-why not use plastic mesh similar to what is used in large aviaries & gardens over pvc pipe?  As long as the dog was not going to get sincere about escaping the trailer, that might be a very viable solution requiring minimal tools and weighing in far less than a commercial wire crate.  In addition, the top could be made entirely of any sturdy outdoor waterproof fabric rather than merely a cover made for the crate.  Desert dwellers could even use a gravity feed system to slowly drip water into fabric side panels, creating a mobile “swamp cooler” for their pet-on-the-go!  (Evaporator cooling systems don’t work particularly well in the high humidity climate of the American South, however, they are extremely efficient in low humidity climates in the West.)

So with all of that to explore, I’m off to fill a water bowl!

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