Dogs on bicycles


Once, years ago,  I complained to my godmother about how hard it was to meet guys. “I don’t understand—you ride around with your dog in the basket.” she said. “Don’t men just follow you around?”

If they did, they were on foot. But the next time I got on my bicycle with Amos, I realized that people did seem to stop and stare. Seeing a dog on a bike must speak to the same thing in us that reacts to skateboarding puppies or cats on Roombas.The other day, I took part in a local bike-with-your-dog parade organized by the environmental advocacy group, Time’s Up. For every cute dog in a bike basket, there were six people gawking. As the twenty or thirty of us dog lovers were biking en masse down Waverly Place, I overheard one woman exclaim, “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in New York.”

Really? I’m not sure it’d make my top ten. I don’t ride a bike with Amos, my poodle-yorkie, because I’m trying to be eccentric or broadcast his cuteness. I do it because I like to have him around. And whenever I’m somewhere that isn’t at home, there’s a good chance I’m getting there by bike.

I started bicycling with Amos when he was just a few months old. At first, I put him in the removable wire basket hanging from my handlebars; he lay down, and we were off. I gave him some treats as we went. He was young enough that he took it all in stride. Once, when he was very small, he pooped while we were riding. But it fell right through the wire mesh. No muss, no fuss!

I eventually started putting a piece of cardboard or some magazines in the bottom of the basket so that his feet wouldn’t slip through. I later customized his ride further by placing an old towel in it. I also started putting him in a harness and tying the leash to the side of the basket, lest he get thrown out. Then I upgraded to a body harness instead of a neck collar because, if we did get jostled, I think the weight would be better distributed than if the leash were attached to his neck.

My setup is purely makeshift, but this is because of necessity, not thrift: Despite the fact that both bikes and dogs have been around longer than cars, we’re ages away from having any kind of bicycling regulations for the canine set, and there are few quality products out there for ensuring a safe ride for your pet.  Really, we haven’t progressed much further than Miss Gulch’s method for transporting Toto, shoving him into a covered back basket. No seat belt! He, of course, escaped. Fortunately, there were no taxis going by.

In anticipation of writing this post, I tried out a dog-specific bike basket, The Snoozer.Amos and I were both enticed by the promotional video. It sucked us in, like a bhangra music video or a ShamWow ad. But when the product showed up, I found it was mostly fabric; it just didn’t seem as sturdy as our previous arrangement. We tried it but it was kind of wobbly. Amos gave it two paws down. I didn’t really care about all the pockets you could use to put doggie items because Amos travels light. The one advantage it had over his previous basket was that there’s an attached rain hood, but I don’t much like biking in the rain in any case.

Perhaps in Holland or Portland or in some other more bike-friendly city, everyone with a bike and a dog has figured out some clever way to ride with their pet and no one looks at them twice. In New York, however, a dog on a bike still gets some attention. But of all those dog/bike people to stare at, the motley crew at the Doggie Peddle Parade was a good sampling of considerate pet travelers.

A couple people had trailers that are specifically made for dogs and have lots of value added features: a sun roof, a machine-washable cushion, ventilation all around, etc. (I enjoyed this video review, wherein the cameraman goes inside the trailer to best convey the dog’s experience.) These are probably best suited for large dogs who may need to be acclimated to the situation with a couple short rides before you start taking them any great distances.

Most people had just altered their regular bike baskets as I had, but some went other routes: One lady had her dog strapped to her chest in a canine-snuggly, and one man had his dog running next to him, although this seems a risky proposition to me. Better to keep the leash out of your hands and use something like the WalkyDog, which attaches to the bike and puts some distance between the dog and the bike’s chains. A few people even had their dogs in helmets. I didn’t have one of these for Amos, but I just ordered one. They are made of ABS plastic and have customizable foam padding.

Does it look ridiculously cute? Yes. But I’m getting it anyway.

[Images via ambergris on Flickr, and Hunterk9]



3 Responses

  1. Tim

    July 31, 2012 10:19 am

    Great article! I’m a dog trainer in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area. We love the K9 Cruiser Bike Leash for Dogs in South Florida! It’s great for getting the excess energy out of the dogs and an easy way for owners to get some exercise too.

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