Pedalling into fall

Biking with your dog lets you enjoy the great outdoors and exercise your dog at the same time.

Biking with your dog lets you enjoy the great outdoors and exercise your dog at the same time.

By J. Leslie Johnson

As Timber and I cycled around a corner of the bike path and left the shelter of the aspen trees, I felt a cool breeze, wafting in from the Rocky Mountains to the west, brush against my face. The breath of chilly air suggested the sultry days of summer were over; autumn was on its way.

I was grateful for the end of summer and the arrival of fall. Summer seems like an ideal time to bike with your dog but the sizzling heat and strenuous activity can easily cause a dog to suffer from heat stress. During the sweltering summer months, I constantly kept an eye on the heat and biked with Timber only at the coolest times of the day, usually in the early morning or late evening. On blistering hot days when it failed to cool off, I did not take him out at all.

The appearance of the cool weather brought another benefit: as Timber and I continued our leisurely ride, we discovered we were the only ones on the bike path. I could listen to the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind and enjoy the sight of the changing fall colours: the trees that bordered the path were no longer bathed in hues of green but tinted with tones of gold and amber.

Glancing down at Timber, I saw a gust of wind ruffling the fur around his face and knew he welcomed the return of colder temperatures as well. A northern dog bred to run for long distances in arctic temperatures, Timber could lope along beside the bike almost effortlessly. From time to time, he broke out into a sprint, stretching his long legs fully and satisfying his desire to run. Biking was an ideal activity for Timber: it enabled him to get outside and go for a run but it kept him safely away from traffic and other hazards.

Leaving the asphalt bike path, Timber and I cut across a grassy field towards a small, shallow pond. The knobby tires on my mountain bike provided great traction on the uneven ground and gave us the flexibility to explore the many small trails that intersected the field. Aside from being more scenic, the softer, earthen trails provided a more paw-friendly surface for Timber than asphalt.

Like the amber-coloured trees along the bike path, the pond was showing signs of the changing season: bits of ice were floating on the water and creeping along the pond’s edges. Passing the shallow, frosty pond, Timber and I made our way towards an old dirt road — one of our favourite trails in the area. Tall grass, tinted with shades of rust, grew beside the trail and gave it an air of seclusion. As we rode along, a movement in the grass, perhaps a mouse or rabbit, caught Timber’s attention, and he put his nose up in the air to test for scent. I saw a jostle in the grass as the animal moved and Timber instinctively jumped as if to give chase.

The Springer bike attachment features a large coil spring that absorbs the force of sudden tugs from the dog.

The Springer bike attachment features a large coil spring that absorbs the force of sudden tugs from the dog.

However, I only felt a momentary tug as Timber bounded toward the little animal; the special dog biking attachment on the side of my bike, appropriately called a Springer, had a large coil spring that absorbed much of the force of Timber’s sudden pull. Because the Springer attached to the side of my bike, it enabled me to keep both of my hands on the handlebars, which also helped me maintain control of the bike. Using a special attachment such as this one — designed specifically for biking with dogs — definitely made it much easier to take Timber for a ride.

Ignoring the small creature in the grass, I kept pedalling along the dirt road and Timber’s attention soon returned to the trail. As we approached a junction with the main bike path, Timber looked up as if to ask which direction I intended to take. “Right,” I said, calmly but firmly. When Timber and I started biking together a few years ago, I began training him in directional commands such as “right,” “left,” and “straight ahead.” Now, he understood the brief commands completely; this enabled us to work together as a team and helped strengthen the bond between us.

Continuing on the main bike path, we leisurely rode along a flat section and then made our way up a gradual, grass-covered hill to a steep ridge overlooking the Bow River. It was a great place to stop, take a break and give Timber a drink of water. When I first began biking him, I carried our extra gear in a small backpack but it was uncomfortable and shifted around on my back while I rode. Eventually, I acquired a sturdy rear rack for my bike and put a small pannier on each side. This kept my centre of gravity low and helped me keep my balance as I rode. The panniers also helped organize the gear: All of Timber’s stuff — water, bowl, treats, and dog first aid kit — went into one pannier and all of mine — water, hat, mitts and sweater — went into the other.

Timber sat quietly as I reached into his pannier and took out his water bottle. I squeezed a small amount of cool water into the built-in plastic dispenser and offered him a sip. That done, I stood back and took a leisurely look at the wandering river. There was a small shrubby island below us and when the river was low, a gravel bar stretched from the island to the bank on the floodplain. The year before, Timber and I had seen a well-fed coyote emerge from the lush foliage along the bank and confidently trot across the gravel bar to the little island, perhaps in search of an evening meal.

Stopping at the ridge on a regular basis gave me the opportunity to enjoy the river in all its moods — from the turbulent, rushing water during the spring runoff to the unhurried, shallow flow in the fall. Timber seemed to enjoy these brief breaks too; as usual, he was sitting quietly beside the bike, looking at the valley and occasionally putting his nose up in the air to catch a scent. I started to pet him just behind the ear — the place he really liked — burrowing my fingers into his deep, soft fur. It was such a simple thing, biking with my dog, and yet it gave me such a feeling of contentment; it gave me a chance to sit back and really just be with my dog.

—J. Leslie Johnson is the author of Bike with Your Dog: How to Stay Safe and Have Fun: a handy guide that shows average dog owners and cyclists how to enjoy biking with their dog. The book is available at FriesenPress.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and e-books through Kindle, Kobo, iTunes and Nook.