“Mountain biking with Sophie…. are you CRAZY?”
Well, I guess I am. Over the years, Ruffwear has produced spectacular imagery of people mountain biking with their dogs. Typically the dogs in these images are ripped German Shorthair Pointers, Weimaraners… real athletes. These are the types of dogs seen on the trails around Bend. But there is a new doggie on the trail: Sophie “aka Phyllis Diller!”
As a puppy, Sophie had a reputation for being somewhat Type A. I think most of my coworkers would have never guessed she would turn out to be the well-behaved, focused mountain biking dog she is today.
Don’t let the crazy hair fool you! Under those golden curls, is a true athlete! Sophie and I started hitting the trails together late last summer—on the dawn of her first birthday. I started her out on short rides at lunch.
At first, our adventures were mostly trial and error. What proved to be most successful was having another cyclist and dog join us. This would encourage Sophie to stay focused on the other dog–as long as the other dog was focused on the trail!
Because she is a larger breed, I started out with relatively short distances, keeping it under 5K. Through the long cold winter, I introduced Sophie to the sport of Skijoring to further keep her in shape and practicing commands. Man, was that a blast. Being pulled on cross-country skis tethered to a dog in harness is a real kick!
All that winter exercise has turned Sophie into a true athlete. Last night was my first real ride of the spring with Sophie and she left me eating her dust—the entire hour-and-a-half ride.
After 20-plus years of mountain biking on my own, riding with Sophie has opened up a whole new level of fun for me. I encourage others to give it a try, while considering some of the lessons I have learned along the way.
- It is imperative that your dog responds to basic voice commands. Recall on the trail is essential for your safety, the safety of your dog, and other riders on the trail.
- Start low and slow. Get them accustomed to being around the bike. Go to a secure area to familiarize them with the dynamics of biking and running together.
- Although it may seem cute at the time, riding with your dog is not a game of chase. Don’t let the dog bite at your ankles (or the bike).
- Expose your dog to other people on bikes. Make it clear it is okay to run with you on the trail, but NOT okay to chase others on bikes. Slowly riding with your dog leashed, and correcting along the way is the easiest way to do this.
- Let the dog run where they are most comfortable. Some dogs are leaders and others are followers. Sophie prefers to run out front, but some choose to follow.
- If your dog is a natural leader, be prepared for the “What was that smell?” stop. Keep your fingers on the brake levers, and a poo bag handy. Decide ahead of time who is going to carry the bag—you or your dog—and have a place prepared to store it.
- Hydration is key. On these small rides, a hydration pack or large water bottle will work. The Ruffwear SingleTrak Pack™ will let the dog carry their own water (and maybe yours, too).
- You may not want to take your dog with you to the most popular riding spot in town at 1:00pm on Saturday. When traffic is heavy, the odds of unintended encounters go up.
Sometimes those lone rides can get a little boring. Over the last 20 years, I thought it would be too much of a hassle to take my dog mountain biking with me. But I was wrong. A few lessons learned have made Sophie a fun and enjoyable addition to my adventure.