Just five days after
returning home from completing a fifty-two-day bicycle trip from coast to coast across the United States, I was struck by a car and severely injured just two miles from my home. It was not an
accident. By definition an accident happens by chance or without apparent or deliberate cause. However, this is not the case when a car collides with a bicycle on the road. Either the cyclist,
driver or both violated the motor vehicle safety laws
and caused the collision. In all collisions between a bicycle and a motor vehicle someone is guilty of carelessness or negligence.
However, regardless of who is at fault, it’s the cyclist who is most
likely to be injured or killed. The first
step in keeping yourself safe when cycling is to be alert of the traffic around
you at all times and follow the same motor vehicle safety laws as motorists. Nevertheless, as in my case, you can do
everything right and still be stuck by a motor vehicle. Hence the adage, “You
can be dead right”.
As a friend and two-time coast to coast cycler once
complained, it’s like wearing the Cloak of Invisibility while cycling. To improve your safety on the road you need to
be noticed. Over the next several post I
will talk about what I do to be more visible to motorist on the road.
I have ridden across the country twice, among many other rides, and have ridden with cyclists who carry pepper spray and will routinely use this on any dog that comes close when they are too far away to kick them or kick at them with their foot. Call me naive or lucky, but I do not carry anything more than a water bottle and the lung capacity to yell a very determined “No” with a well-aimed spray from my water bottle, which has proven effective in deterring dogs getting too close. My fear, as a dog lover, is that they will be so focused on chasing me that they inadvertently do not notice the speeding car coming at them in the other lane. I also have the fear the dogs will mistime their pace or my pace and get caught in the bike, putting both of us on the pavement.
The reason I am so opposed to the pepper spray and/or the ill-informed practice that I have heard from other fellow cyclists wherein they will stop, jump off their bikes and run at the dogs to intimidate and terrorize the dog as they believe this is a good deterrent for the dog is that I know this can actually exacerbate the situation. The problem with this is that most barking dogs are fear barking, and most dog bites come from a fearful dog, so jumping off your bike and challenging/terrorizing not only teaches the dog that he is 100% correct in fearing a cyclist, but may make the encounter for the next cyclist to come upon this dog exponentially more dangerous for the cyclist and the dog. The dog may likely have a “I’ll get them before they get me” attitude, which makes him more likely to bite. Heaven forbid THIS cyclist also stops, jumps off his bike and believes intimidation will take care of everything.
Now, I have heard horror stories from cyclists who ride in foreign countries, and I will freely admit I have no experience with these more wild dogs. So please do not comment that I have a Pollyanna view for every dog in the world. This article is only regarding what I know, which are domesticated dogs in the United States. I have ridden through southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama where it seems there are an inordinate number of dogs who run freely. It may be unnerving to have a dog running too close, but you are likely not the first cyclist they have encountered. Hopefully, the cyclist before you is not one who terrorized a fearful or anxious dog.
I do not pretend to speak for cyclists who have been attacked by a dog and bitten previously, I have no doubt this leaves one, at the very least, wary of any dog you encounter, and I can see how a dog loudly running at you can trigger posttraumatic stress.
In my experience, I have found that nine times out of ten, domestic dogs in the US are harmless, i.e., they are not hoping to have you for lunch. However, of course have a game plan, give a deliberate and deep-throated “No!”, have an easy to reach water bottle for squirting and/or throwing to distract them long enough so your well-muscled legs can carry you down the road and the dogs give up the chase.
There will always be irresponsible owners who do not know or maybe do not care that their dogs are chasing passing cyclists. I would never in a million years tell you that I believe that all dogs are harmless. I never say never when questioned whether any given dog will bite because I do not know if there is a situation where the dog will be so frightened, in pain or sick, hungry, nervous enough to bite when it never showed those tendencies before. I just believe it is poor practice to pepper spray, kick, jump off your bike and stomp at the dog, as those may be sure ways to turn what could have been just a close call into a dog attack.
You know the moment, you are riding down a quiet country road, feeling strong and grateful for the ability to take in the scenery at this speed. Then suddenly you hear a distant “bark, bark, bark!” You look to the side to see a dog running at what looks like full speed in your direction and you have seconds to decide if you should pedal faster or come to a dead stop. It is the cyclist’s dilemma debated for decades.
Full disclosure, I am a dog lover and have been a trainer for over a decade. However, I am also a cyclist and have had many encounters with loose dogs over the years. I do not believe because I love dogs that all of them have no malicious intentions when running at a cyclist. Some of them do…but more often than not it will not be the dog who barks loudly all the way out to the road, making his presence abundantly clear. The dogs you most need to worry about are the ones who know enough to be stealthy and quiet and seem to come out of nowhere. The body language of a dog up to no good is a high tail (does not matter if it is wagging or not; wagging can mean he is happy or anxious), ears back, lowered head, a hard stare, hackles up, and maybe a combination of these or none of these.
Most dogs are simply out for the glee of a good game of chase. They have no intention of running into you so that they can knock you off your bike and have a good gnaw at your hamstrings. Dogs, like most living things, have a keen sense of self preservation and will not knowingly put themselves in danger. They do, however, have a couple of objectives in running at a cyclist: (1) they are guarding and trying to get you away from “their” property, (2) they have a genetic prey drive and find the constant revolutions of your feet or your bicycle’s wheels too tempting not to attempt to catch either, and thus, it is a game for them.
Most dogs will give up the chase when reaching the boundary of their yard or tire out when they know you cannot be caught or when they are satisfied, they have kept their family safe from this strange wheelie thing and scared you off. Some will even give up if you stop and stand over your bike; again, you have ruined their game. It is always best practice if you decide to dismount that you keep the bike between you and the dog.
Vietnamese bikes are strong, one speed, wide tire workhorses.
I remember my former co-worker,
a disabled vet from the Vietnam war, once telling me a story about finding a
cache of bicycles used by the Vietcong to transport weapons and supplies. As
the story goes, they tried using hand grenades to destroy the bikes with little
success. Finally, they had to get a tank to run over them to destroy the bikes.
In addition to the JAMSQUAD, travel has also been keeping me away from my blog. Recently I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam. It is truly an amazing place and a land of bicycles. Over the next several posts I’ll share some of my bicycle related experiences in this fascinating country.
To start, I like to visit a local bike shop whenever I travel and Vietnam was no exception. There are bicycles everywhere and small bicycle shops to sell and service them. Unlike my local bike shop in the USA, with scores of bikes and catchy displays, this GIANT dealer is a no-frills shop.