How to Bike with Your Dog (Long Version)

Would you ever leave your child alone by herself when you went to work all day? No you wouldn’t, fair reader—I just know it. Yet it is commonplace for us to leave our animals by themselves for hours each day, without supervision. What if you have a particularly sharp, social, active animal as a housemate, as I do?  If you’re a cyclist, you’re in a double pickle—using your precious free time to go on a bike ride is likely to yield those eyes. Those sad, sad eyes that wonder why you’re leaving—again.

This has been my experience at least. My faithful sidekick Atticus loves going places and meeting new people, but biking with him has been impossible. When he was much younger (and more skittish) I tried acclimating him to a trailer, but one paw placed in the trailer made the thing wobble. He would have none of it.

In the time since, a new option has made serious inroads around Portland: the mighty cargo bike! Able to carry anything you can dream of, cargo bikes have gained enough traction in Portland that there are annual cargo bike competitions such as the Fiets of Parenthood and the Cargo Bike Disaster Trials.

I secured a cargo bike for the weekend from Splendid Cycles, owned by the kind hearted Barb and Joel Grover. Barb and I met when we worked together at the local bike advocacy organization—she was an extraordinary volunteer for a major fundraising event we held each year.

Friday: Getting Our Bearings

Friday evening I picked up the bike at Splendid Cycles. Our chariot for the weekend? A Danish Bullitt cargo bike, in a color called “Milk Plus.” It had a box with a non-slip bottom in the front for Atticus.

The Grovers’ experience is that dogs generally do great in a cargo bike. “There’s something about being in front,” Barb said—and it made sense. Atticus likes to be in front on our walks, so perhaps being in front on a more solid vehicle than a bicycle trailer would make sense for him too.

Barb wheeled the rental across busy Belmont to the much calmer SE 14th—a residential street. She explained the two errors newbies always seem to make: watching the front wheel and steering incorrectly. She said that almost everybody gets used to their Bullitts after riding about a block.

While I didn’t watch the front wheel when I took off, the steering still felt foreign. Riding the slight downhill on 14th helped, and by the time I reached a traffic circle and made my way back up to Belmont, I was confident enough to start making my way home.

The way home was slow. Normally that journey would take about 30-35 minutes on my usual bike, but I believe it took about 45 minutes on the Bullitt. It was a combination of still feeling a little foreign riding the bike and making my way up the hills along the route home. But the second I got home, I brought Atticus out to see how far we could get on the first introduction.

Turns out, getting Atticus in the bike wasn’t that tough. The last few years he’s been pretty good about getting into a bathtub if I point and sound assertive. Making sure the bike was on its center stand for more stability, I gave my bathtub command. The first time we had to help his back end into the bike, but after that everything was fine. I wrapped a leash around the head tube of the contraption and attached it to his harness, just to make sure he wouldn’t leap out.

We started with just a trip around the block, and the only time Atticus looked nervous was when he felt the stand flipping up and hitting the bottom of the cargo box (he got used to this over the weekend). One successful trip deserved another, and then another. Atticus only risked trouble once that evening, when he shifted his weight in the box as I took off from a stop, and we nearly tipped the bike. After that, he nestled in the box and rested his chin on the edge as we ended up biking around our neighborhood, and even over to the Woodstock library, as much as we could fit in before dark.

At sunset, it felt like a new day had dawned.

Saturday: Human Cargo

Atticus didn’t go for any rides on Saturday, but I did experiment that day with human cargo. When I offered the above photo of Atticus successfully meeting the cargo bike on Friday, Steven immediately replied, “when do I get a turn?” He came over Saturday and I had a new challenge.

That part went pretty well—we moved more slowly because Steven weighs more than Atticus’ 65 pounds, but the bike actually felt more stable/less likely to tip because of it. Again, we started with just a trip to the local park and back, but before we knew it we were headed to the Woodstock library again, around Brentwood Park a few times, and generally any old place I could go that didn’t require any hill climbing.

My legs were a little tired when I finally got off the bike, but I was properly prepared for Sunday.

Sunday: East Portland Sunday Parkways

If you’re not familiar with the concept, Sunday Parkways (or ciclavias, Sunday Streets, etc) is an event where certain streets are closed to cars for people to come out and play. The first Sunday Parkways of the year was held in East Portland—historically the least packed of the bunch, which I saw as a great opportunity.

Atticus isn’t fond of other dogs, which normally makes taking him to a crowded Portland event like this a bit unfair to him. He loves exploring new places and enjoys meeting strangers, but other dogs that get in his face and stay there are Canidae non gratae.

A possible solution? Riding around an event in a cargo bike!

Dressed in ship-piloting theme clothing (Union Jack helmet and Moby-Dick socks), I loaded Atticus into the Bullitt Sunday morning. Steven joined us, and we headed for the course, just over a mile east of my home.

But before we got to the event  Atticus randomly decided to jump out of his cargo box—mere feet from busy 82nd Avenue! It wasn’t too hard to keep him out of harm’s way, but it was a bit of a scare since we hadn’t even reached the event yet. He peed, and soon enough we hit the road again.

Once at Sunday Parkways, Atticus had a swell time. He was lying down for about half the seven-mile course, but then he sat upright and just let his ears and tongue float on the wind, face relaxed. He enjoyed getting to go for a ride, appreciated not being left behind, and delighted in the attention he was getting from passersby, whose children would point and shout, “look at that doggy!” A few gravelly voices noted how Atticus clearly had a great life, getting wheeled around on a cargo bike. We avoided stopping in the most crowded places so Atticus’ patience wouldn’t be tested. In hindsight, the cargo box probably offered him the protected feeling of a kennel, calming him even more. This was one happy dog.

Since my full attention was on Atticus and the bike on Sunday, I didn’t take any photos of us. Steven got a few of us riding the course—we’ll see how they turn out!

After the event, we went back home to briefly rest and compare notes with Steven before the bike needed returning. Soon I piloted the Bullitt back down to Splendid Cycles before the shop closed at 5pm.

And when I got home, I immediately started scouring Craigslist for used cargo bikes…

——————

Does Atticus have an easy life? Decide for yourself: subscribe to The Daily Atticus to follow his adventures, in pictoral form.

3 Comments

Filed under Bicycles

3 responses to “How to Bike with Your Dog (Long Version)

  1. Pingback: How to Bike with Your Dog | The Daily Atticus

  2. twas so good to see you and atticus out there! glad you found a happy way to dogbike =)

    if you can’t find a suitably cheap cargo bike on craigslist, seems like Tom (http://tomscargobikes.com/tomscargobikes.com/HOME.html) would love this story of dog-ability and i’ve heard that swell stories are the best way to get him to moderately-quickly make you a (cheap!) cargobike since he has a long list..Ryan Good loves his antelope of burden (from Tom), and so does Jasper (who rides his kiddo around in his).

  3. Erinne

    Glad to hear Atticus got such a great experience! We were out there at Sunday Parkways with Cordi briefly, too! We were riding back from camping at Milo McIver (and 35 miles is a LONG trip with that much cargo).

    We’ve been borrowing a friend’s cargo bike for about 2 months. Cordi loves it! We also have an order in with Tom Labonty, but won’t receive our own bike until mid-July. He is definitely the affordable way to go, though your bike won’t be as slick as a Bullitt.

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