Now that we’ve covered some of the basis of biking with your dog, let’s look at what equipment you will need to keep both you and your dog safe. Before you begin, please make sure your dog is in good physical shape. They will be running for a prolonged period of time, so any small health issues can become bigger issues very quickly. If you’re at all unsure if your dog can handle the stress, please check with your vet before you start biking with your dog. Also, if your dog is under the age of 1, you really don’t want to put a lot of pressure on your dog’s muscular and skeletal system, as it’s still developing. You can start teaching them to be comfortable next to a bike, and start teaching commands, but try and avoid having them run until they are over a year old.
OK, so now you’re ready to start, you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment to keep both of your safe. So let’s dig in to the basics.
A harness is a must, no matter how you decide to attach your dog to the bike. If you try and use a normal collar, you’ll end up putting all the pressure on the dog’s throat when they try to pull, but even more concerning, if you end up stopping unexpectedly, your full body weight, and your momentum, will be transferred to your dog’s neck, not good. If you don’t already have a harness, a company I recommend looking into is AlpineOutfitters.net. If you go to their website, you’ll be able to find not only the harness, but almost everything else you might need for biking your dog. When you go to their site, you’ll notice they sell a few different types of harnesses.
If you’ve never biked your dog before, I recommend going with the urban trail harness. It’s the most secure and most versatile harness they offer, and will work with both the side mount and pulling configurations I discussed in the last blog. This harness is sold in two configurations. The first is a ready-to-go, adjustable harness which is meant to fit dogs of different weights and breeds. I recommend this one if you have a younger dog that is still growing, or if you have multiple dogs, who are similar sized, and only plan on taking one out at a time. If, however, you want a better fit, you can use the guide they provide on their site to measure your dog. You send them your dog’s measurements, and they’ll make you a custom fit harness, which will be more comfortable for you dog, and ultimately work better, because it puts the pulling pressure in the correct places on the dog’s body. I personally have always gone for the custom fit because, not only does it fit better, but surprisingly, the custom made harness is actually cheaper than the pre-made ones. I also like the ability to customize what goes on the harness. For instance, they will embroider a name or phone number, add reflective fabric, and add up to 4 D-rings to allow you to attach a leash to the harness in multiple configurations. It gives me different ways to hook my dog up to the bike depending on the specific situation we are in. Of course, all of these options cost extra, but well worth it if you plan on keeping the harness long term.
The second harness option they have is called the X-back. This is for dogs that will be pulling you on the bike the entire time, not running by your side. These are lighter weight and will distribute the pressure more evenly as your dog pulls. These harnesses will still allow for a custom name or number embroidery as well as reflective fabric but they don’t come with the option to add multiple d-rings. You also have the option of ordering a belly clip for this harness, which I recommend getting until the dog gets used to the harness. It basically prevents your dog from backing out of the harness. Without it, there’s no way to keep your dog securely in the harness if they suddenly decide to stop.
The only down side to using Alpine Outfitters is the shipping time. They can take a few months to be shipped, especially during the colder winter months of October-February. Winter is their busy season, and even though they are very well known, they are still a relatively small company, based in San Diego California, and get a lot of custom harness requests. If you can be patient, it will be well worth it.
If you can’t wait for the harness to be made, check out your local pet store or Amazon for harnesses that have padding around the chest area, as this is where most of the pressure will be when the dog is pulling. You want it to fit snug but not so snug where they get chaffing issues from it.
Bell or Horn
Because I do most of my biking in the city, one of the accessories I quickly found I needed was a way to alert other people I was quickly approaching them from behind. The last thing you want is someone to not hear you approaching until the last second and then you watch them try to jump out of your way. But instead of getting out of the way, they just end up stepping in-between you, and your dog, causing them to be clotheslined by the leash, which in turn, launches you off the bike and yanks your dog, who was probably running at full speed. Now the three of you are all tangled up, injured, and pissed off. As you can see, you need a way to make sure people know you’re coming otherwise you’re going to be flirting with a lawsuit. I’ve had a few close calls in the beginning, but as soon as I got a bell, I haven’t had an issue since. I chose the bell over the horn because I think it sounds less harsh and usually gets people’s attention far enough in advance where they can move over to one side of the walkway. As a 30-year-old adult, I realize that a “dinging” bell isn’t the manliness thing to be riding around ringing, but it’s saved me from so many disasters, I no longer leave home without it.
If you are going to let your dog pull you, you’re going to need a way to attach your dog to the bike. The first thing you want to look for is a 6ft leash that has some sort of elasticity to it. This will make it more comfortable and less jarring for both you, and your dog. Again Alpine Outfitters carries these, they have a bungee built-in, and you can get a reflective one which will keep you safer when riding on surface streets. I also recommend buying their “post connector” which allows you to safely and quickly attach the leash to the bike. A quick tip with these connectors, make sure you attach it to the post of your handle bars, and not the actual handle bars themselves. If you attach it to the handlebars, and your dog pull off in another direction, guess which way you’re going as well?
Collapsible water bowl and poop bags
This is not a necessity in the beginning, but because they’re so cheap, you might as well get one while you’re buying the rest of your supplies. The main purpose of the pouch on my bike is to hold a collapsible water bowl and a roll of poop bags. Unless you want to stuff the wet bowl back in your pocket when your done using it, this pouch with come in handy. I modified the pouch I bought at my local bike shop by cutting a slit in the back of it, and then pushing the tip of the poop bag roll through it, and now have a built in poop bag dispenser.
Water Bottle and Holder
Your dog will tire out and get dehydrated much quicker while pulling you on a bike. I fill up my water bottle with ice water before I head out for a ride, that way, when we take a break 2-3 miles in, she has access to cold water, which also helps cool her down. If you are trying to find a place to bike around the city, try finding a park that has water fountains scattered throughout, this way, you always have access to drinking water. I live extremely close to Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, and having access to fountains is one of the main reasons I visit it so frequently when biking her.
In the beginning, plan rides that are maybe 1-2 miles at most before you go any longer. You will need to not only gauge how much exercise your dog can handle, but also how often they need to rest and re-hydrate. Just like how we train for a marathon, you can’t go out and run a full one the first time you try.
If you plan on going on long rides, you can also purchase dissolvable tablets that have electrolytes in them to help give your dog the same type of boost we get from drinking Gatorade. In a pinch, you can also give your dog Gatorade to help them as well.
This is not a required accessory to start with, but I recommend getting one so you can track the distance you ride in real time. This way, once you find your dog’s maximum running distance, you can be sure that you don’t go over that distance by accident. It also makes it easy to take breaks at regular pre-set intervals. I use a $25 on from Sigma, but if you can also buy a smart phone mount for your bike and use your phone to do the same thing.
Evening and Night Riding
Although I recommend staying away from biking a dog at night, especially in the beginning, sometimes you might have to do it. Owning a Husky in California, especially in the summer, means that for a good portion of the day, it’s often too hot for her to exercise. During the really warm days, I wait until dusk to bike her so she doesn’t over heat. The following are items that have kept us safe while out on the city streets after the sun goes down, or before it comes up.
Alpine Outfitters has the option to cover the harness in reflective material so your dog will be better visible at night. Whether you plan on taking your dog out at night or not, I still recommend paying the extra money for that option. There’s also reflective tape available to purchase at your local bike shop. You can wrap your bike in this material which will increase your visibility at night.
Light up Beacon
The Alpine Outfitter urban harness has the option of getting a D-ring on the chest of the harness. I have this ring on all of my harness from them, so I can attach Ruffwear’s beacon light to the front of the harness so cars and other people can see her coming from a distance. This light can also be used on a collar if the harness you have doesn’t have the attachment on the front.
To keep yourself safe and more visible make sure you have a bright blinking light that attaches to the back of your bike and for the front, use a light that will emit a steady stream of light, so you, and your dog, can see any hidden obstacles that may be in your path.
Make sure you are wearing something that is easily visible in the dark. Light colored clothing or even a reflective vest are both good options.
The bike light will keep everything in front of you visible, but in many cases you will want to be able to look side to side, these lights make it possible, and add one more way for cars to spot you when biking next to a busy street. I use Black Diamond lights myself, but you can easily find a generic head lamp for less than $10 online.
Now that we’ve looked at the concept, and equipment used when biking your dog, the last section of this three part blog post, will cover some basics on how to train your dog to run with you as your bike.