I do a fair bit of biking around town, and every summer I try to ride to work on nice days. Today, I figured I’d bring Beta along to the office. I’ve ridden with her before; she’s a wickedly fast dog with surprising endurance. She runs the other dogs ragged when we bring her to the dog park. But this was the first time I’ve ridden such a distance with her.

The ride from home to work is about 7 kms, and I take the Martin Goodman trail along the Lakeshore. As much as I’d like to let Beta run freely alongside, she can get a bit crazy around squirrels and other dogs. There’s also a leash bylaw, so I’m stuck biking with her tethered to my hand with her six-foot lead. Being a big guy and experienced on the bike, this isn’t overly problematic. I can easily counteract the occasional tug, and when that happens, Beta is reminded quickly to stay in line.

The trick is to let the dog set the pace. We started off fairly quickly, with Beta probably in wonder over the fact that I’m not my slow, waddling self when I’m on the bike. (“Heh. Let’s see what you can do, fatso.”) She loves this, even after realizing I can outrun her if I want.

But then I make a point of slowing down a bit so she doesn’t get too tired. There always has to be slack in the leash; you don’t want to be dragging your dog (that means she’s tired, stupid) and you also want a bit of room to maneuver if something unexpected comes up.

Anyway, we were biking along at a leisurely pace, with Beta trotting along on my right side. That’s the side we use so that when we’re on streets, I’m between her an the cars. On the trail, there are occasional driveways that cross into parking lots and such, and at these driveways, they’ve installed steel poles to keep the cars off the trail. The poles are spaced widely enough to let a biker or a rollerblader through without problem. As I approached the first set of poles, I forgot a critical tidbit of knowledge I had about Beta: she tends to choose the opposite side of a pole from me when we pass one.

While our velocity was modest compared to my usual bike-to-work speed, we were still going fast enough that when the leash caught on the pole:

  1. Beta yelped as she got yanked against the pole;
  2. I couldn’t let go of the leash fast enough;
  3. My bike got yanked over because the leash was around my right hand gripping the bar;
  4. I continued, sans bike, at roughly the same velocity as before.

When my flight landed, touchdown was on my elbow, but not with my full weight, because I was still rolling. My backpack broke the main force of my fall, and then the back of my head hit the tarmac with some force.

(I have now realized the full ROI on my helmet acquisition, and then some.)

Other than the bump on my elbow and a slight headache, I’m OK. Beta’s fine too. I didn’t get mad at her (we both learned a lesson, I think).

We brushed ourselves off and continued our ride with more caution. When we passed other poles, I was prepared to let go of the leash if need be. Sometimes she followed on the correct side, other times I let the leash go. Beta, great dog that she is, would sit where I let go of her until I called her.

Anyway, my tip of the day: if riding your bike with a leashed dog, approach poles with caution.

And maybe look into one of these.