Support BikePortland

Biking with the family dog

Posted by on March 6th, 2018 at 10:43 am

Pixie at the helm.
(Photos by Madi Carlson)

What’s a family biker to do when the kids have graduated to riding their own bikes? One way to conquer the empty [bike] nest doldrums is by joining the #carrypupolympics.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I was born into a household run by cats and didn’t know the love of a dog until I was nine and we got Mandy, a mid-sized Shepherd mix, from the animal shelter. Mandy and I logged many miles on foot, but I never thought to combine playing with the dog with biking or skateboarding.

When I left home I became a small dog person and ended up with Lyle the chihuahua. My boyfriend at the time had wanted a chihuahua ever since, having been attacked by what he mistook for a woman’s fur while working at a taco restaurant drive-thru. Fortunately, Lyle had a lovely personality and I was delighted by his portability. Back then I rode a hybrid bike with a backpack so I tucked Lyle in front, between my t-shirt and sweatshirt, and brought him to college classes with me. This system worked well except for one time when a friend hailed Lyle from the sidewalk and Lyle leapt out of my sweatshirt. He got a bit scratched up, but luckily didn’t hold it against me or the bike and we lived to ride another day.

I didn’t bike with Lyle after college and by the time he died at 18 I had two kids and Lyle’s aging playmate Bettie, an 11-pound chihuahua mix. Bettie had never been on a bike, but by the time her health started failing we were biking everywhere. Now that I was more knowledgeable about methods for carrying living creatures, I felt I should up my dog-carrying game. Plus, my bikes were much better equipped to carry stuff compared to that old bare-bones hybrid. I didn’t even need any new gear — it was easy to use a cargo net to hold the pet carrier to the deck or basket of my cargo bike or tucked into an open kid seat of my old mama-bike.

Bettie in dog carrier wedged in a kid bike seat.

When Bettie died I didn’t want to get another dog, but friends reached out for a dogsitter after their two little rescue dogs had gotten into a big fight and they needed someone to take care of the uninjured one (Marley) while the injured one (Pixie) healed. A small dog to comfort our broken hearts with no longterm commitment sounded perfect. Even better, Marley was already trained to ride on a bike! She came with a harness and two leashes so I put Lyle’s old dog bed in my basket, clipped the leashes on either side of the harness, and tied her in. Granted, I didn’t choose my basket with a 20-pound dog in mind and Marley was a little tall for it.

Once, when she was leaning over to look at a squirrel while I followed a curve in the bike path, she toppled out. I stopped immediately, caught her (safely suspended next to the basket), and scooped her back in. Several people witnessed the event and gasped in horror.

20-pound Marley in my front basket.

We spent a year swapping Marley for Pixie and back every few weeks as their owners worked on reconciling them. The two dogs finally convinced their family they didn’t want to be reunited and that’s how we ended up with a permanent Pixie two years ago. For the record, Marley wasn’t very fond of kids in case you assumed our choice was based on who fit in the basket better.

Pixie and her pals.

Dogs in baskets

Pixie is a nine-pound chihuahua/dachshund (or “chiweenie”) with legs so short it’s hard to tell if she’s sitting or standing in the basket. Even so, had I had the dog before the bike basket, I would have gotten a deeper basket, and probably even something dog-specific. The first time we dogsat Pixie she came with a warning: “She likes to hang herself.” Given that, her bike perch is comprised of: Lyle’s old dog bed underneath her, my first-born’s baby blanket on top of her, and a cargo net holding her in with her head poked through the criss-crossed cords. It works great, though until recently our little alpha dog preferred being at the front of the pack and would strain at the cargo net (and probably eventually jump out, though that never happened) if the kids darted ahead or if we were not in the lead of a group ride. It’s a relief to learn old dogs (Pixie’s eight) can learn new tricks and anxious rescue dogs eventually relax a bit.

Pixie cozy in her basket bed.

Pixie doesn’t like being left home alone so we bring her out with us as often as we can. That’s why it matters that her dog bed/baby blanket system isn’t rainproof. As luck would have it, a friend who makes bike basket bags contacted me about putting a doggie head hole in one — so now she rides in style in her Atomic Cycle Werks BYOBB (“Bring Your Own Basket Bag”) in inclement weather.

Pixie, dry in her basket bag.


A very recent addition to my basket is a lovely dog bed I found for a few bucks at a consignment shop. The old bed didn’t have any padding left on the bottom so she’s probably much more comfortable now, in addition to looking fancier.

Cozy and classy in a padded dog bed.

Dogs in backpacks

Once Pixie became our permanent dog I invested in a dog-specific backpack. My Timbuk2 Muttmover holds up to 20 pounds, has head holes at different heights on either side, and a clip to attach to the collar inside. I had to keep it all zipped up for the first couple months because Pixie could (and would) squeeze her whole body out through the head hole, but soon enough she learned to just poke her head out. And thank goodness, because really, is it worth riding your bike with a dog if people can’t tell you’re riding your bike with a dog?

Pixie doesn’t seem to know how to tuck her head back into the body of the backpack because she stays peeking out even in heavy rain. I use the backpack when riding a bike with no basket — like when Pixie and I came to Portland for a visit during last winter’s big snow — and I felt safest on my mountain bike. I still slipped and fell a lot, but Pixie didn’t even notice from the backpack.

Ready for snow with Pixie in the backpack.

There are a plethora of dog carriers and I’ve seen many a dog tucked into non-dog-specific backpacks and messenger bags.

Here’s a photo of Pixie’s cat friend in a versatile roller bag pet backpack:

Cat in a backpack on a bike!

Dogs in trailers

Only once did Pixie ride in our trailer, when I had a kid home sick from school and had to drag him on an errand. It would probably take us a lot of practice to get Pixie comfortable riding alone in a trailer, but less nervous dogs love them immediately.

Pixie and kid in a single-kid trailer.

Nervous dogs may prefer baskets and backpacks to trailers.

Many dog owners cart their dogs in used kid trailers, but there are quite a few dog-specific bike trailers out there. Here’s a doggie friend of ours who loves looking out the pop top of his DoggieRide trailer:

Dog-specific trailers like this DoggyRide are cool!

I’ve also heard great things about CycleTote dog trailers and their seat post attachment looks intriguing.

Dogs running alongside

I’ll let Pixie jog alongside me on secluded trails and her previous family was adept at holding her leash while she ran alongside. I have no first-hand experience with bike leash connectors, but they are even safer and easier than holding or tying a leash to body or bike.

Marley running alongside a bike.

Dogs in cargo bikes

Dogs of all sizes pair well with longjohn cargo bikes and I know a few big dogs who travel primarily by bakfiets. Longtail cargo bikes do the trick, too, with dogs in crates attached to rear decks, or snuggled into cargo slings.

A most amazing dog cargo bike.

Big dog in a dog crate on the back of a longtail cargo bike.

Other bike/dog solutions

Baskets or milk crates attached to rear racks are very popular and if this list were in any sort of order, they’d be up at the top. I’ve seen dogs sitting unrestrained in milk crates or tied in by leash as well as dog-specific baskets with wire lids or collar clips.

Rear basket with cover

Dog in milk crate.

Or, you know, just train the dog to cling to your back. I loved the cover photo of the March 2016 issue of Bicycling, but when I read the article I learned the guy under the dog used to have a longtail cargo bike that was stolen. I can’t imagine having been used to not having a big dog on my back and then getting used to it! Makes his story even more impressive.

And to save the best for last, there’s nothing cooler than Portland’s own Rando Awesome and his sidecar:

Dog sidecar!

Thanks for reading. Do you have any tips or gear recommendations for biking with dogs? Feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

Get this and other BikePortland posts delivered directly to your inbox.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • 9watts March 6, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Great visual cues!

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • I wear many hats March 6, 2018 at 11:55 am

    I run my dogs either with a 6′ lead in my hand (so that I can correct them) or via a remote collar (for trail applications). Both function great. If the dogs hear the mountain bike free wheel they stay underfoot until we are en route. Dogs love bikes.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Pete March 6, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Rico and Chewee Chorkie thank you for sharing this detailed information!
    P.S. Rico Suave has a crush on Pixie…

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Caitlin D March 6, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I was just wondering aloud to Patrick a few days ago how you taught Pixie to be a bike dog. We don’t have a dog, but if we ever get one, this post will be a great reference!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Spiffy March 6, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    I used a kid trailer to transport my large dog… the built-in straps are great for hooking into collars… also used a kid trailer to transport multiple small dogs… then when I had a kid the trailer was re-purposed to its intended function…

    also had the small dogs ride in milk crates on the back rack with very short tethers, but I didn’t like that as much… definitely helps to have a tether on each side to avoid them jumping out the side with the tether and having to stop suddenly before they get caught in the wheel… but they learn quick not to jump out…

    currently have a small dog and have a front-pack for her that fits onto my front rack perfectly so I just strap that onto the rack and clip her into it, then tie up all the loose ends of the straps so they don’t catch in the wheel… can also fit her into the side grocery bag basket on the rear rack of the tandem…

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Drew March 6, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    My post about my dog Sadie and her bike is here:
    She loved our rides and our overnight camping trips.
    With age related disability, the bike became her favorite thing.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Madi Carlson
      Madi Carlson March 7, 2018 at 9:21 am

      WOW! That is such a cool bike and I’m happy to learn of the Smallhaul.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Chris I March 6, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    I use the Xtracycle wideloader attachment on my Big Dummy with a plastic tub on each side. Works really well with my two 40lb dogs.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • B. Carfree March 6, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    We always just ran our dogs beside us on a leash. One fine day, my wife was rolling along with a neighbor’s 60 pound pointer and almost went down when the dog panicked as they passed a life-size mosaic tile statue of three people linked together. The dog apparently thought it was a monster and attempted to run through the bike to get away. Stuff happens…

    Not quite dog-on-bike, but we did once allow two largish dogs (a husky and a wolf mix) to pull a wagon with two of us on it. We neglected to install any sort of brakes. Mr. Toad had nothing on that ride.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • dan March 7, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Our 75 pound boxer mix has been very happy with the Burley Tail Wagon. He’s tall enough that it was hard for him to turn around to get out, so we took it into BlaqPaks and they added a front entrance. Kudos to BlaqPaks, they did a great job, and now our dog can get in from the rear and just walk out the front when it’s time to get out.

    I take our dog to work almost every day and this setup has been working well for us.

    Recommended Thumb up 2