Posted by Madi Carlson on March 6th, 2018 at 10:43 am
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Browse past Family Biking posts here.
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Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She’s the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books).
In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle’s Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.