I went to a wedding this weekend that had bicyclists as 90% of the guest list. "What is this Bikejoring thing you're doing," asked a friend of mine who'd seen me post a few photos on Facebook.
If you told me 10 years ago I'd hook up dogs to my mountain bike to pull me, I'd have told you you were insane. If I'd seen someone do it, I would probably think he or she was a fool.
But. Oh. My. Gawd. Bikejoring is the coolest thing you can do with 2 wheels and one or two quadrapeds---ever. Anyone can bike with a dog off-leash. Add the element of dog-power to your bike and you've got a whole new layer of challenges than just typical bike and terrain obstacles.
Bikejoring is actually a growing competitive sport in Europe (yes they have dog bikejor racing) and it's becoming quite popular in some of the US where people skijor or race their dogs competitively. In fact, there are a variety of options you can do to run your dogs other than by foot: scootering, carting, skijoring, bikejoring, tricycle carting.
I chose to start bikejoring the cracker and the criminal for a 187 reasons but namely these two:
1. Juno desperately needs to trot two or three times per week at steady and long intervals to maintain muscle in her hips otherwise by shear miss-use and compensation in daily movement due to hip dysplasia, she will lose muscle mass. For the time being, I cannot run and I'm not sure when I can run again.
2. Though I've ridden my bike with the dogs off-leash plenty of times, any location that I can run them where leash laws are not enforced are just too dangerous. So it was teach them to bikejor or get Juno a treadmill. She'd grow bored with that with too fast. Plus, I want the freedom to take them more places other than just those remote areas where leash laws are not enforced.
In other words, the more training conditions I expose to them, the more options we have for places we can go. They can run off-leash when its safe to do so or understand that when they are on harness they are meant to pull.
The past few weeks of learning this sport have taught me that handling a dog off-leash is actually much easier than handling a dog (or two) pulling me on wheels. Leash-obsessed people think, "a dog is leashed so there's less risk." The truth is, when you hook up dogs to pull you on wheels, you'd better already have a formidable bond where your dogs will do exactly as you say otherwise you risk injury to yourself, your dogs or a nearby person or animal. You'd better be able to read your dog in a split second and know what is in his brain before he decides to act on it. Because dogs are hooked up to a bike, in general, you should expect a complex level of training, obedience and dog handling, on and off the leash.
And it is a kick in the pants once the dogs get the hang of it and you first feel the pull! You can't help but giggle.
I chose bikejoring (a front-pulling hook up) over other side-hook biking products (like the WalkyDog) because I have two dogs, and I want my options open for single track and narrow place trails. I also really want my dogs to think for themselves, make decisions based on the trail terrain and my commands. I want my dogs to work their brain, not just their body.
So far, I'm astonishingly proud of how Loki has taken to this sport. He was the one I worried about because he'd shown me numerous times with simple canicross running how the lines made him anxious and he feared them touching his butt or tangling his legs (believe me, tangles happen very easily). I never thought he'd pull a bike. But he did. And over time, he's coming to trust that I won't allow tangles. He's really stepping up to the plate to work. On all stops, I unhook him making it clear, when he's online, he's pulling and when he's not pulling, he's unhooked and not at the mercy of Juno moving to tangle him. He still won't work much on the descents. When I give a command, he sometimes stops or slows and looks back at me while Juno will hear the command and carry it out without ever looking back or getting confused. To me, this is pure genetics. Herding dogs look to the handler, while pulling dogs just hear and go. Still he pulls on climbs and flats and I'm good with that.
And frankly the only time the cracker is quiet in the car is when I load the bikes and the dogs up and head to the forest. Any other trip, he's a non-stop yipping lunatic. (If you need a reminder of his car anxiety, go watch Backseat Driver.) The last three bikejor trips, he didn't make a peep. So I think he likes it.
Obviously, this sport is made for Juno and she's proud in her harness. I can see how much she loves to pull and once she figured out she's supposed to pull, she hasn't let me down.
Even Mr. Wild Dingo, my "are you out of your mind hooking the dogs up to your bike" husband, is starting to see the advantage of having them work with a bike. On a recent hill climb I was not only able to stay with him, but he admitted the pace the dogs and I set made him work. So now he's hinting about hooking Juno up to his bike and racing Loki and me to the top of a hill climb. Believe me, nothing would give Juno more pleasure than pulling her favorite partner, her Pop, up a hill and beating the cracker.
Enjoy the movie of our new bikejoring adventures!