Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dogs and bicycles usually do not mix too well

Most dogs are normally friendly but seem to go nuts when exposed to a moving bicycle. After all, they are descendants of predators who chased down prey for a living. Some are just being naturally playful but others are, at best, protecting their territory or at worst, out for the kill.   The negative consequences for cyclists can vary.  You may collide with the dog, which could bring you down or you might lose control and fall trying to evade the creature. It’s possible (though less likely in my opinion) that the dog is trying to bite you and, if it successful, the bite could also have serious consequences.

In terms of evasive action, there are many choices but it’s important to realize that there is probably no “one size fits all”. The dog’s intentions and behavior, the road, the traffic conditions and others things make every situation different and will require split-second evaluation and judgment on your part.  So, what are your options?  In all instances, slow down.  By doing so, you increase your control of the situation. In the case of oncoming dogs, it’s even more important that you slow down and be prepared to stop as there is a very real risk the dog may misjudge your speed and turn in front of you into your path.  Ignoring the dog or dogs might be the best thing if you are absolutely sure they are either going to stay where they are or at least remain on the side of the road. 

The average dog can sprint about 19mph and some manage considerably faster speeds.  Out-running them is rarely the right thing to do. Not only is it unlikely that you'll always be able to outrun the dog but panic sprinting means you will probably not be paying close attention to the road, traffic and your fellow riders.  Some people believe that yelling loudly works but many dogs are unlikely to respond to commands and it might aggravate them further.  In fact, one rider I know is a dog whisperer; he uses a very calm voice with any dogs and it seems to be quite effective.  Spraying with water bottles is of limited use; most dogs quickly realize that the water is of no danger to them. They might even find it refreshing.  

Trying to hit them with the pump might be effective but is fraught with risk. It’s probably not a good idea to be gesticulating wildly while at the same time trying to control your bike. Similarly, unclipping and trying to kick the dog is risky and the dog might just see your leg as an easy target.  Stopping and putting your bike between you and the dog or dogs is probably effective. You then feel more in control. In most instances, the dogs will simply continue to bark and then hopefully give up and go home unless you're actually on their land.

There are various devices on the market such as the Ultrasonic Dazer which emits high frequency sounds that supposedly makes dogs very uncomfortable.  They might work under some situations but not always. Let’s hope the dog is not old and deaf.  Similarly, some people recommend air horns that come in small can-sized versions and deliver a very loud burst of sound that hopefully shocks most dogs.

Pepper Sprays have a lot of appeal to many riders. Various versions are available; the most popular one is but is supposedly more powerful. You have to get the dog directly in the face for it to be effective so use the spray variety, rather than the “cloud”. Be sure not to spray yourself.

If you encounter unrestrained dogs and if the worst happens, these are steps you and/or your riding buddies should take: 
  1.          Seek medical attention for any injuries. Keep good records.
  2.          Take photographs of any injuries or bike damage.
  3.          Gather information, including the location of the dog's residence and the names and addresses of any witnesses.
  4.          Familiarize yourself with any local animal ordinances. There are some in many counties and most cities. Recognise that some are directed more to either preventing dog abuse or rabies control rather than protecting other road users.
  5.          Notify local animal control (usually city or county). This is very important even if no accident happens. If they take no action on the first report, they might on the second …... or third.
  6.          Consult a lawyer if you want to take further action.

 I love dogs and would truly not wish to harm them. In all instances, the problem is not with the animals, it’s with the owners. While there is no statewide law in Texas requiring that dogs be on a leash at all times, many counties and most cities do have laws requiring dogs to be on leash, or prohibiting them from being unrestrained when off the owner’s premises. Unrestrained dog are considered a public nuisance and with few exceptions, courts have ruled that violating such laws can be the basis of liability.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bicycles, wrecks and solutions

This year has been a bad year for cycling accidents. Of our regular riding companions, a dozen or so have had significant mishaps on the road.  Fortunately, none of the wrecks have resulted in life-threatening or permanent injuries though several did end up with broken bones and periods of rehabilitation that extended to several months.  None involved automobiles, thank goodness, and many did not even involve other bicycles.

In sharing these musings, let me be absolutely clear that I am not in any way pointing fingers. Most of us have wrecked at some point in our cycling lives and, sadly, may well do so again. How can we minimize the probability that this will indeed come to pass? How can we, collectively, improve our safety record?

I have struggled to determine whether there are common threads between the incidents. In my career in the petroleum business, we were taught that all accidents are preventable. Is this true? What, if any, are the lessons learned from the incidents that we have experienced?  I suggest that there are arguably three categories of accident that the group has experienced:

First.  Riding in a way that is too aggressive for the prevailing conditions and misjudging hazards such as pavement on poor repair, obstacles in the road, unanticipated corners etc.  Best practices: always ride defensively and assume the worst.

Second. Sub-par bike handling skills. This could manifest itself as unstable or erratic riding and inability to negotiate hazards when they do appear unexpectedly. Best practices: learn good riding techniques, practice whenever you can and be receptive to mentoring by experienced riders. Remember: “to be aware of one's own opportunities for improvement is the first step towards learning” and thus we need to develop a receptive learning environment.

Third. Poor group etiquette: riding too close to others, failing to announce intentions, losing concentration. Sometimes compounded by momentary lapses of attention. These issues are especially critical when conditions are poor such as roads with lots of cracks in the pavement, ultra-steep hills. Best practices: do not ride in tight groups or pace-lines unless both you and your fellow riders are comfortable with that, always stay super-alert, communicate frequently and back-off (safely) from the group whenever necessary.

Resources are available. The League of American Bicyclists and other organizations do offer classes and or exercises in bike-handling skills and group riding skills. Maybe this would be a start?  Remember that ultimately you have responsibility for your own safety but that does not imply that we do not also have accountability for the safety of the group we are riding with.

Note: this summary excludes two other issues: (a) dogs which will be the subject of another blog post sometime soon and (b) the condition of your bike which could also cause accidents in some instances: frequent servicing by a competent mechanic should be treated as an investment, not as an expense.