Of Trails and Tails: A First-Timer's Guide to Biking with Your Dog

Of Trails and Tails: A First-Timer's Guide to Biking with Your Dog

Hi, I’m Lauren, and my one and only love is mountain biking. Well, until someone new came into my life...

Lauren on a 'Me Ride' @ Petar Dopchev Photography

I’m a fairly uncompromising woman who loves trails with rocky, high-speed descents; he is partial to smooth, meandering trails with wildflowers and ample birding opportunities. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever be able to enjoy hitting the trails as a couple; but, at some point, every dog owner in a mountain town considers merging their two passions - biking and canines!

If you’ve ever thought about taking your pup mountain biking with you, aka, becoming a “dog biker”, but aren’t sure where to start, you may find my experience with Doc Holliday (my adopted plott hound/boxer mutt), to be helpful.

Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

Step one: Consider your dog’s age and physical health. Is your pup able to keep up with you and have fun? The purpose of bringing your canine companion on a bike ride is not to push him into early retirement. Puppies and young dogs are still developing, and older dogs are well, getting older! I’ve found that a good guideline is to wait until your pup is at least a year old before asking him to follow your wheel. If you know your pup has mobility issues from short hikes, it sounds like he might not be a be a good biking buddy.

Step two: Identify appropriate trails in your area. I have two mindsets: “Me Rides” and “Dog Rides”. I never ask Doc to come with me on my favorite trails. Why? Because I’m traveling on two wheels, and he is on four paws. I can adjust my air pressure and suspension to fit the terrain, but he will be using his paws, cartilage, and skeletal structure to absorb the impacts of constant motion. He works a LOT harder than I do, especially when traveling downhill and over rocks. Choose a smooth trail, or consider taking booties if you know the trail is rocky.

While choosing appropriate terrain is crucial, thinking about other user groups is equally important. Ask yourself a few simple questions about the trail you have in mind: Is it crowded? Do people ride horses on the trail? Is it a trail where your dog could get in the way of “the most epic descent in the valley” for other bikers? Are there cows grazing in the area? This doesn’t mean that you can’t take your dog on these trails (you are a user group, too!), but it’s good to consider who you will encounter on the trail and how your dog acts off-leash.

Step three: Pack accordingly. Doc and I drink out of the same reservoir hose and squirt bottle, but, understandably, some people find that pretty gross. (I don’t let him put his mouth on it, alright?!) For a ride that’s more than a few miles, I take a packable dog bowl (Wilderdog, of course!) and extra water. I also always have his carabiner leash clipped to the outside of my pack so that it’s easily accessible in case an unanticipated distraction presents itself. Don’t forget to put some small treats in the pocket of your bike shorts, too!

Step four: Hitting the trail. I’ve seen dogs complete 30-mile epics, but since Doc Holliday has not expressed his goals for Olympic distance running, I keep my Dog Rides fairly short. I live in a mountain town where every trail has a decent amount of elevation gain and loss, so 5-6 miles can feel pretty long for a dog like Doc. A good guideline is to start with short rides and lengthen based on how your dog reacts.

Remember that wheels move faster than paws, so while you’re enjoying that awesome descent, your dog is trying to keep up! Take frequent breaks, and if you notice he is lying down every time he gets the chance or limping afterwards, back off on the mileage.

Step five: Celebrate! You just shared your favorite pastime with your favorite creature, so while you enjoy a celebratory cold one at the end of the trail, give your pooch some well-earned treats and pets!

Have fun out there, and be safe!


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