S a m a n t i c shttp://www.potomacvalleysams.com/Samantics.html


Bikejoring

&

DogScootering


by Tamara Somerville

© 2011

With rare exception (such as Snowmageddon 2010), Samoyed owners below the Mason-Dixon line who would like their pups to realize their sled-pulling potential, have to travel or seek alternatives not reliant on snow.  Two options -- slight variants on one another -- are bikejoring and scootering.  The distinction is that in the former you are sitting and the latter you are standing. 


Scootering is safer and, in my opinion, more fun.  Your feet are just a few inches above the ground so if your Samoyed takes off after a squirrel, it’s easy to nearly instantly put both feet down to stay upright and brake.  That scootering is more “fun” is subjective, but I prefer the motion of standing and it is more akin to sledding (and there’s no bike seat soreness).  Scootering is also more work for your dog, unless you are willing and able to help out by “kicking” to propel the scooter.


Gidget and I started scootering when she was 18 months old.  I simply put her new scooter harness on her, hooked it to the tow line attached to the scooter and she zoomed off down the sidewalk.  It is not that easy with all pups but Gidget’s a natural (her dad, Storm, and mother, Lacey, ran lead and “wheel” respectively on a Colorado sled team).


A couple of years later I bought a mountain bike for “bikejoring” simply so that I could take more of the load off her by pedaling and extend our pulling season.  I feel it is safe for Gidget to pull the scooter or bike in temperatures below 55 degrees.  Above that and it is getting too warm in Washington, D.C. (humidity also being an issue here) and great care should be taken to ensure that you are not putting your pup at risk of overheating. 


It has never been too cold here for scootering-bikejoring.  My favorite scooter temperature range is 30-40 degrees.  We’ve scootered-bikejored (knobby tires) down into the 20s and during rain, snow and sleet.  We start scootering in D.C. in the fall when morning temperatures are in the 50s -- usually late October.  We get in some scootering year-around up at Big Meadows Campground (elevation 3700-feet) in Shenandoah National Park.


As with any athletic exertion, before you hook your Samoyed to a scooter or bike you should carefully assess their physical conditioning.  In my research I have been guided by expert views that dogs under 18 months should not have their immature skeletal structure stressed by pulling or bearing significant weight.  Older or overweight dogs or those with some other health issue such as arthritis should be cleared by a veterinarian before being tasked with pulling you for miles.


No matter how old or fit your pup is, gradually work them up to a level of pulling fitness.  Start with a mile or several blocks.  Don’t expect them to start with a 5-mile pull -- especially if you have not been running them regularly beforehand.    


In addition to the scooter or bike, you will need: 


Harness ($32-42):  Gidget has two custom-fitted harnesses (“Urban Trail Harness”) and they both came from Alpine Outfitters, a small business geared to sledding that is located outside of Seattle.  I have been ordering from them for nearly a decade and have been 100% satisfied with the quality of their products and customer service.  You have to be very, very careful in measuring your dog for the harness.  Call Alpine directly if you have any questions about this.  They have now added an “adjustable” Urban Trail Harness to their product line which is well-advised if you are not certain about your pup’s measurements or you want to allow more leeway for growth.  I had the “reflective tape” put on Gidget’s harnesses, as well as the optional “D-Rings” to which I attach “bear bells” ($3) that I get from REI.


Bear bells alert pedestrians that you and your pup are running up behind them.  Trust me, you’ll want these.  The bells also make people smile as you and your pup sound like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer.



Scooter Line ($25-35):  You may hear this referred to as a “tow-line” or “gang-line” elsewhere but Alpine Outfitters has what they call “Scooter Lines.”  I’m still using lines I bought in 2003.  Six-feet long and with a built-in bungee, you can buy a single ($25) for one dog to pull or a double ($35) for two dogs.  I have both but usually use the double even though it is usually just Gidget pulling.  I simply attach both lines to her harness and have the benefit of a doubly strong attachment and the option of hooking up one of my friends’ pups if we’re out scootering with others.



Aerobar (keeps the line out of the front wheel) $65-95:   In addition to squirrels and other things that could distract your dog, the main safety threat you’ll have to deal with is the tow line getting caught in your front wheel.  This can easily happen if you get too much slack in the line or you run over the line.  It causes your scooter or bike to come to an abrupt halt.  This also abrades your tow line.  You can research this issue and find that people have come up with a number of homemade solutions to keep the tow line off and out of the front wheel.


Alpine Outfitters in 2011 started offering a “Scooter Noodle” - at $20, an economical solution compared to the Aerobar. 


I simply bought an “Aerobar” -- a curved bar that bicyclists who ride long distances or who road-race attach to their handlebars so that they can crouch into a more streamlined posture.  The manufacturer of mine is Profile Design, the model is the “Airstryke” and I have bought them at REI and a favorite local bike shop (Spokes on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, Virginia).


As you can see in the photos, I run the scooter line through the Aerobar and this keeps it safely away from the front wheel.  Aerobars are not cheap ($65-95) but mounted properly they are rock-solid and extremely lightweight so they don’t affect steering. I have Aerobars on my mountain bike and all three of my scooters.    



Helmet & Gloves:  Please do not attempt dogscootering or bikejoring without first protecting your brain by wearing a quality bike helmet.  When I was younger I thought nothing of riding a motorcycle around Oregon without a helmet (no helmet law back then) but it has never occurred to me to be at the mercy of my dog pulling around the city without benefit of a helmet to protect my brain. 


Dogs are unpredictable, especially around distractions such as squirrels, birds and other dogs.  That is why it is imperative that you keep your scooter/bike’s brakes in good working order and always wear a helmet.  One downside to scootering around DC as I do is that, since 9/11, security bollards have sprouted like mushrooms on sidewalks around virtually every government building and many monuments and memorials.  Those bollards are designed to stop a Mack truck going 55 mph and they are configured to give you barely enough room to maneuver your scooter between them.  Factor in Gidget’s annoying tendency to veer to the opposite side of any bollard and you can imagine my ingrained tendency toward caution on this matter.


At least consider that you cannot take care of your pup if you’re unconscious.


Even when it is not cold enough for insulated gloves, you’ll want to wear bike gloves to protect your hands from rope burn if you are holding onto the scooter line (which I do when walking the scooter and Gidget in crowds or across streets in heavy traffic situations).  Gloves also protect from abrasion in case you do have a mishap while riding.



Scooters


I own three scooters with 20” wheels manufactured by a company called “Blauwerk.”  The model I have is “The Willy.” I have bought them from a business in New York state and have been very satisfied with their customer service as they’ve gotten the scooters to me in as fast as a few days.  I have paid a local bike shop (Spokes in Alexandria) to assemble the scooters for me as I found the handlebar and brakes difficult.  The more mechanically-inclined would have no trouble with doing their own assembly. 


A great source of information on the variety and strengths and weaknesses of scooters available for dogs to pull is a website called Dogscooter.com  It is their opinion that 20” wheels are optimal for speeding around sharp corners.  As desirable in my opinion is that they take up less space in and on my Honda Element.  Bigger wheels, such as my friend Karla’s 26” wheels on her Blauwerk “City” scooter, are faster for straight-line. 


Of course, you’ll only be as fast as your dog and I’ve yet to meet the dog who is a more fierce competitor in scootering-bikejoring than my Gidget.  That may change during the winter of 2011-2012 as there are four PVSC Samoyeds born in 2010 who will be getting started pulling scooters.  It remains to be seen if they will give veteran Gidget (now 9 years old) a run for my money.  I’m betting on The Gidg -- she takes on all challengers, including oblivious bicyclists who don’t have dogs and are trying to pass her.   


The Willy is excellent for scootering on grass, sidewalks, other hard surfaces and the pea-gravel of the National Mall and the C&O Canal.  If you were going to be scootering on rough trails where The Willy’s 4” ground clearance may not be sufficient (it will bottom out on a tree root or speed bump) then you should look at “Diggler” brand scooters.  A scooter with higher ground clearance is going to be more of a workout for you because you’ll have to bend your leg more to kick.  And knobby tires will have more rolling resistance.  So it depends on your needs. 


As with any outdoor activity with your dog, carry plenty of water for them to drink.  Some basic first aid items are also recommended in case they injure a paw from stepping on something sharp or incur some other injury.  Be mindful of the risk of bloat with Samoyeds or other dogs and regulate their running and food and water intake accordingly (including not scootering soon after or before a meal).


Most of all, have fun with your Samoyed.  It is an incredible experience to be part of your Samoyed’s experiences in realizing their potential as a working dog.  You can access detailed information on our favorite scooter venues -- the National Mall and the C&O Canal -- in the Samantics article entitled D.C. = Dog City.

Photos from PVSC’s Nov. 12, 2011 
Dogscooter Clinichttp://www.potomacvalleysams.com/Dogscooter_Bikejoring.html

“Aerobar” keeps the tow line off and out of the front wheel

The

Igidgerod