Mountain bike instructor Ian Bailey gets a few things off his chest.
By Ian Bailey
I quietly punched the air reading Olly Cheesman’s semi-successful attempt to banish ‘trail dogs’ into Singletrack’s Room 101 in Issue 103. Finally someone had the balls to vocalise an issue that I’ve been too fearful of the ‘man’s best friend’ brigade to ever mention out loud myself. My reservations are real, after all many people openly admit to preferring their dogs to their friends or relatives and I suppose they’re admirable in that love and devotion. However, it doesn’t override the simple fact that dogs and mountain biking do not mix. Before you lay into me as a heartless brute and start an online campaign of hate just hear me out, I want to explore some of the questionable statements I regularly hear – you might recognise some yourself.
Aww…how could anything this cute be any trouble?
‘My dog always runs with me so you don’t need to worry’
Except it doesn’t and so I definitely do. Yes your hound may largely attempt to stay with its master but it doesn’t think like a biker. Unhindered by the trail layout it slices corners, jumps from behind trees and takes dramatic and unpredictable tangents on any whim. Even if it was capable of staying constantly next to your rear wheel, what about when I’m overtaking you, or vice versa? The key thing is that as well trained as the dog may be, it lacks vital self-awareness and so I have to ride defensively in order to not mow it down. That’s not only a distracting fun killer, it also puts me in much greater danger. I want to be scanning the trail ahead, not constantly focusing on my peripheral vision for the inevitable shaggy blur bounding across my line.
‘My dog is great but (insert other friend’s name here)’s dog is a total nightmare’
And when you’re not listening they say the exact same thing about yours! Love truly is blind and unfortunately you continually block out the stream of deviant behaviour that your four legged friend is inflicting on the woods. I get it, I’m sure the sun doesn’t shine quite as strongly out of my kids arses as I’d like to think but I don’t drag them out when we’re meant to be doing some timed laps.
‘Don’t worry, he’s just being friendly’
Aahhh, the old classic. If your concept of friendly is jumping aggressively up, covering me in crap and ripping a hole in my new jersey then I’d hate to see unfriendly. This simply isn’t acceptable. If you threw mud at me and then slashed my top with a flick-knife I don’t think the commonly anticipated reaction would be to laugh and reassure you that it’s OK! And if it jumps at my bike don’t hold me accountable!
‘My dog never shits on the trail’
So where does it go? Admittedly some people I know bring poo bags and occasionally even use them but generally they’re taking advantage of the great outdoors as a doggy toilet. If you did this in a public park you’d get fined, but in the forest blind eyes are turned everywhere. And blind eyes are an extreme but realistic by-product of getting canine fecal matter in your own, not to mention that incredibly depressing moment when you realise that horrendous smell is coming from your front tyre, oh and your gloves too, and what’s that on my face? Aaaarghhh.
‘He never chases the wildlife/other dogs’
So where is he then? And why did I see a deer crashing through the undergrowth in a desperate sprint for survival? Not to mention the possibility of an irate farmer with a quad and a shotgun looking to wreak vengeance for the continual sheep worrying. Why are we stood here freezing whilst you run around shouting its name in a rapidly heightening pitch? Will I stick a few pictures on lampposts for you instead of heading to the pub? Give them here…
‘Can I grab a lift home with you?’
‘Yeh, of course’
‘The dog can sit in the footwell’
Oh in that case, ‘no, bugger off’. Except you don’t say that do you? Despite the fact that your mate has just seen the painstaking way you laid out the old blankets and wrapped up your dirty steed on the back seat they still think you won’t mind a sweaty, mud caked fart machine wriggling around and shoving its snout in your glove box. And I’d be the unreasonable one for refusing the lift!
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, maybe I’m rebelling against the concept more than the beast as the ‘trail dog’ seems to have become the latest must-have accessory for the hipster MTB’er. In reality though I think I’m representing a silent majority who groan into themselves when they see their mates canine bounding round the trailhead but don’t want to upset the delicate British pet etiquette by voicing their irritation. Biking time is very precious and maybe dog owners should ask before assuming it’s ok to drag their mutt along in the same way you do before bringing along a new mate. It can upset the subtle balances that make mates’ rides so amazing and so don’t be surprised if you see your crew shrinking over time.
I guess the final say could be reserved for the dogs themselves. No doubt many do delight in the run-out but I’ve also seen the ripped and bleeding paws and heard the pitiful yelp of dog crunched under wheel. Are you really just suiting yourself because you can’t be arsed to walk it later once you’re settling into your post-ride coma by the fire? Are you?
Now bring on the vitriol!
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