Essay: The joy of mountain biking with your dog

By Jeffrey Stern

Climbing the steep pitches, he’s faster than me. Four-wheel (er, leg) drive naturally makes it easier. When the trail flattens and turns into flowy singletrack, we’re about dead even; it’s as if I’m riding with someone who has the same climbing skills as me. When it comes to the technical, ripping downhills, I tend to drop him. But in his world, it’s all good. His tongue almost always touches the ground and his grin is most definitely from ear to floppy ear at every trail intersection, where he’s been taught to stop and wait to receive further route directions.

I’ve learned many lessons from the five dogs I’ve been lucky to have over the course of my thirty-plus years on this planet. They’ve taught me that no matter what happens in life, happiness is actually much simpler than I ever make it out to be. Just sitting, letting the sun warm my face with positive thoughts, is one of the best feelings in life. I learned that from just observing my dogs basking in the afternoon sunlight.

On the trails, these feelings are exuberated. Together, we release all this positive energy out into the world with shouts (or barks in his case) around every bend, through each swooping singletrack section and in the form of high-fives, tailwags and the excited circling of my bike and I when we come to full stop to adjust something. I’m never quick enough to his liking.

My dog reminds me to never forget what it means to just play for the fun of it. “Why do we need to be serious all the time?,” his eyes say to me in not so many words, or any at all. Feeling the joy of life, mountain biking, the great outdoors, unexpected encounters, new trails and adventures is our shared goal. I’m unsure if I could ask for anything more.

Over the years, my dogs have been the one thing constant in the ever changing landscape that is life, school, work and more. Whether it be a cloudy fall morning or a rainy winter day, dogs always shine with all of their light, all of the time. They’re never down in the dumps, unless I am too, and they’re quick to change my attitude and perspective on things. If you’re happy, jump for joy; they’ve always taught me to not hold onto my feelings, it’s fine to be myself even during the times I don’t actually feel like my normal self, physically or mentally.

What’s always been the quickest fix? A mountain bike ride. Nothing washes away my “problems” like a ride. Adding a dog or two is simply icing on the cake.

Mountain biking with my best friend; it doesn’t get any better for me and if I’m good enough at reading his signs, it’s one of his favorite things too. Always go for a ride and bring your dog too; you won’t regret it and they’ll love you all the more for allowing them to share the experience with you.

Leave all your worries behind and collect only the important things from the trail, too.

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8 Comments

  1. Riding with your dog off leash is technically illegal on most trails around here.
    Pretty sure dogs must be on a leash on all trails in State, city and County parks.
    Although I have seen people walking and riding with dogs off leash.
    I’d be afraid my dog would be running in the woods along the trail and end up going off of a cliff into a ravine or something. There are also bench cut trails where there wouldn’t be room for a dog to run alongside you. I’d also be worried about him popping out of the woods in front of other bikes, or stopping for that sudden urge to poop, and getting run over. (My dogs have always had that sudden, unexpected urge and stopped in their tracks, even when out for a jog.)
    Anyway. i’m a dog lover, but couldn’t imagine trying to ride with my dog.

    • I ride with my dog all the time but have trained her with a sport collar. If trained properly, you can maintain control while providing off leash freedom for your pet and you don’t have to use the “zap” button for most dogs.

  2. Jeffrey, enjoyed your article – thanks for sharing all the boys of riding with your four-legged pals.
    My kids recently got a golden doodle puppy and I’m hoping to train it to follow me on single track MTB rides here on the OZ trails. Can you share any tips on how to get started training a dog to follow you on MTB rides?

    • I walked with my dogs a LOT in the woods at first, brought treats with me, trained them to come consistently when I called, until I knew they were trustworthy off leash. Then started with short rides in very very quiet rarely used trails. I don’t beat my dogs up by making them keep up with me( although they always beat me on the climbs!). when I go out with my dog it’s THEIR ride,at their pace, with lots of breaks, on rarely used trails. She likes to lead and just instinctively follows the trail and wont run too far ahead. i go slow when im with my dog. A dog will happily run themselves to death trying to keep up with you if you let them. Also, puppies can hurt their joints from too long runs and downhills, so keep it short on grass until they’re 2. Another thing- my current dog gets so excited when we first start she starts barking and biting my shoes and pedals for the first 5 minutes. I finally figured out if I give her something to carry in her mouth like a toy , it works like a charm! then she settles down and I just stick it in my pack.

  3. my dog cant get enough of it. he absolutely loves to come out with me and sometimes I cant keep up with him on the trail. him out, @flashdonovan17 on Instagram.

  4. I used to bring my dog on mob rides, where appropriate. She has gotten too old, her vision is poor and her hearing gone, so those days are gone, and the article brought a tear to my eyes. She still rides in a bike trailer to the shop every day.

  5. First, there are two types of trail dogs, leashed and free-range. Leashed trail dogs must run near their rider, usually beside or behind. Free-range trail dogs orbit their riders. I am free-range, but I acknowledge that some trails may be better suited to trial dogs who act leashed.

    Second, you must learn to trust your trail dog, and your trail dog will learn to trust you. Riding with your trail dog is like riding in a peloton; you must trust the fluid dynamics of it. As for dog-safe trails, I am not limited by my riders imagination.

    Finally, you must train your trail dog to master these two commands: 1) a recall command and 2) “NOT IN THE TRAIL!”

    I and all trail dogs love to run; however, we, like children, don’t always know how to hydrate properly.

    In short, if the riders plan for the future, their trail dogs will live in the now.

    Phinehas Son of Eli

  6. Great article. I have a black lab Sherman who is almost 6, if he could talk we would tell you that mountain biking his his favorite thing to do! His smiles are large and is great bonding time for us. I started training him off leash hiking as a puppy and introduced him to bikes in our fenced in yard. At 8 moths we did our first trail ride together.

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