Yikes! (And Bikes)

Today I saw a first (for me) :

Unicyclist + dog
Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn

a man riding a unicycle down the sidewalk in Brooklyn, his dog running behind him on a leash.

I whipped out my iPhone and tried to catch up to him to take a pic, but this was the best I could get before he sped away. (Who knew one wheel and one gear could go so fast?)

When I got home I Googled “unicycle dog brooklyn” and found comments by people who have seen him over the years. Most notes were joyful and positive, like that he “makes me smile”.

One of the pics of him I found was this next one, posted over two years ago:

Two years ago, Prospect Park.
Same dog smile; same winter jacket!

He’s still one-wheeling it, his dog is still jogging, smiling, and happy as a clam – and he’s even still wearing the same winter jacket!

Of course the interwebs are all about venting pointless anger in any direction available, so there were quite a few posts accusing this guy of being idiotic, annoying, dangerous to himself or others, and even against the law.

As far as those comments relate only to unicycling and not bicycling, I don’t really care (for instance, people mad at his unicycle wiggling around, or who think he just looks stupid). Maybe they’re right; I doubt the debate is impactful enough to be worth having. But it made me think about people who say or feel some of the same things about biking with your dogs (two-wheeled I mean).

First, legalities. It is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk – and in fact, anywhere except “roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes, and bike paths” (NYS Operation Of Bicycles Article 34, Section 1234). So unless you want your dog running on Flatbush Ave next to MTA buses and yellow cabs, you have to either stick to park paths (or roads through the parks on weekends or other times they’re closed to traffic) – or you can try to bike in the street while poochie runs on the sidewalk. Given that most streets in all of the boros are lined with parked cars, that’s more or less impossible here. When I lived in England I trained my Lurcher (a descendant of the Greyhound) to run alongside me on the sidewalk, offleash, while I biked in the street. It took lots of practice and voice control, but it was worth it. But of course your dog has to stay leashed here in the States, so forget that one.

The upshot being that if you’re going to try to bike your dog somewhere other than in a park, you’re probably going to have to break the law. When I worked at a doggie daycare in Red Hook I would bike our greyhounds almost every day, 30 minutes there and 30 back. Great exercise for the whole family! But I was breaking the law, riding mostly on sidewalks though occasionally in the street. I tried to be very considerate to pedestrians, always giving them the right of way, conscious that I was on their terrain. Of course I can’t recommend it, as it was illegal, and it did require really well-behaved and trained dogs, and constant vigilance; but it worked for us.

A final tip on how to bike with your dog:  hold the leash loosely with one hand, hold the handlebars and steer with the other hand. Don’t mix the two; if pooch jumps at a loud noise or passing squirrel, you can be pulled off your bike and into traffic. Also, have your dog very well trained to voice commands like “Down” and “Stay” (I even train them to “Sidewalk”), so you can drop the leash at the first sign of any conflict, collision, or danger. Leash drops, you come to a halt and so does pooch; you fix the situation and get on your way again.

It might be awhile before I try the unicycle though.


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