For those with a high energy dog at home, you may be looking for a way to exercise your dog that will burn more energy than a simple walk. Enter bikejoring! While a newer phenomenon in the world of dog sports, bikejoring is quickly becoming popular as a way to provide a more intense workout for your dog.
What is bikejoring? Bikejoring is a dog-mushing sport that involves harnessing one or more dogs to a bike that they then help pull as you pedal.
Bikejoring is a great option for anyone with a high energy dog that feels like their dog needs more exercise than what they’re already getting. While easy to pick up, there are some learning curves and adjustment periods that need to be accounted for before diving in.
Bikejoring can be an exciting and fulfilling way to connect with your dog while both of you get a great workout. Use this guide to help you get started.
What is Bikejoring?
While bikejoring is gaining in popularity, you may be one of the many people who have never encountered this word before, let alone know what bikejoring is.
Getting its inspiration from mushing dogs to pull sleds, bikejoring is simply a different form on the same concept. While the exact date of the first instance of bikejoring is unknown, it likely developed alongside another dog sledding offshoot–skijoring.
Bikejoring generally takes place on multipurpose trails, making it a great way to explore new terrain and get into nature. While many prefer the warmer months with nicer weather, bikejoring can be done year-round with the proper equipment and conditions.
The Basics – What You Need to Start Bikejoring
When it comes to bikejoring, there are two major areas in which you need to do some preparation before getting started: your dog and its training and conditioning, and making sure you have the correct equipment to get started.
Let’s begin with going over what equipment you’ll need to get started.
Similar to many other sports, especially dog-mushing sports, you’ll need to make sure you have good, reliable equipment before getting started with bikejoring.
This starts first and foremost with the bike you plan to use. You’ll want a rugged, durable mountain bike that will be able to hold up to tougher conditions, as you’ll likely be going over some rugged terrain. While there aren’t mountain bikes specifically geared towards bikejoring, a reliable bike that you’re comfortable using is ideal. In this link, you’ll find my reasonably priced basic mountain bike (Amazon link).
Next, you’ll want to make sure you have the necessary safety equipment. This starts with a helmet. While you should use a helmet whenever riding a bicycle, this is especially true when bikejoring. You’ll likely be going over rough terrain that might include larger rocks, trees, and exposed roots, making a helmet a mandatory piece of gear. My helmet is affordable and perfect for bikejoring.
Additionally, you’ll likely want some form gloves and potentially elbow pads, depending on your risk aversion. You’ll also want a pair of impact-resistant goggles. The elbow pads will help in the event of a fall, while the gloves and goggles will help you maintain control without being affected by potential kickback. Because you’ll be on open trails, you’re likely to experience debris being kicked up by your dog out in front of you. Goggles will keep this debris out of your eyes.
All of this equipment helps to insure against the rugged terrain you’ll likely be bikejoring over. While it may seem like overkill, this equipment is crucial because of the learning curve involved in bikejoring. When you’re just getting started, and your dogs are still getting used to pulling a bicycle, you’ll likely take some spills. This equipment will help prevent serious injury.
Once you’ve protected yourself, you’ll want to protect your bike and dogs. This means carrying some saddlebags that contain basic bike repair gear as well as first aid materials for you and your dog. This is the saddlebag that I use, it’s high quality, water-resistant and cheap. You’ll also want to carry water and food for both you and your dogs in these packs.
After you have your bike and yourself set up, gear-wise, you’ll want to get the appropriate gear for your dog/dogs. First, and most importantly, you will need a harness. (Here is the harness that my Max wears. It’s more on the pricey side but it’s important to get a high-quality harness. A poor quality harness could hurt your doggy and we don’t want that.) To connect the dog to the line that will attach to your bike. It’s crucial to make sure that the harness is sized properly to your dog, as an ill-fitting harness can lead to injury or your dog getting free.
When buying a harness, be sure to try it on your dog for size before buying and be sure to get one that’s well-built and will be able to stand up to the wear and tear it will experience.
Next, you’ll need to get a bungee line or the line that connects the dog to your bike. Again, you’ll want to be sure to buy a bungee line that’s made of durable materials. Most bungee lines run anywhere from five to seven feet in length. They also often feature a built-in bungee, as this helps to lessen the force of the dog’s initial pull, which helps you avoid a violent jolt in one direction. I would highly recommend this bungee line which is durable and competitively priced.
Lastly, if you plan on using more than one dog when bikejoring, you’ll need a neckline to connect the two dogs. This is a shorter line that runs between the dogs’ harnesses and keeps them from pulling in different directions. Think about the connecting lines between dogs in a dog sled setup. If you have to or more dogs I would recommend to look into this bungee line on Amazon. Haven’t tried it, however with this product, you could connect two dogs and your bike.
Dog Conditioning and Training
The second thing you’ll want to make sure you have ready before getting started is getting your dog in shape. One aspect of this is simply making sure your dog is ready for this level of activity.
More than just frequent walking, you’ll first want to make sure you breed is capable of handling the workload that comes with bikejoring. The best types of breeds for bikejoring will be outlined further below, but if you have a small or low-energy breed, you likely can’t take them bikejoring.
Once you have the right breed, you’ll have to get them in proper physical shape before jumping into bikejoring. Similar to how you wouldn’t go from the couch to a 10K in a week, you shouldn’t take your dog from a slow walk a day to bikejoring multiple miles over rough terrain. Being sure that your dog is strong enough and has the capacity to run long distances.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your dog is trained and ready to be in a harness and pulling weight. Let your dog wear the harness around the house and on your normal walk routine so that it gets comfortable wearing it. Once acclimated to the harness, try attaching some weight and letting your dog pull it in your yard or at the park. Once your dog is used to pulling weight, you’ll need to get it used to the commands you’ll need when on the trail.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you need to teach your dog the commands that will be needed when on the trail. Just like teaching your dog commands to improve its behavior around the house, you’ll need to have a rapport with them to help ensure they stay focused and go where you want them to go, instead of pulling towards whatever draws their attention.
The commands for bikejoring are generally the same as those used by dog sledders when mushing.
- HIKE or MUSH are used to get your dog going and let them know it’s time to pull.
- GEE is used to signal they should go right, while HAW is used for going left.
- ON BY or LEAVE IT are used to keep the dogs focused on pulling when a distraction comes up on the trail. This is especially helpful when passing other people or dogs on the trail, as well as potential wildlife.
While bikejoring is easy enough to pick up and get started as a beginner, you have to keep in mind that it’s a fairly intense workout for both you and your dog. With that, you’ll want to make sure you and your dog or dogs are well-prepped before ever getting on the trail. Just like you wouldn’t enter a marathon without the proper preparation beforehand, you shouldn’t hit the trail to bikejor without putting in the preparation beforehand.
Can You Bikejor Competitively?
Just like dog sledding, bikejoring has a competitive aspect to its following. Yes, you can bikejor competitively through the International Federation of Sleddog Sports(IFSS). This association regulates all sleddog related sports, from traditional sled racing to bikejoring and skijoring.
For many who bikejor competitively, bikejoring is used as a way to keep their dogs in shape for sled season. Because snow is a critical component of being able to operate a sled, bikejoring offers an alternative for those trying to stay in shape during the offseason.
As a sport recognized by the IFSS, bikejoring has a competitive circuit. Races run in various parts of the world when the weather isn’t conducive to sled racing. These races run in a number of formats, sometimes stipulating a minimum number of dogs while other times offering a number of divisions based on the number of dogs and experience level.
These races tend to run in one of two main formats. Some races feature a mass start, meaning that all teams line up and start the race at the same time. While an exciting way to start a larger race, it’s used infrequently due to the risk of dogs getting tangled and crashes happening.
The more common format for these races is a time-trial start. This means that all teams run the same course but start at staggered times. This helps ensure less congestion on the course, the highest number of teams you’re likely to have in any one spot is two while one passes the other, and it allows for racers to focus more on running the fastest time without having to navigate other teams.
Best Dog Breeds for Bikejoring
While bikejoring can be enjoyed with any high energy dog breed, some breeds are more disposed to excelling at it. Sporting and working breeds are especially well built for the physical demands of bikejoring and are keen to learn the commands you’ll need when on the trail. Below is a list of the best dog breeds for bikejoring.
This is a fairly obvious choice, as huskies have become more or less synonymous with dog sledding. Bred to work in this way, huskies are excellent dogs for any kind of pulling. Strong, clever, and able to withstand long distances with ease, there’s a reason that huskies are a common dog sledding breed.
Similar to the Husky, Malamutes were bred as mushing dogs. Equally strong and quick to learn, Malamutes thrive when given something to pull. These dogs also work well with other dogs, an important factor if you’re looking to run with more than one dog.
While not specifically a mushing dog, Samoyeds have shown an ability to excel at pulling sleds. Another northern bred dog, Samoyeds were initially bred to herd reindeer, though they have since been adapted to mushing and being adorable family pets.
The Chinook is a fairly new entry to the mushing class of dogs developed in New Hampshire in the early 20th century. Bred to mush nonetheless, Chinooks are an excellent option for mushing sports. Strong and clever like the Husky and Malamute, the Chinook makes for both a great working dog and a great family pet.
Once you get past the usual suspects of the mushing world, you’ll find that many high energy, athletic dog breeds can work as mushing dogs. In this grouping, you’ll find the retrievers, pointers, and hounds. These breeds have a high drive as they’re bred to work in tandem with their owners while hunting. All tend to be keen on training and commands, with high stamina levels to last while on the trail.
Lastly, we have the working breeds. These are your herding dogs and other various working breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers. While these breeds don’t necessarily jump out as mushing candidates, they can nonetheless take to it with the right training. All of these breeds display a high energy level and a desire to please their owner, good qualities to have in a sled dog. With the proper training, all of these breeds can make great bikejoring candidates.
In truth, any dog can be a candidate for bikejoring. If your dog enjoys running and shows a love of spending time with you, then bikejoring could be a great way to exercise and bond with them. The point is that bikejoring is what you make it. Not every dog is built to be a bikejoring champion, but every dog and their owner can enjoy the fun of bikejoring in some capacity.
Are There Other Sports Similar to Bikejoring?
Yes, there are a number of mushing sports similar to bikejoring. Many people who bikejor enjoy doing all of the different variations as a way to keep active all year round. Others can only enjoy one of the sports, as part of the world in which they live isn’t conducive to the others.
One similar sport to bikejoring, and admittedly the grandfather of all mushing sports, is dog sledding. Developed nearly 4,000 years ago, dog sledding was used as a means of pulling loads long distances. Originating in places like Siberia and North America where snow and ice are present nearly year-round, dog sledding is now largely a winter sport.
Another winter sport that came from dog sledding is skijoring. This is simply bikejoring, but instead of a bike, the dog owner is cross country skiing. This is an ideal winter alternative to bikejoring for those with only one or two dogs and are looking to keep their amount of equipment minimal.
Another sport similar to bikejoring is scootering. Essentially the same as bikejoring, scootering involves a scooter and the owner holding onto the dogs. While an alternative to bikejoring, scootering limits you in terms of where you can go, as scooters simply aren’t as rugged and versatile as a bike.
As a way to get a great exercise for your dog and to spend quality bonding time with them, bikejoring is an excellent sport for dogs and their owners. Before getting started, you’ll want to make sure you and your dog are in the right shape. Prep at home by getting the proper equipment and making sure your dog is used to pulling weight and knows the necessary commands.
Once out on the trail, remember to have fun. Be safe and stay prepared for potential hazards and injuries. Whether you have a mushing breed or not, bikejoring can be enjoyed by anyone with a dog that loves to run and please. Once you’ve gotten your start in bikejoring, think about exploring the other similar sports to keep you and your dog active throughout the year.