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How to explain cycling to your dog

There’s no way to explain cycling to my dog, Churro.

Every weekend, Churro looks at me as I twist the dials on my shoes, secure my helmet with a click, and and walk out the door. He knows I’ll be gone for hours. I envision him asking me,“Why? Why do you need to be gone for so long on a weekend day?” If only for a few minutes, I wish he could understand English. Although it would be nice to really tell him off for chewing up another pair of leather boots (apparently the dog equivalent of beef jerky), I’d probably use that window of communication for something more essential, less spiteful. I would explain to him why I ride bikes, and it would be in terms that he’d understand.

My explanation would go like this:

Listen Churro. Hey, don’t give me that look. Listen. You know how it feels when you meet your dog friends after a week apart? When you sniff each other’s butts, lick an ear, maybe sniff something even more unspeakable (no shame, this one). That’s what happens when I meet my friends for a ride — in a manner of speaking. Who’s on a new bike? Do you like that jacket? When did you get those carbon wheels? It’s a similar sensation, only there’s no sniffing required.

More than any dog I’ve met, you absolutely luxuriate in the sun, basking like a snake in the smallest sliver of light. For me, that’s the equivalent of spring’s first warm day. I stick a head out the door, realize just how warm it is (at 9 a.m. no less!) and dress light, far lighter than I have for the last three months. No need for legwarmers, perhaps a vest in the pocket. My skin breathes in the sunlight, and I recall many spring days from the past 20-odd years when enthusiasm for the new cycling season was overflowing. Now, can you please get up off the pavement? I know the sun feels amazing, but I’m late to meet my friends for this ride.

Speaking of dawdling, let’s talk about your “walk” — something that frequently devolves into me standing around and you stuffing your nose into a thicket. That fascinating smell in there, whatever it is, is the thing that I’m watching on my laptop (as if you understand what that is). The final 20 kilometers of a Tour de France stage, or perhaps Paris-Roubaix or Flanders, that is my enticing, ripe, rotten smell. The difference between you and I is that I will not, under any circumstances, roll on my laptop. You, on the other hand, need a bath now.

Okay, it’s unfair to say you never really walk on our walks. Sometimes you’re impossible to restrain, tugging me down the path, more or less making it a dog-assisted walk/run (forget about hidden motors). This is what it’s like to be half-wheeled on a group ride. Maybe this minutia is unimportant. But dammit, it’s really annoying, Churro. Both when you do this, and when a riding partner incessantly inches their bars ahead of mine. Chill out! We’ll get home to dinner soon enough.

I still haven’t explained why I keep going riding, however, leaving you at home. The heart of the matter is an ephemeral feeling of balance, once the wheels are spinning fast, supporting me on two tiny contact patches, while I simultaneously propel them. That bike trailer I sometimes cram you into isn’t a great frame of reference. Sorry about that. This one is tough — perhaps it’s the sensation you feel when you orbit the yard at top speed with a dog friend, chasing each other, running so hard your dewclaws collect turf.

That isn’t it, however. In fact, the answer is a bit obvious. It’s the feeling you get when you can run a few snout-lengths behind my rear tire, on a singletrack descent after a day of work (for me) and boredom (for you). Once in awhile, I don’t leave you at home; I pack up the car with mountain biking gear and a collapsible water bowl, pick a quiet trail without other dogs to tangle with, and try to contain your impatient enthusiasm while I do the shoe/helmet routine that’s ordinarily such a bummer. When I follow you through the turns, it is clear to me that you actually do know what it’s like to go for a ride, and just like me, you love it.