This final page on Practical Issues concerns how to deal with dogs, which can be a problem for cyclists all over the world, but certain regions are far worse than others. When doing the Transcontinental Race (TCR), dogs are not normally a problem in northern and western Europe, but they can be common in southeastern Europe, where there are many wild dogs who sometimes travel in packs. The problem tends to start in Bosnia and generally gets worse the further south that you go. In North America, there are very few wild dogs, but it’s common in certain areas for domestic dogs to not have a leash and those often chase cyclists.
Compared to the number of dog chases that people report, the number of people who are actually bitten is extremely small, but bites have been reported. If you are bitten, you should get a series of rabies vaccinations. It is also possible to have vaccinations before starting the race, which won’t make you immune but will reduce the number of vaccinations needed if you are bitten. There is more information on the American CDC website.
You should have a plan for how to deal with dogs. Many dogs, particularly the wild ones in south-eastern Europe, tend to be more docile during the day and more aggressive at night, so the simplest tactic is to only ride during daylight, but some dogs will chase at any time of the day.
The most commonly used tactic is a combination of what I call the Pink Panther and Mark Cavendish techniques – once you spot a dog, enter stealth / Pink Panther mode and hope that the dog doesn’t see, hear, or smell you for as long as possible (unfortunately, the smell of many bikepackers gives away their presence quite quickly). Once the dog knows that you’re there and gives signs of chasing, many people then enter Mark Cavendish mode and do a full-on sprint. It’s amazing how much energy can be summoned in these efforts regardless of how exhausted and empty you were feeling 10 seconds beforehand, and often a 200-400 meter-long sprint is enough to stay away from the dog(s) and dissuade them from chasing further. Unfortunately, such efforts are less effective when going uphill and it is more common that people get injured by crashing their bikes while sprinting away from dogs than by being bitten by them; this is especially true during night-time chases when you may not see a pot-hole or other road hazard. Sprinting away from dogs is therefore quite a risky strategy.
A generally safer strategy for dealing with dogs is what I call the Mike Hall method (the founder of the TCR); he would look back at the animal and roar/scream at it violently with a slightly wild and crazy look in his eyes. When Mike demonstrated this to me at the finish party after the 2014 TCR, I decided that I would never be quite as good at this technique as he was – the look in his eyes was probably enough to scare away a grizzly bear. If you do this with some confidence then it can be very effective because most dogs are quite timid and quickly stop chasing. This strategy may be less effective when there are multiple dogs, as they then tend to be bolder and less intimidated. I used this technique in 2016 with multiple individual dogs, most of which immediately stopped chasing me, but one was bold enough to ignore my roaring, so I had to do a short sprint, but I was overall quite pleased with the technique.
Some people carry weapons to fight back at the dogs. One rider in the 2015 TCR carried rocks in his jersey pockets to throw at the dogs, and managed to connect with one of his missiles on the dog’s head, which killed the dog. At least two other people have reported incidents in which dogs were run over and killed by cars as the dog was in the process of chasing them.
Other people just stop their bike and get off. The dogs tend to only chase cyclists, so if you leave the bike and become a regular person, most dogs quickly lose interest. This is certainly a good tactic to use if you realize that the dog doesn’t back down by screaming at it, you cannot out-sprint it, and you have no weapons. When getting off of the bike, try to keep the bike between you and the dog as a safety barrier.
A more devious method is the survival-of-the-fittest strategy. It involves riding with someone who is a slower sprinter than you are, then when the dogs start to chase, leave your partner behind to deal with the dogs while you head up the road. This is certainly not in the spirit of the camaraderie of the race.
Although dog chases will happen, they are nearly all quite benign and it shouldn’t be a great cause for concern or a reason to not enter a race. Most dogs are chasing either just for fun or as a territorial behavior, they are not really trying to hunt you even though it can feel like that every time.
This is the final page in the Practical Issues section, which is in Part I: The Rider.