The art of the sled dog is as old as human history itself.
Ever since man domesticated wolves and wild dogs to guard our homes, pull our stuff, and protect our lives, we have intertwined our lives with theirs.
Leave it to man to get bored.
When we’re bored, all sorts of interesting sports get devised around “man’s best friend”.
The end result is the creation of dozens of sled dog and musher events held every year.
This includes the Superbowl of sled dog races held every year around March: The Iditarod.
However, considering the number of States in the United States with no seasonal snow access or the need for sled dogs, musher sports are the luxury of northern states that border Canada.
It is not uncommon to see sled racing span across States like Alaska, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Michigan from September to April.
Unfortunately, when the snow doesn’t come, or worse, it comes on too strong, sled dog events often get canceled.
A lack of snow only leads to a shrinking number of events and further rules out areas of the country that occasionally get some kind of snowfall.
It also leads to more bored racers with a bunch of sleeping dogs on their hands.
Rather than let sleeping dogs lie, leave it to the Europeans to figure out how to have sled dog races without snow.
Enter the sport of Bikejoring!
Few off-road sports allow you to bring your dogs to race with you as bikejoring.
Bikejoring is an endurance sport made from the perfect blend of mountain biking and dog handling.
Placed together into one grand event, this sport has all the feel of an Iditarod sled race, but without the need for snow.
An offshoot of sledding, bikejoring (or bikejor) is an endurance sport that attaches a pair of sled dogs (or team) to a mountain bike via a towline.
The dog team then pulls the mountain bike rider (or driver) over a soft trail or dirt road course either during a time trial or paired heats.
The catch is that the mountain bike has no chain.
All the power comes from the dogs along a straightaway with the fastest dog team and rider over three runs wins.
Most courses avoid paved or gravel roads to keep from injuring the dog paws
Since the dogs have to remain in front of the mountain bike at all times, any driver can be beaten by a team with more control.
How to Get Started
So how to do you bikejor if you’re just getting started?
Take a look at this short list of what you will need to get into the sport:
#1 — Dogs:
Bikejor dogs are working dogs that must want to run.
According to bikejor.com, the more obsesses your dogs are about running, the better.
Any breed of dog can be used in bikejor, with dogs commonly used for pulling a sled dog is the best.
Popular working dog breeds like American Pit Bulls, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, Malamutes, Alaskan Huskies, Sled Hounds, and Pointers, are good choices.
But don’t bring out your Poodle or Pomeranian out for this sport.
Dogs that are not built to pull any weight will only get hurt if you try to use them for bikejor racing.
However, according to International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA — producer of Dog & Driver magazine), any type of dog that can be taught to take commands and pull a towline can be on a bikejoring team.
Every year, many would-be bikejor teams include dogs that quit halfway through or don’t like to run.
Let common sense be your guide.
#2 — Gear
Next, you will need a gang, tug, or tow line to harness your team.
These are special lines that your dogs will use to pull you and your bike along the course.
Some of these come with a quick release option so that you can cut your dogs loose if something goes wrong.
Bikejor.com again provides a list of special vendors that can provide you with all the tackle you need to connect your bike to your dogs.
The dog team needs special equipment too.
For the neck of your dogs, each team needs necklines and fitted x-back harnesses.
The harnesses keep each dog on the team safe from being chafed by the lines, while the necklines are used to keep the dogs near each other as they run.
Most commercial X-Back harnesses will work, while necklines can be bought or created by leftover bits of nylon line.
Terrain often dictates the need for dog booties or protective footwear.
Most bikejor races use soft dirt trail or fire road courses to limit the number of foot injuries dogs can suffer during a race.
However, if the course is crushed gravel, hard earth, or (gasp) paved, you may need to protect your dog team with some simple running booties.
#3 — Training
Once you have a good team of dogs who like to run, well-fitting gear, and good mountain bike, the only thing left is training.
Dogs that understand and respond to commands are ideal for this sport.
There are several sources that explain some of the basic commands you will need your dog team to obey, but K9 Trail Time breaks it down into an easy list of understandable requirements.
A team that ignores its driver, or becomes confused easily, will only lead a bike into a ditch.
Dog commands should be simple and practiced enough times for them to become second nature for both driver and team.
Racing Your Team
Once you have your team, gear, and training in place, it’s time to race.
Unfortunately, the bikejoring scene in the United States is sparse, with a majority of the events taking place in Europe.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist in North America.
Plenty of kennel clubs and sled dog organizations host bikejoring events from Spring to Fall, especially when the snow is gone.
Some events include
Bikejoring is slowly becoming great destination races along the northern border of the United States and Canada.
Even the North American Championship will return to the United States in 2018, according to the United States Federation of Sleddog Sports (USFSS)
As the United States representative to the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS), the USFSS will be responsible for organizing any future bikejor championships.
Expanding the Sport
One advantage to bikejoring over mountain biking is its potential for disabled athletes to participate.
Using adaptive technology in the form of a specialize racing wheelchair, similar to off-road handcycles, disabled athletes can become bikejor drivers.
Since control of the dog team is critical in controlling the bike, speed is more an element of teamwork over physical strength.
This means that disabled athletes can compete alongside other athletes for the same bikejoring titles.
Something that would be difficult to do in cross-country mountain bike racing.
Welcome to the endurance sport you’ve never heard of.
Time to get some dogs.
Get Lost in Bikejoring
This sport is so interesting I dedicated an entire episode of my Get Lost Racing podcast to it.
Get more in-depth into the sport of bikejoring as I explain how it works, what gear you need, and where you can go to start racing at getlostracing.com.
You can also listen to the Season One episode on bikejoring here:
And now you know.