Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2 Wheels, 4 Legs: a Study in Attitudes

Can I Come Too?
Since the very start of this blog I have shared random, at times ludicrous thoughts about pets and bicycles. But never have I been around such a large number of animals as now that I live in rural Northern Ireland. From being held up by bovine traffic jams, to getting my bicycle grips eaten by shameless Shetlands, to herding wayward lambs, to being herded myself, I've had enough experience with animals on my bike to last a lifetime. What interests me about the whole thing, is the mere fact that animals react to bikes in the first place. For instance, when I pass a sheep, horse or cow on my bike, I could swear that they pay more attention and study me more intently then were I to pass on foot or in a car. Perhaps this is because the hybrid two wheeled beast is a relative novelty for them, and thus warrants a closer look that the beasts they are familiar with. Or perhaps it's because animals, with their natural instincts, know a good thing when they see it. Would it be taking things too far to suggest a look of wistfulness comes over their faces as I roll past? 

Okay, maybe. All the same, certain patterns of behaviour are fascinating to observe - in particular among felines and canines. I live next door to a farm that is home to a handful of dogs and at least 40 barn cats. Whenever I ride, photograph, wash, maintain, or even park a bicycle outside my house, a good few of them come out to get involved. The dogs' behaviour in these circumstance is that of would-be participants. If I ride, they want to come along. If I work on the bike, they want to help. If I take photos they volunteer themselves as models or even try to paw the camera as if to advise on settings and composition. They are like that hapless, enthusiastic brand of intern every employer dreads, whose eagerness to help is matched only by their talent for getting in the way. And, hard as I try to explain that I do not require assistance in this particular project, they remain undeterred until they run out of energy and wander away on their own accord, off to pursue the next thing to catch their attention.

Bike and Barn Cat
The cats, on the other hand, seem to think their job is to evaluate the machine. Whereas the dogs communicate joy at the sight of any bike that appears in front of them, the cats express caution and extreme skepticism. "What is this thing you've brought here? Better stand back till I examine it."   

And with an air of a put-upon expert who is nonetheless ethically committed to doing a job thoroughly, they circle the bike in slow motion, meticulously examining every inch, rubbing and sniffing and furrowing their brow as if taking copious mental notes, until finally they express readiness to pass judgment upon it. And that judgment is rarely simple in nature. Oh they have something to say about the bike, you can be sure of that. Question is, can you be counted on to comprehend their profound findings? "Pssht, why do I even bother," the cat's face finally says. And with an air of mild disgust the feline expert strolls away unhurriedly - returning every now and again to supervise, just in case you totally mess up whatever silly thing it is you are planning to do with this piece of equipment. "Certainly this job is beneath me," says the peevish flick of their whiskers, "But if I don't help you, who will? Certainly not that cretin, the dog..." 

23 comments:

  1. I've been struck by the reaction of wild animals to bicycles. I'll be riding on a busy park road, when sudden a herd of deer takes off running as I go by. They weren't bothered by the cars, but a bicycle is a threat. Once I had an antlered deer who was so alarmed by me that it jumped a guardrail in front of me and took off across a three lane road, into the path of a bus, its hooves skittering on the road as it tried to stop. It made it, but next time, relax.
    Same with groundhogs. I hear them running off into the bush as I go past. Do we look like predators to them?
    At least they don't see us as competition. There's a park near here where wild turkeys have gotten used to being around people. The tom apparently thinks cyclists are planning to take over his flock, and runs up to challenge cyclists. It can be pretty intimidating to have a full grown turkey come running directly at you. You're not supposed to back down, apparently that just encourages them, but it's not easy to do otherwise.

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    1. In Boston I've been similarly challenged by swans and geese. I would try to pass them as quickly as possible, hoping they would not go for my ankles.

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    2. Geese are scary, Swans are sort of dangerous. They have been known to break bones and they have a hook-like spur on their wing joint that can cut a person worse than should be possible from such a wuss of a big dumb bird.

      Google Swan attacks and prepare to freak out a little... Most of it's probably hype but I don't trust the stupid things...

      Spindizzy

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    3. Chicago's lakefront bike path has geese. They are so nonchalant about bikes that they don't even bother to move out of the way. I don't know whether to go at the same speed or slow down, but I do just in case they decide to freak out. I find dogs are either ok or feel threatened by bikes. They flip out as if seeing some giant beast with 2 legs and 2 wheels. Bike shop cats don't sniff every bike but when they inspect mine, it feels special somehow.

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  2. "But if I don't help you, who will? Certainly not that cretin, the dog..."

    It has been my experience that while the cat is off with you, giving the gimlet eye to the worth of your labors, the dog has stealthily but unashamedly eaten all of the dry cat food.

    True story- The *only* bicycle the two cats have paid any attention to here is a certain Celestial creature.

    They couldn't be arsed about the others, not even as hairball targets.

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    1. Well you can't accuse them of bad taste.

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  3. That first photo is already a classic! Way cute. Jim Duncan

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  4. Christopher FotosJune 18, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    Thanks for your continuing posts. For some reason, your photo looks like a still from a play. Tales of Velouria: The Road Not Taken, Except I've Taken All of Them on My Bike

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    1. Funny enough, that shot was an unposed out-take from a photoshoot of a Mosi review bike that the dog was trying to "help" with.

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  5. When a horse or a deer views a bicycle what they see is a creature who is low, swift, silent. In other words a predator. Even very mild-mannered city horses much accustomed to bikes will revert to instinct. I've had mounted police beg me to dismount and move away slowly. Deer of course flee before contact but it is possible to surprise a stag on a trail. What happens next is exciting, so far my luck has held.

    None of my cats over many decades has ever paid any attention to my bicycles. Visiting cats have, my own single out the bikes as the one thing in the house without interest.

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  6. Ah cute. I have a maine coon kitty who likes to help out with bike maintenance in that maine coon way-usually lying on top of the tools needed, or headbutting the tool you are trying to use, or just plunked on the ground and chirping approvingly. The other cat just stays away from the clanging and noises. They are however accustomed to us coming and going on bicycle so will wait in the bushes for me to come home and appear when they hear the familiar sounds of the bicycle coming up the road.
    I think big animals like deer, horses and cows are curious because maybe from the distance and poor eyesight, we might look like the shape of a gimpy deer, horse or cow, or llama etc.. This is also probably why cougars have been known to try take down cyclists! Not an assuring thought!
    I always slow down or stop for people riding horses because the horses tend to freak out over the drive train sounds, but at a safe distance, they are curious. Horses also recognize people so some of them know us and will greet us.
    Bears and coyotes have stopped and done a double take too.
    Dogs are mostly annoying in my experience, they will chase me on the bike, get too close to the wheel forcing me to suddenly stop etc..

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  7. Yes, dogs and cats help us narrative our lives. Where would we be without them?

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  8. On my ride last Sunday evening I passed a Mare and a very new colt, I was struck by how much like a cyclist the little guy looked, lean as a hickory switch, narrow hipped and just a bit knock-kneed. He stared at me as I spun past him like he wasn't sure he wanted to turn his back on me but his Momma just blew me off like I was just another Fred on a fancy cross' bike.


    As I climbed my driveway I jumped a bunny and had to think to myself how like a cyclist a running rabbit can look from behind; tall and narrow and all pumping knees and humped back. My Border Collie, Sandwich, loves to chase the cottontails in our field but doesn't seem to have any urge to actually catch them, which I think is great, the Coyotes get enough of them and I like to see the chase go around and around till the bunny gets close enough to the briars to duck in and heckle the dog from the safety of the thorns.

    I think animals are sometimes the nicest people you can know and I would miss them if I lived in town and only got to see them once in a while.

    Spindizzy

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    1. "how like a cyclist a running rabbit can look from behind…"

      Funny enough, I've thought that too. There's also the "cottontail" fender connection.

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  9. Horses have jumped fences to run with the peloton.

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  10. The south-american nose bear (nasua nasua) first ignores a bicycle at first meeting, then tries to mount it from behind, screaming.

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    1. Sounds about right based on my observations.

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    2. Nonsense, pure nonsense...

      If it WAS true, and I'm not saying it is, the simple expedient of installing an extended sissy-bar(circa 1970 Schwinn Stingray) would leave the unfortunate South American Nose Bear harmlessly humping cold steel as the cyclist casually goes about his business free to ignore whatever screaming the frustrated animal can sustain. The fact that extended sissy bars do not appear on the websites of any leading South American cycle supplies and the TOTAL absence of any Nose Bear/bike mating videos on you-tube(I spent HOURS looking) seems to indicate that this is utter rubbish.

      Verdict: DEBUNKED.

      Spindizzy

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  11. great piece.great photos.
    dog as intern, what a laugh.
    we should remember cats have "staff"
    what a change for such an urbanite as yourself!

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    1. Oh I'm not an urbanite. I've lived in both urban and rural areas, and feel much more comfortable in the latter.

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  12. Are we going to open up the whole Dogs V. Cats thing again?

    Dogs RULE, cats DROOL. Well, figuratively speaking that is, dogs do more actual drooling of course but cats are horrible creatures that only want us for our centrally heated houses and as an emergency source of protein.

    Dogs are kind and generous, interested in relationship and helping around the house, willing to let bygones be bygones, good judges of character, forgiving, good with money, committed to the democratic ideals this country was founded on and able to take a joke.


    Cats are just waiting for a chance to push you down the stairs.

    Spindizzy

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  13. My beautiful cat will examine my bike only after I have been out on the bush tracks - but never touches it ("Who knows where that thing has been"). As my bike shares my bedroom, my cat is quite comfortable walking around it and sitting under it while gazing out the window, she will also watch as I clean it, making sure I do it properly. I wouldn't be without my cat (or my bike) - animals enrich our lives.

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  14. Two of my cats, Pigwidgeon and Tesla, both seem to believe that my bikes actually belong to them. I often find them sitting on the seats. Pig, in particular, takes up residence on the seat every morning when I'm trying to get out the door to go to work, as if to say that this is HER bike, and who am I to run off with it? Either that or it's a protest. Perhaps she thinks I should be spending more time at home where she can ignore me. And if I am working on a bike in the house, she's sure to be there supervising. Much of that is done from my shoulder where she likes to perch (good thing she's a small cat…)

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