Monday, January 9, 2017

Animal Crash Concerns: A Breakdown

When asked recently if I ever worried about crashing into a deer or some other wild animal while riding late at night, and the answer I gave was a definite no.  The reason I never worried about it was because I'd never really given any real thought to it.  But since I've been asked and am now thinking about it, yeah, that sounds pretty awful.

Squirrels - Risk: High, Danger: Low
I have never run over an animal with my bicycle, and as far as I can remember, I've never hit one with my car either.  That said, I do know of at least one person that has hit a squirrel with their bicycle, and while they still feel bad about it to this day, they were in no way injured as a result of that vehicular rodent homicide.  At an average of 1lb, even a large squirrel would be a hardly noticeable bump if one was riding with their eyes closed.  Overall, it seems that running of a squirrel is only damaging psychologically/emotionally, not physically, and even then should incur a low level of psychic damage, as squirrels often run into you rather than the other way around.  In other words, they made the conscious decision to run under your bike, so it's their fault, not yours.

Cats - Risk: Low, Danger: Low to Death
As a cat owner, this is a tough one to consider.  If you're a dog-person riding on an unloaded bicycle, a low wheely or beginner bunny hop could get you through a cat without sustaining any real damage to you or your bicycle.  Now if that bike was fully loaded, the best bet would be to ride straight through the cat and hope that you don't skid out on any entrails or get something in your eyes causing a loss of bicycle control.  If you're a cat person, in either case you are likely to swerve wildly, losing control of the bicycle, wiping out, and in the process, losing a fair amount of leg skin.  Worst case scenario is that you swerve off the side of a narrow road and plummet to your death.  Seems very unlikely, though, as most cats will avoid you like the plague.

Dogs - Risk: Medium, Danger: Low

I think we can all agree that dogs are pretty dumb.  Dogs will get in your way for one of two reasons, either they want to lick you (right dog) or they want to bite you (wrong dog).  From my experience, most dogs just want to get within five feet of your bicycle and bark until you're off their turf.  Making actual contact isn't a priority, and in a lot of cases, completely avoided.  In either case, as dumb as they are, they have no idea how mass and velocity relate to force, and this can be a real problem for you.

The amount of damage you're going to sustain really depends on the size of the dog and its intent.  Small licking dogs can usually be avoided without much swerving due to a lack of speed on their part.  Small biting dogs can be run over with cat-level damage.  Large licking dogs can also usually be avoided and are often scared off with a simple "Git," command.  Large biting dogs, though, are the real problem.  Stay on your bicycle at all cost and keep your bicycle moving in a straight line.  If a large biting dog is able to grab hold of your leg, your danger rating is going to quickly move up to High from both slamming into the ground and from the painful clamp of locking jaws as they attempt to rip your leg out of socket.  Remember, if a vicious dog is able to lock onto you, you always have the last resort of a what this lady did.  Overall, dogs likely aren't going to do much more than bark at you.

Raccoons/Groundhogs - Risk: Low, Danger: Medium to Rabies

These little guys are pretty avoidable, but in the off-chance you do hit one, it probably won't be head-on.  Smarter than the average squirrel, which will run confusing circles in front of you, these critters take off in one direction.  If you should hit one, though, you're definitely going over your handlebars if you can't get your front wheel up.  Raccoons are not small animals and groundhogs can get mighty thick.  Your best bet for this is to yell loudly before you're near them, as the only time they'll get near you is if they don't realize you're heading their way.  Should you yell, and instead of running away from you, they run towards you, then you're dealing with rabies.  Get away from that animal.

Deer - Risk: Low-Medium, Danger: High

This is the animal that started it all.  Pennsylvania highways are littered with deer all summer long, and the thought of hitting one with a bicycle instead of a car sounds just awful.  Flying down a hill in the middle of the night and slamming into a deer?  Oof.  Internet says male white-tailed deer average out around 150lbs, but I think the average deer would be fast enough to get out of my way.  To me, it seems more likely to hit a deer that was bigger and slower, which would put them in the 300-400lbs range.  That's the fuzzy equivalent of a brick wall.

While I've seen plenty of deer over the years, the only time I've been close enough to touch one has been when I snuck up on it around daybreak.  Deer are hit by cars for reasons that don't apply to bicycles, and hit bicycles for reasons that don't apply to cars.  When a deer sees and hears a car, it freaks out, runs around confusedly, and gets hit.  With a lack of sound and light, bicycles appear to be standard predators, which cause either a flight response or a decoy response (in the case of parents with babes).  In either case, they will not run at you.  Of course, there are exceptions, which will put a cyclist in a dangerous situation.

When deer do hit bicycles, it's usually because a cyclist is in the middle of the woods.  Deer encounters are more of a risk for MTB folk, but even then, the risk is low.  Mountain bikes are not quiet as they crash through the woods, providing plenty of warning for deer.  As with all animals other than dogs, your best bet is to be loud if you're worried about an unwanted encounter.

Here's a deer trying to eat my hand after a ride.  I miss those gloves.

 - Risk: Low, Danger: High to Death

A bear will not think twice about Revenanting your ass if the conditions are right.  If you surprise them, you will be Revenanted.  If you get between them and their young (most often without even realizing you've done so), you will be Revenanted.  If it's late in the season and they haven't eaten enough to hibernate, they will Revenant you and then eat you.  If you should find yourself within arms reach of a bear, there are no two ways about it, you are in trouble.  In a worst case scenario, just remember this simple rule: 

  • Brown Bears - Play dead.  Brown bears are gigantic and you cannot win.  They will beat you around until you're no longer a threat and then leave you to die.

  • Black Bears - Fight back.  While still large animals, they are around Las Vegas bouncer size, so you have some chance.  Also, these critters will not just walk away from you the way a brown bear will.  

Fortunately, bears can usually smell you from miles away.  Especially with that long haul armpit stank you've developed on the road.  Bears want nothing to do with you 99% of the time.  At most, a juvenile may show some passing interest but will then see some berries and remember that berries taste better than people.  If you should find yourself alone in bear country and are genuinely starting to worry, simply start yelling, "Hey Bear," every minute or so.  Bears will hear that and either head the other direction or stay where they are, but with the knowledge of your presence.  It's infinitely better for a bear to know where you are than to surprise it.

Moose - Risk: Medium, Danger: Low to Death
Moose are dumb, blind, possess no fear, and have the potential for great violence.  Luckily, their lack of fear also leads to a generally docile nature, as without fear, there is no anger, hate, or suffering.  A large moose is close to 7' tall and weighs upwards of 1,500lbs.  If you should ride into one of these at top speed, they will not even flinch as your internal organs turn to mush.  Alternatively, should one attack you (don't go near their babies ever), they will stomp on you until you are dead, and then they will continue to stomp on you until every last cell in your body has been returned to an atomic state.

Most often, though, moose will not even acknowledge your existence as you pass them by.  Having no fear of proximity, moose are often seen on the Anchorage Coastal Trail and in Kincaid Park, sometimes munching on trees right along the different trails, and very seldom do they ever acknowledge a cyclist's presence.

Don't try this at home.  Try it in the woods.

Animalia Miscellanea

  • Both mountain lions and coyote will attach children.  For this reason, it's best to not have children.

  • Giant snakes can be found across America.  I've even seen them along the side of the road as far north as Wisconsin.  Make sure to always keep some live mice in a pannier to use as a distraction, should you ever need to venture into tall grass to relieve yourself.

  • Skunks are very active from late day to early morning.  They will put their butt up in their air as a warning before they spray, so if you see buns, give it room.

  • Turtles are dumber than dogs.  If you find one in the middle of the road, stop, pick it up, and move it 10' from the road with it's head facing away from danger.

  • Antelope are really fast.

  • Badgers are the coolest.  If you see one, stop to take pictures.

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