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Bicycle how to: puppy in a bike basket

Posted Nov 24 2011 12:22pm
Audrey Hepburn on a bikeThe timeless Audrey Hepburn could carry off a puppy in a basket.  Obviously, I didn't take this photo.
I've often wondered about the wisdom of biking with little dog in one's bike basket.  Sure, it's cute and adorable, for both the cyclist and the dog but is it really a smart thing to do?  Couldn't it be dangerous for both the little dog and the cyclist?  Would an excited, uncooperative pooch destablize my ride.  Might it sudden leap out of the basket, possibly into on coming traffic, at the sight of an Abert Squirrel?
Wouldn't a dog trailer be safe and more dignified?  I don't know.  It's not as cute. . . .

Then, there's the whole question of whether or not I want to be one of those women who rides around with a little dog in her bike basket?  Yes, I'm usually secretly jealous when I see a woman pedaling around town with a cute little dog in her basket but I'll be 49 next month.  Is that really something I should be yearning to do. . . . I mean at my age?  I haven't worn a belly ring in seven years because I decided I should be more mature than to need to wear a belly ring, even though mine was really lovely and elegant, but maybe some things just aren't dignified on a woman of a certain age.  Maybe a puppy in a bike basket is one of those things?

Well, I'd pretty much decided that the whole cute little dog in a basket was just not my thing, and I wasn't going to do it.  My bike basket is for practical purposes like my cell phone and a place to toss my sweater on a warm day.  When my inner French girl is in control, it's an ideal location for carring a not too large bottle of pinot grigio, a block of gruyere and a box of crackers.  These are the things that dignified older women carry in their bike baskets, if they have them.  Women such as the always stunningly, daring, bad-ass Lauren Hutton or the never-fails-to-look-as-if-she-knows-something-that-you-don't Catherine Deneuve.  Neither would be caught dead, at their more advanced ages than mine, with a cute little dog in their bicycle basket ( or "panier à vélo", en francais).  I resolved to choose dignity.

A scared little dog just after being rescued from a Hwy 51 on ramp.
And with my mind made up, along came Daisy.  Although, her name was not Daisy at the time.  It happened like this:  Saturday, Pre-Ironman Bob and I are driving to Tempe to drop off a few items at his transition area for the next day's Arizona Ironman.  As we are on the ramp to enter Hwy 51, Bob suddenly exclaims, "There's a little dog in the middle of the road!" I didn't see it at first but as he blocks the lane, flips on the hazard lights and points, I see a little nervous Chihuahua running to the shoulder; I hop out of the car and call it to me.  In search of a savior, the tiny Chi runs toward me, arriving at my feet cowering in fear.  I scoop her up (yes, it is a little girl) and run with her to the car.
 
Wearing a new fashion harness from Petsmart.  Still scared but no longer shaking.
Shaking like a leaf, the Chi allowed me to cradle her in my arms and wrap her in Bob's discarded sweater as we make our way to Tempe.  We don't have time to do more than stop at PetSmart for a leash and rodent sized harness before arriving at the race location.  On the way, I name her Daisy, since I can't just call her "dog" and Jade and Ashby, who we brought with us to Tempe, already have all the good little-dog nicknames.

We determine that we can't leave her at the hotel on Sunday, race day, and since my job is to be his one-woman cheer leading squad, Bob says that I'll just have to bring her with me.  I'd brought my Dahon to get around Tempe between the hotel and the various locations along the race route so I'd have to carry Daisy in the bike basket!  She's the perfect size.  Almost too small.  Damn!  Daisy is a Teacup Chihuahua.  I was never meant for a dog this size. 

Purse dog.
A "purse-dog", the type carried around by people who accessorize with small animals.
She's so exhausterd!
I had all the anxieties about being seen with a puppy in my basket described earlier throughout the rest of the day and the next morning as we prepared to go to Tempe Town Lake, the start location.  And during this time I mostly carried Daisy around everywhere due to her nervous shaking, post-highway drama.  I had bathed her in the sink, fed her and allowed her to sleep through the evening at my side.  Clean and sweet smelling, with the smudges removed from beneath her eyes, she was actually pretty cute.  As her savior, she bonded to me very quickly and was attuned to my every move.  Not good. Not good at all.

Bob's finished his swim in 1:43 and during that time, I carried Daisy and did a little leash training, although the thick crowd made that difficult.   After the swim, I retrieved my Dahon from the car and pondered how to teach Daisy how to behave in a bike basket.  I had no idea where to begin but decided the smartest approach for two beginners would be to put her in the basket, secure her with harness and leash to the handlebar stem, with just enough slack to comfortably move around, and then walk the bike around to assess how she handled the movement and no longer being in my arms (her preferred location).  As I anticipated, she resisted being lowered into the basket and, once deposited inside, stood up on her hind legs and balanced herself with front paws on the handlebar.  She looked wobbly and unstable, and I imagined that she felt that way so I peeled off my Patagonia puffy jacket and created a nest-like environment for her in the basket.  This seemed to comfort her immediately.  The jacket had my scent on it and probably felt enclosed and snugly.  She still stood up in the basket but did not wobble around or try to climb over the handlebars to reach me.  I walked her and bike thusly for about 30 minutes around the vendor area before heading to the bike route and back to the hotel. 

First time basket rider.
I decided to try pedaling with her in the basket.  This time, I was more nervous than Daisy so I stuck to the off-street bike paths, out of the way of traffic.  Daisy settled in to a seated position and remained alert but seemed to be more relaxed than before.  I spoke to her in a quiet, reassuring voice and gave her little pats on the head when I dismounted at crosswalks. 

By the time we got to Mill and Rio Salado along the bike segment route, my confidence leveled had increased significantly.  Daisy was now comfortable snuggled into the folds of my jacket.  As we made our way through the spectator area I quickly became aware of the ooohs and aaahs from those we passed, mostly from women but also quite a few men.  "Oh, look it's a puppy in a basket!"  "Did you see the little dog in her bike basket?"

I dismounted several times to look for Bob among the cyclists and quickly a small crowd would form around us.  More oohs and aaahs, along with petting hands and questions.  I felt a strong need to establish that no, this was not my dog . . . . we found her . . . . just a temporary thing, we aren't keeping her . . . . I don't normally carry around a Teacup Chihuahua everywhere I go (rapidly becoming a big lie!) . . . . biking with a dog in your basket is probably dangerous for everyone involved, etc., etc., etc.

Snug in a bike basket.  It helps to create a nest-like environment.
So, this is how it went all morning until my cousin Angie (Angie of the bike garage) sent me a text about meeting for lunch on Mill Avenue.  She'd take Metro Rail (she biked to the station near her house, by the way) and we'd look for a place with outdoor seating once she arrived.  I pedaled down the Mill Avenue bike lane, at this point feeling all Charlie-girl (remember that popular ad campaign for the perfume starring model Shelley Hack?) with a puppy in my basket.

In front of Aveda.
What the hell!  It's a sunny day, with temps in the comfortable low 70's and I'm wearing a floral camisole and smart, peach, cable cardigan so I'm no longer too worried about aging out of looking adorable while pedaling around with a Chihuahua in my bike basket.  It's not like just I plopped down 20K for cheek implants and an overly exuberant face-lift in a vain attempt to fool my waiter into thinking I'm still 25.  Little dogs harmless fun, as well as soft and squishy.  I stopped and locked up in front of the Aveda salon, scooped up Daisy and went inside to purchase a few travel size hair products.  And show off the pup, of course.  Oooh, aaah, oooh, aaah!  Everyone loves a cute little dog, and if they don't, spend your money elsewhere!

Angie arrived and we decided to have lunch in the outdoor dining area of My Big Fat Greek Restaurant (highly recommend the Lemon Orzo soup), where Daisy curled up on the sidewalk beneath our table and was no trouble at all.  After lunch, Angie and I did wandered the Mill Avenue area  before she caught the rail back home.  Daisy and I pedaled back to the  bike course finish in time to see a smiling Bob come in.  We then traveled on to the hotel, using mostly bike lanes and rested with the other two dogs for a few hours before heading back out at dusk to catch Bob at mile 16 of the running segment.
Across an well illuminated bridge.
By the time we left for the running course, darkness was setting in, so my new worry was how Daisy would react to the very bright NiteRider Mako 2 bike light attached to my handlebars and all the noise and blinking lights of street traffic.  The temperature had dropped so I'd need to make sure she was well wrapped up within the bike basket to protect her fat-free little body from the chill as I pedaled.  I loaded Daisy into the basket and wrapped one of Bob's fleece pullovers around her so that only her head was exposed.  By now, Daisy was quite the little cycling pro, settling in immediately.  She slept soundly at mile 16, despite my near constant fawning over her comfort, and continued to remain still and relaxed throughout our ride along the lake back to the finish line at Tempe Town Park.  We were now probably 13 hours into the Ironman and most of the paths were reopened to walkers and cyclists so I was sharing the way with triathletes too focused on getting through the last two  miles of their competition to notice the charming micro-dog in my bike basket.  Knowing the laser focus  required of endurance athletes, their lack of notice could be forgiven.  No matter, I was enjoying our journey, especially when we crossed the bridge,  illuminated from above by decorative lights. 

Nappy-nap time in a bike basket after a long strenuous day of biking.
At the finish, I encountered the most challenging aspect of traveling around with a little dog in my basket.  The finish shoot was crowded on both sides with spectators cheering for their athletes to come in.  Nobody was interested in a little dog, including me since I didn't want to miss Bob's triumph after two years of intense training.  My Dahon only has a single pronged kickstand so the bike leans to one side when parked and the front wheel also tends to turn to one side, both of which cause the basket to dip to one side.  I had to keep a pretty firm hand on the bike to keep it and the basket as level as possible so that Daisy didn't tumble out and get trampled by the crowd.  A double pronged kickstand, a firm spring between the front fender and the tube and a basket that basket that was more rigidly attached to the stem and handlebar would have more stable and safe situation for Daisy.

As related in  my previous post, Bob completed his Ironman triathlon in 14:15:38, greeted at the finish by his adoring wife and a sleeping Chihuahua.  Bob loves dogs so I'm sure he was a little gratified to see that Daisy had weathered the busy day apparently happy in the role as extremely cute bike accessory.  In less that 24 hours, he was already quite attached to our little rescue dog and was relieved to see the bond that had clearly developed between Daisy and I, my determination to place her with the Chihuahua rescue group nearly melted away.

Timeless and confident enough to love an Ironman and carry a puppy in her bike basket.
I don't know if I have to answer to the wisdom of biking with a little dog in a basket.  Is it safe?  Well, I suppose it's like anything else.  One has to be smart and take appropriate precautions.  Had Daisy refused to cooperate, if she just couldn't trust me and relax in the basket, obviously I couldn't have made her spend the entire day on my bike.  As it happended, she seemed enjoy herself as well as all the attention.  As for whether or not I have aged out of biking with a little dog in my bike basket, as the adage goes, you're only as young as you feel, and I feel about 27.  Look at the black and white photo of Audrey Hepburn at the beginning of this post.  Like Audrey, some things are just timeless.  Would anyone question a  middle-aged Audrey with a Yorkie in her bike basket?  Of course not.  Why would they?  I think I'll grant myself the same latitude.  I enjoyed the whimsy of the experience.  And better yet, it looks like it helped me forge a bond with a small, vulnerable being who needed a home, and a little fun.

**This post is revised from an earlier published version.  I wasn't totally happy with ending and after consulting with my husband (a new Ironman) the better words came easily. On this day, I give thanks for an honest editor.
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