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Safety First when Biking in Bear Country

The Living with Wildlife column is published monthly in the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create awareness of living with wildlife challenges. We also work with local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote wildlife safety issues through the media on a weekly basis.

The excitement of a mountain bike adventure should come from a great ride, not a bear encounter! Recreating in groups, making noise, being aware of one’s surroundings, and obeying trail closures are all safety tips applicable to both hikers and bikers. However, biking is substantially different from hiking, and bear safety tips must be tailored to suit the specific needs of 2-wheeled recreationalists.

Biking is much faster yet much quieter than hiking. Thus, bikers must be extra cautious. Bends in the trail, blind spots, berry laden Sheperdia bushes, and water bodies all increase the potential of bike-bear encounters. Bikers must be extra aware when riding through such areas. Slowing down, vigilantly looking for bear signs, and making extra noise are all actions bikers can take to be safe.

Bears usually move through areas with the least resistance. In other words, bears walk along the very trails bikers ride through! Slowing down decreases the chances of hitting a bear, as it gives the bear more time to run away once he or she hears the rider approach. Bear signs might be visible from the trail, and serve as a warning that a bear might be in the area. Scat, paw prints, overturned logs, and scratched trees are all examples of such signs riders should watch for (paw prints are easier to spot in muddy areas). Making noise on a bike is a bit more challenging than when walking through the woods. For example, it is hard to holler ‘YO-BEAR!’ when one is gasping for breath whilst struggling up a steep hill. Yelling while speeding down the hill is not effective either. The sound doesn't travel far, especially in relation to the speed of travel down the hill. Possible solutions include carrying a whistle or attaching an air horn to the bike. These devices make louder noises that can travel much farther than the human voice.

In the very unfortunate event of a bear encounter, having accessible bear spray will substantially increase a riders chance of leaving unscathed. Ensuring it’s accessibility is tricky on a bike. However, the Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance website illustrates how to rig bear spray so it fits in a water cage, as well as providing other useful information. Riders should inform others of where they are going and when they plan on returning, so if something happens, the riders can be tracked down. Riders should also carry a cell phone. It won’t work in some areas, but it will in others.

By taking a few precautions, riders can reduce their changes of encountering a bear in their travels. Be safe, and happy riding!

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Residents are encouraged to report any sighting of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755.
For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.

 

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