How do I get my bike ready for bikejoring?

So, let’s talk bikes…bikes are one of my favorite things in the world to talk about, second only to dogs, naturally. But, super snazzy carbon-fibre race machines aren’t the only way for bikejor. Age, style and cost rarely come in to it. You just need to following:

  1. Make sure your bike is safe. Don’t know how to tell? Get it in to your local bike shop for a quick once-over. £30-50 should get you a proper run through and adjustment to get everything working properly, and they’ll let you know if there’s anything of any concern.
  2. Make sure your brakes stop you quickly. If your brakes can’t stop you quickly, what chance have they got against you and a dog pulling? Hydraulic disc brakes are an almost-must, although I appreciate that they can cost-out some people. Again, it’s worth talking to your local bike shop about this. Prices have tumbled in recent years, and provided your bike can accommodate them, they are a very worthy investment.
  3. Bikejor arm. A bikejor arm is a piece of kit that aims to keep the running line out of your front wheel (and you out of trouble). They aren’t fool-proof, as I’ve found to my own detriment, but they are a huge help, and we genuinely couldn’t recommend running without one. Check out the video below for some more info. To find the right bikejor arm for you, search out local stockists on The Bikejor Bible Facebook group.
  4. The line. Using a walking leash here simply will not suffice. It doesn’t matter if it’s got 8 bungees and naturally deters squirrels, it’s just not made for it. Material type, length and all the other options you can think of are generally personal preference, but be aware that some race organisations (should you go down that route) do specific min/max lengths. For strong dogs, you should be looking out for something with a good strong bungee. There’s so many options available, your best best again is to search out local stockists on The Bikejor Bible Facebook group.

How do I get myself ready for bikejoring?

Okay, so you’ve got your dog(s) covered…now on to you. Let’s start by bursting the bubble…you can’t impress anyone, but you can make everyone laugh. That phrase is something I’ve picked up from motor-racing circles, but you know what, it’s just so true here.

I believe many, before they start out, have wonderful dreams about them and their dogs being a natural, being fast from day one, and causing an upset among the well initiated. I’m sorry to tell you now, you can’t. You may well be a damn-sight better than people expect, but that’s the very best you can expect.

Mentally, you need to leave your ego at the door. This is a sport where everything and nothing is in your control all at the same time. If you’ve got great bike handling skills, brilliant, you’ll feel like you’re rarely using them. Got no notable mountain biking experience? Damn, you’ll wish you had. It’s a perplexing field where the only way to succeed, is to have fun.

Ignore that stop watch, put down that GPS tracker and just take your dog out for 5 minutes.

That’s all you need to do. Everything else, distance, speed, time, skills…they can all come later. Just take it steady and make it fun. There is nothing more to starting out.

Sorry, there’s a bit of a rant there…but it’s for a good purpose. All of the videos you’ll likely have seen online so far are from high-level championship races and from extensively well trained teams – no-one ever shares their painful first year(s) footage. Where every run seems to go not-quite-right, and self consciousness takes over. Here’s a tip – hardly anyone ever gets a perfect run. For perfection to occur in a situation like this you need yourself, your dog, your bike, the weather, the surrounding wildlife and the dirt below you, all to behave. Let’s just go from the outset with the opinion that, it just won’t happen.

Now, hopefully, you’re mentally prepared for this journey, and with that refreshed view, let’s look at your physical attributes to preparedness.

You need to be able to ride a bicycle, and understand how the brakes work. You need to know instinctively what commands to call out, and put in place some contingency plans in case it all goes wrong.

And finally, you need a few bits of kit for yourself:

  1. Helmet
    This is the most important. Yes you know how to ride a bike, and you even rode down that really steep hill once without dying. But…why risk it? Seriously. Any insurance policy or race organisation will deem it mandatory, and should something happen to you, who’s gonna look after your pooch? Regular or full-face lid is your choice. I like to mix it up between the two depending on the conditions. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for them. Lids’ up folks.
  2. Eyewear
    Not absolutely mandatory but strongly recommended. Especially in loose conditions, not only will the front tire be throwing dirt up in to your face, but the dogs will be flicking dirt up-and-at-you too. A bit of stray dog-poo in the eye is not fun people! Goggles look awesome along with a full-face helmet.
  3. Gloves
    Totally personal preference, but hands are likely to take the brunt of a fall, and help a great deal against those pesky trail-side nettles.
  4. Knee and Elbow Pads
    It’s difficult to justify this to some people, you’ll never want to wear pads right up until you come off properly for the first time. Then it’s a world of regret. Think wisely.
  5. Appropriate Clothing
    You don’t need to go all-out looking like a Tour De France winner, or a Downhill MTB superstar. But comfortable, hard-wearing clothing is your friend. Flat footwear is preferable, as it gives better traction on your pedals.

That’s it…you are prepared. (Assuming the other core elements are also up-to-scratch; check here).

How do I get my dog ready for bikejoring?

Pre-training for bikejor really is a thing, and it’s pretty much mandatory…for an enjoyable experience at least.

The checklist for determining if your dog is ready to bikejor goes something like this:

  1. Understands start / go / speed up commands
  2. Understands stop / ease-off / on-by commands
  3. Understands left and right turn commands
  4. Is suitably fit to run and pull a moderate load (even if you are helping)
  5. Has a well-fitted harness designed for dog sports (no, a Julius K9 is not appropriate)

Once your dog meets the above criteria, then you can start to thing about starting out (assuming the other core elements are also up-to-scratch; check here).

The Commands

Points 1-3 above are all about communicating with your dog whilst on the trail. Although I can somewhat guarantee your first few outings will result in endless ignored calls…having some basework in beforehand can help when you really need it the most.

Teaching commands is fairly straight forward, and really is one of the easiest things to accomplish. All you need to do is use the same commands whilst walking, using these key terms to start, stop and turn left/right throughout your daily walks. On-by, ease-off, pick-up speed etc can also be taught whilst walking. Just consider the natural movements associated and endlessly repeat them until your dog actively appears to understand, only then, are they really ready.

What commands should you use? Well…it’s up to you. There is no absolute right and wrong. You’ll generally find a split between those influenced by traditional sled dog tuition and those who’ve migrated to bikejor from canicross and other ‘non-sleddy’ dog sports.

The traditional mushing approach is to use traditional mushing lingo:

  • Start/Go/Speed Up – HIKE!
    (Alternatives for Speed Up are often used as to differentiate – these are generally left to personal preference – we use ‘Get Up’, ‘Hitch Up’ etc. I don’t have an explanation as to why, other than our dogs like that sound.
  • Stop – Whoa/Wow!
    (I also use STOP! Because sometimes, when panic sets in, it’s useful for your default setting to be recognised)
  • Slow Down – Easy!
  • Turn Right – GEE!
  • Turn Left – HAW!
  • On By! – On By!
    (Yep – it’s just as it sounds, use this to get past distractions in the trail or pass another team)

Harness for Bikejor

Minefield alert – it doesn’t matter what anyone says, there is no ‘best harness for bikejor‘. All there is, is the best harness for your dog – and sadly there’s only one way to discover what that is. (Yup, cue buying more and more kit)

There is some guidance we can give however, talk to people with similar dogs to you – dogs of the same breed and same size are your best bet – but start with any similarity you can, and see what they use. It won’t always work out, as similar as some dogs may be, their requirements for a bikejoring harness may still be leagues apart.

Don’t know anyone to ask? Fortunately the bikejor scene is going from strength to strength and with a lot of very experienced riders on our Facebook group The Bikejor Bible – you’ll be sure to find the best starting point for you.

Whenever it comes to equipment, people always want to know what brands and models. Well, here’s the thing, the likes of Non-Stop, Howling Alaska, Euro DC etc etc are all brilliant. They all suit some dogs better than others, but in general, going for a well used brand will do you good. But not all are available in all locations, so again use The Bikejor Bible Facebook group to locate people in your area who can recommend a stockist.

GoPro Hero 6 Black Review

A few weeks ago, I wrote a promotional review on the new GoPro Hero 6 Black. The review was first listed here; http://improv-mag.co.uk/gopro.html

So, what’s good?

Let’s start out honestly, this is the first GoPro I’ve purchased since the Hero 3+. So off the bat, this is a major upgrade. Why haven’t I upgraded previously? Well…because my GoPro Hero 3+ was ‘just fine’ and, more importantly, I never really felt like an upgrade was worthy of my hard earned cash.

Something rang different this time though, maybe I was just swiped along with the GoPro event hype – but after just seeing a few base stats about this new unit, I was excited. To the point where I dropped the full RRP on one, on release day.

Was it worth the hype? Absolutely it was. The colour profiles, custom-filming settings and quality of that 4K 60fps is insane, regardless of the format. But for something that fits into the palm of your hand…wow.

I’d be lying if I said I knew all the functions like the back of my hand, of course I don’t…yet. With anything with a large UX jump, regardless of how easy that UX is…you need time to adjust and become a proper pro-user.

So is it worth the price-tag? Well…here’s what I’ll say, I think it’s worth the difference over the Hero 5 Black. Why? Because in a few years time, I can see this unit still being a performance master, while the previous edition may start to wane slightly. In terms of image quality and options they are very similar…only high-end production users will regularly be able to benefit from 60fps 4K and the like. So on those grounds, it’s usefulness to the regular action-cam user is negligible. But their new proprietary processor really does feel like it’s here to stay. And when you’re already spending quite a lot, adding that bit more for longevity seems worth it for me.

Check out my Top GoPro Cameras:

So, what’s bad?

Well, at the time of writing we’re only just coming up to two-weeks since release. And I’m already on my second unit. That sounds shocking, I know. I haven’t had to purchase it again, GoPro customer services and the services of the store purchased from were very helpful and happy to swap out my original camera as it seemed faulty from the off.

What happened? Well, on it’s debut, attached to my mountain bike, I experienced a lot of freezing up and erratic behaviour. With a bit of confusion I contacted GoPro customer services and they advised that the SD card I was using was a little less than ideal, and they wouldn’t be able to really advise on any issues as this was likely the cause.

So, cue myself off to buy the greatest SD card I could find – grabbed a SanDisk Extreme ‘Works with GoPro’ branded model and started shooting again. The first few ventures seemed okay – but I was doing short recording sessions on (relatively) low quality settings.

A few days later I wanted to capture a hiking experience via time-lapse photography. The intention to take a photo every 10 seconds for the duration. This did not go to plan. And when I say the camera started acting very erratic…I mean it might have taken 10 photos (max) before having somewhat of a meltdown. And this happened repeatedly.

Back on to the very helpful at GoPro support, and they determine…it’s a problematic unit.

Now, this is my only criticism of GoPro’s aftersales, and there is a way around it, but their default action for any issue camera is to have it sent back and repaired or replaced. Now, for a very expensive, brand new action camera. Having to send it off for a repair isn’t really acceptable. When paying that much, I expect immediate action and replacement – not having to wait for a diagnostic. Now fortunately, because it appeared faulty out the box, returning it to the store of purchase was an option – so that’s what I did and within an hour of my final report to GoPro customer services, I had a new camera. And this one, is as epic as promised.

Check out my Top GoPro Accessories:

Anything else you should know?

Yes – those new high-end recording formats, anything new from the Hero 5 Black, are encoded differently. Only newer computers and smartphones are able to process these properly. If your editing equipment is more than a year or so old…you might have a tough time utilising these options…so that is worth considering.

Do I have any regrets?

Regrets? No. Could I have saved myself a load of money? Maybe. A Hero 5 Black, although it would’ve done a very stellar job of what I want, was not an option. The price gap wasn’t big enough to warrant buying something already outdated. A Hero 5 Session, however, at around 50% of the price of the Hero 6 Black, is very appealing. This smaller form and relatively powerful unit does keep sneaking into the back of my mind. And you know what, in a few months, I may buy one in addition to my Hero 6 Black. But the usefulness of the screen makes for such a marked update over my original Hero 3+ – I really do have no regrets at all.

 

In addition to my original review, I also wanted to add a bit about what the GoPro Hero 6 Black does in the context of bikejor. A common issue I’ve found with action cameras, and GoPro’s in particular, is that they aren’t exceptionally good at keeping good colour profiles in low-light conditions. As appropriate running times for bikejor are typically early morning, evening and during the winter months – light is already at a bit of a premium. Add on to that, that a lot of training occurs in forests, with thousands of trees mitigating further light quality…we’ve had a lot of poor quality videos.

This isn’t the fault of the products as such, it’s just not their primary focus. With the Hero 6 Black however, consider the game changed. Below are two stills taken from video shot in the same location, around the same time of day, and with roughly the same light quality.

GoPro Hero 3+ Silver
GoPro Hero 6 Black

Whilst it is difficult to appreciate if either of the above snap shots are indeed of any actual ‘quality’ what so ever – overall, the final output simply seems to be leagues ahead.

I have seen complaints that the colour profile appears over saturation, or a little unrealistic – and you know what – it probably is. But, you can turn it off – by default a special ‘GoPro’ colour profile is applied, you can revert to ‘normal’ if you so wish. And, more importantly, what are we, as dog enthusiasts want from our footage? Is it to show natures true beauty? I’d say it’s unlikely…just think about how much mud that means. We want to capture our fun in the way we remember it. Do I recall those runs being dark, dank and gloomy as the first snap suggests? Hell no! It doesn’t actually matter what the weather was doing, or wether we were having a relaxed jaunt, or setting PB’s left right and centre…we just remember that it was a colourful, exciting and happy experience.

If the camera manages to capture that essences with a few tweaks to reality, then hey, I’m all for it.