Q: I know how to be safe while hiking and backpacking in bear country, but what about mountain biking? How does riding my bike through your territory affect you? Are there any precautions I should take? What about your mountain-lion friends?—Kelly Fowler, Boulder, Colo.
"Mountain-lion friends?" I wouldn't exactly call them friends—more like annoying neighbors who won't shut up about their kill-success ratios. Ugh.
But getting on a bike doesn't preclude you from taking extra cautions when you're in my backyard; in fact, you should be more vigilant. Bikes move fast and quiet, so I have less time to notice your presence, and I may be using the same trails as you (bike-bear collisions aren't unheard of
—even on roads!
). Also, make sure and check with rangers before hand to see if the trails you ride are lined with seasonal food sources like berries or nuts. If they are, pick a different trail. Noisemakers attached to a bike can help, but hooting and hollering regularly is probably a better idea.
When in doubt, ride in groups. You're guaranteed to make more noise if you ride together, cheering each other on every time one of you "lands" a "sick jump."
As for those jerk mountain lions? They're even more dangerous than I am. Your high rate of speed means they might mistake you for prey, and plenty of riders have found themselves stalked or even taken down by a big cat.
If you see a mountain lion in threatening posture, present yourself as a threat rather than dinner. Maintain eye contact, attempt to appear larger, shout, make loud noises, and throw rocks and sticks. Prepare to defend yourself with whatever you can find—even your bike, if you have to. There's debate about whether pepper spray works on mountain lions, but plenty of wildlife managers recommend carrying it as a deterrent. If it attacks, fight back with all your strength.
Attempting to out-bike a cougar is a risky strategy. While some riders have made a clean getaway, a speeding bike could trigger the prey response you're hoping to avoid.
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