Animal Crack-ups

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

I was still a good hundred yards away when the turkey started across the road. No problem, I thought: it'll see me and scram. It saw me alright, but decided it would try to outrun me instead. Turkeys aren't known for their swiftness, and it was up against 110 horsepower.

By then it was too late to brake. I veered left, but so did the turkey. The only impact I felt was something hitting my boot, and when I looked back, the turkey (or its remains) had disappeared. Later, when I stopped for gas, I realized half my front fender was missing, and my right fairing panel now had a fist-sized hole. Obviously my defensive riding technique wasn't what it should have been. And if the turkey had been a moose, the outcome would have been considerably more serious than handing over a thousand dollars for replacement plastic.

Spring in their step
Animals are perhaps even less predictable than coffee-swilling, cigarette-smoking minivan drivers with cell phones propped against their ears. But there are a couple of animal hazards that warrant particular attention, especially in the spring: dogs and deer.

At this time of year, deer will instinctively follow the migration patterns of their ancestors, while dogs, often cooped up during the winter, seem to want to release their pent-up energy at passing two-wheelers. However, dealing with Fido and Bambi require completely different strategies.

Release the hounds
Some dogs, driven by territorial instinct, may think they need to shoo you off what they imagine is their patch. Others may try to herd you as they would a farm animal. Either way, they're a significant road hazard. In my pedal cycling days some years ago, the standard advice was a swipe on the snout with a bicycle pump but few attempts at that were ever very successful in my experience. Some bikers will similarly advise waving a boot at the mutt. But if the hound is bent on biting, this is just extra temptation, and whether it discourages the pup or not, it will compromise your control of the bike.

Dogs can judge speed and distance well, and they will usually run at your bike diagonally, aiming to meet you some yards ahead. You can often fool a mutt by slowing down and suddenly accelerating. Having already set course, the pooch will meet your back wheel instead of the front. Most dogs, flat out, cover ground at less than 30mph, so you have the advantage of speed. Of course, you'll need to consider road conditions around you as well.

Stag party
Deer behavior is far less predictable. And with the decline of many of their natural predators, deer populations are increasing; therefore, collisions probably will become even more common.

As your bike approaches, a deer may jump toward you, away from you, or just stay right where it is. If one deer crosses your path, you may miss it and cream the one right behind. But there are some strategies you can adopt to avoid being the garnish on a venison patty.

Deer tend to travel from place to place around dawn and dusk, and they're also active after dark, so try to avoid night riding in wooded country. Keep scanning the roadside for sudden movement, like a head popping up through the brush. Once you see a deer, get on the brakes as quickly as possible; if a collision is inevitable, the slower you're going, the better the outcome.

When the deer moves, the first jump will be in the direction it's already facing. It's likely the deer will consider you a predator and zigzag across your path to try to shake you off rather than try to outrun you - so it stands a good chance of getting in your way no matter what.

The majority of riders who have hit deer, though, don't see them before the impact; or if they do, they have insufficient time to react. So the best strategy is to slow down wherever deer flourish.

Animals on the road are a fact of life, and the possibility of meeting one at close quarters should always be in the back of your mind.
Ride safely!