Apr 1, 2011

The hazards of cycling

Ever tell a non-cyclist you just went down a hill at 40mph and have them look at you like you’re crazy? Well that has happened to me plenty of times and I’m not even close to a daredevil descender. We all know about the hazards of cycling: the crashes, the road rash, broken collarbones, torn uniforms and bits of carbon flying around. Watching this video of Beloki taking his career-ending spill in the 2003 Tour still gives me goose bumps.

There is, however, a whole other hazard to cycling – animals. It seems like in every major tour there’s a pooch that inadvertently ends up in a rider’s path causing some cataclysmic crash, with half the audience being concerned for the cyclist and the other half for the pooch.

In the more terrifying category, a story comes to mind told to me by a friend about a time when he was climbing somewhere in the hills along the West Coast. As he was nearing the summit of a Cat. 1 climb, a black bear happened to have positioned himself on or near the road. Do you know what to do if you encounter a black bear on a road ride? Yeah, neither did he. Nothing serious happened, but I bet he was a bit startled. Maybe his chamois even got a little moist.

All of that, however, pales in comparison to what happened to me this morning. Due to a late night yesterday at the office, I didn’t have to show up until 11 this morning and with the weather the way it is now, I simply could not pass up a chance to ride. It was going to be an incredibly easy roll because my legs were still bitching at me from the torture I put them through last night at M2. So I figured I’d do a regular Headlands Loop and get one good run in up Conzelman before it closes for repair through September.

I luxuriously rolled out of the house at 7:30 and proceeded to ride toward the bridge. Once I was already on Arguello, however, I looked down only to realize I somehow managed to leave the house without my Garmin – I felt very naked. “Oh, well, I guess I won’t have any reason to go hard up any of the climbs because I won’t know how I did on Strava anyway,” I thought to myself. At that point, I was fully committed to an easy slow roll. I would just have to look at my phone once in a while to make sure I’m good on time.

The sunny climb up Conzelman to Hawk Hill was absolutely amazing. It wasn’t hot that early in the morning, but a base layer and arm warmers were all the extra gear I had on, and I was very comfortable. I then dropped down the one-way descent and continued to clip along toward one my of my favorite Headlands spots – the climb overlooking Rodeo Beach. I went through the gate and whistling a tune turned the pedals toward the top, where I stopped to enjoy the sunshine and take in the view for a moment. As I was about to make my way toward the descent, about 30 feet in front of me, I saw something that looked like a cat. I rolled a little closer and saw that it was not a cat at all, it was a young baby bobcat. Not like a newborn baby, but not a fully active young cat either. “Shit,” I said to myself, “all I need now is for this tyke’s mama to show up.”

Sure enough, as that thought went through my mind, I heard a growl over my shoulder. I turned around quickly and found myself in a place where you probably never, ever want to be – between a bobcat mama and its baby. At this point, one of my legs was still clipped in, but the way the bobcat was standing, the only place for me to go was downhill and I didn’t know if the damn thing was going to chase me or not, and crashing down that hill was not something I planned on doing that morning.

So I stepped sideways, awkwardly maneuvering my bike, to make sure there was a clear line of access between the cub and the adult cat and started to slowly back away standing over my bike. When I got far enough that the bobcat was comfortable, it ran to its baby and then got between it and me and looked like it was going to charge. I knew I needed to distract it for a just a moment to give myself enough of a head start down the hill that it would quickly give up the chase. I reached into my jersey pocket and the only thing I had in there that I was willing to part with was a Forze Fruit and Nut bar. I grabbed it in my hand and chucked it at the big cat as hard as I could (at this point it was about 10 feet away from me) and hit it smack in the nose, which made it jump back about 8 feet (sorry, Andrew, this is one wrapper you’re not getting). I don’t think I even waited for the bar to hit the ground as I darted downhill. And wouldn’t you know it, the damn thing started to chase after me.

I had no idea how well bobcats can corner, so I used as little braking as possible making sure I remain upright and not go over the edge. Apparently, I was better at cornering than that beast, as after I passed the first corner I heard a loud thump, then gravel rumbling, then a whimper. The next turn gave me a chance to look back and it appeared as if the kitty skidded off the road and managed to catch itself on some rock and dirt over the edge. For you animal lovers, it looked perfectly fine, but I wasn’t about to go check on it. All of this was a matter of seconds. I finished descending the hill, quickly got through the gate and hammered as fast as I could to get as far away as possible. I don’t think my HR came down below 150 until I got to the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot.

I like that ride a lot, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever head that way alone again. Or if I will, I’ll definitely have to bring a hunting knife or something, or just not stop for anything and keep rolling. Of all the hazards we face as cyclists, it’s the ones you least expect that scare you the most.

Ride safe and beware of the wildlife; it was probably there first. 


  1. Wow...that's amazing. I rode out to Rodeo Beach yesterday morning as well (probably 45 minutes ahead of you). Elected not to go through the gate, and I'm pretty happy about that right now.

  2. The only Bobcat I ever saw ran away as I rode toward it! I guess you have a more appetizing look!

  3. Wow - I'm pretty sure I saw one dart across Miwok Trial a couple of weeks ago. Definitely makes your heart jump. Rodeo is a tricky decent too.

    I looked up what to do after my ride: