Biking with Bears

Jul 24, 2010

As the summer warms up, many touring cyclists escape to the high, often shady elevations of our Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to beat the heat. This off-road route offers riders plenty of unique challenges in regards to terrain, weather, and unexpected obstacles like downed trees. Other features include isolated camping sites and plenty of wildlife, including bears, especially along the northern half of the route.

Because of the possibility (some might even say likelihood) of bear encounters, some basic "bear-aware" knowledge is a key item to take along with you on your trip.

Bears, especially mothers with cubs, aren't too keen on being surprised, so make noise when you're in bear country. A bear will generally vacate the premises if it hears you coming. Most bikes do a pretty good job of making noise, but conversing with your riding partner (or singing out loud to yourself) will help ensure that any bears in the area hear you before they see you.

Maintaining a clean camp, always a good practice, is essential in bear country. Don't leave food lying around unattended, and set up a bear hang at night to help make sure that you will have something to eat for breakfast in the morning.

We field a lot of questions about bear spray. Carrying bear spray, widely available at sporting goods stores in bear country, is a good idea, but be aware that it should be used only as a last resort. In other words, take precautionary measures such as those mentioned above, and don't let the bear spray lull you into a false sense of invulnerability. Of course, bear spray does not work like bug spray; you don't spray yourself or your tent down, thinking it will act as a repellent. Rather, it is to be sprayed in the bear's face (remember what I said about "last resort"?) Read the directions on the can, and give the spray a small test in an outdoor setting and in a downwind direction, to be sure that you understand how to use it.

A final word of advice: stop in at ranger stations along the route to inquire about any known recent bear activity in the area. The season, available food, and species of bear (black or grizzly) are all considerations to keep in mind while traveling in bear country.

As a side note, if you're visiting our office in Missoula, Montana, there's always a slim possibility of seeing a bear even within our city limits.

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TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.

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