Mountain biking in grizzly country? Be prepared

Whether mountain biking a trail that hugs the Mississippi or cuts through the heart of the Montana wilderness, it's best to be aware of your surroundings. (Brian Peterson photo)

Imagine you’re riding hard down a mountain trail. The thrill of the tight trees, narrow trail and fast speed is undeniable and invigorating. As the trail you’re on weaves around a thicket of alder and huckleberries there’s a sow grizzly and two small cubs.

These hypothetical chance encounters are becoming more likely as the sport of mountain biking takes off in many communities around Montana and as the state’s grizzly bear population continues to expand.

In many of Montana’s growing communities – from Bozeman, to Missoula, to Helena and the Flathead – mountain bikers are finding more trails to ride and businesses to cater to their needs. But just like hikers, hunters and other recreationists, mountain bikers must take special precautions when riding in bear country.

Though many of the safety precautions are the same for mountain bikers as other recreationists, mountain biking does pose some different considerations – speed and noise.

Mountain bikers are often traveling at high rate of speed and are quiet. This can create a dangerous scenario.

“Slowing down might not make for the most entertaining ride, but it’s a key precaution in grizzly bear country, especially in areas where visibility is limited” said Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife division administrator.  “Additionally, it’s important to make noise when riding in confined areas where visibility is limited to alert bears of your presence and avoid surprising them at a close distance.”

Along with reducing speed and finding ways to make noise additional safety precautions include:

  • Carry and know how to use bear pepper spray for emergencies.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Travel in groups of three or more people whenever possible and plan to be out in the daylight hours. All members of the party should carry and know how to use bear spray.
  • If a member of the party is attacked by a bear, the other members of the party should be ready to use their bear spray on the bear to stop the attack, even if it means also spraying their fellow rider.
  • Stay on trails or rural roads.
  • Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
  • Use caution in areas like berry patches where bears may be feeding.
  • Don’t approach a bear; respect their space and move off.

Specifically for mountain bikers, keeping bear spray in a readily accessible location is important. Various items are available at retailers that allow mountain bikers to keep bear spray readily at hand. These include chest holsters and holders that attach the bear spray to the bike frame.

Another key safety point for mountain bikers is speed. Unlike other recreationists, mountain bikers can travel through the woods at a high rate of speed and come upon unsuspecting grizzly bears very quickly. Mountain bikers should consider slowing down in bear country, particularly in areas where visibility is limited.

As grizzly bear populations expand and numbers increase around Montana, recreationists should be prepared to encounter bears around much of western and southwestern Montana.

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