Motorcyclists love to go for a ride, but we aren’t the only ones who do. For dogs, going for a ride is an experience that never gets old, an opportunity never to be passed up, a sensory overload that’s simply fun. With the Labrador retrievers I’ve owned, there’s been one answer to the question, “Do you want to go for a ride?” Their wiggly, bouncy enthusiasm translates clearly to “YES!”
I keep thinking about getting a motorcycle with a sidecar outfit so I can take a dog along for the ride; I just might get one. The first dog I knew who rode in a sidecar was Divot, an easy-going one-eyed pooch who looked to have American Bulldog in his ancestry. He rode alongside a Suzuki 650GS with his owner, Guy Hill. Divot made friends wherever he went. He traveled with the Lonesome Weirdoes Motorcycle Club and was a regular at BMW rallies. When Guy upgraded to a Kawasaki KZ1300 (the green team’s 6-cylinder response to Honda’s CBX), his dog upgraded to a bigger sidecar.
In those years, I rented a house at the bottom of Mountain Road. It had a second-floor screened porch where I enjoyed relaxing, often with a Samoyed named Sasha. She’d sit nearby in the fresh air, ears and nose constantly scanning. Often she’d get huffy, picking up signals my feeble human senses could not yet detect. Sometimes her early warnings were for an antique BMW coming down that winding road with a black Lab in the sidecar. I like to think that Sasha, who was rather shy, lived vicariously through that dark stranger in the sidecar.
By coincidence I met that dog’s owner, Richie Searles, at a physical therapy session last winter. While a therapist worked her magic on our injured, aging bodies, Richie and I got to talking. Soon we discovered that we both liked motorcycles and dogs. I mentioned a black Lab in an old BMW sidecar outfit that used to ride down Mountain Road. Richie laughed. He said he still lives at the top of Mountain Road, still has that 1962 BMW R69S with a Ural sidecar, and the Lab who rode in the sidecar—Vedo—was his dog.
“Riding was his favorite thing,” Richie told me. “Vedo would ride with his face to the right of the windshield, out in the breeze. He absolutely loved it. I remember once I needed to leave for a wedding and I couldn’t find him anywhere, so I rolled the BMW out of the barn and started it up. In a couple minutes I came back and he was sitting there in the sidecar, ready to go. I walked up and put the leash on him then put him in the house so I could go. I really felt awful, like I’d burned him by not going for a ride. Vedo lived to ride the sidecar.”
The times I saw him riding in that sidecar he was barking for joy. People would stop in their tracks, children would point and everyone would smile. Vedo lived to be 16½. I’d wager he lived a fuller life than most dogs—probably most people, too.
Riding contributes to a full life for me, and when my rides take me far from home I miss my dogs, my yellow Lab Norton in particular. He’s rarely far from me … as I write this column he’s snoozing at my feet. When I’m away, I endure what my wife describes as “dog withdrawal,” but I have learned ways to get my fix of four-legged friendliness. One way I make dog friends on the road is with milk bones. I always have one or two in my pocket and several more packed in my panniers. Some of my friends’ dogs, notably Ol’ Blue, John Colleton’s Bloodhound/Lab, seem to remember that I carry snacks. “Bones has bones,” they must be thinking as I pull up.
During this spring’s trek to the Moonshine Lunch Run, I was only a couple days out and already in the throes of dog withdrawal. A rest stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Craggy Gardens found me crossing paths with Delilah, a Fox Hound mix. I always ask owners if it’s OK to approach their dog. This dog’s owners said I could, but added that she wasn’t that friendly. Dogs know people who like dogs, however, and inside a minute this pooch was washing my face with kisses, much to her owners’ surprise.
The next day I stopped at the Robbinsville General Store on the Cherohala Skyway. The old Bloodhound on the front porch snuck inside the store where she’s not allowed and got a minor scolding from the shopkeeper. “Molly, you know you’re not supposed to be in here.” Back on the front porch, a scratch behind those long ears and a milk bone made everything right with Molly.
One day later at a gas station in Cashiers, North Carolina, a lively Akita was in the bed of a pickup truck at the next pump island. A harness kept him in place. While I filled up he gave me a good look. Predictably I asked the owner if I could say hi. “Well, sure,” came the drawled reply. I could tell by his demeanor that this dog, whose name I never got, loved riding in that pickup. When truck pulled out, he stood with his spotted paws on the left edge of the bed, as far as his harness allowed, and stuck his nose high in the air, taking in the world as his ride began anew.
Later in the week, at the Hammond family farm in Martinsville, Illinois, 250 motorcyclists gathered for a cookout to kick off Moonshine Lunch Run festivities. A chocolate Lab named Hershey sat in front of the farm house, observing the goings-on and waiting for attention. I was just the person to offer some. A bit of sweet talk and a milk bone got me an enthusiastic face washing from another new friend.
After nine days on the road, I arrived home to a warm welcome from my wife, daughter and four-leggers. It wasn’t long before I decided to run some errands so Norton could go for a ride. He has learned to recognize cues that a ride is coming … the appearance of shopping bags, the rattle of recycling bins, and the all-important jingle of keys. When I ask Norton, “Do you want to go for a ride?” his enthusiasm mimics those Honda ads I see during motocross on TV: “I wanna ride, I wanna ride, I wanna ride…”
Dogs get it, just like motorcyclists do. They stick their heads out the window—or beside the windscreen if they’re lucky enough to ride in a sidecar. They put their exemplary senses to work as they explore the big world away from home. And they bark, wiggle and wag for the best reason of all: because they’re having fun!
I made a bumper sticker for my truck that reads, “Motorcyclists understand why dogs stick their heads out car windows.” Someday, when I get that sidecar outfit, it’ll need a sticker of its own: “Dogs understand why motorcyclists love to ride.”