Squirrel Suicide: Know the Best Way to Prevent a Bike-Squirrel Collision

October 15, 2013

Last week I received a strange sign from the universe, which led me to research this important question. Over the past few years, I’ve commuted thousands of miles by bicycle. During that time, I’ve had a few near-collisions with small animals—mostly squirrels and rabbits—but overall they’ve amounted to fewer incidents than I can count on one hand.

Then last week, in the space of 5 miles, three critters—two squirrels and one rabbit—dashed out from the bushes and came within millimeters of 1) getting caught under the front tire; 2) running head-first into my front-tire spokes; and 3) eating a mouthful of drive train and chain. All three incidents happened unexpectedly, and far faster than I could possible react, but fortunately each animal was able to either clear the tire or make a screeching U-turn before collision.

Now it would be sad to kill an animal on your bike, but—in my selfish, self-preserving opinion—it would be far worse to go flying over your handlebars or otherwise have a serious wipe out, especially if you’re cruising at speed. And this near-triple animal disaster made me wonder first how common such collisions actually are, and secondly if there’s any recommended techniques for minimizing the risk.

As to the first question: Unlike vehicle-bicycle collisions, for which there is a wealth of data, there don’t seem to be any studies or reports out there that have attempted to quantify the number of bike-animal collisions and resulting injuries. That being said, you can very quickly find dozens of anecdotal stories out there that involve collisions with animals—usually squirrels, though rats, birds, and chipmunks also fall victim. As these grim pictures demonstrate, it seems the most common animal fatalities occurs when the animal gets caught in the spokes, then gets stuck in the fork or disc brakes as the wheel rotates around (which of course also immediately stops the wheel from spinning and sends the rider flying over the handlebars). 

So it happens, and doesn’t seem to be particularly uncommon. So what’s the best way for avoiding squirrel, or other critter, biking disaster? The best advice is this: If you see an animal ahead of you, or moving nearby, or making a dash across your path, slow down but do not attempt to swerve and avoid it.

How the animal will ultimately move is essentially unpredictable, and will happen at a speed far faster than you can react to, and thus you are highly unlikely to increase your chances of avoiding a collision by swerving. If you do swerve, however, and the animal does make contact, you are going to be much less stable than if you kept your original line—and thus more likely to crash. 

As to the reason why three different animals flirted with death beneath my tires in the space of 15 minutes? I don’t know, but it’s driving me nuts.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.