Cat-Schlepping
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Cat-Schlepping

Cat + Bicycle = Cat-Schlepping on Wheels

My intrepid little companion (photo by Chrononauts Photography)

I’ve never been much of a cyclist. At seven, I was the last of my friends to move on from training wheels, and only then under persistent peer-pressure. This was when I was practicing on dirt and gravel roads, in a hometown too small for stoplights. A quarter century later, I find myself living in Berlin, and find myself getting very stressed out cycling around such a major metropolis (cabs, busses, tram tracks, oblivious pedestrians, car doors opening, delivery trucks, bike lanes that abruptly disappear, other mental cyclists, etc). Its one saving grace is that it’s totally flat; because when it comes to cycling anywhere hilly, forget it. I’d rather get off and walk.

My natural inclination is to go everywhere by foot, to have time to take in my surroundings as I move through them at a human pace, with minimal chance of crashing into anything. I consider myself to be something of a champion pedestrian — I’ll walk ten miles up, down, and around town or country and not think twice about it, until my flat feet and dodgy knee start to ache.

However, moving at a walking pace certainly does have restrictions. Especially if you’re schlepping a twelve pound cat. The desire to get out and see more of the world, schlep further and faster, and minimize the damage to my shoulders, has finally motivated me to get over my aversion to cycling. I’ve started going for bicycle rides with Aífe, and it’s far and away one of the best, most gleeful things I’ve ever done.

The first time I took Aífe out on a bicycle ride was summer 2015. It was a muggy day late in August. I had only been cat-schlepping for a few months, and was only just starting to take it seriously. On a whim on hot afternoon, I put Aífe in my blue REI Flash pack, strapped her to my chest, and began slowly cycling around our neighborhood. I thought she would protest in some manner, but she didn’t. She just hung there off of my chest quietly, like a cool little feline hang glider. We went around the block for a while, up and down some quiet side streets, and then home. It was a lovely and adorable time.

Our very first time out. Pretty hip stuff.

And then that was it. I don’t know why I didn’t repeat the experiment that summer. The heat, my own laziness, my aforementioned aversion to cycling very far. Then in October, I went back to the States for five months. I didn’t have a bicycle in Portland, and didn’t have any money. And it was awfully wet and wintery a good amount of the time we were there. We went on walks, and hikes, hung out in parks and flowerbeds and even art festivals. But we didn’t cycle.

It wasn’t until we got back to Berlin in March that we had a bike again (which had been left out all winter to rust, and needed a lot of work). And it wasn’t until May that I decided, again on a whim, to take Aífe for another bike ride. It was a gorgeous and sunny morning, and my partner Julian, my stepdaughter, and I, were planning to go to the Tiergarten for the day. I didn’t have any way to properly carry Aífe on the bike, but I knew she would be sad and totally bored if she was left home alone the whole day. So as we were getting ready to go, I just thought, “Fuck it.” I unhooked the little white wire basket off the back of my bike, got some bungee chords, and started trying to secure it to my front handlebars. Julian got some packing tape to reinforce the whole thing, and taped the hell out of it. I lined the basket with an IKEA fleece for padding, and loaded Aífe into it. And off we went!

I wasn’t sure how Aífe would handle it. By this point she was great about getting carried everywhere in her carrier bag, but was still not great on a leash a lot of the time. Hurtling through the air across much of central Berlin might be a lot for her.

But she was an absolute champ. She nestled into the fleece, and peeped her little head over the edge. She took in as much of the passing world as her bright eyes and rapidly sniffing nose could. We pedaled through traffic, around the Reichstag, all around the trees and creeks of the Tiergarten, and all along the riverbank of the Spree homewards. She never once showed any fear of the ride, and in fact started standing up in the basket so she could see better.

I, meanwhile, was giggling myself silly nearly the whole time I pedaled her around. I felt giddy and free. I had taken my crazy-cat-lady status to a whole new level; I was mobile. I was a cat-lady on wheels.

Our second test ride. Even cooler than than the first.

But they were dodgy wheels. It needed some serious TLC and several new parts to run right. And the small basket and packing tape were only a very crude system, not sturdy enough to hold her really, and unsafe for the longterm. But we made some improvements, and started cycling all over town. We explored many bits of Berlin together that we never would have reached on foot. And for the first time in my life, I found myself actually taking real, joyous pleasure from cycling.

Cat-schlepping on wheels — I can’t recommend it enough. This has changed my sense of geography, and expanded my scope of schlepping. If you have a cat you would like to take cycling with you, there isn’t much you need:

1. A bicycle. It can be pretty basic. The one we got started on was a very rusty, seven-speed city bike, with no discernible brand label. It was at least a decade old and I was at least it’s third owner. But it worked well enough with some patching up.

2. A bike rack. There are loads of bikes on the streets of Berlin. I started keeping an eye out for any that had a good rack on the front of them (no giggling). I saw several excellent, sturdy-looking ones by a company called Steco. I ordered one online for around €20, and attached it myself with a couple wrenches.

3. Some kind of basket. I looked at a bunch of them online, but most were pretty small/shallow for a full-grown cat to ride in, and they cost anywhere from €25 to around €150. I saw several people cycling around Berlin with their dogs in big wicker hampers, crates, hand baskets from the supermarket. In the end, I went with a collapsible cube from IKEA, which were on sale 2/€6 at the time. It’s light-weight, the perfect dimensions for Aífe, and surprisingly sturdy. Three sides are solid, but the front end of it is mesh, so she can see even when she’s laying down, and bugs and things don’t get in her eyes so much. And Aífe loves it — I kept the second of the 2/€6 in our flat, and she loves hopping into it, and will snooze there for hours.

4. A way to attach the basket to the rack. I ended up just nicking a four-legged spider bungee cord that Julian had left in our entry way. I hooked one end to each corner of the basket, with the arms running underneath the bike rack.

5. A way to attach the cat to the basket. Aífe is good about staying in the bike. But one time, when we were within sight of our front door, and slowing down to get off, she got excited and jumped out of the basket. She dangled by her harness for a few terrifying seconds, then wriggled out of her harness and ran for the door. Luckily, it was a quiet side street, I was going very slowly, and Aífe knew where home was. Any other set of circumstances and it could have been a disaster. So now I make her wear her serious Kitty Holster harness on rides — it restricts her movements slightly, so it isn’t our favorite for walking. But of the three harnesses I’ve bought her over the years, it’s far and away the hardest for her to wriggle out of. I clip a leash to the harness, and tie it to the bike rack, leaving enough slack for her to move around and get comfortable, without being able to leap out.

6. A rain cover. This is kind of optional. I took a crappy vinyl carrier bag and split the seams, and intend to strap it around the basket if we ever get caught out in a downpour. But so far we haven’t needed to try this out.

Now we’re getting somewhere. (photo by Chrononauts Photography)

That’s it! I already had an old bike, leash, and harness, so the other bits of kit I needed came to less than €30. Is it the perfect set up? Not exactly. Will it hold up for years to come? Possibly not. But it was super cheap, and has done a fab job for us thus far. There simply isn’t that much state of the art gear out there for cycling with small pets, as far as I can find. And even if there was, I couldn’t afford it at the moment, and have no intention of waiting until the far off day when I might be able to. Plus, there is a real satisfaction in making do with what we’ve got.

Lastly, a WARNING:

Cycling with a cat attached to your handlebars will make steering a fair bit trickier. Your bike will want to swing to one side or the other with even just a little turn of the handles. Especially when the cat stands up and moves around, but even just when they are sitting still. I suppose you could attach the carrier to the back of your bike instead, but I definitely wanted to have Aífe in front of me, so that I could keep an eye on her at all times, and talk to her, and carry my heavier gear on the back of the bike. Just be careful, maybe practice in a mellow area at first, and use caution when heading out into busy streets or tricky terrain.

This set up will also make your bike very top-heavy. Meaning that if you aren’t holding it up, or leaning it very securely against something solid, it will fall right over. Do any fiddling with the bike you need before you put the cat into the basket. Or invest in a really amazing kickstand.

Happy trails and tails!

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Thoughts and advice on wandering the world with a cat.

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Solana Joy

Solana Joy

Writer. Rambler. Mother. Creature. Alaskan. Expat.

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