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Tracking Wild Animals on a Mountain Bike


Tracking Wild Animals on a Mountain Bike

By Larry Williams, Certified Tracker

Mountain biking takes many forms: off road, gravel roads, single track, downhill (my favorite), technical and more. Due to improvements in equipment it has gained popularity in the last 20 or 30 years.

Animal tracking, on the other hand, is ancient, literally hundreds of thousands years old. Analogous to learning a foreign language, it involves identifying, interpreting and following the spoor of animals.

To bike track you first have to study traditional animal tracking. During this time a bike is excess baggage. But once achieved, animal tracking and mountain biking opens up a totally new world of experience.

Bikers have to make some adjustments, getting beyond speed and competition. But the same hair-raising routes that used to keep the adrenaline flowing will begin to reveal new depths of appreciation. Animal tracking requires slowing down so the wind isn’t ripping into your ears; but this allows you to hear the real bird language and attend to the landscape you are passing through. Tire noise reduction lets you come upon more animals on the trail. You find new ways to ride the trail, ways to ride silently, ways to avoid wiping out the animal tracks, ways to come around bends on the inside so you get a quick view down the trail.

You will need to find appropriate trails where there are tracks. You also need to pay attention to avoid tangling with faster and competitive riders. Non technical rides are best.        

For myself, before starting out I decide what I want for the day. If I’m seeking exercise or thrills I’ll pick appropriate routes and ride with the best of them (yeah right). But when bike tracking I’ll be lazing along, zig-zagging back and forth, dismounting, circling around to find the best viewing angle. The bike lets me cover much larger areas than traditional animal tracking.

Tracking broadens and deepens my bike life. Not long ago on a bike trip to Northstar Ski Resort near Tahoe, California,my nephew, Dave Woodson and I took our bikes up the lift to start our ride. Looking down below us he noticed some torn up logs and recognized the work of bears. Suddenly I became aware of hundreds of bear tracks. It didn’t take long to realize the bears were scavenging food dropped from the lifts, as we were snacking right then. This tracking insight cracked us up and had us laughing and hooting.

There is some etiquette involved in bike tracking. Like all trackers, you need to be respectful of dens and nests you find, especially in the spring when merley approaching can present a threat to the animals and birds. As trackers you realize that when you approach a bird nest, for example, the ravens and raccoons and other predators may be watching you and when you leave, they will raid the nest. This is so common that many animals and birds will abandon their homes when discovered, even if no damage is done.

If on a technical ride, let go of the tracking and concentrate on the run, as it should be. But at safe pullout areas check for animal sign. NEVER stop and dismount without verifying it’s safe. 

Combining biking and tracking gets me out tracking more often, and also gets me out biking more often. Often a quick ride helps me find areas to come back to on foot for more thorough tracking. Sometimes I’m riding, sometimes I’m tracking, sometimes both. It’s all good, and quite the hoot!

RiverFront Park is great to start out and it’s local. Forestville trail has many wood rat lodges visible off the path. The potential is probably a lot closer than you realize! 

Pictures of tracking and locales are on display at Tiny Town Cafe in downtown Forestville. •