I’m a popular cyclist – but only when I bring my toy poodle along for the ride | Steven Herrick

I am a middle-aged man on a bicycle. I wear Lycra. According to the mainstream media, I’m a free-loading, red-light dodging, unregistered road warrior cruising on expensive cycle paths that would be better redesigned as traffic lanes.

Yet every day I cycle, people smile at me. Tradies in utes lean out the window and give me the thumbs up. The other day a young woman stopped me and asked if she could take my photo. When I pause for the obligatory coffee midway through my ride, it’s not uncommon for other diners to approach me, their faces beaming. When I share the footpath with pedestrians, they always make room for me after I sound my bell. Most of them grin and wave.

A week ago a policewoman crossing at the traffic lights opposite me smiled, as if my presence had somehow brightened her morning. I kid you not.

My secret?

As I cycle, hanging around my neck is a dark blue dog pouch. Inside the pouch, with only her head poking out, is a 3.5kg toy poodle named Biscuit. Like most dogs, Biscuit looks at everyone with a friendly tilt of the head, her eyes sparkling, perhaps hoping for a treat, or a pat.

Biscuit’s superpower is to transform a man in Lycra into a human being. A fellow traveller. A dog lover. A person to be respected. I am no longer the “other”. The angry cyclist. The one who clogs footpaths and rides either too fast or too slow according to the conditions. A “law-breaker”.

I’m always astonished at just how influential Biscuit can be. Motorists, once they see her, always wave me through at the intersection, even when it’s not my turn. Because I love Biscuit dearly, I ride with more caution than before. Cyclists, despite what you’ve read and heard, are usually defensive road users. We’re not protected by airbags and two tonnes of metal so it’s in our nature to be careful, to err on the side of safety. With valuable cargo aboard, I cycle just that little bit slower, always watchful for the unexpected.

When my wife and I first welcomed Biscuit into our apartment, I suggested taking her for a bike ride, just to add variety to her daily 4km walk with us both. We were equally sceptical. I chose a nearby bike path beside a creek where there would be no noisy cars or trucks to scare her. I cycled very slowly and talked to her, pointing out the magpies in the trees, the lizards scampering from the path, the brush turkeys digging in the undergrowth.

To my surprise she appeared to love it.

Steven Herrick with his dog Biscuit in a pouch.

Whenever we passed a dog walker, Biscuit would lean around to watch the slower canine recede into the distance. As I gained confidence, I cycled faster, and Biscuit’s ears floated Flying Nunstyle in the breeze, her eyes squinting, her grin broader.

The next day, I planned to ride alone, but as soon as Biscuit saw me wearing Lycra, she started jumping. When I reached for the dog pouch she tried to leap into my arms. My wife joked that Biscuit was the first female to ever find me attractive in Lycra.

That was three months ago. Biscuit and I ride every day now. Sometimes my wife joins us, and Biscuit leans forward in her pouch as if encouraging me to catch up to Cathie. We both noticed the difference in everyone’s attitude immediately.

With Biscuit aboard, I’m given a wider pass by motorists; couples walking towards us on the footpath adopt a single file to let us through. That never happens without Biscuit.

People can’t resist talking to me in cafes. I know they just want to be close to Biscuit. Who can blame them? I’ve considered getting a Lycra jersey with the words “Poodle in a pouch onboard” written across the back.

It’s a blessing to be given exulted status on the roads and paths. I’m well aware it should not take a small dog to alert us all to the fact that cyclists are fragile and at-risk road users. That we deserve a wide margin of error, a smile and a wave, a thumbs up, with or without a cute dog attached.

But for now, I’m just happy to be the most popular cyclist in the city.

Steven Herrick is the author of 28 books for children and young adults. His most recent book is a YA novel, In Times of Bushfires and Billy Buttons


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