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The Dog Chariot
Author: James Co-Founder of Paradise Cycles & Sentient Works
I had an Omnium Cargo for about a year before the dog arrived. As I lived in East London at the time, it was completely natural for Leeloo (a very well behaved 10kg Cockapoo) would end up being chauffeured around on it.
She took her first trip to the vets on an Omnium at 13 weeks old. Initially riding around in a big red plastic box as she was tiny, and wasn’t at all sure about it. Of course, she cried a fair amount for the first couple of weeks, but quickly started to get used to it, thanks to a lot of positive reinforcement with treats, reassuring tones, and a thick blanket to reduce anxiety due to shocks and vibrations.
As someone who runs a bike shop and prefers cycling to walking or driving under all circumstances, I knew that with my Omnium, the dog could come with me pretty much wherever I went. So that’s what I’ve done ever since, and this dog has been left home alone fewer times than I could count on one hand.
The extended range it gave us for our “walks”, and the access to Victoria Park, and Epping Forest that we now had was a game changer. Subsequently, I would then spend the next 4 years refining the dog chariot system to make the ride safer, more comfortable and easier for us both to use. The anxiety and stress levels that we share while riding the latest version are now lower than ever, whether that’s on a major bus route and high street in London, or half way up a mountain trail.
The R&D Process
This was all done in my spare time. Bodging racks together and playing around with a cheap sewing machine.
Mk1: Puppy Box
Every new cargo bike dog should start in a big plastic box. Simply, it’s hard to fall out.
Put a blanket inside, and figure out how to route the lead through the bottom, so if your dog decides to start spinning in circles, they don't end up in a tangle. It’s cheap and easy to do that for a few months before levelling up. The longer you use the box the easier the next step will be.
Mk2: The Folding Rack
After removing the box for the first time, we tried rack surfing, but it didn’t go well. Initially I built a fabric platform with a grid webbing support system (which sagged where you don’t want it to). Then I attached a harness to the side rails of the rack, and used a lead to stop the dog from flying forwards under heavy braking. What I found here was that she was very unhappy, and was constantly trying to turn around in order to give me a long disapproving stare. And in doing so, got all tangled up in the webbing, which forced me to stop and try to untangle her. This was setting us back.
She could ride like this but it wasn’t any fun, so stress levels hit a high point. This obviously wasn’t going to be safe, comfortable, or a reliable long term solution, so rather than going back to the box, I spent a weekend at the sewing machine, and drilled a few holes in a cut up extender bar for a basic pivoting clamp.
This was a massive improvement and time well spent. The “folding” rack concept was intended to allow full use of the rack's capacity when it was down, but turn it into a kind of enclosure where the harness could attach higher up to allow a wider range of motion for the dog. However, as good as this was, it didn’t leave much room for any luggage, and was really awkward to fold down and put back up, so it stayed up most of the time.
Mk3: The Improved Folding Rack
Having recognised the issues with the first version, I sourced some pivoting inserts for the tubing, and cut into a repaired old rack, and spent another weekend on the sewing machine. It was braced with a bit of square hollow aluminium section so the dynamo light would have somewhere to go, and the folding windbreaker dropped down almost completely flush when I loosened off the side straps.
The rack bed was supported by a X-brace strap design, and incorporated a zipped “pillow” for the first time, so I could stash my waterproofs in there, and create a more comfortable place for the dog to stand or sit.
- Simpler and slightly lighter than before.
- Less shock transmitted from the road.
- Windbreaker to reduce anxiety at higher speeds, or in poor weather.
- Full capacity rack bed when folded down.
- Easier to convert between up and down positions.
- Integrated treats/lead/poo bags storage pocket at the front.
We lived with this for about 18 months. But it still wasn’t ideal. Even for a small dog there isn't enough space. So we went back to the drawing board.
Mk4: The SENTIENT HUNDERBAR Prototype
Following on from the “windbreaker” design that allowed the harness to be secured in the correct position for either standing, sitting and lying down, the lighter and simpler HUNDERBAR extension was born.
After purchasing a simple tube bender, and practising aluminium welding with my TIG welder, I made this slightly crooked one as a test prototype, and deciding I never wanted to move it or remove it, used the X-brace system for the CARGO PILLOW as the basis for this padded flat version of the rack bed.
The Exped FlexMat padding covers the tube at the front of the cargo rack, and helps reduce the shock on the dog's back paws when she is sat down at the front of the rack. While the adapted motorbike pannier that I wasn’t using, fitted perfectly in that space to act as a removable piece of luggage, and a windbreaker to minimise wind blast.
Then I added a “top box” bag with long straps, so I could load all my bikepacking kit next to the steerer tube, and we set off for a weekend of dog + bike-packing.
Mk5: The official SENTIENT HUNDERBAR + PILLOW modular rack system
More and more people were buying Omniums from us to use with dogs. And we weren’t impressed by the factory webbing product or the heavy inner tube weave option. So building on what I had done before, Tullen and I (Team Sentient Works) developed the super light, all black, cargo pillow. And quickly set about figuring out how to make a removable, or reversible extension bar for the front, so it could be upgraded to being compatible with a dog in a modular way.
Tullen coined the phrase HUNDERBAR, and started testing it on his Mini-Max with his Whippet Cross puppy, Fen.
When combined with a reliable 3 point detachable harness system, which could be used in combination with several commercial dog harnesses, and which could be adjusted according to how heavy the dog is, we knew that this was a product that would appeal to all sorts of people.
- Let's get this out of the way. In my opinion the Mini-Max is probably too small to live with! Anyone who wants to take their dog and any stuff with them should make life easier for themselves by getting the full cargo for the extra stability and larger loading area. Max dog length: 80cm from nose to back legs. Max Dog weight: 17kg.
- Helping a dog enjoy riding a bike every day takes months of work and lots of patience, like all the other aspects of raising a dog. Leeloo has come close to developing bike anxiety several times over the years. She has fallen off about 5 times. Hurt herself a couple of times (but never badly). The accidents have always been because of how lightweight she is and because I didn't anticipate properly. E.g. If we are riding at 15mph and hit a bump she can easily be thrown off balance, loose grip and end up sliding off the side. Even when attached with the 3 point harness.
- Taking your dog with you on a bike is a joy. People love seeing you ride past. It always puts a smile on your face. And it truly is a game changer! Our distance range has increased ten fold, when compared with walking. The boring flat stuff can be covered quickly, and when you reach somewhere that the dog can run along side, then you can give the dog as much excercise as they need. Just be careful not to over-do it. I am always having to slow the pace down, and consider how close to exhaustion she might be getting.
Thanks for reading. Please email me if you want to discuss purchasing cargo bike or HUNDERBAR from us for your dog >> [email protected]