Bicycle History: Dogs Have Been Chasing & Biting Cyclists Since the 1700s

Soon after the first velocipedist headed out for a ride, a dog gave “chafe.” 


That’s how they spelled the word chase back in the days of Old English, the long s and the first canine attacks.

I found evidence of the delight dogs take in chasing bicycle-like vehicles, and sinking their teeth into riders, as far back as 1793. I also found a sad and deadly story from 1877, and a story from 1886 about a narrow escape involving an early version of pepper spray, that also described how riding a horse provides better protection from the “rural dog’s natural antipathy to the wheelman.” Yep, those rural rascals sure had and still have a lot of antipathy toward us cyclists.

The eagle has landed

Our demon-dog history begins with Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman who devised a four-wheeled, bicycle-like vehicle in 1779 that some consider the forerunner to the modern bicycle (more on this in a future post). This rather bulky vehicle included an elaborate and carved wooden eagle with outspread wings on the front. Blanchard was also one of the first daredevils to fly a hot-air balloon, and he traveled to the United States and Philadelphia to give hot-air balloon demonstrations. He brought along his “carriage” and it was part of the grand exhibition that attracted thousands. 

Blanchard – who was quite the showman – placed advertisements in Philadelphia newspapers for “his balloon & his carriage, running without horfes.”

Horfes = horses.

The September 16, 1793 ad in the General Advertiser newspaper strongly suggested: “Gentleman who have dogs accusftomed to the chafe are requefted not to bring them along on account of the eagle [on the carriage] which imitates nature to perfection.”

The kiss of death

This story from the February 10, 1877 edition of the Boston Globe, via Paris, is one of the saddest, strangest cycling stories ever. 

One day, on the Boulevard Periere, Paris, a mad dog started in pursuit of a velocipede, mounted by a boy fourteen, named Dupraty, living in the Boulevard, No. 16. The chase was a terrible one, and ended in the fall of the boy. Happily it was in the iron of the velocipede wheel that the teeth of the mad bulldog closed. There ended the first act of the drama. The second follows. In an impulse of passionate joy on seeing her son saved from so great a danger, Mme. Dupraty pressed her lips to the wheel of the velocipede. Some hydrophobic virus had remained on the iron, and after an agony of a fortnight the poor mother died, raging mad.

Hydrophobia is another name for rabies – and was a huge problem back then. Mad dogs were deadly dangerous. The ironic part of this story is that only a few miles away from Boulevard Periere, in a Paris lab, Louis Pasteur was working on the rabies vaccine he would ultimately perfect in 1885.

The packed pistol and/or packaged-pepper defense

“The Perils of Bicycling” was the headline of a December 18, 1886 story in the Dixon Evening Telegraph in Illinois. The reporter interviewed an unnamed “expert bicyclist” who described the many dangers of dogs.

The rural dog has a natural born antipathy to the wheelman, and never fails to attack him. Horseback riders can elude the attempts of the dogs to bit them by galloping away. Then, too, the horse can kick a dog to death or wound him fearfully. The wheelman is at a great disadvantage protecting himself. His legs are just high enough for the dog to grab easily by leaping a few feet [this was still the age of the high-wheeled ordinary or penny-farthing bike], and if the bicycle happens to run over a dog, the rider is thrown and often very seriously hurt.

It seems some of these wheelmen were armed. And dangerous. According to the story …

It is almost impossible to hit a dog with a shot from a pistol while riding … The pistol goes off too quickly, or the front wheel wobbles from the fact that only one hand is guiding, and the result is the ball is liable to go anywhere save at the mark.

Our unnamed rider said there had been several cycling deaths from “hydrophobia from a bite” and described his own narrow, recent escape from the jaws of jeopardy …

I had no weapon, not even a penknife, and I knew that the very next leap from the dog might result in a serious wound – perhaps knock me off of the bicycle and chew me into mince meat. In my jacket pocket I had some cayenne pepper, done up in a small package. Quick as thought I drew the package, and, as the dog caught up and made a second plunge to hamstring me, I threw it with all my power into the animal’s face. The thin paper inclosing the pepper burst, and the fiery, itching, tickling cayenne filled its eyes and got up its nose. Such a yell as that cur gave I never heard before. It turned tail and fled, howling in agony at every step.

Do you think this really happened? I’m a little skeptical, but it sure is a good story. So, the bottom line is: Be careful out there. I’ve been bitten once, right on the butt (the right cheek), and have been chased several times.

Here’s the link to my previous Bicycle History story. There’s more to come, so stay tuned and sign up for the “follow the blog via email” alerts.

Photo by Pixabay on

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