Every time I get near the end of a new bike build, I go through a period of feeling like I need to wrap up a dozen final details. Trim this, tighten that, attach the other thing. But this is how I know when the bike is really done: The bear spray goes on.
This is Alaska. We have bears damn near everywhere, and they hate surprises. Mountain bikers move fast, and often surprise the hell out of bears. Big bears. Brown bears. Or, as they’re called in many places, grizzlies. Surprise one at close range, and you could find yourself in the house of pain.
For years, my strategy has been to carry pepper spray in a bottle cage on my bike frame. For one thing, it’s not attached to my body, and I like the
thought of separating from it during a crash that could trigger an accidental release. I also like the idea of a non-lethal deterrent, because bears are cool and shouldn't have to die just because I like speeding through their living rooms.
Best of all, this system allows me to get to the pepper spray quickly, which is vital. When you need this shit, you need it in a freakin’ hurry and a bear isn’t going to wait while you take off your Camelbak and dig out your defense.
Unfortunately, not all of my fellow Alaskans feel this is important. This is gun country, and many folks think the best protection against bear attacks is a big firearm. As this (totally unscientific) poll in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner indicates, about 50 percent of the newspaper’s online readers put their trust in guns, while less than 15 percent carry pepper spray.
The real statistics, however, tell a different story. In their paper “Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska,” noted bear biologists Tom Smith and Stephen Herrero explained that in an exhaustive study of attacks, “firearm bearers suffered the same injury rates in close encounters with bears whether they used their firearms or not,” and that “bear spray [has] a better success rate under a variety of situations ... than firearms.”
You may think you’re a badass with a gun, but unless you are highly trained, have experience staying calm in high-stress emergency situations, and practice regularly to maintain shooting proficiency, you’re kidding yourself. When a bear is charging you at high speed and you’re about to shit a brick, you’re unlikely to stop it with a bullet.
Hitting it with a broad blast of nasty pepper spray from a can that resembles a small fire extinguisher is far easier. And it's more effective. The numbers don’t lie.
Another bear season is here. Be ready. Be safe.