Dramatic video taken a few years back but only released recently appears to show an outdoor recreationist’s worst nightmare.


The footage – taken from a ski lift in the Whitefish, Montana area and posted in mid-April by Montana Knife Co. – shows a black bear charging slantwise in the same general downslope direction as a mountain biker descending a switchbacking trail. Maybe that sounds a little equivocating, but only because it’s hard to say whether the video shows the bear actually chasing the cyclist, as it’s been suggested. (The biker, by the way, got away just fine.)

A fast-moving object can trigger latent predatory – or just spunky – impulses in bears, hence the tried-and-true advice not to run from one. But it’s not clear from the footage if this bear was hurtling in pursuit of the cyclist or if it simply got spooked and wound up running along the same trajectory as the biker.

Lately we seem to keep coming back to this same basic bear-chasing-high-speed-human theme: It wasn’t long back, after all, that we reported about two unusual cases of Eurasian brown bears chasing downhill skiers at a Romanian resort earlier this year.

And that's not the first instance of bear-vs-bike to make its way into the headlines. Back in 2019, three mountain bikers found themselves tailed by a black bear on a trail at Mount Seymour outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. The cyclists tried to outpace the bear, which pursued them for more than a kilometre. “We just started hammering from there,” one of the bikers, Brad Martyn, told the Global Mail. “My friend looked around and said, ‘He’s right on our tails!’ We just kept trying to put some distance between us.”

Coming to a stop and then spotting the bear coming around the bend, the trio confronted it with brandished bikes: which, incidentally, is the better first move if a black bear approaches you on a bike than pedalling away. The bikers then headed down the trail again, the bear in slower pursuit but eventually falling behind.

Mountain bikers are particularly vulnerable to sudden run-ins with bears on account of how fast and quietly they speed down backcountry trails. One ran into a brown-bear sow and her two cubs in the Sharr Mountains of Kosovo two years ago, though the biker zipped through that encounter unscathed.

Those taking to mountain-bike/multi-use trails in the Rocky Mountain backcountry of Montana have more than black bears to worry about: The larger, more aggressive grizzly bear – the most widespread North American subspecies of the brown bear – is a bigger cause for concern, given its greater likelihood for lightning-fast defensive attacks. In 2016, a mountain biker in Montana’s Flathead National Forest who outright collided with a grizzly was killed by the bear. And last year, a grizzly mauled a mountain biker near Big Sky, Montana in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Black bears are somewhat less prone than grizzlies to attack defensively, though statistically speaking they’re more likely to attack in a predatory manner (still a super-rare event). But mountain bikers in either black- or brown-bear country (or, as in parts of Montana, both) should be aware of the potential danger of surprising a bear on the trail. Carrying bear spray in a bike holster is an excellent idea; so is stopping ahead of traverses through dense vegetation – not least bear-magnet berry patches – to clap your hands and shout that classic heads-up to local ursine representatives: “Hey, bear!”

Incidentally, it’s not only mountain bikers who ought to be bear-aware: In 2017, a road cyclist in the Canadian Rockies drew the attention of a smallish grizzly that loped after him awhile on a blacktop highway before vehicles intervened.

And yet – another video which recently surfaced on social media exemplifies a much more typical bear response to human presence. The clip, from Connecticut, shows a magnificently burly black bear padding along a residential yard in broad daylight, freezing when it notices a couple of people emerging from the house. Oblivious to the hairy visitor’s presence, they walk around the house and out of sight, after which the bear swaggers along its way – no harm, no foul.

That footage is an instructive counterbalance to the more-gripping bear-pursuit videos: a reminder that wild animals, bears very much included, tend to go the extra yard to coexist peacefully with us. Let’s be honest: More often than not, we tend to be the volatile, overreacting ones in a critter faceoff.


Header image: Ben Forsyth