Road cyclists deal with all sorts of hazards: spun-up gravel, tyre shreds ("road alligators", they call 'em), speeding cars ... and grizzly bears?!

Yes, grizzly bears, at least in places such as the Canadian Rockies. Photos from southeastern British Columbia of a cyclist with a modest-sized grizzly on his heels have been doing the rounds on social media the past few days.

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Image: Cassie Beyer via KING 5 News/Twitter

The incident took place the evening of July 14 on Highway 93 near Radium Hot Springs, close to the Alberta border. According to Global News, motorist Robbie Flemming saw a bicyclist labouring along the uphill grade, then spotted a grizzly bear clear the guardrail and enter the roadway. The grizzly reared onto its hind legs and then loped after the man on the bicycle.

Flemming honked his horn and pulled alongside the cyclist. "Finally he looked over at me and I said, "You've got a grizzly bear about 25 feet behind you,'" Flemming told Global News. "He looked back and went, 'Oh!' and started to pound on the pedals."

To slow down the bear, Flemming manoeuvred his truck between the cyclist and the grizzly, as did another vehicle, managing to escort the rider out of the animal's view.

A vacationing Idaho couple en route to Lake Louise in Banff National Park also happened upon the scene and snapped some photographs from the opposite lane as events unfolded.

Image: Cassie Beyer via Canadian Cycling Mag‏/Twitter
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Image: Cassie Beyer via Idaho Statesman‏/Twitter

It's impossible to say just what the silvertip was up to – maybe it was simply curious – but it's true that on rare occasions cyclists have been attacked by bears: a grizzly killed a 38-year-old mountain biker last year after the man collided with the animal on a trail in the Flathead National Forest just outside Montana's Glacier National Park.

Terrifying as they are, grizzly attacks on human beings are uncommon, all things considered, and normally involve sows defending their cubs or bears being startled at close quarters. As a review of the 2016 fatal attack in Montana released earlier this year suggested, mountain bikers on backcountry trails may be inherently more vulnerable to such run-ins than hikers.

The report noted, "Mountain biking is a quiet and fast activity that may cause you to get much too close to a bear before either you or the bear knows it, resulting in a surprise encounter and a defence attack by a surprised bear."

(The grizzly that killed the mountain biker, identified by biologists through hair samples, had had no prior trouble with people.)

While mountain bikers are more likely to cross paths with grizzlies, this recent highway incident shows that road cyclists in bear country should also be aware of the possibility. Some of the recommendations for bear-safe mountain-biking practices (put forth by the committee that analysed the 2016 Montana attack) could apply to highway rides in griz territory as well: carrying bear spray, for example, and also avoiding riding in the dawn, dusk and nighttime hours when bruins tend to be more active.

It's nothing to count on, but should you find yourself pedalling a mountain highway with a grizzly loping behind, it also helps to have a few improvisatory motorists on hand to come to your aid.



Top header image: Pixabay