Spring has well and truly arrived in Australia with cyclists around the country ducking their first magpie swoops of the season. That means it’s time to start employing those bird dodging tactics again, so we’ve dug out Chloe Hosking’s article on magpie mitigation. It’s your essential refresher on how to avoid and defend, or perhaps just make sure that protective bird attacks someone else instead.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Spring that is. In Australia it’s that fantastic time of year when you can exchange the leg warmers for bare — albeit ghostly white — legs, and when sitting at the coffee shop for post ride brews no longer carries the risk of catching hypothermia.
At a recent hairdresser appointment I was reflecting on just this with my hairdresser, a young, upbeat girl who had just invested in her first bike.
“That’s fantastic, and it’s the perfect time of year as well!” I applauded her as I’d do any woman, or man for that matter, who has taken the plunge and invested in a two-wheeled speed machine and lycra.
“Well, you would think that. But it’s actually not,” she replied before going on to recount her first riding experience from earlier that week.
She’d fallen victim to the dreaded magpies and had ended up off her bike and madly waving a stick around her head as her boyfriend watched on in stunned silence. I’m not sure she’s ridden since.
Earlier in the year I wrote a blog about my top tips for on the bike dog encounters. I think magpies warrant their own.
For those who haven’t ridden in Australia and are unsure of the sheer terror that magpies inflict on Australian cyclists on a yearly basis here’s a brief explanation:
The native Australian black and white bird nests in trees during breeding season and in an effort to protect their eggs and young from predators, they swoop, and continuing swooping until the ‘predator’ has moved far enough away from their nest. How far is far enough? That’s totally dependent on how vicious and evil the magpie you encounter is.
This may sound relatively harmless but it’s not. Picture being ambushed from behind by a squawking bird that furiously grips at your helmet, back, ears and neck until you’ve either gone into cardiac arrest or vacated the danger zone. It would be somewhat similar to being repeatedly rear ended while at traffic lights.
To rehash, I have five main tactics when it comes to avoiding dog attacks while riding and after rigorous field testing I have found that some — but not all — of these can be loosely adapted and adjusted to tackle the similar but arguably more terrifying magpie epidemic.
Max sprint tactic
The ‘max sprint’ tactic is employed when you have prior knowledge to the location and direction in which the dog or magpie will come from. As the name suggests this tactic involves the simple step of riding as fast as you can for as long as you can until you’re out of the danger zone.
The major downfall with this tactic when employed for magpie mitigation is that often you may think you’re on a safe stretch of road only to hear the snapping of a beak and the constant terrifying flap of wings only moments before your helmet is knocked to the side.
As such I propose a two-pronged amendment.
Firstly, let a brother (or sister) know. If you’ve just been attacked by a magpie and see a fellow cyclist riding in the opposite direction to you, let them know what is waiting for them. We’re not in high school anymore and they’re not doing the math test after you. There’s no need to stay coy and keep secrets, especially when it comes to magpies.
Secondly, when you go home and upload your ride to Strava and marvel at your 15 max sprints flag them as magpie segments. While not only forewarning fellow riders you may create your own KOM which will be likely to last for the remainder of the spring.
Water bottle spray tactic
The ‘water bottle spray’ tactic is one of my favourites when it comes to deterring a manic dog, however I’m sceptical of its effectiveness when it comes to magpies. My major concern is providing another target for the magpie to aim for, my hand. Having just recovered from a hand injury I’m somewhat precious about both of them.
Get aero tactic
Instead, I propose the above tactic is replaced with the ‘get aero’ tactic. This is as it sounds; channel your inner Linda Villumsen or Vasil Kiryienka and tuck your head in to your shoulders, level your helmet with your back and get as low as possible on the bike. The goal is to minimise the amount of skin and surface area available for the magpie to target.
On one occasion when I employed this tactic I got so low that I hit my top lip on my head stem. It hurt, but not as much as what I imagine losing my ear to a magpie would. What’s more, my top lip looked roughly as big as Kylie Jenner’s for the next week so not only did I save myself from a vicious magpie attack but I also saved myself a lot in lip injection fees.
Tactic’s That Don’t Work
The ‘low growl’ tactic that has proven to deter less aggressive dogs has unfortunately proven ineffective when it comes to magpies. So save your breath and apply the ‘max sprint’ or ‘get aero’ tactics above.
When it comes to cycling everyone knows that 87 per-cent of being a real ‘cyclist’ is in fact how you look while riding and sitting at the coffee shop and not how fast you can actually ride. As such I cannot condone the placement of cable ties on helmets, wearing sunglasses on the back of your helmet, painting fake eyes onto your helmet, or using clip on bars to help you improve your aerodynamic position as additional tactics in magpie mitigation.
The reality is that there is no way to totally protect yourself from the terrifying assault of magpies during the spring season. So you can either employ one final tactic or do as the pros do and take the next 3-6 weeks off.
The buddy system tactic
If all else fails employ the treacherous ‘buddy system’ tactic. This tactic can only be employed if you have prior knowledge of a magpie’s whereabouts and your riding companion doesn’t. Upon approaching said magpie’s location make sure your buddy is ahead of you under the guise of pairing your SRM or a nature break and allow them to be swooped instead of you.
Let’s be clear, when it comes to riding and swooping season there is no ‘one for all, all for one’ motto. At the end of the day, it’s a dog eat dog world — or in this case magpie eat human — and I’d rather you get swooped than me.
Chloe Hosking is a professional cyclist riding for Wiggle Honda. The Australian found cycling as a pre-teen and spent her early years on the bike riding around Canberra with her dad. Chloe took an untraditional path to Europe, self-funding trips to ride with composite teams and club teams at international races. She hopes that her success inspires other Australian women to recognize the multiple pathways to European racing.