LOS ANGELES — Some silken-haired beauties are eager sidekicks to motorcycle riders, wind whipping their thick locks as passers-by watch the wild ride with envy. That is until the slobber starts.
These passengers are pooches — mastiffs, Labradors and Chihuahuas often clad in goggles and tiny leather jackets that fly along in blimp-shaped buckets attached to the side of motorcycles. They are set apart from other pets by speed instead of breed.
They are also the stars of “Sit Stay Ride: The Story of America’s Sidecar Dogs,” a documentary that was largely funded by an online crowdfunding campaign and gives a quarter of its proceeds to shelters and rescues. The movie is also available for free to any animal welfare agency wanting to screen it as a fundraiser.
The documentary by filmmaking couple Eric and Geneva Ristau is the unique story of 15 dogs and 18 riders who spend all the time they can on three wheels.
Ian Roper, 43, of Snohomish, Washington, and his bull mastiff Bruce love to take it easy on a slow ride. It’s a departure for Roper, who said he raced cars and motorcycles for years in Detroit and Snohomish, a city northeast of Seattle, to enjoy the speed and feel of the open air.
“It is much slower than a motorcycle, but it is a much more relaxed ride,” Roper said.
Bruce, who’s nearly 4 and weighs 135 pounds, keeps it interesting on the road. When they are in the forest, the dog will react if he detects a deer or other wildlife.
“He is tied in so he can’t run off, but he’ll stand up if he smells something interesting,” Roper said.
If tree branches hang over the road, “he will grab at leaves as they go by. When we get where we are going, the sidecar is half-full of leaves. It’s a game to him.”
Things get really fun when they come to a stop sign or park at a store and a crowd gathers around. Everyone is laughing and pointing at Bruce in his sweet ride. Then, the dog will start shaking his head, splattering slobber on the crowd or their cars. Smiles fade, people move away and cars drive off.
“I never really thought about a sidecar until I got a dog, but I will never be without one again,” Roper said.
They started their travels when Roper got Bruce as a puppy and decided it would be fun to hit the road with his dog. So the mechanical design engineer took classes and bought a $14,000 customized motorcycle-sidecar.
Don’t let the price tag scare you off, he says, anyone can get started for $6,000.
Roper has a stable of seven motorcycles — fast ones for his own use and the sidecar for Bruce, which has racked up 10,000 miles.
Riding with a dog is a different experience, he said. They can’t move around a lot or they will tip.
“Bruce leans into corners when we turn, and I would love to think he was doing that to help out, but I think he does it because he doesn’t want to fall over,” he said.
The Ristaus, of Missoula, Montana, spent nine months filming Roper and Bruce and the other riders in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington state.
They condensed about 50 hours of interviews into the finished film of 84 minutes.
When they started, the couple didn’t know they would get so hooked on the unique rides that they would get their own sidecar, too.
“The journey is the goal rather than the destination,” Eric Ristau said.