Shinguards / Rattlesnake Bite Guards for Mountain Bikers

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In summary, the speaker shares a recent encounter with a rattlesnake while mountain biking and expresses a need for protective gear for future rides. Suggestions for potential gear include soccer-style shin guards, plastic leg guards, and gaiters, with the caveat that the gear should not allow snake fangs to get stuck. The conversation also includes anecdotes about other encounters with wild animals while biking.
  • #1
berkeman
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So I've had plenty of close calls with rattlesnakes in the western US (I currently live in Silicon Valley, California, but grew up in the Napa Valley and spent lots of time out in the brush), but today was the 2nd closest I've come to being bitten. It happened on a mountain bike (MTB) single track downhill section where I was flying, and had no options to try to dodge or stop to avoid this 3-foot rattlesnake. I would like to start wearing some kind of soccer-style shin guards or similar that can protect me from rattlesnake strikes to my lower legs on my MTB rides.

The encounter was not the snake's fault, s/he was just moving across the ground that happened to coincide with a natural terrain single track BMX track that I train on. I was in the middle of a multi-lap set when I came around the high-speed, blind entrance banked turn, and thought to myself "I didn't see that stick across the track on the last lap". Well, it was because it wasn't a stick, and at about 15mph I had about 200ms to have that thought and realize that something bad was about to happen.

The unfortunate rattlesnake only had a very short time to blast his rattle out (100ms?) before I ran over him, and thankfully I was moving so fast that he was not able to strike my mostly bare lower legs before I was clear. I stopped as soon as I could and walked back to see if I could find him, and saw him "limping" off of the track. Hopefully he survived; there wasn't much I could do to help that.

Anyway, now I need to figure out a way to protect my lower legs on MTB rides here locally. Would soccer shin guards and tall socks work? Or do they only protect the fronts of your legs? I need something that protects the fronts and sides of my lower legs.

Thanks!
 
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  • #2
Must ... learn ... to ... bunny ... hop ... over ... surprise ... obstacles ...
 
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  • #3
At first I was thinking something smart-ass, like plate armor (like a knight), but too stupidly heavy.
I would also be worried that chain mail would let a thin fang through.

My daughter played soccer a few years ago.
They had thin, very tough, plastic sheets formed to the shape of a leg.
They were only used to protect the front of the leg (shin) and covered maybe 1/4 or 1/5 of the leg's circumference.
Its effectiveness would also depend on your shoes and how they match up with the leg guard.

These were just plastic sheets that fitting into their socks, which held them in place.
In theory, a thin sheet around the leg would work, but it would probably to be more comfortable if it were shaped to a leg's anatomy.
Perhaps heating a sheet up and bending it around a manikin leg (don't use a human leg, dangerous) would do. Need both right leg and left leg.
A softer plastic might still work to deflect a fang and keeping it from getting through to your leg.
Flexible polyethylene rather than something stiff like fiberglass, for example.
I don't really know how hard a rattlesnake bites, how stiff its head is as it is launched towards you and how stiffly attached to the ad the fangs are.
However, it all depends on the strength of bite/fang strength vs. material properties.
I first impulse would be to find a rattlesnake and do some tests potential materials, since lighter materials would be better.
In your area (rattlesnake-land) there maybe hobbyist snake keepers or labs that work with rattlesnakes.
Also, since its rattlesnakes (dangerous and not uncommon) bite properties might be published somewhere.
Of course you would want to plan for the toughest of rattlesnakes.

Get one made and you might have a niche product (subset of the bikers who do crazy stuff like you and have rattle snakes around).

Related subject:
My room mate when in graduate school, was biking home one night after dark, and accidentally ran over a possum than ran out of a hedge immediately in front of his bike (He should have stopped and looked both ways!).
He said it crunched, but kept on going (at least for a while).
Which is what I would expect of a wild animal (go off and hide if possible).

In such rapid encounters, if you can keep going, it seems unlikely the animal will be able to strike you.
Too quick.
You can kill a bee by swatting it with your hand without getting stung, but don't keep hand on it.
 
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  • #4
BillTre said:
My room mate when in graduate school. was biking home one night after dark, and accidentally ran over a possum than ran out of a hedge immediately in front of his bike (He should have stopped and looked both ways!).
He said it crunched, but kept on going (at least for a while).
Which is what I would expect of a wild animal (go off and hide if possible).
This happened to me. Only difference was that I was stupid and skating down a hill past sunset. And it was a raccoon rather than an opossum. The raccoon won (relatively unharmed), the board broke.
 
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  • #5
You may want gaiters.

I have gaiters for clomping through desert brush - geocaching. They can be made from lightweight or heavy materials.
They are simply leg wrapping with buttons and an under heel thong or wire.
Mine are packed away, but you can get an idea from this - but it is overkill for what you need.

gaiters.png
 
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  • #6
jim mcnamara said:
You may want gaiters.

But you'll need to be sure that a snake's fangs won't get stuck in them, which would be pretty fraught for you and for the snake.
 
  • #8
You can buy snake-proof gaiters that are popular with hunters. I have no personal experience with them, however.
 
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  • #9
Stop mountain biking on my HIKING trails!😆
 
  • #10
BillTre said:
In such rapid encounters, if you can keep going, it seems unlikely the animal will be able to strike you.

Exactly my thought. I also wonder if the snake is able to precisely choose the leg as the target when it is a whole quickly moving thing (bike and biker) that is the assailant, which lowers the probability of bite even further. That's not to say it is safe to bike around rattlesnakes, I just wonder if the risk is high enough to be worth worrying.

Still, if there is a simple, convenient and cheap protection, why not. I got some nasty scratches from brushes/wines/sticks lying around the tracks, that would probably help with them as well.
 
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  • #11
BillTre said:
first impulse would be to find a rattlesnake and do some tests potential materials
:oops:
 
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  • #12
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  • #13
Great post. I grew up in Cupertino and raised local snakes for a hobby. FYI the non-venomous Pacific hog-nosed snake and bull snake imitate rattle snakes particularly when molting -- shedding their skin as they grow. I saw many rattle snakes all over Los Altos Hills, Saratoga and the Santa Cruz mountains. Baby pit vipers are the worst as they barely rattle but have venom as toxic as adults.

I never killed any snakes but startled a few on my bike and along bushy walking trails. I always carry a walking stick while hiking, now double aluminum hiking canes. My family all wear boots and thick socks on hikes. I usually wear long pants also for protection from the ubiquitous poison oak.

In my experience all snakes bite when provoked. I have read rattlers conserve venom for edible prey, hence the display, but bikes and joggers move so fast I doubt snakes have time to use their usual heat and tongue detectors to know what is zipping past.

As a child I wore heavy leather steel-reinforced orthopedic shoes replaced by hiking boots as an adult. Along with thick socks they should protect from snake bites and some ankle problems. Unlike cobras and some pythons and tree boas, North American indigenous snake species do not elongate and 'walk' vertically but can strike from a coil upward to roughly 1/3 their body length.

I was trained to visually inspect each step while hiking and probe blind areas with a stick. I felt safe from snakes riding my bike with boots but gaiters a/o long pants might be a good bet with warm weather.
 
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  • #14
Motocross Boots? Maybe start a new fashion trend in the BMX world :-p

1589837513752.png

kidding. These would just slow you down.
 
  • #15
gmax137 said:
Motocross Boots? Maybe start a new fashion trend in the BMX world
LOL. I do have several pairs, but yeah, not real compatible with having to pedal. Interesting piece to the puzzle, though. Maybe thinking about how to 3-D print some plastic pieces to strap onto my lower legs and MTB shoes...
 
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  • #16
chemisttree said:
That would be perfect, except for the $40/pair cost. Still, I'll probably order a couple pairs to try them out. Hand wash them after every ride...

EDIT/ADD -- Rats! Tried to buy a couple pairs and got this notification. So close!

1589847132609.png
 
  • #17
Here's a story about an interaction between a bike and an iguana.
Biker won but required stitches (locked up front wheel).
"The condition of the iguana did not appear as stable,"
 
  • #18
Ouch! I hope he was wearing a helmet (the biker, not the iguana).

BTW, I've started wearing plastic inserts in my socks when riding what we now call the "Snake Track". For some reason there seem to be more rattlers out this year. :oops:
 
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  • #19
Whelp, I just had another close call with another big rattlesnake on that natural terrain BMX singletrack near my house. On lap 7 of a planned 15 lap workout, as I dropped into the first banked lefthand downhill turn, a rattler lit up in the bush less than half a meter from my right ankle. I've started putting plastic inserts in my socks when riding that track, but they only provide an extra 2" of coverage or so for my lower leg/ankle, so I'd really rather not have to deal with any strikes to my lower legs, thank you very much.

Needless to say the rest of lap 7 was slow and cautious (which makes the steep uphill sections a lot harder), and the rest of my workout is on hold for a day or two. After I finished lap 7 I did pick up a dozen rocks or so and go back near the bush and tossed them into try to encourage the snake to vamoose, but I didn't hear any more rattles so it had probably already left. I wasn't going to chance any more laps today...

Good old 2020, virus pandemic, record CA wildfires, and rattlesnakes. "Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?" (Quiz Question -- what movie is that last line from?)
 
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  • #20
berkeman said:
"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?" (Quiz Question -- what movie is that last line from?)

Raiders! I'm sure that scene gave me nightmares when I was younger...
 
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  • #21
Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.

Is there some kind of "snake whistle"? Like a deer while only for snakes. And, you know, effective.
 
  • #22
Vanadium 50 said:
Is there some kind of "snake whistle"? Like a deer while only for snakes. And, you know, effective.
Nice thought, but rattlesnakes don't have ears. The closest thing is maybe walking the track first jumping up and down to "thump". But the first snake that I ran over that started this thread was crossing the track about 2 minutes after I had just passed that part of the track on the previous lap, so trying to warn them away probably won't work.

All I can think of is to live trap all of the stupid little bunny rabbits that seem to live around the track and relocate them somewhere else. Talk about a rattlesnake buffet! No wonder the rattlers are there. Share the trail I guess. I'll check those "Snake Socks" again to see if they are shipping. If I could shield my lower legs from rattlesnake strikes, I'd be a lot more okay riding the track. I've figured out evasive action for most potential encounters after that first one (slower on blind curves but still able to build speed for the harder uphill climbs, etc.). I definitely don't want to hurt the stupid snakes if I can help it (and survive myself).

https://www.livescience.com/32252-do-snakes-have-ears.html

1598829104704.png
 
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  • #23
In what knid of body position do you encounter these snakes?
The picture you have looks ready to strike.
If they are just moving along in a stretched out body pose, then they are less likely to be able to bit you before you are gone by.
If they looked like the one in your picture, I would want to avoid them for sure.
 
  • #24
BillTre said:
In what knid of body position do you encounter these snakes?
The one I ran over at the start of this thread was stretched out across the singletrack, and neither of us had time to react. This last one was in the bushes immediately to my right, and I only heard it as I went by. I can't really look to the side of the track anywhere because it's tight challenging singletrack, and looking away from where I'm going, even for an instant, will usually send me off the track and down a bank or into a tree. o0)
 
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  • #25
Snakes are not the smartest birds in the grass. If they strike it will be at the closest exposed flat surface. Snake handlers hold out a thick stick so the rattle snake will stick its fangs in the wood. They then grab the neck. You can also extend a boot and they will strike the sole. It is not going to reach around like a dog searching for a soft spot. I am not an expert and the only rattle snake handling I have seen was in youtube videos or animal planet.

Shin guards would help. Especially if there is enough space under the plastic. If you want bigger or wrap around you will run into heat issues. You could go for something more like a wire cage with window screen material. Snakes are fast but they don't have the power to punch a dent. If you don't mind the temperature and drag go for styrofoam.

The snake probably does not know you are a person on a bike. If the wheels had hub caps or the frame had a cardboard insert attached then those points mike look like good targets. Also fins on the peddles might work and would be easy to detach when you feel silly.

The pits in pit vipers are supposed to be IR heat sensors. A shiny reflective outer surface might be better camouflage in some circumstances. Maybe have the armored plate of a shin guard match your skin temperature. Use extreme caution I am mostly speculating.
 
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  • #26
I put in 2000 miles a year on the MTB. In the warmer months, I often encounter snakes, and on down hill runs, it happens very fast.

I keep my seat high so I can plant my backside, and lift my legs in the 0.250 s or so of warning I usually have. Avoiding the crash from overreacting is probably the more important part of not getting bit.

I've hit as many squirrels as snakes. They can't decide which way to go.

Distance. Get the feet up. Not that barriers don't work. But like most threats, nothing beats distance.
 
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  • #27
berkeman said:
down a bank or into a tree.

Or on top of a rattlesnake.
 
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  • #28
Update -- This guy cut my MTB workout ride at the Snake Track short today...
1629679416671.png

Luckily I was able to barely avoid hitting him on a high-speed blind turn. I went back to check him out, and found him coiled up in the sun in the middle of the singletrack. He didn't like me getting close to him and lit up his rattles, then turned and headed off into the bushes. I'm glad I didn't hit him, but it was pure luck that there was a few-inch-wide space on the outside of the turn and that I was able to hit it with less than half a second notice.

My wife sewed me some prototype "Snake Socks" that have pouches along the outside to insert plastic bite guards. I've been using them this summer, and they provide me a little protection. I still need to practice the technique from @Dr. Courtney to unclip and lift my legs if I have time to react (and not crash afterwards). :smile:
 
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  • #29
But, is this a real problem? Do MTB riders actually get bit? In my (limited) experience snakes don't want to bite in defense; they want you to go away. I don't think just because they can strike fast that they will decide quickly. IDK, maybe if you were the 3rd bike to scare him?

Or maybe if you're riding vewy vewy slowly...
1629685924458.png
 
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  • #30
berkeman said:
Update -- This guy cut my MTB workout ride at the Snake Track short today...
View attachment 287937
Luckily I was able to barely avoid hitting him on a high-speed blind turn. I went back to check him out, and found him coiled up in the sun in the middle of the singletrack. He didn't like me getting close to him and lit up his rattles, then turned and headed off into the bushes. I'm glad I didn't hit him, but it was pure luck that there was a few-inch-wide space on the outside of the turn and that I was able to hit it with less than half a second notice.

My wife sewed me some prototype "Snake Socks" that have pouches along the outside to insert plastic bite guards. I've been using them this summer, and they provide me a little protection. I still need to practice the technique from @Dr. Courtney to unclip and lift my legs if I have time to react (and not crash afterwards). :smile:
I got to wondering about something like ultrasound - a transmitter that would send them scurrying in advance. Turns out ultrasonic transmitters to repel snakes do exist but don't seem to be highly effective.

When I was in the scouts, we were talk that if we thought there were snakes around, stomp your feet when you hike. The vibrations will drive them off the trail before you get there. Maybe something like infrasound would work. Just wondering but you never know. I would be curious to know if something like that could work.
 
  • #31
LOL! Here you go!

 
  • #32
berkeman said:
Luckily I was able to barely avoid hitting him on a high-speed blind turn. I went back to check him out, and found him coiled up in the sun in the middle of the singletrack.
I was riding along a trail by a river on a paved bike path and came to low hill and partly blind curve and found what I think was a gopher snake (aka bull snake) about 6 ft long lying right in the middle of path. I knew it wasn't a rattlesnake or copper head. I had to swerve wildly and brake so as not to run over any part of it. Beautiful creature. I hung around to make sure it got clear of the path and away from it before I moved on. I didn't want someone else to ride over it or attack it as dangerous.

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/docs/livingwsnakes.pdf
 
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  • #33
 
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  • #34
Lnewqban said:


Wow! He definitely attacked.
 
  • #35
Ivan Seeking said:
When I was in the scouts, we were talk that if we thought there were snakes around, stomp your feet when you hike. The vibrations will drive them off the trail before you get there.
The trouble is that the track is about 1/3 mile per lap, so there are a couple minutes between each time that you pass any given point. That appears to be enough time for the snakes to decide that you're gone and it's okay to go ahead and cross. Maybe I need to find me a riding buddy... :wink:
 

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