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« Bunny Hop | Main | Nowhere Man »

The Black Racer

There are over forty species of snakes in South Carolina where I now live, and I look out for them as I ride on a local bike path. Most are harmless, only six are venomous and not much danger while riding a bike, but I try to avoid running over them. However, yesterday I did just that.

It was a Black Racer Snake; very common in my area, I see a lot of these, often swimming in the water next to the bike path. Known as a racer snake because it moves extremely fast on land, and that is how I came to run over this one.

The path was clear ahead, I took my eyes off the road for a second and when I looked back again there it was moving swiftly across in front of me. There was no swerving around the unfortunate creature, as it was about 5 feet long (152cm.)

There was a quick bump, bump and it was over. I stopped, but when I turned the snake had already disappeared into the bushes. I felt pretty bad; this non-poisonous snake is a particularly beautiful one; shiny black with a dark bluish tint in the sunlight. 

Black Racers eat rodents, birds, frogs, lizards and insects. Although non-poisonous, a bite from one could become infected because of bacteria.

The most common venomous snake in South Carolina is the Copper Head. (Left.) 

I see a lot of these while riding, usually sunning themselves at the edge of the road.

Other poisonous ones are the Cotton Mouth, and the Eastern Coral Snake. (Quite rare in SC.)

There are three types of rattlesnake; the Carolina Pigmy Snake, the Timber Rattlesnake and the Eastern Diamondback. The last one can grow to over six feet (183cm.) in length.

Most of these snakes are rarely seen, and even the venomous ones will avoid humans if they can. Like most people I am both fascinated and a little scared of these reptiles. However, I hate to harm them, so I will have to be a little more careful in future as I ride my bike.


Question: Does anyone else have any stories of snake or other wild life encounters while riding their bike?


Reader Comments (28)

Glad you didn't get bit. Maybe you didn't hurt him too bad.
My second day on clipless pedals I was riding a singletrack trail along a fence line. The trail went around the end of the fence and back the other side. Right when I got to the curve there was a large snake sunning himself right in the middle of the trail. I grabbed a handful of both brakes and stopped quickly. What I didn't do was get unclipped and immediately fell over onto my left shoulder about 3 feet from the head of the snake. We stared at each other for a moment then he slithered away and that was that.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersouth

I ran over a baby garter snake on the Greenway just this weekend. Like you, I was looking at the marsh, and the snake was just there. No time to do anything but yelp! On the other hand, it's pretty tough to kill a snake on a dirt path or road. But, I have not seen nearly as many snakes as you have....which is, for me, a good thing.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAgricola

Thank you for being well-informed about snake species and relative lack of danger in encounters with them. Too many species are being negatively impacted by the sprawl of houses. People move in, kill snakes (either intentionally or just through pesticides/autos/lawn mowers/cats/etc. that come along with them) and then wonder why their new house in the country has mice. Racers, black rat snakes, kingsnakes, milk snakes, corn snakes are terrific mousers, and one big black rat snake can patrol the average house pretty effectively. First reaction to a snake should never be to brain it to death. Just step back and let it go along its way.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ Ake


I was once riding a narrow road passing through woodland. Suddenly, a turkey buzzard flew out in front of me from the brush to my right. The road was slightly uphill, and I kept pace with the large bird as it struggled into the air. I couldn't help but laugh when the buzzard flapped into a bough overhanging the road, tangling itself in the foliage. The bird had the last laugh, however, when it dislodged a large dead branch, which I barely avoided. One more reason to wear a helmet!


August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Lowke

The main line of our local multi-use path covers about 40 miles, and I like to walk and ride it to see local wildlife. Many times I see birds, deer and other things, although it's not always serene.

Earlier in the summer walking a section of the path outside the city with my son, a woman on a bike told us to watch out for a snake up ahead on the trail. When we approached, I could tell it was a big one, likely a rattler, half off the trail, and it looked like someone (probably the woman) had run over it. After watching it for a bit we skirted it cautiously, and after looking back 30 meters down the trail it seemed to have made it back into the bushes. I talked to my son about how the woman had probably run over it, and that he should always avoid doing that, even if the snake is a poisonous one.

This last weekend I was out for a ride on the city streets when I saw a police car stopped up ahead with its flashers on. When I got closer I saw a deer had attempted to clear an old-fashioned six foot metal fence surrounding a local housing development. The poor animal had come down on the spikes of the fence and had apparently been killed. Given that a person could easily have scaled and cleared the fence without injury, it made me question whether people really considered the impact of such "security measures" on their surroundings.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHal Render

My favorite encounter with wildlife occurred 5 years ago. I had taken my mtb down a 6 mile dirt road From Rollinsville to the East Portal of the train tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. This is a beautiful area with rail tracks parallelling Boulder Creek; high, steep ridges on both the North and South sides of the road. The continental divide rising up abruptly to the west.
I had read the plaque describing the tunnel and its acknowledgement by the National engineering Hall of Fame and turned the bike for the big ring hammerfest back down the road to Rollisnville. I was concentrating on the road in front of me as I came up to the RR crossing at perhaps 15-18mph.
Suddenly I heard a deep sonorous snorting sound to my right. I looked up and a large mule deer was racing along the tracks at full speed heading to the west ridge on my left. We were on what seemed to be a sure collission course!
I came up to the tracks just as this huge animal crossed 3-4 feet in front of me. His eyes were hard left watching my approach. I braked hard and watched in amazement as he hit the ridge and' without hardly breaking stride, galloped up the very steep ridge in front of him. It was......dazzling.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Here's a helpful tip if you are ever bitten by a non-poisonous snake who doesn't let go - push their jaw a bit forward before you try to detach the snake from you. Many of them have teeth that point backwards (for holding prey) so if you just try to pull the snake away from you, you will tear away some hunks of your skin...

And as for wildlife stories - I once encountered a flock of chickens on a steep and fast ascent and hit several - unfortunately. The impact from one of them knocked the handlebars/front wheel out of alignment by about 45 degrees so that I had to steer sharply to the left to go straight. And - this is the embarrassing part - I was so rattled that I kept going down the hill that way for a few minutes instead of just stopping immediately.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertde

Just this weekend, I had an unfortunate encounter with a snake in which I ended up running over it. The full story is here in my blog. The snake was probably a python, and I'm pretty sure it survived.

My first encounter with a snake whilst riding was with a red-bellied black snake. This is a venomous snake, however they generally prefer to slither away than to have a confrontation. On this occasion, I was riding along near our local airport. The area in question is marshland, mostly, bordered by a section of long grasses. The snake was on the path sunning itself. I saw it, it saw me, we both screamed and ran away. I didn't actually hear it scream, you understand, but I'm pretty sure it did. I sure did! I'm pretty sure I set a new speed record getting away from it :)

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I've hit wildlife twice. Never a snake, but I hit a bird once- caught it square with my chest while doing about 20 mph. It tumbled to the ground, but then got up and flew off, apparently unharmed.

The second time I hit wildlife, it was a river otter darting across the local MUP and down to the river. I saw him coming *just* in time to hit the brakes hard and swerve. Unfortunately, he did the same thing. He ended up darting under me, and I ran over him with a huge thump. Just one. He actually missed my front wheel, but not the rear. I went down pretty hard, dislocated a thumb and cracked my helmet.

But by far the best encounter I've ever had was on a chartity ride in Texas last year. Riding with the lead bunch of maybe 30 guys, doing a pretty good tempo down a lonely country road, probably 25 mph. A herd of 8 or 10 horses came running across the field, over a small ridge, directly at us. They timed it perfectly, reaching the fenceline almost even with the leaders of the bunch. They wheeled beautifully, at a full gallop, and paced us parallel to the fenceline for probably a quarter mile. In 35 years of riding, that was, I think, the single most exhilirating quarter mile I have ever experienced. Absolutely magical.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPete

Hi Dave,

I was riding my bike in Saguaro Nat'l Park--a beautiful 9 mile loop and a favorite for cyclists and runners in Tucson, and I was almost to top of the one difficult climb up the scenic park road. Coming down the road at me was very large Gilla Monster! Like everyone else, I've seen hundreds of pictures of them, but to actually see one in the wild is quite rare. I stopped for a moment and watched him lumber by--he let out a menacing hiss at me as marched on--which made all the hairs on my head stand up. Old Mexican folklore is that Gila Monsters spit poison--they don't of course, but still it was scary and cool at the same time.

Cheers! Bruce

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Has anybody heard of a bunny hop?

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Like J Ake, I welcome your admiration and consideration about snakes, an all too often maligned animal. I've been lucky in never hitting an animal while riding, but have had many close calls. A red squirrel ran between my two wheels, right under my bottom bracket, and then churred at me from a pine alongside the road. He'd darted out from nowhere when I was cruising at about 18 mph. A chipmunk darted out in front of me one morning, too, and did an immediate about-face before disappearing at Mach speed. And whitetail deer are always jumping out into the road to stare at me as I ding my bell at them. My husband had a black bear do so with him.

I actually look for animals in the road when riding, especially those in need of a helping hand, and have been trying to educate cyclists about how to help turtles get out of the road. Snappers, in particular, are fearsome, but anyone with normal strength can safely carry them to where they need to go. You just have to know how.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTamia Nelson

Ok..lots of wildlife adventures, but what comes to mind is something that happened the other day..on the wild streets of San Francisco. Pigeons have this disturbing habit of simply staying in your way until the last second, where they then fly away, regardless if it's a pedestrian, a cyclist or an auto bearing down on them. If you ride the streets of SF enough, you simply assume that they will get out of harms way just in the nick of time. The other day, however, I came upon a single pigeon who landed immediately in front of me, then rose in sheer fright and managed to land on my helmet. It must have been one hell of a sight for the pedestrians. He rode perched on my helmet for a few feet and then flew off. I, of course, was more curious if he had left a going away present for me...and thankfully, he did not.

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaltese Falcon

It is amazing how an episode that takes place in the blink of an eye can so etch itself in one's memory. My grey matter etching occured many years ago while descending Independence Pass towards Aspen, Colorado. On a short stretch of relatively straight road amidst the twists and turns at timberline, a marmot decided to get a better vantage point. It was most unfortunate that the vantage point was smack in the middle of my downhill lane. At 60+ mph, a decision must be instantaneous. The problem was this: Would this whistlepig continue his sauntering across the road, return from whence he came, or stop, stand up, and whistle? I thought of three options, steer left, steer right, and bunny hop- not a good choice at the speed I was travelling. I opted to steer left as I had to set up for the next curve. I don't know what the marmot chose as I was now long past him and wouldn't dare turn my head to see where I had been if I wanted any shot of going where I intended. I can only imagine the story from his perspective- #@! lycra clad speed demon!

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim


Not too long ago, I witnessed a friend who got a nasty flat tire after running over a piece of tooth from a dead Possom. What are the chances that's a snake? The odds are high, but look out for its fangs. :)

August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Just ran over a small black snake today while mountain biking on a dirt trail in Idaho. I'd just started plunging down a small hill and there it was, immediately in front of me. No way to avoid it, but I'm feeling guilty -- was Googling to see if snakes can survive such things and came across your blog.

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen S

Just last week I had a deer run out of a woodsy area heading right at me. I think I scared him as much as he scared me. We hit our brakes at the same time...his hoofs scraping along the pavement, he turned slightly and then darted quickly across the street and into woods on the other side. That got the heart rate up!

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I suspect your victim wasn't hurt too bad compared to the long fellow I chanced upon one day riding a back road in the central valley of California. This guy was slithering along quite happily (I assume), he was using the lane and making good time but going against traffic. Not much traffic on this road anyway. Well: except for this semi truck that happened along. It caught the poor guy head on just as I was passing him and squeezed that whole snake right down to it's tail like a thoroughly used toothpaste tube. The resulting explosion nearly knocked me of my bike.

August 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRedtaildd

A doe jumped and hit a rider in a paceline just ahead of me. She and her two fawns were attempting to cross the road when we rode up. Deer got confused, then decided to jump anyway and wacked the rider in the head. He went to hospital and bike went to the shop. Good thing he had a helmet on.

August 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbbattle

I got whacked in the ankle by an Eastern diamondback a couple of summers ago. We'd had a lot of rain that year and many trails were closed and a lot of the grassland was swampy. Well it seemed one fellow just stretched himself out across a mountain bike trail to get dry and take in some sun. THen along comes me at about 18per. I saw him hit out of the corner of my eye, looked almost like I'd run over a stick and the tire threw it back and into me. Except for that arched neck and thwack on the back of my ankle.

This is when I discovered that nearly half of all rattlesnake strikes are what they call a "dry bite." Apparently he wasn't ready to rumble and hadn't gotten the venom going. All I ended up with was two punctures and a bit of puffiness in the area.

I was lucky. Glad you were too.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRonsonic

In England we do not have many snakes, i have never seen one when out mountain biking.

It sounds like the trails in America are awesome.

Im glad you was not biten!

September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBuilding Materials Supplies

I've had a few encounters with wildlife.

I ran over a squirrel earlier this season. I missed his body but got his tail - I wasn't sure if the *pop* that I heard was in my head or in reality, but my riding folks a few hundred feet ahead heard it as well. Probably not fatal for the squirrel, but definitely memorable.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelzar

I found your blog searching to know what to do if you see a snake in your path when bicycling. Should you run over it? Stop? Go around it? I chose to grip both brakes hard and thus hit the ground hard on my left side. it feels like a possible slight fracture of a rib, a good amount of road rash and some cuts. Was it worth it? Well, if you don't know much about snakes and you see one that looks like a good size, you just react. Yesterday a friend told me that most snakes can handle a quick running over from a bicyclist and still survive. Hearing that and reading what others have experienced, I think next time I will intentionally just keep moving.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I was bitten by a copperhead that was in my backyard. I had surgery to remove the decayed flesh. It happen in June, and I stilll have to dress the wound. Now, sit down. iI WAS BITTEN AGAIN IN SEPT. I was walking by some bushes in our backyard (we live in the country), and I felt a sharp stab. I saw the copperhead. Really, how many people are bitten twice within 4 months?

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervirginia dover

Well, it's not about biking, but it is about snakes and avoiding them. A colleague was driving his pickup home from work and saw a snake on the road, he swerved to miss the snake, overcorrected and ended up rolling his truck a few times, landing on its top. He was okay, scratches and cuts, but when the responders arrived his first question was "is the snake okay?"

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBen

I had a close encounter with a skunk recently. It was predawn, and I didn't see it until I was 20 feet away at about 20 mph. I passed it by within a few feet without any odoriferous events luckily. I gave thanks to the patron saint of bike commuters for the next few miles.

October 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Just saw a Copperhead crossing a bike trail on Hilton Head Island....about 2 feet long and very relaxed....didnt want anything to do with us....

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMSW

I was riding my buck back from swim and olmost ran a copper head over

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZoe packered
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