Staying strong through winter, ready for summer.

It can be a challenge to stay strong over the winter, especially if you live in an area where winter cycling means riding short and frantic trips on studded tires while wearing windproof underwear, multiple layers of wool under wind jackets, insulated boots, and neoprene Glacier Gloves. And still freezing.

The tendancy is for riders to get strong over the summer, reach a peak in the fall, and then loose much of their conditioning over the winter. For me, as it concerns my recumbent muscles, this is definitely true. To combat this, a strategy is to incorporate exercises into one’s exercise routine that, at minimum, keep those muscles active so the body remembers why it needs to spend precious energy to maintain them.

My own exercise routine won’t work for everyone, but it may help you generate ideas on how to stay in shape over the winter so that, once spring comes, you don’t have to spend the first three months building up strength so you can — dare I say it? — ride a recumbent up a steep hill.

Maintain your summer body weight

First and foremost, over the cold winter months, when you’re craving sweet and high-fat foods to keep your body warm, try not to add a layer of warm, cozy fat. Maintain your summer weight. It’s incredibly difficult to lose fat once you gain it, so don’t.

Another aspect of this is that a large proportion of recumbent riders are middle-aged and as we age, our metabolisms generally slow down, we get cold more easily and it gets harder to lose the weight we gain.

When it’s cold out, and your body feels chilled, your instinct is to eat, both because you need energy to stay warm, but your body also wants a layer of fat to keep comfortable in the chill air. If you’re like me, you’re more than happy to oblige with two or three cups of organic hot chocolate with added organic heavy cream from grass fed cows. Uh oh. But there’s a way to trick the body into thinking it’s already warm and comfortable and needs no extra layer of fat. This may help you (me) keep it to just one cup of hot cocoa a day. A trick I use is to wear what is essentially an artificial, removable layer of fat: long johns. I wear a merino wool base layer, top and bottoms, more or less every day during the cold, wet months, from November through March. I’m wearing a base layer anyway when I ride down to the pool in the morning (see below), so I just leave it on the rest of the day. I also sometimes wear a hat while I work.

Another trick is to eat hot meals as often as possible. The classics are soups and stews. These help you stay warm without relying on sugars. And it goes without saying, eat your vegetables. Root vegetables are at their best during the winter and so are greens like kale. Go heavy on them. You can also go heavy on nuts like walnuts, which have loads of highly nutritious fats. Avoid sugar except when you’re expending huge amounts of energy for example while you’re active and outside.

Keep up a winter exercise routine

I probably spend more time swimming than cycling. Fortunately, it’s a sport I can do all winter long and it keeps me fit for just about any other sport I frequently do, which is mostly cycling, skiing, running, and hiking. The trouble with swimming is that it doesn’t work the same leg muscles as cycling. That’s also a good thing: cross-training saves the body from overuse injuries.

Here’s my exercise routine, on a normal day:
4:45am up and at ’em; fumble around in a haze; eat a light breakfast; put on shoes.
~5:15 bicycle (usually on a recumbent) a half-hour down to the pool or else jog/walk 45 min.* to the pool.
~5:45 stretch, short pilates workout
6:00 swim (typically an individual medley workout)
~7:15/7:30 stretch, pilates, jump rope
8:00 bike a half-hour — or jog/walk 45 min. — back home.
8:30 breakfast
9:00 begin work

(*My jogging/walking route takes a direct, nearly crow-flies route from home to the pool. My cycling route has less car traffic, but is far less direct. I also stop for red lights, which slows me down considerably.)

After that, any errands, any commuting, everything I need to do out in the city I do by bicycle. I consider that  element of the day’s exercise icing on the cake (please forgive the sugar and butter metaphor).

If I miss my swimming workout (for example, if I’m up late the previous night), I’ll either run for one to one and a half hours, or do a high-intensity biking workout, or do a rowing workout on my Concept II rowing ergometer. The erg has been with me for over two decades. Highly recommended.

Key elements of the workout as it concerns biking.

Obviously, the swimming is the main workout; it’s great, low-impact cardio. It’s fun. I enjoy seeing my teammates on my U.S. Masters team. I like the challenge of the individual medley, which is my event of choice. And there’s little chance of being hit by a car while I’m exercising.

The benefits of the jog/walk probably don’t have to be explained though it may be useful to specify that I alternate walking and jogging when I go to the pool by foot. I don’t jog the whole way. There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m taking cement sidewalks, which are hard on the body, so the walking segments give my body a necessary break. Secondly, I no longer train as a runner and don’t wish to inflict that on my body, so the jog/walk gives me speed for a quick foot-based commute, without stress — I can make it as hard or easy as I like by increasing/decreasing how much and how fast I jog. Thirdly, I’m still stiff at that hour and I use this foot-based commute as my warm-up so, by the time I’m at the pool, I’m really ready to go. A fourth benefit is that running, more than swimming or cycling, is really unforgiving of excess body weight so it firmly reminds you of why you want to keep down your weight.

The stretching. It’s necessary for helping you avoid or minimize injuries. And it becomes more necessary as you get older because — yes, as you get older, you get stiffer — but mainly it’s preventative: it takes a really long time to recover from injuries as you age.

Jumping rope. This is the primary way I remind my legs to stay strong for biking. This is also how I push my max heart rate to again, remind my heart and lungs why they have to stay strong. My rope workout isn’t particularly fancy, but I do something like a Tabata workout, alternating sprints with slower jumping and alternating one-legged jumping with two-legged jumping to keep it interesting. Maybe that sounds fancy.

And the biking part of it? Not really a key element. It’s too short and easy to count for much, but it does serve a little to remind my cycling muscles why they exist. Sometimes I’ll add a few miles around Prospect Park when I head home, sometimes loaded with groceries from the Park Slope Food Coop. The park includes a hill, but normally the cycling part of my morning routine is purely practical; it’s just commuting and, though better than nothing, I’m going too slowly for it to feel like exercise.

Have fun, stay healthy, stay in shape,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Something completely different: Nordic Ski Areas near NYC

When you’re not biking, you’re skiing, right?  So what are the nordic ski places near NYC that (maybe) are accessible via transit (plus a taxi or car rental).

I was about to create a list, then realized these guys have already done it for me.  Just go here:

Other places nearby:
Prospect Mountain near Bennington, VT

Pine Ridge, in Petersburgh, NY 12138

High Point Cross Country Ski Center
Sussex, NJ 07461

Have fun, and “be the snow,”
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Improve your Cruzbike technique: work out with a jump rope.

A hint for those who want to develop better Cruzbike technique: skip rope.  Specifically, do one-legged skipping and at a variety of tempos from very, very, very slow to as fast as possible.  This helps develop excellent coordination between the hands and legs, which is what you need for really good Cruzbike riding.  It also helps strengthen the recumbent muscles and is a wonderful cardio workout that’ll give you power on the hills.  It’s also extremely exhausting, in all the best ways.  I’m using an inexpensive Buddy Lee speed rope, but you could spend more and/or use a weighted rope as well.
Confession: it took me a while to develop the strength and technique to enjoy jumping rope.  (That sounds a lot like my experience learning to ride a Cruzbike!)  I’ve been jumping rope for over 10 years now, so I have it down pretty well.  Early on, it took determination.  I figured it would be good cross training as I worked towards running my first marathon.  At that time, I was traveling a lot.  I never knew if I’d have a decent place to run and usually I didn’t.  The jump rope and a set of resistance bands were my “traveling gym.”  In the pre-dawn hours, I’d go out to the parking lot of the hotel where I was staying and jump rope as I jogged in circles.  It was thoroughly un-scenic.  But it was a great way to stick to my training schedule and get a high intensity workout before I got into the car for the day.  Ugh.  I haven’t thought about that for years.

Have fun, keep healthy, and stay out of your car,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Getting a new bike? Easy. Getting in shape? A lot harder. Be kind to yourself.

A friend and customer wrote me this morning, following a weekend with beautiful weather.  My reply to him follows his note.

On Mon, April 16, 2012 11:03 am, wrote:

> I like the bike [Volae Tour] but do not like hills.  A physician friend mentioned
> decreasing muscle mass in old folks.  Still, I’ve got to drop 15 pounds to
> give myself and the machine a fair shake.  That loss would, on hopes, be
> fat and not muscle.
> Thanks for the advice.

Hi T_D_,

The best hills are the ones with a view (which means they’re the high ones).

Be kind to yourself, always.

View yourself as a “beginner” athlete, at the start of a new athletic career that you want to last for decades.

Ride/exercise well within your abilities, of technique, of your muscles, of your heart and lungs.  Take it easy.  Ride so you always have enough “breath” that you can keep up a conversation.  The trainer’s term for this is “conversational pace.”

On hills, shift to low gear and take ALL the time you need.  Ignore the riders around you.  Walk up hills if you feel any discomfort.  If you feel pain, stop, rest, relax, hydrate (water).  As you ride, over the months and years, your muscles and cardio will improve and you’ll be able to do more.  Also, right now and over the years, you’re getting to know yourself in a new way; listen to your body; let it tell you what it can and can not (yet) do.

Stretch after every ride.

Lose 15 lbs?  Okay.  If you’re serious, I recommend Weight Watchers.  My sister did it and got great results.  Follow the program, be disciplined, and you’ll get healthier.  Forget about losing weight, focus on being healthy and your weight will move to the correct level.

Eat lots of fresh veggies, fruits and nuts — broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, salads, fruits, nuts :-).

All best,

# # #

Have fun and stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Get fit in 20 New York Minutes

Here’s a great article in the New York Times about getting in shape and staying fit in a New York minute.  (Well, 20 minutes, actually.)  Being healthy need not take a lot of time.

February 15, 2012
How 1-Minute Intervals Can Improve Your Health

Stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

staying in shape over the winter

Cripes it’s cold in New York right now. You Minnesotans probably consider us wimps.  But I’m not listening.

I’m still out and riding every day but I must confess: it’s not on a recumbent. I’m riding my “fast beater bike,” a Surly Cross Check with 40mm Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires (got ’em for sale if you want ’em). I find it easier to balance the Cross Check on the slushy stuff and I just can’t stand making a mess of my Rans Rocket so, for now, I’m unbented.  Unfortunately, this means my recumbent muscles are at risk of getting weak.

So, how do I stay in shape over the winter?

In my daily “commuter” cycling — I’m usually in a rush.  Combine that with studded tires and you’re talking a workout.  I also get in some walking and hiking to keep those muscles awake.

Above all else, though, I swim.  Winter and spring are the racing seasons for U.S. Masters Swimming and I swim every weekday and enter roughly one meet per month.  That keeps the cardio strong.  And since my event is the individual medley, the various kicks work a wide range of leg muscles.

Of particular note, though, is that I like jumping rope, whether while running or in place.  It’s amazing cardio exercise, but also great for the legs.  I particularly like that I can test the strength of my individual legs by jumping just on one leg, then the other, and then work harder on the weaker leg.

I know people who like lunges.  And burpees are great (and hard) too, though I tend to lose interest after a short time (probably because they’re so hard).  And lunges sometimes hurt my knees.

And if, after all that, you’re feeling cabin fever but don’t want to mess up your bent with all that salty slush, well, then just go out for a cold weather jog.  You’ll feel wonderful when you get back home.  And you’ll feel even better once those warm April days hit.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2011 Robert Matson

Recumbent Bike Winter Sale (but first this news)


|| Hilarious article about New York City recumbent riding ||
|| in Recumbent Journal. ||
Recumbent Journal, Sunday January 9, 2011
“Big Apple Traffic, Cobbles Hobble Bentrification” by Chris Malloy

** Studded Winter Tires **
I’m trying to keep studded tires in stock through February.  That said, every Schwalbe dealer in the country is backordered.  I still have 26″ studdeds and 700c studdeds.  Get them while it’s cold.

__The_Third_Saturday_Grant’s_Tomb__bent rides are now joint rides with the Metro Area Recumbent Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club.  Cool, eh?  New York Cycle Club members will also soon be (officially) joining in.  I’m rather pleased about this because it broadens participation in the ride and welcomes the “bent curious” as well as the “simply bent.” 🙂  If you haven’t been out for the ride in a while, I hope to see you soon.  It’s a wonderfully pleasant training ride that is right outside our doors.

^^ Tours ^^
I plan to lead a week-long tour upstate this summer.  The route is beautiful with magnificent views (that’s bent rider speak for “expect hills”).  I’ll have more details in the spring, but I tell you now so, if you’re interested, you can start training…now.  Days will be 60 – 80 hilly miles.  I’d be interested in hearing from prospective participants as to whether they’d prefer to rough it with a fully-loaded tour or stay at hotels or B&Bs along the way.  Advantages to both.

(For indoor training, I recommend the 1-Up trainer:

## Trikes ##
I still don’t know what to make of them for urban riding, but I’ll tell you, that new fast-folding Gecko from HP Velotechnik is really something else and it’s priced to move (but is still made in Germany).  If most your riding is on greenways or country roads, do not overlook them.

HP Velotechnik trike designs continue to be somewhat unique for many reasons, not least of which is that their trikes have a surprisingly high seat height compared to other brands.  The Scorpion fs, for example, is the same head height as a Corvette.

Everyone loves trikes on greenways and bike paths.  Do we have enough bike lanes in NYC now for trikes to feel safe on the roads?  Maybe soon.  At any rate, they outsell two-wheeled bents everywhere else in the country so I’ll be bringing them in as fast as people want them.

— Help Stop the Backlash against Cycling —
NYC’s boom in cycling has lead to some backlash from a very vocal minority.  Some of their complaints are justified (about cyclists violating road rules).  But some are dangerously wrong-headed and involve fabrications of fact (there’s a group saying the Prospect Park West (Brooklyn) bike lane makes the street more dangerous and they want it removed.  Truth: the accident and speed data shows it’s made the street dramatically safer).

Last week, the NYC Dept. of Transportation announced at the NY Cycle Club meeting that it is taking the politically necessary route of working with the police to enforce road rules for cyclists at the same time that they remain fully committed to building out hundreds of miles of bike lanes.

Please: Ride according to the road rules.  Join Transportation Alternatives (  And follow TA’s lead in taking action to preserve and improve the cycling boom in the city.  This is important for improving the quality of life for all city residents.

That’s all folks.  Have a great winter!

All best,

Robert Matson

Tel: (646) 233-1219
Hours: M-F, 10am-6pm; Sat-Sun. by appointment.

copyright 2011 Robert Matson

Building a better bicycle engine.

Building a better bicycle engine.  (Or, once again, it’s not about the bike.)

When you ride a bike, you’re exercising.  Working out.  Getting fit.  Improving your cardio.  Getting healthy.  Using those muscles.

And sometimes you’re pulling muscles, straining tendons, pushing your heart near it’s maximum capacity, and getting hurt.  Just stop that already.  I know of no instance of a bicycle user guide including a note telling new purchasers to get a physician’s approval before riding it.  Maybe that would be good.

In the case of ‘bent riders, most of us are old…enough to know better.  We bought a ‘bent, because we’re wise enough to know a good thing when we see it, free of all the hype around the latest, lightest, greatest, or hippest.  We bought a bike, some of us after not having ridden for many years.  We thought we’d just start tooling around town.  But suddenly, we’re masters athletes, using our bodies to propel us to unnatural speeds.  And after a year or so of this, we begin to look a bit like master’s athletes, muscles in new places; better results from the cardiogram; greater interest in what our bodies can do.

But we may have forgotten that we’re not as agile as we were when we last worked out for 10 hours straight.  Our bodies are no longer as forgiving.  When our muscles get sore, they stay sore longer.  When we eat food that is nutritionally void, it effects us longer and more deeply.  If our muscles get tight, they get tighter, and the secondary problems caused by tight muscles are that much worse.

The other month, a user on Yahoo’s excellent user group for Rans owners lamented about the speed of his bike, yet rather admirably offered that perhaps the engine is in part to blame.  It was a good insight.

When we start riding again, please, think hard about the bike, but after you buy it, try to forget about it.  Just ride.  And think about the engine.

What to Think About:

– Stretching.
Not even 21 year old athletes can get get away for long without stretching.  At masters age, you definitely can’t afford to overlook it.  You must stretch both BEFORE and AFTER you ride.  For 30 years I’ve owned Bob Anderson’s _Stretching_.  I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if it is, I recommend it.  If you can’t find it, find another stretching book written by a qualified author, like a physical therapist.

– Cross train.
Do something besides riding to keep your body in balance.  Lift Weights.  Swim.  Jog.
Take dance classes (I’m not joking).

– Do Sprints.  But only once or twice a week.
Specifically, look up “tabata sprints.”  The essential idea is these are short sprints, repeated.  The version I follow consists of: 20 second sprints, 10 seconds rest, repeated eight times (for four minutes total).  By sprints, usually it means 100% effort.  This is incredibly hard, even though it’s only 4 minutes.  Before I start sprint workouts, I first warm up for about 30 minutes.

– Do fewer long, long, long days.
“Love” might be too strong a word, but I have an _affinity_ for endurance activities: the 70-mile ride, the multi-day hike, the 5- or 10-kilometer swim, the 12-hour work day.  But I’ve begun to strongly suspect that the long cardio workout isn’t good for me; for you, I don’t know, but it probably isn’t good for you either.  We all want to do the long ride, but I’ve begun to believe that it should be the occasional thing, rather than the everyday thing.

– Days off
Take days off from exercising.  If you ride to work everyday, consider taking the subway on Wednesdays.  (Yuck, I know.)  Or at least, take some easy days.  Give your body a break.

– Massages
And I don’t mean the cheap ones.  I mean the good, professional, $200 for 90 minutes type of massage.  New York City’s leading Thai massage master is Al Turner, (appointments: Tel: 212-501-3833).  I wouldn’t waste my money on anything or anyone else.  When you were young, massage was a luxury.  For masters athletes, if you want to outlast your Volae, it is a necessity.

– Eating nutritionally rich foods will help you feel your best.  Eating carb-rich foods leave me feeling awful.  I used to believe in the carb-rich runners diet, but not any more.  These days I eat more fruts and veggies than ever and feel a lot better for it.

Spend good money on good food.  You probably already know what you’re supposed to be eating, but in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you.  Lots of vegetables.  Tons of fruit.  Fish, chicken, turkey, quality ham, quality beef.  Eggs.  Milk.  Cheese.  Soy.  Complex carbs.  How much vegetables and fruit?  Eat till you’re full before eating the others.  If you’re a vegetarian, you already know what you’re supposed to be eating.  And use olive oil.  Buy free-range, grass-fed, buy organic even if you wonder if it’s worth the cost, buy fresh.

Avoid soda pop….potato chips…ice cream…avoid dry crunchy stuff that you’ve been tricked into thinking will fill the vacant hole of sadness deep inside your heart.  Avoid candy like the plague.  If it’s got an advertisement associated with it, avoid it (except “Got Milk”).  Forget about bagels.  Someone has to tell New York Road Runners club that bagels aren’t particularly nutritious.  I say this, suspecting that NYRR management, given how smart they are, know this full well.

I’m no longer a fan of sports drinks and foods — all brands — with the sole exception of Gary Null’s nutritional products.  I strongly suspect the sports foods are little more than candy by clever name.  I’m very suspicious of the designer foods one finds in sports shops; they may or may not include ingredients that are prohibited by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.  If you’re not racing, you may not care, but you should; if they’re prohibited, it means they’re probably very bad for you in the long run.  I’m suspicious of anything that is purported to make me faster/stronger if I consume it.  There is no easy route.  Anyone who promises you an easy route — like with a special food or a special bike — is simply conning you.

If you want a sports beverage, drink DILUTED fruit juice; nothing, and I mean NOTHING is better than a good orange juice or an organic grape or apple juice, and they’re usually a lot cheaper than the mass-market sports drinks.  If you need sodium, throw in some fleur de sel or good sea salt.  If you really need some high-octane carbs, i.e. during a race, use honey (nothing’s better than good honey) and/or brown rice syrup and/or barley malt.  Coffee, tea or a coffee-sub like Inka with barley malt is unbelievable.  If you must have a “sports food,” eat a banana or two…or five.  Eat nuts and seeds and fruit for snacks and as a “post-workout” fuel-up.  Right now, I’m adding walnuts to almost everything.

And then, experiment with real foods every time you ride.  Don’t try anything new on “race day” — on the day of your big event or ride.

– Take dance classes: modern, ballet, ball room, tango, hip hop.  And I’m not joking.  Will it make you faster?  I don’t know.  It’ll make you more agile, that’s for sure.  And it’ll make you a more interesting person for the people you meet.  Mind you, I’m a clod; three left feet; but I still like dance classes.

When you find yourself thinking that your bike is slow — and, yes, maybe a more aerodynamic bike would make you faster — but do think also about how you might take better care of your engine.  For that’s where you’ll get the greatest speed gains over the long, long term.

All best,

Robert Matson
NYC Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2009 Robert Matson

Nice website for NYC cyclists, bents and otherwise.

I recently discovered this site published by Ken Roberts and Sharon Marsh Robert.

Found while searching for “steepest climbs” near New York City, they also have some great safety advice and reminders for riders of all ability levels and some maps and routes. Good stuff.

My primary takeaway from the safety tips page is the wise reminder: “Don’t do anything beyond your control.”

For the nearest steep climb to the city, no surprise, it’s Bear Mountain.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2010 Robert Matson