Wind chill, warm hands and telemagenta Speed Machines.

Reckless abandon


Let’s talk about wind chill.  When you ride a bike, you create wind and, on a cold day, that results in wind chill, which means immobile hands and numb feet.

It’s January.  You’re stir crazy.  It’s cold but the roads are clear and dry.  And you’re thoroughly jazzed about the new telemagenta HP Velotechnik Speed Machine you bought yourself for [insert your winter gift-giving holiday here] from New York City Recumbent Supply :-).

You put on your coat and hat and gloves and head out for an early morning ride to Nyack.  Eventually, the day’s high will be 25 degrees fahrenheit but it’s 15 deg. F when you hit the George Washington Bridge at 7am.  You warm your fingers in your arm pits, first the right hand in the left arm pit, then the left hand in the right pit.  At this point you’re still impressed with yourself; it’s amazing what you’ll do for a muffin.

Let’s pretend there’s no west wind, and no runners or walkers or slow cyclists weaving all over the place, so you’re making time, hitting 20 mph up the west side bikeway to the bridge.  With the chill and your early morning start, you’re feeling fast, and hardcore and, frankly, a tiny bit cold.  Well, no wonder.  That 15 deg. F temperature with a headwind of 20 mph results in a wind chill of -2 deg. F.

You’re wearing warm clothes, of course.  On the way there, as you ride up the hills of Henry Hudson Dr., you’re slowing to a very bent-like 5 mph (15 F at 5 mph = 7 deg. F wind chill).  You get warm, even a bit sweaty.  That’s bad.  Moisture compromises your insulating layers.  And you really don’t want sweat freezing on your face, but it’s too late to stop sweating now.

As you ride towards State Line, you hit some good downhills.  This is the fun part.  Usually.  How fast does this Speed Machine go?  Who cares what Robert said about staying within safe speeds.  It’s your bike now and you decide to push it.  40…45…50 mph.  Cool?  More than.  It’s frigid.  15 F at 50 mph = -10 deg. wind chill.  The thrill only lasts a minute and that’s a good thing because now you’re really frickin’ cold.  You can barely move your hands, you can’t feel your feet, and your most prized possession (not the bike) has shrinkaged to the point that it’s inside out.  The women’s equivalent, whatever it is, is doing the women’s equivalent, whatever that is, probably something a lot more sensible.

You begin to wish you were in a car.  Or maybe not.  At the bare minimum you begin to wish you had a fairing and a pair of windproof underwear.  But for now you’ll settle for a scone and hot chocolate in Piermont.  Eventually, you warm up.  You go back outside and start riding back, stopping at the police station and again at the ferry terminal to warm up.  This is beginning to sort of suck.  You can hardly wait to brag about your misery on Facebook.

How could you have dressed for this?  Do you dress for the 15 F temps when you first walk out the door?  The -2 F wind chill of your cruising speed?  The -10 degrees that freeze your fingers beyond any chance of rewarming as you ride?  Or the 7 deg. temps so you don’t sweat on the hills?  Isn’t the idea that you get warmer as you move?

Some people say layers and lots of zippers so you can vent as you get hot.  I tend to believe in vapor barriers which at least prevent sweat from compromising your insulating layers.  Winter backpackers have told me they wear windproof layers over bare legs.

Currently, this is what I’m trying (without using a fairing).  Wearing windproof layers, like rain gear, I dress for the wind chill I predict I’ll experience most of the time with the ability to vent as much as possible as my activity generates warmth.  Zippers must be operable with one hand.  Controlling how the wind flows across my skin is key to staying warm or cool, so a ventable outer windproof layer is important.

Then, since my feet and hands are so vulnerable to wind chill on a recumbent, I try to keep them as warm as possible under the theory that, generally speaking, they can never be too warm (at least not for me).  I do everything I can to windproof them.  On my feet the first layer is a vapor barrier, then warm socks (or neoprene socks), then insulated winter boots.  If it’s not too horribly cold, I’m okay with neoprene socks and bike shoes but, generally, I give up on comfortably* using clipless pedals till the warmer weather.  (*I’ll go out and uncomfortably ride with cold feet for an hour or so with clipless pedals, but not much more than that.  I’d like to preserve the nerves in my feet.)

On my hands, I’m currently doing this if it’s very cold.  First layer, vapor barrier.  (I use cheap latex gloves till they tear.)  Then 3mm neoprene glacier gloves.  Then windproof/waterproof shell mittens.  I’m trying to maintain a layer of dry insulating air between each layer of clothing.  I was disappointed to discover that glacier gloves alone were not good enough (for me) at windchills of about 17 F.  Adding the shell mittens made a huge difference.

If it’s a bit warmer and I want some dexterity, for example so I can handle a bike lock and key, I’ll start with the latex glove vapor barriers, then add glove liners, and then a pair of Outdoor Research Storm Tracker gloves.  I wouldn’t hesitate to put a shell mitten over this.  The advantage to this is I can remove the bulkier layers without exposing my hands for even a moment to cold air and the cold metal of the lock.

I have a metal watch.  I remove it on cold days because it conducts the cold directly to my skin.  When I do wear it, I’ve noticed that my watch hand gets colder than my non-watch hand.  If I feel I must wear a watch, I’ll wear it on top of a base layer.  This also makes it easier to look at.

Any metal on the bike will make you cold, so it also helps to cover the metal brake levers with insulating tape.  An extra layer of handlebar tape or neoprene or foam around the handlebar grips will help a lot too.

Getting deeper into wind chill.

What is Wind Chill Temperature?
It is the temperature it “feels like” outside and is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, the body is cooled at a faster rate causing the skin temperature to drop. Wind Chill does not impact inanimate objects like car radiators and exposed water pipes, because these objects cannot cool below the actual air temperature.

On November 1, 2001, the National Weather Service implemented a new Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) index for the 2001/2002 winter season, designed to more accurately calculate how cold air feels on human skin. The former index used by the United States and Canada was based on 1945 research of Antarctic explorers Siple and Passel. They measured the cooling rate of water in a container hanging from a tall pole outside. A container of water will freeze faster than flesh. As a result, the previous wind chill index underestimated the time to freezing and overestimated the chilling effect of the wind. The new index is based on heat loss from exposed skin and was tested on human subjects.

For the first time, the new Wind Chill Chart includes a frostbite indicator, showing the points where temperature, wind speed and exposure time will produce frostbite on humans. The chart above includes three shaded areas of frostbite danger. Each shaded area shows how long (30,10 and 5 minutes) a person can be exposed before frostbite develops. For example, a temperature of 0°F and a wind speed of 15 mph will produce a wind chill temperature of -19°F. Under these conditions, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes.

The NWS will inform you when Wind Chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill
temperatures are potentially hazardous.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing body tissue. The most susceptible parts of the body are the extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremity and a white or pale appearance. Medical attention is needed immediately for frostbite. The area should be SLOWLY re-warmed.

What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature (below 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. Medical attention is needed immediately. If it is not available, begin warming the body SLOWLY.

Tips on how to dress during cold weather.
– Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will insulate you. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
– Wear a hat, because 40% of your body heat can be lost from your head.
– Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
– Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
– Try to stay dry and out of the wind.
– Keep your face dry, especially around the nose and mouth.
– Remove metal objects from your body, such as watches, bracelets, jewelry. Metal conducts cold onto and into your skin.

National Weather Service Wind Chill web page

Environment Canada’s Wind Chill web page

[Source: National Weather Service (U.S.A.)]

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


10 Tips for Getting Warmer When the Heat Is Off

By Robert Matson, WFR
Illustration by Mike Clelland
To download this entry as a reprintable PDF, click here.

Do you lack heating in your home? These ten tips will help you stay warmer.

1. If you start feeling cold, get moving. Jump up and down or do jumping jacks every time you feel a chill. If you have trouble moving, voluntarily force yourself to shiver. You can also shake your arms, your legs, your head, and your hands. The more you move, the warmer you’ll get. Talking to others — and yourself! — will also help.

2. Wear dry clothes. If your clothes get damp, remove them, including underwear, and put on dry clothes.

3. Eat! When you feel cold, you can quickly generate warmth by eating sweet foods like candy bars, hot liquid Jell-o, and sweet breakfast cereal. Beverages like hot chocolate and milk with added sugar are good whether served hot or at room temperature. If you like coffee or tea, add sugar — real sugar and lots of it — to help you warm up. In addition, eat complete and nutritious meals throughout the day to maintain your energy and do not skip dessert. This is not the time to diet. Have a snack before going to bed.

4. Sit on a cushion. When you sit down, sit upon something that provides insulation between you and whatever you’re sitting on. These are good: a cushion, a pillow, a piece of foam, a towel, a spare piece of clothing, a yoga mat, or a blanket. Avoid sitting directly on cold, hard surfaces like metal or wood chairs or benches or floors.

5. Wear layers of clothing. On top, layer-up like this: first a t-shirt, then a long-sleeved t-shirt, then a baggy button-down shirt, then a hooded sweatshirt or sweater. On the bottom, layer-up like this: first underwear, then sweatpants, then jeans. Loosely-fitting stockings are also a good first layer.

6. Wear loose-fitting, baggy clothes. Avoid tight clothing, which may inhibit circulation to your extremities and which may, in turn, make you feel cold.

7. Wear a hat, and a scarf, and a hooded jacket. Instead of a scarf, you can also tie a dry towel or shirt or wrap a men’s tie loosely around your neck.

8. Wear two pairs of thick socks and a pair of extra large shoes. The socks should be thick, warm and non-constricting. Find shoes that are big and loose enough that you can comfortably wear them over your socks (you may look goofy, but you’ll feel warmer).

9. Cover all exposed skin, including hands, ears and neck. Wear mittens, gloves or thick socks on your hands. Button all buttons. Wear a hat that covers your ears. Pull up your pants.

10. Put on a thick, insulated winter jacket if you’re still cold during the day. If you’re still cold at night, wear all your layers to sleep and cover yourself with blankets.

Written by Robert Matson, Wilderness First Responder, 2012 (Brooklyn, NY)

Illustration by Mike Clelland, 2012 (Driggs, ID)

Sources: Wilderness Medicine Newsletter and Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities,

Rights and Permission:
Permission is granted for reprints as long as: no fee is charged for those reprints, no changes are made without permission, and the writer and artist are credited as listed here.

Stay well,

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


In case of accident…important information

Recumbent bikes are the ultimate long haul bike.  So comfortable, it barely matters how long you’re in the saddle.  For some of us, that means “yearnin’ for the open road.”  Even if it’s just for a weekend, for me, there’s simply nothing quite like living by bicycle for a while.

However, some trips are less than all roses.  Predictable challenges come in the way of steep hills, bad weather, rough roads, motor vehicles, and getting lost — all part of a good day’s riding.  However, there are also unpredictable challenges, the worst of which are illness and injury.  Drinking bad water or hitting the pavement can mark the end of a — up till then — great trip.
There are good habits a cyclist can adopt to avoid accidents.  New York Cycle Club recommends all riders read Bicycle Safe for advice on avoiding accidents with oil-powered vehicles.  There is no question; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
God forbid you’re in an accident, but I can’t think of any cyclists who haven’t hit the pavement at least once.  On trips, I try to live by the rule “prepare for the worst” so the worst doesn’t happen.  I also believe that thoughtful preparation helps us avoid accidents because it heightens our awareness to common dangers.  If only preparation could be prevention.  Most cyclists are protected by little other than skin, thin fabric, a helmet, and, if you’ve planned ahead, a few pieces of cycling armor.  Soft body, hard road; a bike accident is going to hurt.  (On long trips, besides a helmet, I wear padded shorts and elbow guards since these are common contact points in a recumbent fall.  Mine are from Six Six One and there are a few other manufacturers of bicycling body armor.)
Before I go any further, I will say that a responsible cyclist should obtain Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training.  This two-day class is offered by a few different schools.  Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) teaches the class in multiple locations several times a year.  A trip leader could benefit from Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training, also available from SOLO.  This course generally involves 70 – 80 hours of class work.
If you can’t wait for the next class from SOLO, look into the day-long class in basic first aid and CPR/AED offered by the American Red Cross.  You’ll learn principals like checking for scene safety, wearing gloves to protect yourself from the victim’s body substances, using direct pressure to stop bleeding, recognizing the onset of a heart attack, and other basic skills.  Although there’s a big difference between getting hurt in the office and getting hurt on the road, it would be a mistake to dismiss this training.  If all you learn is to wear gloves before touching an injured friend, it may not save your friend’s life, but it might save yours.
The information here is intended to help you prepare for a severe accident as a result of which, due to reduced consciousness, you are unable to provide vital information that would assist with your medical care.  These recommendations are based on information that Wilderness First Responders are trained to gather when they first make contact with a victim.
Some training, racing and touring organizations gather an emergency contact’s name and phone number and not much more.  I’d be concerned that it expects too much of a spouse, friend, mother, etc….that they will a) be available during the critical hours after an accident, b) be able to provide complete and correct information, and c) know what medications you take, your drug allergies and your medical history.
Before your next trip, record your vital medical information in a permanent, non-electronic form that you can carry with you.  Accidents are tough on things and are more likely to occur in wet weather than dry, so make sure the material is strong and waterproof.  I suggest using a Sharpie pen on Tyvek or strong tape.  Personally, since I’m fortunate to have a short medical history, I write my information on removable tape and attach it to the main tube of my bike.  There’s no guarantee a rescuer will see it there, I realize, but it’s better than doing nothing.  If you have serious and chronic conditions, like drug allergies or diabetes, this information should be on a wrist or ankle in the form of a bracelet or tattoo.  You might also consider writing medical information in your helmet, though there isn’t room to write very much.
If you want to keep your information private, write it on Tyvek, fold it, and tape it to your bike.  Clearly label it as medical information so it isn’t easily overlooked.
The following information will be highly useful to first responders.
Name, age, sex (Don’t assume it’s obvious.)
Allergies (especially drug allergies and those that can cause anaphylaxis like bee stings, peanuts, etc.)
Medications you take, including all over the counter, herbal remedies, health supplements, prescriptions and restricted substances.  Natural remedies and dope are considered medications for this purpose.  Include when you had your last dose and information about what happens if you do not take your meds.  On long trips, write down doses in a log book to make it easier to keep track.
Past medical history.  Be complete, be honest.  Include all serious injuries, surgeries and psychiatric conditions as well as chronic conditions.  It may be a good idea to include significant emotional conditions if you know they could interfere with care.  If you’re alert, medical providers will want to know your prior history as it relates to the specific injury or illness.  However, if we are making advance preparations in case of an accident, we need to cover all bases as we won’t know how or where we might get hurt.  This may require a bit of work the first time, but if done properly and in enduring form, it only needs to be done once.  After that, just update the list.
Last oral intake.  On a multi-day trip, I keep a simple log book with the date and time of significant meals, what I ate, and the itinerary and mileage for the day.  I don’t agonize over it to the point it ruins the trip.  The point here is that a little information is better than none.  From the perspective of providing medical care, it will be helpful to know if it’s been 24 hours since a patient ate, or only an hour, and whether it was an energy bar and water or a Big Mac and shake.  A side benefit of a food log is that it may help you see how nutritional intake affects performance.
Emergency contact name and phone.  There’s a reason I list this last.  For cynical reasons — identifying a dead body or inquiring if a victim has insurance — yes, this is important.  But for emergency care of a living patient, this decreases in importance if you provide the other information on this list.  It’s more urgent for ER doctors to know if you have drug allergies than the name and number of your spouse.
On long trips, I keep an itinerary or log (paper-based).  This should include point of departure, way points and planned finish.  This isn’t to prevent spur of the moment changes in plan, a.k.a., “fun”.  It provides a basic framework so rescuers know what you’re up to.  It will be helpful to know if you’re traveling ultra-light 500 miles from home, or just out for a day ride in the hills.  For multi-day trips, worthwhile information would include waypoints, mileage, anything notable that happens, nutritional intake, when you take meds, injuries, illnesses, and mechanical problems.  As a bonus, at the end of the trip, this will be a nice little trip diary.  “5am woke up.  Cold.  Lips chapped.  BK: oatmeal w/ protein powder, hot choc.  Tightened seat bolts.  Got water.  I’m out.  Plattsburgh tonight — apx. 75 miles.”
Please feel free to write if you have questions about any of this or believe I’ve missed something.
Robert Matson
copyright 2011 Robert Matson

Darn it. That’s why I ride a bent.

Darn it.

Yesterday I fell.  Thankfully it was in a bike lane and not in the middle of Second Ave.  But I think I broke a bone in my shoulder.  Maybe the scapula (shoulder bone), maybe that and a bit more.  Tomorrow I’m going to reassess it and (maybe*) go to the doctor. (*As in, “maybe I won’t be a fool, and actually go see the doctor two days after the accident.”)

It happened in a predictable way.

As one does, I was riding fast in the Second Ave. bike lane in the East Village.  Cutting with confidence through the slush and snow and over the ice.  Thought I was the boss, didn’t I?  Feeling sure of my gear — specifically my fat carbide steel studded tiresas one does, before being reminded of how soft one really is…compared to asphalt.  Hit a patch of frozen slush which then lost cohesion.  And suddenly I was flying through the air, with the greatest of ease, down to the street, shoulder first.  Arm, hip, and leg impact next.

That should tell you something: I wasn’t riding a bent.  And it should tell you something else: no matter how good your tires — and I still love my Schwalbe Marathon Winters — they only grip as well as the substance they’re gripping to.  Ice, hey that’s great.  But semi-frozen slush?  Look out.

Now, had I been riding a bent, I would have hit the pavement ass first, and from only two feet off the ground.  Instead, I was riding my beater diamond frame, an awesome Surly Cross Check as I usually do during the messy months, and so my shoulder  had a good six feet to travel down to the streetscape.  Of course, it was exactly as I always tell people; on a DF, it’s usually the upper body that leads in a fall; on a bent, it’s the feet and ass.  You’re better off leading with your feet and ass.

Well, I got up and kept going.  And continued my day.  Saw friends.  Attended a discussion about the nature of reality (you don’t miss this kind of thing when it’s moderated by Deepak Chopra).  Had coffee.  Attended the Downtown Meditation Community’s potluck.  And rode another 15 miles or so on slippery streets.  As a real man (a.k.a. idiot) does.  I still had full rotation of my arm and wrist, didn’t hit my head, nothing obviously broken.  I could support my upper body on the handlebars w/o problem.  But all the while well aware: the body and mind can mask injuries initially (as it’s supposed to do).

Thank God I didn’t tear the merino.  (That’s really amazing stuff.)  And thankfully my 800-fill down sweater was safely stowed in my rear basket.  That would have been a mess.

But today, darn it, the shoulder pain has increased, as it might for a broken scapula.

Friggn-A.  Like I needed a reminder.  If you’re going to fall on a bike — and everyone falls sooner or later — it’s better to fall from a bent, than a diamond frame.  Better to fall towards your legs and ass then towards your head and shoulders.

Go ride a bent.

Update: saw the MD, got X-rays. Nothing broken!  Just bone bruises.  As for tendon or ligament damage, I’m still waiting.  Maybe, just maybe I haven’t blown my swimming season.

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


Slipping on gravel and for when you do.

This will be short.


Use the fattest tires possible. In turns, instead of leaning the bike into the turn, lean your head and upper body as much as possible to provide the counterbalance, as you’d do on a trike, and keep the bike as near vertical as possible. Avoid pebbles like the plague. If it looks like you are going to be forced to turn on gravel, you may safely assume you are going to fall. Brake hard and dramatically reduce your speed to a crawl before you reach the gravel patch.  This is your only hope for avoiding a fall, but even then….

For protection, since frequent riders may find a gravel skid nearly inevitable, wear body armor such as that used by mountain bikers.  A friend of mine (Neile, Ti-Aero rider and a New York Cycle Club ride leader) wears Six-Six-One armored shorts and roller blade-style elbow pads.  I now own some too.  Why not.  I’d consider some mountain bike body armor with shoulder pads, too.

Lots of MTB armor here, but I don’t know much about the shop.

If and when you lose skin from a skidding fall, take the injury seriously.  There is no such thing as “mere road rash.”  Anytime you lose skin — one of your body’s main defenses against infection — and dirt (pebbles, gravel, etc.) gets into the wound, you are at substantial risk of infection, which, if inadequately treated, can lead to death.  No joke.  Immediately scrub the entire road rash wound thoroughly with a medical sponge (or clean gauze pads) and soapy water.  The scrubbing will hurt, but you must clean out every speck of dirt, leaving a clean wound that can heal properly.  Dress the wound with clean bandages to prevent further infection.  If the wound is large, immediately see a doctor.  If you’re treating someone else, isolate yourself from their bodily substances (like blood) before touching them.

Those are the basics, but they are not the whole story.  You must get training before you give first aid.  I strongly recommend taking one of the Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder courses offered by SOLO before another day goes by.


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