Staying warm when it’s cold.

Neile Weissman, current President of New York Cycle Club, leads a tropical ride on an incredibly cool Rans Enduro set up for snow.
I wrote several blog entries about staying warm during the winter.  They remain as valid today as the days I wrote them.
Artist and outdoorsman Mike Clelland drew this awesome illustration
for New Yorkers after superstorm Sandy came through.

10 Tips for Getting Warmer When the Heat Is Off

Wind chill, warm hands and telemagenta Speed Machines


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


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


More about warm feet. And a neat Farmer John suit.

Outdoor Research’s Radiant Hybrid Suit(TM).
Now, aside from being in black as opposed to high-viz lime-green,
wouldn’t this make great cold temp recumbent wear?

Today I updated my “warm feet for winter riding” blog entry with a bit about wearing neoprene vapor barrier socks under summer road shoes and then covering it all with a neoprene booty.  Super warm.  However…(see below).

What I like about this solution is it lets me keep using my nice SIDI road shoes and Look Keo pedals into the winter.  I prefer the SIDIs over my touring shoes with Shimano SPD walkable cleats because the metal SPD cleats conduct cold air into the shoes.  That, and my touring shoes have never fit too well.  With the Keos, the bolt openings are hidden away and covered by the plastic cleat.  The main problem on cold days has been the light, thin sole of the SIDIs taking the full brunt of the cold wind.

In an earlier version of this entry, I said that — the full brunt of cold wind — can be addressed with “all the neoprene.”  I need to adjust that.  The neoprene vapor barrier socks are amazing.  That remains true.  But many neoprene booties are open on the bottom of the foot.  So, while your foot is, indeed, overall, kept warmer by the neoprene covering, the soles of your shoes are still exposed.  It’s warmer, but there’s a limit.  It’s a great solution that goes only just so far.

For cold weather bent riding, with cleats, wear a neoprene vapor barrier, socks, and then a cleated boot like Shimano’s winter boots.  Here’s a review about them with lots of comments.  From there, you could add the neoprene shoe covers, I suppose, to add a few more degrees of warmth.

But if it’s really cold, for now, until I find a better solution, I’m saying either forget about the cleats and wear Pac Boots and use platform pedals.  Or keep the cleats and use a fairing.

By the way, while I’m thinking about it, check out this fantastic pair of Farmer Johns from Outdoor Research (OR).  This would make an excellent riding suit for the frigid cold.  I have a fair amount of gear from OR — a bivvy bag, gaiters, gloves, a hat, a ziptop baselayer shirt… —  and have been extremely happy with all of it.  There are other brands to like, but OR is strong in the technical/expedition department and I’ve developed a good amount of trust in them.  And they have that infinite warranty.  Holy cow.

Have fun, stay healthy, and don’t slip on the ice,
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


Warmer feet for recumbent riders.

 U.S. Marine Sgt. Jose Gonzales and retired Marine Cpl. Travis Greene push through snow flurries during the 10-kilometer recumbent bike portion of the Warrior Games, May 13, 2010, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Photographer: Senior Airman Christopher Griffin.  (I, Robert, had nothing to do with this photo or race. I just think it looks like a great moment in sports.)

I don’t know if there’s a Facebook page dedicated to it, but I would like to declare that I’m a “fan” of warm feet.  On cold winter rides, such a very strong preference can be problematic, especially on a recumbent bike where one pedals soles-of-the-feet-first into frigid temps, made still colder by windchill.  While winter temperatures alone can make your feet cold, while bicycling, the windchill makes it bite that much more, whether it’s at your feet, your hands, or your ears.

The problem is made worse by cleats like Shimano SPDs or Crank Brothers because the metal cleat in the bottom of your shoe conducts cold into your shoe.  This is a good reason to abstain from cleats during the winter.  Winter riders may also be interested in this blog entry, illustrated by Mike Clelland, where we discuss ways to stay warm when the heat is off.  Among the important points are that you must keep your insulating layers dry and it is crucial to avoid tight and constricting clothing.  These last cause a loss of circulation.  That loss in circulation, however slight, will make you colder.  Also, dress in layers, not only so you can remove clothes as you get warm, but also because warm air gets sandwiched in the layers.

In my time as a recumbent rider, here are some of the solutions I’ve tried.

Insulated shoe insole: $20
An easy way to make your biking shoes warmer is to replace the standard insole — this is the insert that goes between the bottom of your sock and the hard sole of the shoe — with an insulating layer.  This is particularly good for recumbent riders, as opposed to standard frame riders, because it protects the bottom of your foot from windchill.  You can buy various inserts.  I’ve seen them made of felt and 3M Thinsulate(TM).

Insulated shoe insole, Do It Yourself (“DIY”): 10 cents
I made a pair of insulated insoles by taking an old “ensolite” foam sleeping pad I no longer use for camping.  Here’s how to do it.  Take out the original insoles from your biking shoes.  Place them on the pad.  Trace around them with a pen.  Cut out the shapes with an X-Acto knife.  Stick them back in your shoes.  Put them on and ride.

At first, the homemade insoles made my shoes tighter, but as I rode, they flattened out.  The results were dramatic.  For a cost of pennies, and 10 minutes of time, I created a pair of insulated biking shoes.  If your original insoles have arch support that you don’t want to lose, you can try re-inserting the original insoles after the ensolite insoles have flattened out a bit.  Pictures of the process follow.

Trace the original insole, in pen, on the scrap of “ensolite” foam pad.
Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the shape. Insert it into the shoe.
And voila, insulated bike shoes for recumbent riders.

Bike shoes with thick wool socks: $25
This is my preferred solution if the temps are above 25F or so.  Thick socks are warmer than thin socks, yes, but you can only go just so thick until you can no longer fit your feet into your shoes.  I’ll add shoe covers, if necessary.  Add a vapor barrier or neoprene sock and you’ve got a decent cold weather riding shoe.

Vapor barriers and plastic bags: $0.10-$45
Ultimately, this is one of the best all around solutions and it may work with your summer bike shoes.

When you’re active, whether riding or hiking, your feet sweat.  That moisture then enters your insulating layer, whether that be socks or insulated shoes or boots.  That moisture dramatically inhibits the power of your warm insulating layer, which means unprotected and cold feet.  Vapor barriers work by preventing evaporated body moisture — sweat — from entering the insulating layer.  You can buy commercial vapor barriers for your feet, which cost between $8 and $45 or so.  Instead of commercial vapor barrier socks, you can also use plastic bags, and this isn’t the half-a** solution you might imagine; it works extremely well.  Bread bags are particularly good, foot-sized, and hard-wearing, but I’ve also used light-weight bulk vegetable bags.  The vapor barrier is worn as a first layer on your bare feet or over a thin liner sock of synthetic or wool.  Next, put on your warm insulating layer and then your shoes or boots.  If you expect the weather to be very cold or wet and you’re wearing non-waterproof shoes, you may also wish to put a second plastic bag between your insulating layer and your shoe.  This keeps the insulating layer dry and also inhibits additional windchill effect.  Some of us may be concerned about appearances, “I don’t want people seeing me with plastic bags under my SIDIs,” but who cares what others think.  For one thing, you’re riding a recumbent; you’ve already decided you don’t care what others think.  And other riders might be too cold to notice (or say anything about it).  (Truth is, your feet are hanging out there in front of you.  Everyone’s going to notice.  Again, who cares.)  A couple brands and links:
Warmlite (with extended explanation of how vapor barriers work)
RBH Designs
Integral Designs
The “Oware” blog entry about using neoprene socks and plastic bags as vapor barriers
Short video of plastic bag method:

Bicycle shoes with shoe covers: $30+
This works extremely well if you begin with vapor barriers.  However, putting aside vapor barriers for a moment, let’s start with shoe covers: some are better and warmer than others.  The good ones are, of course, more expensive.  Neoprene shoe covers are the warmest, but, since they don’t breathe, use them with care.  If you don’t use vapor barriers and then cover your entire shoe with a neoprene shoe cover, your foot’s sweat will almost certainly create a lot of moisture in the inner layers.  If your feet then get cold in addition to sweaty, over a long ride you may develop immersion foot (trench foot).  This can become a medical emergency, even without the trench.

However, if you start with vapor barriers, you can turn your favorite summer bike shoes into a capable pair of winter shoes.  Start with a thin neoprene vapor barrier/sock.  Put on your road shoes.  Then add the neoprene shoe cover.  If you can afford a second pair of shoes for winter, get them one or two sizes too large.  Then, add a heavy wool sock over the neoprene vapor barrier before putting on your shoe.  Add the neoprene shoe cover and your feet will be just as cozy as.  There is a limit to this solution though.  The neoprene covers that I’ve seen are mostly open on the bottom, leaving the sole of your shoe exposed to serious wind chill.  So, while your feet will be warmer than they would be without the cover, at brutally cold temps, you’ll be better off with a shoe or boot that is insulated at the sole.

Winter cycling boots: $200+
Shimano and some other makers have nice insulated winter riding boots.  Add a vapor barrier and warm socks and you’ll be good to some pretty low temps.  Cover it all with a neoprene booty and you’re all the warmer.  It’s still not as warm as low-temp Pac Boots and platform pedals, or warm socks/shoes and a fairing, but, as far as solutions, it’s the most don’t-I-look-like-a-cyclist-as-I-buy-a-muffin-at-Bunbury’s?

Bicycle shoes with cheap shoe covers that I’ve windproofed with duct tape: $30.02+
This works pretty well but it looks like crap.  And the tape prevents the covers from stretching nicely over your shoes.  But it works in an emergency.  Apply the duct tape after you’ve put on the covers over your shoes.

Insulated winter hiking boots or running shoes: $130+
One of my preferred solutions when it’s below 25F.  I have a pair of Keen 15-degree insulated hiking boots that are fairly light and make for good winter riding shoes.  Add a vapor barrier, a chemical foot warmer and a thick wool sock and they’re about as warm as I need for winter rides in the New York City area.  I’ll use a good, grippy pedal and I’m pleased as punch that I’m riding at all, given it’s the middle of winter.  If you want insulated “cleatable” biking boots, they do exist, but I’ve never seen them in a local bike shop.  The market must be too small.  Find them via Google.

If you need insulated (non-cleated) boots or shoes for severely cold weather riding, search for the general category of “Pac Boot.” At this time, I’m recommending the brand “Baffin,” a Canadian company. They make a range of cold weather sports boots that are relatively light in weight, flexible, and extremely warm. Among the various models, they make a cold weather, low-top, sports shoe, “The Leader,” rated to -20C/-4F that would make a great riding shoe.

Chemical foot warmers: $1 each, for five hours of warmth.
Good emergency warmth.  When it’s cold, I always carry a pair of chemical foot warmers that are good for about 5 hours of warmth.  Thin enough to fit inside almost any biking shoe or boot, I’ll stick in warmers if my original solution proves not to be warm enough or if I’m out till evening and the temperature starts to drop.  As for whether it’s better to put them on top of your toes, or under your foot, in the arch, I don’t know.  I usually put them under the arch.

Neoprene toe covers inside your bike shoes: $20
Not recommended.  For me, these worked better on a standard-frame bike, where my feet are traveling toe-first into the wind, rather than on a recumbent bike, where I need insulation on the bottom of my foot, but I rarely use my toe covers and have never really been happy with them.

Biking sandals or Crocs with multiple layers of thick socks: $30-$100
Crocks work surprisingly well if you don’t need clipless pedals, because the sole is so thick and insulating and the foam rubber grips the pedals well.  Some folks swear by using biking sandals with heavy socks.  I haven’t tried the sandals but I believe this would be a good solution.

Terracycle “XT” fairing, in the spring.

Front fairing or full fairing: $125+
Fairings are the ultimate cold-weather tool for recumbent riders and are possibly the classiest solution.  A front fairing does a good job of keeping the windchill off your feet and the faster you go the better the wind-chill protection (and the greater the speed improvement).  A full fairing is wonderful if you can fit one to your bike.  The full fairing entirely blocks the wind and the heat generated by your working body warms the air inside.  I’ve heard complaints that it can get too hot inside the fairing, even on a cold day, and this highlights the drawback: it’s hard to regulate the temperature in a full fairing unless there are vents.  Personally, as a city dweller who sometimes puts his bike on public transit, I prefer to use a small front fairing — if I use one at all — like a Terracycle Windwrap XT because it doesn’t inhibit moving the bike around small spaces.  A larger fairing can be unwieldy going in and out of buildings and on and off trains.  Also, fairings are one of those things that are so beautiful when they’re brand new, that I’m concerned — too concerned, really — about scratching them when I move around the bike.  …And a large fairing is easier to scratch than a small fairing.  This is silly, I admit.  A scratched fairing works just as well as a clear fairing and they’re not designed for you to look through (or at) anyway.  I love seeing riders with old and beat up fairings who are able simply to enjoy the benefits without babying them.

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


First Cruzbike arrived. / Cold weather riding.

The first Cruzbike front-wheel-drive recumbent bike arrived — nice design and the components are decent quality. Eager to build it and take it out for a ride. One of the most exciting aspects of this recumbent bike is the clearance for fat tires. We may well have a mountain bike here, folks. I’ll write more after I have the chance to thoroughly abuse it, er, I mean, ride it.

A Volae recumbent rider uses a Windwrap fairing and thick clothing to help fend off icy temps.

Yesterday, Sunday, had a nice 8-hour ride in 20-18 degree F, not counting substantial windchill.  Promise to post soon about cold weather clothing and the Terracycle Windwrap fairing on a Volae Century/Tour-type frame.  For now, suffice to say…wear wool and carry down!  …And the fairing mounted easily, traveled well with no slipping, and was easy to adjust during the ride when necessary (while wearing gloves).  It sits sufficiently low compared to the handlebars on a Volae Tour (or Century) that a handlebar-mounted B&M Ixon IQ headlight lights the road w/o excessive obstruction from the faring.  It wasn’t necessary to use an accessory mount to position the headlight to the sides or below the fairing.

The only cold-weather induced hassle (not counting the water freezing in the water bottles) was that the derailer for the SRAM Dualdrive would sometimes stick on the Grasshopper fx.  I think there was moisture in the housing that froze as we rode.  It was easy to loosen up the cable as I rode by shifting to a lower gear and then back down to a higher gear but I never had the highest gear/smallest cog.  No big deal, but a bit annoying.  The only other time I’ve seen that was when I had actual ice hanging off the cables.  Biking remains an adventure.

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


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