Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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: http://youtu.be/6ANjQEuekmE

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

New York's nicest day ride, now a lot nicer.

The more you bike the more you get twisted.  In my case, I can't bare the sight a beautiful weekend day unless I can ride.  Take last Saturday for example.  With partial sun and mid-40's temps, it was the perfect mid-winter day for a long ride.  I was scheduled to go to a party/meeting of the Appalachian Mountain Club's backpack committee in Ossining, NY.  I needed no better excuse and decided to bike there.

This was my route, for the most part, going 45 miles from Brooklyn to the Ossining, NY Metro North station.  If you try and follow it, know that Google mis-identified some one-way roads as going the wrong-way.  It took me 4 hours, including stops for "comfort breaks."  I rode an HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx, with Ortlieb recumbent backpack/rack-top bag, and one bunch of collard greens strapped onto the rack-top bag with a bungee net (get it from Rivendell Bicycle Works).

Three years ago, I first rode this route.  At that time, the South County Trailway (Westchester) was incomplete and there were numerous miserable detours connecting sections of the rail trail, if you could find them.  ("Why should I mind riding a Rans Screamer recumbent tandem on rocky and muddy single track?"  "I think the rail trail must continue up there, somewhere."  "Who says I can't shoulder a recumbent tandem like a cyclocross bike and carry it up a hill?")  That trip, estimated at six hours, ended up taking 12 or more.  Admittedly, the long, hard day may have been due to the ozone alert, 110-degree temps, numerous breaks, as well as getting lost, still, the route was eminently blamable.

These days, hallelujah, it's a straight shot, from New York's Van Cortlandt Park, where you pick up the Old Putnam Rail Trail, on up.  Only a short section through Elmsford takes you on city streets.  As a result, this is now one of the best routes out of the city.

Go out and ride it.

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

How to put a Volae on the Metro North.

How to put a Volae on the Metro North.

Note: Although this is how I do it, it is not "authorized."

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning to ride a Cruzbike.

Note about this entry:
From time to time, I've updated this entry as my experience with Cruzbikes has evolved.  Meanwhile, I've also posted new entries at later dates.  To see all entries on this subject, simply click the "Cruzbike" label.

January 2012

I feel like I'm learning to ride a recumbent bike again.

The other Wednesday, I took out the new arrival -- a moving bottom bracket Cruzbike "Sofrider" -- to get a feel for it and test the build.  This was my first time on a moving bottom bracket front-wheel-drive recumbent.  I'll say this, although I got "going" on it immediately, it's an odd sensation to coordinate turning the wheel with changing the leg angle.  I admit that I had a great deal of trouble controlling the front wheel for the first five minutes.  Or maybe it was 25 minutes.  No doubt, to others on the bike path, I looked like I was learning to ride a bike for the first time.

Also, it was strange to feel so much movement in my hands while riding a recumbent bike.  I spent about 45 minutes practicing various exercises, as if I was teaching a customer to ride a bent for the first time.  Honestly, it was frustrating.  Ultimately though, I became comfortable and, after a couple of breakthroughs, I found the frustration was self-caused. The bike was fine.  It was me who was acting uncoordinated.

After 45 minutes, I mastered the basic elements of handling the bike and was able to do jerky figure-8's and double circles within the width of an 8-foot bike lane.  (So far, pretty impressive; try achieving a turning radius like that on an ordinary SWB recumbent.)  I still needed to figure out the coordination between my arms and feet while pedaling, and develop better control in tight turns, but I was progressing steadily in that direction.

The next time we had good weather, this being January and all, I took it out again.  After an hour of practice, I was sufficiently comfortable with the handling that I felt ready to ride it to Prospect Park, 3/4ths a mile away on city streets.

As of now, here's the tally for how long it took me to learn to ride a Cruzbike moving bottom bracket recumbent bike for the first time (your own results may vary):
Day 1:__0:45 (hr:min) (mastered the basics)
Day 2:__1:00 (hr:min) (ready to ride on road)
Day 3:__2:00 (hr:min) (Improving technique. Working on: figure-8s, tight and open loops, S-turns, increasing speed, climbing, handling uneven surfaces and dirt.)
Day 4:__1:00 (I was away from the bike for about a month, busy with work and riding for practical reasons.)
[Update, a few months later (Aug. 2012), see last paragraph.  In summary, great bike.]

I anticipate feeling ready to ride intermediate MTB trails after another 4 hours of practice.  I look forward to this test of the off-road handling.  Although, if the snow hangs around, that may need to wait till spring.

Originally, after that first day of 45 minutes, I thought it would take me about 8 hours to begin to feel comfortable on MTB trails.  However, during my Day 2 ride I experienced two breakthroughs that helped me understand the bike.  The first breakthrough was to handle the Cruzbike more like a diamond frame while standing on the pedals.  Namely, as I pressed with my feet for each "stroke," the key was to apply an equally strong pull in a countering direction with my hand.

I could have learned this faster.  The Cruzbike website has a nice and very short set of instructions at the "How to Ride" link.  At first, I thought the instructions were too simplistic.  Not so.  They were accurate once I understood the bike: keep your hands soft and ride with open palms.  I found that by maintaining soft hands and counterpressing (or counterpulling, if one prefers), one offsets the turning force of the legs.  (Note, much later: I've come to prefer "counterpulling" since this is what I'm used to on a standard frame and on my Concept II rowing ergometer.)

The second breakthrough was to maintain "soft" legs during turns, or remove the feet from the pedals entirely: turn with the hands only, don't use the legs.  In other words, I needed to relax my legs as I turned the wheel, and let my legs be guided by the pedals.

The mistakes I made during my Day 1 ride, which made the bike difficult to ride, included...I tried both to counterpress and counterpull with my hands (didn't work); I tried to relax my hands too much, as if I were riding an ordinary fixed bottom bracket recumbent (didn't work); and I rode with firm, straight legs (come on, dude...).  Given the hand coordination issues, I anticipate some experienced recumbent riders may have more trouble learning to ride a Cruzbike than some diamond frame riders.  Not what I would normally expect at all!

There are people who will be very well-served by this design, but who may find it hard to ride, especially in a demo ride context.  I have to say, I hope they will persist for it will be well worth the effort.  It's a neat bike and a very good value.  My good initial impressions remain.  I love the responsiveness of the drivetrain, the overall lightweight of the bent, and the feeling of the front wheel drive.  I look forward to riding it at speed, on hills and on trails.

To learn more about riding a Cruzbike, be sure to watch the nice videos on the Cruzbike website and take their instructions at face value.  It's as simple as they say, as long as you do what they say.

Day 3 Update
For first three minutes that I got back on the bike I wobbled like I had forgotten how to ride it.  I quickly worked that out and then rode through city traffic (I'm in Brooklyn, NY) to and from the park. In Prospect Park, I practiced my technique including figure-8s, double loops, S-turns, increasing my speed, taking it on dirt and rough surfaces. I've concluded this is more than learning to ride a 'bent.  It's learning to ride a whole new type of bike which has a unique body-mind input and a unique performance output.  Compared to a normal 'bent or to a standard frame bike, different muscles and coordination are called for, steering is different, weighting is different, pedaling technique is different, heck, even shifting is different (I seem to prefer riding the Cruzbike in a higher gear and with a slower cadence than I do on a "normal" bent, so I'm shifting up and down among high gears more frequently).

After about 45 min. of practicing technique, I felt the big breakthrough: the bike began to feel natural.  I began to anticipate the motion of the bike and began controlling it without much thought.  Also, I began to like the way it felt as opposed to struggling with it.  Huh!  After an hour and 15 minutes I felt ready to begin playing with increased speed of 15-25 mph.  After an hour and 50 min., I felt ready to ride through rush hour city traffic for 3/4ths of a mile, back home.

It really does climb better.
On the park loop, Prospect Park has one primary hill to climb.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover -- wait a second, I'm lying here -- I reluctantly discovered beyond any shred of a doubt -- that it's true: the Cruzbike climbs better than my other bents.  I was climbing in a higher gear and with less effort and at a higher average speed.  As a huge fan of HP Velotechniks and that relaxed style of riding, I have to admit that I hoped this wouldn't be the case, but it is.  This design really climbs nicely, and very possibly as well as a standard frame bike.  I can't believe I'm saying that.  I didn't think it was possible.  (Note, later: I guess I wanted to believe that a relaxing ride would also be the fastest.  But no, a bike that engages all the muscles and applies that energy to the wheels is the fastest.  Seems so obvious, now.)

Here's what I think is going on.  First of all, the chainstays are short like a standard frame, so we don't lose energy in the long frame as it twists under the application of large forces, as when climbing.  Secondly, the chainstays are stiff, so they transmit energy well to the wheel.  Thirdly, in the muscles, it's not that I somehow use my arms to add power to the pedals, as if this were a row-bike.  It's that I can apply more pressure with my feet because I can counter-pull against the handlebars, engaging my core and arm muscles.  This is instead of pressing my back into the seat as I mash the pedals.  Normally, with a bent, I press against the seat back as I hammer.  But this is an unstable position.  I can feel my back squirreling around against the seat as I ride, so I can't press as hard as I might.  Further, if the seat is soft (as in, comfy), energy is lost.  With a Cruzbike, the countering force comes from my core and arms, creating a stronger platform for applying muscle to the pedals.

Honestly, as I said earlier, I'm reluctantly impressed by the performance improvement.  Given how odd the handling feels, I was hoping this wouldn't be the case, but rather that the luxurious feel of an HP Velotechnik would, somehow, be better on a hill.  However, I can't refute it.  Even the entry-level Sofrider is faster on the uphill.

The Cruzbike is clearly for those who have the patience to "learn new tricks" and who place a premium on overall speed.  Face it: when we're talking about speed, we all know that better is better and faster is faster and we'll learn to ride whatever we must to get the best results.

Prospective Cruzbike riders are going to have to make some hard choices.  For those who want a high-performance bent, this odd bird is a fast one.  However, you must invest time learning to handle it.  If you don't have the patience, don't have the time, or you're really attached to the idea of the "comfort bent" where your hands don't do any work, stick to a bent that's easier to ride at the beginning, like an HP Velotechnik.

What I foresee doing here is sticking to the HP Velotechnik Street Machine Gte for touring, but going to the Cruzbike for racing.  (By the way, we can install SON hub dynamos and all the usual stuff for brevets and all-night racing.  Don't worry about that.)

Day 4 Update

Day 4:__1:00 (I was away from the bike for about a month, busy with work and riding for practical reasons.)

I got back on it and rode off without problems.  I've got the hang of it now after 4:45 hours:minutes.  Long and short, I like it.  I'm riding this Sofrider with rather "basic quality" components, and I'm keeping up with Prospect Park riders who normally drop me on the hills.  Long and short, it's a heck of a machine.  It's not about the bike, it's about the design in this case, and the Cruzbike is a winner.  I'm very tempted to add on some racks and fenders, etc. to the Sofrider so I can begin riding it as my daily ride, maybe even take it out for some weekends.  I tell you: it's growing on me.  Riders who itch to go fast will like it too.

Update, a few months later (Aug. 9, 2012):
I've been using the CB Sofrider as my city "beater" for the past three weeks, handling all the city throws at me (not literally, I shall hope).  Keep in mind, like 7,500,000 other New Yorkers, I don't own a car, so this is my vehicle for commuting, grocery shopping, hardware store runs, whatever.  It's taken me a bit of time, but I've figured out those vital elements of city riding: how to add large bags and panniers so I can load it with groceries, how to lock it, where to carry the lock on the bike, how to start on a hill without wobbling when the light changes and there's traffic all around me.  And so, it's become more and more useful as my daily ride.  The other weekend, just for fun, I put on clipless pedals (for daily errands I always ride with platforms) and took it out to Prospect Park to ride with the dogs (small, big, medium, whatever).  I was maintaining avg. speeds I normally never touch over 30 miles of repeating the main (hilly) loop and no one was passing me, even on the main climb, which I was taking at just over 15mph.  I've become thoroughly convinced of the effectiveness of the design, as odd as it was to ride the first time.

Another update, August 13, 2012.
This morning I took the Cruzbike Quest 26" out for a training ride, doing loops around Prospect Park.  I averaged 20.2 mph over 34 miles with a maximum speed of 33.2 mph.  To put this in some context, the last time I did a triathlon, about 8 years ago, the bike portion was 24.8 miles (40k) on a flat course, and I remember averaging 19.5 mph.  I think that was my fastest ride for any substantial distance.  Given that I was riding at race pace in that previous instance, I'm rather pleased -- to say the least -- with my training pace this morning.  I wish I could say it's all about me, and not about the bike, however I strongly suspect it's mostly about the bike in this case.

Update, January 2013.
I'm still riding the Sofrider as my city beater.  Like it a lot.  Glad to have the shocks.  I put on some fat tires.  I put on those ugly-when-they're-old-but-oh-so-useful Wald metal pannier-like side baskets (picture below).  I use the Radical Design seatback bag on it every day to carry my basic stuff.  People have asked me whether the front tire slips.  I don't have a problem with that but I know what they're talking about.  Learning to control the front wheel and minimizing slippage became one of those riding skills I simply had to develop.  One thing I like about the format is that it requires a full-body effort.  I think it adds to my overall fitness.

In addition, I continue to enjoy taking the Silvio for training rides in the park.  Without my intending it, it may have become "my" bike by dint of the continual fine-tunings I've had to do to learn how to fit it to the rider (me, the test rider).  But that's the reality of high-end road bikes.  You must dial it in for the individual rider for it to work as well as it is supposed to.  And as you dial it in, it really stops fitting anyone other than the primary rider.  In this case, that seems to be me.

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 a variety of tempos.  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.  I'm using a Buddy Lee speed rope, but you could use a weighted rope as well.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ortlieb recumbent backpack: got one, love it. But check your rack size.

Not me, not my pony tail, but it is a nice photo of
Ortlieb's recumbent backpack and panniers in action.
(External link. Photo thanks to therandonneeshop.com).

Review: Ortlieb recumbent backpack. Got one, love it, but verify size of rear rack.

I'm a New York City Ortlieb dealer, just so you know.  Call me biased, but if I thought there was a better bag, I would have bought whatever was better. The Ortlieb recumbent backpack is the bag I use as my racktop bag.

On a typical day-long ride, it carries my water bladder, the day's clothes, food, maps, rain gear, "ten essentials".... Coolest thing is that it sits in the slip stream and I'm convinced it gives me a slight speed increase in the same manner as the very cool (but now discontinued) Terracycle tail sock.

The Ortlieb bag has nifty backpack straps that attach (click, click, click, click, easy) to turn it into a surprisingly decent daypack. Water bladder drinking tube goes through a standard-sized sealed hole so pack contents stay dry in the rain. The reflective patches are 3M or similar quality -- VERY bright and positioned for good reflection both to back and sides. All in all, it's a great bag. I wish it were cheaper, but when you see it, you'll understand -- very high quality and built to last.

Rack size can be an issue. I use it on a 4 1/2" wide, 18" long HP Velotechnik rack (as on the Grasshopper, Street Machine or Scorpion). It's designed for racks of this dimension, pretty standard for Euro bents. It wouldn't work as well on a narrower rack like a Tubus or a shorter rack.

The Ortlieb "recumbent backpack" on a Grasshopper fx,
on the George Washington Bridge, during a two-day trip
through Harriman State Park. Nice bag.

Hope that helps.


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

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Training for touring: workout schedules

The tour operator Experience Plus publishes a series of workout schedules that will help cyclists prepare for long day rides and multi-day touring. Start training now so you're ready when the weather warms up!


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

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How much capacity required when touring light?

"Would you like four panniers or two?"

A customer -- who rides a sky blue Volae Century ES -- named Wylie (see her excellent blog Couch Surfing Cook) sent me a link to a nice site about long distance touring: www.skalatitude.com.  This blog, written by a female cyclist touring solo, contains tips and ideas that apply to anyone, male and female alike, who wishes to bicycle far.

She specifically directed me to an entry about lightweight cycle touring with only two panniers, a minimal amount of carrying capacity.  It challenges the notion that long haul cycle tourists need the capacity provided by four panniers.  This is a welcome and interesting voice in the discussion around ultra-light packing as we continually seek knowledge on how to travel "better."  (I define "better" as "safer, more fun and more expeditious," just so you know where I stand.)  Is it better to pack minimally and light?  Is it better to pack for comfort and security?  How do we pack and prepare for the most common and/or serious pitfalls?  Do we carry a water filter or iodine?  What goes into our first aid kit?  Synthetic or down jacket?  Tent or tarp?  Shoes or sandals?  Each of us determines our own comfort zone in the continuum.

Before I get into a discussion about bag capacity, I'll make clear my position on the subject of packing for preparedness: I pack for safety above all else because if I don't arrive safely, I don't arrive.  Secondly I pack to have fun, because that's why I do trips.  Thirdly, I pack only the essentials that I'll need to get where I'm going.  I carry tools to repair every element of my bike.  I carry water purification and a stove when I'm in remote areas.  I always have backup lights and batteries.  I carry a first aid kit that is larger than my Western Mountaineering sleeping bag and I know how to use it thanks to Wilderness First Responder training.  And, fortunately, at this time, I'm healthy and strong enough that while I do count pounds, I rarely count ounces; bike weight is of minor concern.

Going forward now, I'd like to delve into a specific aspect of the article, concerning the writer's two-pannier baggage carrying system, and translate it for short wheelbase recumbent bikes.  Sometimes the wisdom about bike touring needs to be translated over to the recumbent frame.

How much capacity do we need and where do we mount it?

Optimal bike handling (a.k.a., safe bike handling) is retained by loading the weight near the center or gravity and low to the ground.  So, on a standard frame ("SF") bike, generally people load a bike in this order: 1. frame packs (water bottle cages, seat bottom, center triangle); 2. top of the rear rack; 3. handlebars; 4. large panniers on the rear rack; and 5. small size panniers on the front fork, if necessary.  All the while, one seeks to keep the weight low (food, water, tools go at bottom of rear and front bags).  Unlike bents, SF bikes lack the option of mounting low rider packs in the center of the bike.

On a short wheelbase ("SWB") recumbent, optimal handling is retained by loading as follows: 1. low on the back of the seat (at the center of gravity); 2. frame packs; 3. small panniers under the seat; 4. large panniers on the rear rack; 5. rack top; and 6. high on the back of the seat.  As on a standard frame bike, a bent handles best if you place heavy items as low as possible.  Unlike SF bikes, SWB bents rarely accept panniers on the front fork.  As for traditional handlebar bags, they are generally unmountable and all the bent-specific versions I've seen are minuscule.  (If you know of an exception to this, send me the link [rmatson AT theinnovationworks DOT com].)  I suggest loading bents in this sequence because one's upper body weight is not available (as it is on a SF) to comfortably counter-balance a lopsided load (e.g., top heavy or side-weighted).  Also, an improperly loaded bent may tip at low speeds or in slow sharp turns, and no longer track easily when guided by hand, as when walking through a train station or up a steep hill.

In terms of carrying capacity, a challenge for SWB riders is that large size "rear" panniers -- usually the first panniers we'd load on a standard frame bike -- will scrape the ground on steeply angled turns when mounted under the seat, in a bent's first loading zone.  So, the first bags we load are small capacity panniers under the seat.  What I find is that those are quickly filled and, even for just a weekend tour, I soon need another bag on the rear rack, whether it's a rack-top bag or a rear pannier (or two).  As a result, even on short trips, it is not unusual for me to use a four- or five-bag setup, but with half-full bags!  My objective is to properly distribute the weight so the bent handles well.  Optimal handling translates directly into safer riding which, since safety is my first priority during a trip, is paramount to any other consideration, including whether a half-full bag adds wind resistance or an unnecessary pound of weight.  What is interesting is that a good bent, properly loaded, will handle almost identically to how it handles without any load and it is precisely this quality that makes a (good) bent a welcome traveling companion.

Here's a photo of my bag setup for a two-day bike camping trip in rainy weather but moderate temperatures (50-70 F day, 40-50 F at night).  It shows two small underseat Ortlieb bags plus a rear rack bag with bungee net to hold rain gear.  On the frame I've mounted a bike lock (since half the trip was in urban areas), odometer, map and pepper spray.  I carry a water bladder, the day's food and extra warm layers in the rear rack-top bag which is an Ortlieb recumbent backpack.

HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx loaded for an apx. 160-mile weekend trip, from Brooklyn, NY, to Harriman State Park and around about and back.

Here's a photo of your humble servant looking "high-vizible" and slightly unshorn.

New York City Recumbent Supply owner Robert Matson.

As for analyzing what to pack and how to lighten the load, I will hold off for now but will continue to post articles on that subject as I find or write them.


Solo Female Cycling Around the World

[The same] Solo Female cycling with "only two panniers."  Includes her gear list.  I like the way she picks up and adapts gear that she finds along the road.

Recycling the World
David publishes his gear list from two round-world trips. Both gear lists are streamlined and small. Him and his wife Julie have some nice photos too.

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