When a winter storm blanketed the Northeast in snow and ice this month, most outdoor exercisers shifted to an indoor workout. But Stephen Arthur, a 53-year-old IT specialist in the North Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, was 28 miles away from cycling 10,000 miles in 2020. Determined to reach his goal before year’s end, he put knobby, snow-worthy tires on his mountain bike and bundled up. Mr. Arthur didn’t have the target in mind when 2020 began, but when the pandemic hit, cycling preserved his sanity.
He used to bike 2 miles round trip to work. “It was an easy way to turn my commute into exercise,” he said. When he began working from home in March during lockdown, there were days when he never left his 650-square-foot apartment or spoke with anyone, except on Zoom. “Getting outdoors to bike became the highlight of my day,” he said. “I kept waiting for the governor or mayor to say you can’t ride your bike, but instead they encouraged people to get outside and exercise.”
Pre-pandemic, Mr. Arthur would use vacations to take multi-day, solo bike tours in different countries. Unable to travel, he now uses weekends to explore Brooklyn by bike. “I thought I knew the city,” said Mr. Arthur, who grew up in Bergen County, N.J. “Now, I’ve gotten to know it on a whole other level.”
When his mom died in May, cycling became an outlet for grief. Weekend rides got longer, taking him along the Hudson River or to Coney Island or to Rockaway Beach in Queens. “I probably cycled at least four centuries in September,” he said, referring to rides of 100 miles or longer.
Mr. Arthur said he was never a fan of tracking his exercise on fitness apps. But when he realized he could accomplish 10,000 miles in one year, he became motivated to monitor his miles on Strava. “To see you are so close to a goal that seems unattainable makes you want to chase it down,” he said. “It’s getting darker earlier and it’s cold, but no matter what the weather, I want to complete this journey.” He completed his 10,000 miles on Dec. 20. He had never ridden that much before. Based on Strava data, he estimates he biked between 60% to 70% more due to Covid.
Mr. Arthur has maintained his pre-pandemic routine of rising at 6:30 a.m. to exercise. “Life is busy, even in pandemic times, so I like to get my workout done first thing,” he said. He uses 10-pound dumbbells to perform an overhead press, front raises, lateral raises and biceps curls until fatigued. He then does four pull-ups. Mr. Arthur had given up his yoga studio membership pre-pandemic due to cost and commute, but devised a home routine with a focus on stretching his back. After yoga, he straps five-pound weights to his ankles and performs leg lifts, sit-ups and push-ups until fatigued, then does another four pull-ups.
Around noon, he rides the 3.35-mile loop in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. “My goal is to go as fast as I can to get my heart rate up midday,” he said. He rides with a mask that he can pull up if he sees other cyclists or pedestrians. On the rare instance that he can’t get out in the middle of the day, he puts on reflective gear and rides at night. “I don’t think it’s natural to stay indoors all day,” he said. “It’s just as important for me to get out for my mental health as it is for my physical fitness.”
On weekends he explores Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. He plans many of his routes around take-out meals and food shopping. To avoid grocery stores, he cycles to outdoor markets and totes what he buys in bike bags. He loves ethnic cuisine and on his bike has discovered Jamaican, Trinidadian and Senegalese spots throughout Brooklyn. His favorite take-out place is Irie Caribbean Kitchen and Bakery on Utica Avenue.
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Reformed vegan: Just because a cupcake is vegan doesn’t mean it is good for you, Mr. Arthur said. In 2018, he ditched his mostly vegan diet and focused on eating whole foods and lean meats. He has lost nearly 25 pounds.
Salad for breakfast: He starts the day with a bowl of kale, spinach, fava beans, radishes, peppers and carrots topped with herbs, spices and tahini.
Dinner: “Canned wild-caught salmon on a taco with chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro.”
Anti-delivery: Mr. Arthur doesn’t believe in paying someone to deliver food. “I’ll eat out or pick up food, but I’d never pay someone to bring me a meal,” he said.
Splurge: “If I’m going to have red meat, I go to Sixteenth Ave. Glatt, Brooklyn’s version of Katzi’s Deli, for a pastrami roll,” he said.
Road Bike: Bianchi Brava bought new in 1999 for $650. “It’s served me well,” he said. “I’m certain I’ve logged over 50,000 miles on it.”
Mountain Bike: Giant Sedona bought new in 1993 for $500. “This bike is a steamroller, perfect for a short commute,” he said. “Now I primarily use it for heavy shopping trips.”
Folding Bike: Xooter Swift bought used for $350 in 2010. “I have a rear rack mounted on it so I can carry supplies,” he said. “This bike has taken me from Casablanca to Istanbul and across Belgium, the Netherlands, Florida, Thailand, Israel and Southern California, to name a few trips.”
Kit: “I usually wear black, head to toe, except my helmet, mainly because I don’t want to replace my wardrobe every two months,” he said.
Safety First: Mr. Arthur won’t get on his bike before putting on his Giant helmet ($20).
Dressing for Winter Cycling
Winter weather doesn’t have to mean a season of indoor spin bike workouts. With the proper equipment, gear and precautions, cycling can be an enjoyable winter activity, said Zack Allison co-owner of Bike Sports, a racing team, bike-fit studio and bike travel company in Fort Collins, Colo. “A really good set of gloves and booties are the most important winter cycling apparel,” he said. “If it’s below freezing, a thin glove liner, then an outer glove that’s more wind protectant will keep hands cozy.”
Your booties don’t have to be that thick if you layer well, he said. “A pair of wool socks, then a piece of plastic or foil over your toes, then shoes, then a set of booties and you’re set for well below freezing temperatures,” said Mr. Allison. “And you can winterize your shoes by covering the vent holes with tape, wax or hot glue to make them extra warm.”
When it gets really cold, you may want to grab your warmest down jacket, but you will sweat right through that, and wet almost always equals cold, said Mr. Allison. “Thinner base layers and a windbreak are the way to go, while keeping the thick stuff on your extremities, feet and hands,” he said. Whether you ride a road bike, mountain bike or gravel bike, a good set of fenders, or mudguards, are a game changer for winter riding.
For safety, he recommends wearing bright, reflective clothing and putting daytime running lights on your bike. “Ice is probably the biggest danger in winter,” he said. “Lowering your tire pressure and looking up the road for ice or obstacles are the best way to stay safe from potential crashes.” And if it’s wet and cold outside, he suggests staying indoors to avoid hypothermia.
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