Friday, 19 October 2018

Over the hills and far away - Drenthe has built a hill for cyclists

Steve, Peter and myself on "our" new hill: The "Col du VAM". It's the highest point in Drenthe at 4800 cm above sea level !
Each week, a small group of recumbent cyclists ride together from Assen on short touring rides. This morning three of us went on a 70 km round trip to ride up a new hill which Drenthe has created for cyclists of all kinds to ride over. "Our" new hill is now the highest spot in the province, reaching 48 metres above sea level. If you want to climb higher than this in Drenthe then you have to do it more than once.

Posing in front of the visitor centre before we properly begin our second descent.
This hill has been quite a long time in the making. While professional cycle races have also used the hill for many years (watch a video of Marianne Vos on the hill five years ago) it's been closed to everyday cyclists with a gate at the bottom because there was a potentially dangerous conflict on the only path which used to exist between pedestrians and cyclists descending quickly. That's why the general public were restricted to walking until yesterday when the new cycle-paths over the hill were officially opened.

Optional cobbles on the climb. There are a lot of
these around Drenthe for cycle-racers to use.
In total we now have 2.1 km of cycle-path on this hill which provide several routes up to the top and back down again. The climb has an average gradient of 10% and a maximum of 15% so it's a fairly good challenge. I've enjoyed riding over many larger hills in the past, but never before has there been a hill like this which was made especially for cycling over.

The quality is excellent: Wide and incredibly smooth asphalt paths are provided both for the ascents and the route back down again (where it's even more important).

It's really well thought out: A one-way system is used to prevent conflicts between those climbing and descending.

There is even a section of Kasseien (Kinderkopjes) to allow those who wish to to emulate their heroes in the Paris-Roubaix and other classic races, but because that's not everyone's cup of tea it's provided as an optional extra for those who want it while the rest of us can ride on asphalt.

Peter chasing someone else towards the steep part of the
descent. We saw many other cyclists on the hill today. I
expect it'll be even more popular on sunny Sundays.
My recumbent touring bike isn't really set up for hills. I've use a single front chainwheel with 60 teeth and the largest sprocket on the cassette at the back has 28 teeth so there's a minimum speed which it's possible to cycle at because going any slower will mean that I'll stop and never get started again and would have to push. As it worked out, all three of us reached the top, twice by different routes, without any problems in a reasonable amount of time.

The descent is marvellous, a unique experience in this area. It's deliberately been made less steep than the climb but 60 km/h is reached before you know it. This gives your brakes some work to do before the corners, but you always have the security of knowing that going off the asphalt doesn't mean crashing into anything hard because there's grass on both sides and you also have the certain knowledge that no car will ever get in the way of your safety as you descend because there are no cars allowed here.
While we were eating sandwiches at the top, this chap arrived over the cobbles with a handbike, having ridden from a village 10 km away to go over the hill. Cycling should be for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The visitor's hut at the top has an explanation of what lies beneath
It's Rubbish !
The VAM-berg is actually a pile of rubbish. Literally. It's a landfill site which has now been turned into a useful facility. It's not only useful to us cyclists, but these days, between 4000 and 5000 cubic metres of useful gas are extracted every hour from the waste. A fifth of the gas is burnt in a power station next to the hill while the rest of it is injected into the gas pipelines of the Netherlands and used by consumers at home to cook and heat their homes.

Recreational cycling and hills
Hills are not a problem for cyclists, they make cycling more enjoyable. If you go up a hill on one part of your journey, you get to ride back down again a little later on. No hill lasts more than a few kilometres. On the other hand, flat countryside means you can ride all day long against an endless and unbroken headwind, which costs you just as much energy as a hill without the reward of a descent.

Recreational cycling is often overlooked by cycling campaigners, but it is important as it provides more options for cycling. In my case it's one of the things which helps me to remain healthy. Recreational riders don't need much special infrastructure. They mainly use the same infrastructure as is used by local people to make everyday journeys. We just typically use more of it in a single day, benefiting from how everything is joined up across the Netherlands. Cycling infrastructure which doesn't allow people to make longer journeys also won't really allow them to make short journeys everywhere.

Our route to and from the VAM-berg included new sections of top quality cycle-path which are so new that I couldn't use them when I last cycled in this direction a few weeks ago. Other sections were part of a route which I've used for more than ten years to collect stock for our webshop from a supplier 40 km away.

Elsewhere, priority should first be given to providing infrastructure which allows specifically for everyday journeys, focusing on city centres and safe approaches to them, but a comprehensive cycling policy results in more than that. Journeys in any direction will be possible if a comprehensive go-everywhere grid of high quality infrastructure is built. In that context, a mere 2 km of cycle-path which exist for no reason other than to allow people to smile as ride up and down a hill especially built for them appears as part of a comprehensive policy. It should be seen everywhere, but actually it's only seen here.

This is an excellent and unique piece of infrastructure, in a province which prides itself on being the best place in the world for cycling.

As part of the official opening event, local school children rode up the hill and left pictures behind which are now on display in the visitor's centre.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Zwolle: The Dutch city which changed its roundabouts from one unsafe design to another unsafe design

I've written three times before (1, 2, 3) about how the roundabouts in Zwolle cause danger for cyclists. Each time, I've pointed out that the use of the "priority" roundabout design in that city results in those roundabouts always featuring as the most dangerous sites for cyclists in the entire city.

The top ten list of most dangerous locations for cyclists in
Zwolle according to the Gemeente. Three are roundabouts.
This has now been confirmed by the local government (Gemeente Zwolle) itself, which admits that the most dangerous place for cyclists in the city is the roundabout pictured above at the junction of the Burgemeester Roeienweg and Pannekoekendijk.

Zwolle's local newspaper has covered this issue several times in the last year and this helped to prompt the local government to produce a top ten list of the most dangerous places in the city for cyclists.

Gemeente Zwolle's top ten list shows that they consider three of the ten most dangerous places in the city for cyclists to be roundabouts. The top location is precisely the same roundabout as I identified as being the most dangerous in the city when I first wrote about the problem of adopting unsafe roundabout designs back in 2014.

The top ten list of most dangerous places for cyclists in
Zwolle according to newspaper readers: Five roundabouts.
The newspaper also surveyed local cyclists who gave a subjective response about how unsafe various places in the city feel. They placed the most dangerous roundabout in fourth place and pointed out several other problematic roundabouts as causing a problem. The worst place according to local cyclists is the "Fietsrotonde".

The fietsrotonde opened in 2013 to claims of safety and much press coverage. Many people praised the new design but I did not because it was unproven. Instead, I pointed out in 2014 that the claims of safety for the fietsrotonde were premature, that I thought the design was confusing and that it gave little chance for recovery from error.

A little later in 2014 I unfortunately had to update my blog post to point out that it had already claimed victims.

Zwolle's Fietsrotonde. It requires perfect behaviour from all
users and much head swivelling from both cyclists and drivers
to predict what each other will do. That is why it's unsafe.
Update: Another crash
The subjective view of local cyclists that this junction is difficult to navigate safely is accurate and it results from the same problems as occur with the roundabouts in Zwolle: Cyclists must their "priority" by riding out in front of motor vehicles while relying upon drivers to maintain the safety of cyclists. This never feels safe and it never truly is safe. Drivers are frequently distracted, they often don't see cyclists until it is too late, and of course a fair number are simply not very skilled at driving so cyclists should never be expected to place their safety in the hands of drivers.

Crossing the road
When I wrote about Zwolle's roundabouts a second time (in 2015) it was as part of a blog post about the nature of the most dangerous locations for cyclists in several different Dutch cities. Amongst the most dangerous things that a cyclist or pedestrian can do in a modern city is crossing the road. At uncontrolled crossings our safety is very much in the hands of drivers and this is why uncontrolled crossings and junctions expose cyclists to great danger. While the safe roundabout design which I have been promoting for the last four years almost completely eliminates this danger to cyclists using the roundabout, the unsafe roundabout design as used in Zwolle offers only a very small improvement over an uncontrolled junction (research found just an 11% difference). It should be no surprise therefore that when I went looking for the most dangerous locations in various cities, I found that cities which had adopted the safe roundabout design (like Assen) did not have roundabouts amongst their most dangerous locations for cyclists, while those cities which used the less safe design frequently had roundabouts as amongst their most dangerous locations.

You'll note that Zwolle's local government listed many crossings (kruising) as well as roundabouts (rotonde) in their top ten list. If they had adopted the the safe design of roundabout then their list would probably not have included any roundabouts at all but instead would be made up almost entirely of crossings. Zwolle would have been safer for cyclists than it is.

It may seem quite a big request to make that a city should change its roundabout designs. In Zwolle's case they have actually made this investment. Unfortunately, though, rather than adopting the safer design they spent their money and time converting their roundabouts from one unsafe design to another and as a result they have not improved the safety of cyclists...

After being improved, the most dangerous roundabout remains the most dangerous
When I wrote about Zwolle's roundabouts in 2014, many people were quick to point out that the design of the roundabout was less than optimal. There was little distance between the cycle-path and the road. Claims were made that had this been otherwise, the roundabout would have been safe. We now know that this is not so. This particular roundabout has been changed in design quite radically yet it remains the most dangerous location in Zwolle for cyclists.

Both photos show the same roundabout and this is the same location as at the top of the page. Safe roundabouts don't look like either of these two examples. Neither the "before" photo nor the "after" photo are safe. I pointed out that the first was the most dangerous roundabout in Zwolle in 2014 and Gemeente Zwolle themselves have now pointed out that the "improved" version of the roundabout remains the most dangerous location in the whole city for cyclists in 2018.

Zwolle is now considering changing this design once more to try to make it safe. We should not keep making the same mistakes. There is a better alternative.

The truly safe design
This design is truly safe. Cyclists and drivers meet each other at 90 degrees so that sight lines are maximised. Speeds are reduced by camber on the road and the curves on the cycle-path so that both parties have as much time as possible to make decisions. Priority at the crossings is given to motorists because they have the greatest power to cause harm and the least "skin in the game". Cyclists are prioritized by having bidirectional cycle-paths so that they cross less often and because they can always turn right without considering motor vehicles at all. Please read the entire blog post from 2014 about why this particular design is special and watch a video which explains further.
Dutch cities which use this design see radically fewer cyclist injuries on roundabouts than Dutch cities which adopt the same designs as used in Zwolle.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Riding e-bikes does not lead to health benefits

A recent study ("Transport mode choice and body mass index: Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from a European-wide study" by Evi Dons and others) compared the effect of different modes of transport on the BMI of thousands of European commuters. Each participant provided details of their height, weight and age as well as their mode of transport, followed by a second survey 18 months later asking the same questions. The effect of different modes of transport on BMI could therefore be compared and the effect on body weight due to daily exercise related to mode of transport was ranked:
  1. Riders of normal bicycles, powered by human muscles alone. These participants had the best score, achieving relatively low BMI.
  2. Pedestrians were in second place. Walking is beneficial for the body, but walked journeys tend to be extremely short due to the time taken to cover distance so this limits the overall benefit.
  3. Users of public transport came in third. Almost all users of public transport get exercise walking to bus stops or train stations.
  4. Motor cyclists score similarly to people who use public transport.
  5. Riders of e-bikes came in second to last.
  6. Drivers of cars took the last place, with the highest BMI.
E-bike parked on the street in Assen. Note that the top gear is
selected. Almost all parked e-bikes are the same. Users select
top gear and maximum assistance from the motor, resulting
in so little effort possible being required from the rider.
It was noted by the researchers that walking or running even to a bus stop burns more calories than hopping onto a bike with a motor immediately outside the door. This is why even travelling on public transport gave more exercise than an e-bike.

Participants who swapped from driving to cycling during the study lost weight. For men, this weight was loss averaged 0.75 kg while women lost a little less.  On the other hand, the BMI outcome for e-bike riders, motorcyclists and car drivers in this study is extremely close. Using a motorised mode of transport does not give a health benefit.

E-bikes can genuinely be of assistance for people who are less active due to age or health problems as they allow those people to remain more mobile than might be the case without a motor, but it shouldn't be a surprise that the health benefits of cycling disappear if you fit a motor to a bicycle. The exercise benefits of pedalling are lost when you're no longer pushing the pedals hard.

If you're a healthy and able human then an e-bike is as bad for your health as any other motorized vehicle such as a motorbike or a car. We each need to exercise on the order of 30 minutes a day just to get enough exercise to remain healthy. On a human powered bicycle that equates to riding around 5000 km a year.

Update 13 September
This blog post does nothing but report on the study linked at the top. The scope of the study was changes in BMI due to using different modes of transport and the resulting personal health benefits, if any, which resulted. A few people have responded by telling me that they exercise while riding their e-bike. That's great but it has nothing much to do with the study. Neither the study authors or myself ever claimed that it was impossible to exercise while riding an e-bike.  This relatively long term study suggests that, on average when considering thousands of people's behaviour, those who choose an e-bike to make their journeys do not get significant exercise while those who ride human powered bicycles do get significant exercise.

Other effects such as local air pollution or CO2 footprint of different modes of transport are beyond the scope of the study.

Several people have criticized my use of the term "health benefits" in the title of this piece as if this didn't come from the study itself. In fact, it was taken directly from the conclusion at the end of the abstract: "Conclusions: Our analyses showed that people lower their BMI when starting or increasing cycling, demonstrating the health benefits of active mobility." It's quite clear that being active is the key. Also note that "cycling" in this case refers to human powered bicycles. The same health benefit was not found for riding an e-bike and the inference is that many people who ride e-bikes are significantly less active than those who ride normal bicycles.

The type of e-bike which the study refers to is a 25 km/h maximum assisted speed pedelec. Anything else is not a legal e-bike and would fall outside the scope of the study. You have to turn the pedals to make the assistance work on these, but you don't necessarily have to push the pedals very hard so it is possible to select top gear and do the minimum of work.

Average speeds of Dutch cyclists. There's not much of a
workout to be had even on an unassisted bike at 12 km/h.
You get less exercise if going barely faster with a motor.
Source: Mobiliteitsbeeld 2017 / KiM
Why does rider health not always benefit from riding an e-bike?
We can only speculate on this subject because there is no data. I suggest that it comes down to habit as much as anything else. In the past people have suggested changes of behaviour such as that drivers of cars could improve their health by, for example, parking their cars one km from work and running the last kilometre. A few people might do things like this, but the majority of car commuters drive all the way to their place of work as that is most convenient for them. I suggest a similar situation arises with e-bike riders: i.e. many could well begin with the intention of pushing the pedals harder, but they slowly find that it makes little difference to their journey time whether they work hard or let the battery do the work so it's easy to fall into doing less.

There are many e-bikes in the Netherlands and it is clear from watching how people ride these bikes that very many riders take the option of riding with an extremely low cadence in top gear and letting the motor take the strain. That the speeds of e-bikes are barely greater than the speeds of unassisted bikes supports this argument.

E-bikes for children ?
Dutch children have historically scored well for low obesity and good well-being in comparison with children from other nations. This comes in no small part due to the exercise of everyday cycling, to school and back, to visit friends and for other purposes. School children are increasingly using e-bikes are increasingly being given to school children, and manufacturers have been happy to push this demand, providing lower cost e-bikes for children (from €1200) and some manufacturers have gone as far as to suggest that the majority of children will have electric bikes within a few years. A child who is barely pushing the pedals will not get as much exercise as his classmates who provide all their own energy. I am not the first person to note that the relatively good fitness of Dutch people could be undermined by e-bikes.

Am I some kind of anti e-bike monster ?
Some of the more bizarre responses which I've received have suggested that I'm either part of the car lobby or that I'm part of the bicycle lobby. Neither is the case. I've simply told you the result of a study.

In the Netherlands, where I live, there are many classes of vehicles which use the cycle-paths. They do this mostly without causing significant problems for one-another, except in some places where the infrastructure is inadequate. These vehicles include, but are not limited to:
  • normal bicycles
  • racing bicycles
  • recumbents
  • cargo bikes
  • e-bikes (25 km/h, as considered by the study)
  • e-cargo bikes (sometimes quite large for kindergarten use)
  • mopeds limited to 25 km/h
  • electric mopeds limited to 25 km/h.
In rural areas they are joined by similar classes of electric and internal combustion engine vehicles limited to 40 km/h. All these vehicles have been getting along quite well for a long time in the Netherlands.

I don't personally want an e-bike because it would not benefit me, but it doesn't concern me at all that other people ride them. That's their choice.

25 km/h e-bikes have a similar effect on other users of cycle-paths to 25 km/h mopeds, especially the electric versions which don't produce air pollution or noise. i.e. they don't cause a significant problem to other users of cycle-paths.

Your laws on e-bikes may be different. That's beyond the scope of this blog post and the study.

Isn't it the same as gearing/aerodynamic improvements/lighter components on a normal bike?
It's a popular line of argument to suggest that someone who is perceived as being "against" e-bikes would also argue against other improvements to bicycles. This is not a logical argument.

Any improvement to a bicycle which improves its efficiency will indeed allow the rider to travel a little further and/or faster for the same effort, but all the energy required to power that bicycle will still come from the rider.

Adding a motor to a bicycle has a very different effect: It makes pedaling to some extent optional. A modern pedelec requires the rider to turn the pedals, but it does not require them to push the pedals with any significant force. In the Netherlands there are hundreds of thousands of e-bikes. They are not used to travel significantly faster than non-assisted bikes, their riders just do less work. People who switch to an e-bike almost always get less exercise as a result.

No-one ever says "since I added an aerodynamic seat-post to my racing bike I've been able to ride to work without sweating", but plenty of people will tell you that their e-bike allows them to reach their destination without working up a sweat. That is made possible because the motor did the vast majority of the work.

The speed-pedelec of the 1970s. A friend of mine had one of
these. Did he pedal it? Of course not. Credit/rights: wikipedia
We've been here before
Ever since the invention of bicycles, people have added motors to them to increase speed or reduce the effort required of the rider. You can see this even from the etymology of words such as motorbike, moped, pedelec, e-bike, bromfiets, snorfiets. Several of these types of motorized bicycles have pedals.

How often do you see someone actually pedal a moped ? Often these pedals are designed only to meet a legal requirement to have pedals. It's actually easier not to bother with them. People who buy mopeds intend to use them as powered vehicles. The same is largely true for e-bikes. While it is possible to exercise on an e-bike, many owners use their electrically assisted bikes as if they are small motorbikes, putting in the minimum effort required to turn the pedals so that the motor operates.

See also my previous blog post about how pushing e-bikes won't result in mass cycling. The benefits for individuals and society that result from mass cycling come about when safe infrastructure is provided which encourages cycling. The answer is not a different type of bike, especially not one which doesn't require the user to push the pedals hard to make progress.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Building a safe and legal rainbow crossing

My last blog post included the photo above, which no-one commented on. Many places have of course installed rainbow crossings before Assen, but some careful thought went into this which I think is noteworthy.

Bear in mind that rainbow crossings have two purposes, which are not related to one another:
  1. The political purpose: A rainbow crossing indicates that the city within which it appears supports the rights of LGBT people.
  2. A practical purpose: It must function as a crossing.
Unfortunately, many examples of rainbow crossings do a good job of looking like a rainbow but have a form which is such that they are no longer legal zebra crossings. It is important to get this right for several reasons:
  1. Drivers may not stop for a crossing which doesn't look like they were taught
  2. It may be difficult to prosecute a driver who does not stop and who injures a pedestrian if the crossing is in fact not a legal crossing.
  3. Unusual colours may not be visible at night or in poor weather
  4. If a non legal crossing is installed without the intention of giving pedestrians priority, pedestrians may still think that they have priority and this could cause dangerous situations.
The solution
In the Netherlands, road surfaces can be made of many materials with different colours. These include black, red or green asphalt, grey concrete and red or grey tiles. Regardless of the colour of the road surface, a legal zebra crossing is made of a particularly sized sequence of white stripes which contrast with the colour of the road surface.

A noteworthy design
Assen's rainbow crossing, though it has arrived later those in some other cities, is noteworthy because this design is legally a zebra and difficult for anyone to confuse as anything other than a zebra. At the same time, it's also obviously a rainbow so it fulfills both objectives successfully.

The rules in your country may be different. Whatever they are, please make sure that you build rainbow crossings, and all other pedestrians crossings, so that they have the force of law behind them and so that they are obvious in intent to all their users, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

A further note on zebra crossings in the Netherlands
White stripes on a zebra crossing make it very obvious where pedestrians should be able to cross safely. They usually indicate that pedestrians have priority at this point and that cyclists and drivers of motor vehicles must stop for pedestrians crossing the road. In Assen this is the case. A zebra indicates pedestrian priority. Other pedestrian crossings where motorists have priority do not have zebra markings painted on the road.

Unfortunately, there is an inconsistency in the Netherlands. Groningen and Utrecht are amongst the cities which use zebra markings even on traffic light controlled crossings. This mean that drivers must get used to stopping for a zebra only sometimes - The rule is that a driver must stop for pedestrians on a zebra if they don't see a traffic light. Similarly, a pedestrian must stop at the side of the road next to a zebra and expect drivers to stop for them if they cannot see a traffic light. There is a potential for confusion.

I find it a far better rule to install the zebra markings only where we wish to make it obvious that pedestrians have priority.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Events and high temperatures. Keep cycling through it all.

July has been warmer and drier than usual for the Netherlands, starting off warm and slowly heating up until the last couple of days in which we've seen 37 C locally and slightly higher temperatures further south. Cycling of course continues through all weather, hot and cold. Here's a round-up of what's been going on in Assen over the last month.

The TT
More than anything else, Assen is famous for the TT racing circuit. This brings a huge number of visitors to the city - visitors outnumbering the locals 2:1 for a few days at the end of June (not July, but under a month ago at the time of writing). Luckily, motoring events no more create a motorcycle culture resulting in everyone travelling by motorbike than cycling events can create a cycling culture so Assen's cycling is safe from the influx of motorcycling enthusiasts.

People pick their mode of transport based on what is convenient and safe. Assen, like most Dutch cities, has high quality cycling infrastructure which makes cycling convenient and safe. Choosing to cycle is easy for everyone. That is why cycles are used for more journeys than any other mode of transport in Assen.

This year, a pop-up museum displayed historic motorcycles ridden in previous TTs.

The older the motorbikes were, the more they looked like bicycles with engines strapped on. That, of course, is exactly what motorbikes were in the beginning. There is a very long history of people who think that bicycles can be improved by making an engine or motor do most of the work. It happened with the very first motorbikes, with mopeds and it's happening again now with electrically assisted bikes. Most people, for most purposes, simply don't need a motor.

Outside the museum: most visitors had arrived by bicycle, which is just what you'd expect in Assen.

Supermarkets in Assen also go motorbike mad during the TT week. This supermarket had no less than six motorbikes dotted around displays of produce. I'm not sure what the connection is between tomatoes and motorbikes, but someone decided it was marketing genius.

Motorbikes and beer seem a more normal combination as it's clear that plenty of beer is consumed at the campsites around the TT track.

Outside the supermarket, but within the shopping centre. As usual, the majority of shoppers have arrived by bicycle.
But of course you don't read this blog to see pictures of motorized bicycles. I'll stick to human power from now onward.

Haren-Haren tocht
The last night of the TT festival was on the 30th of June and the music stopped at 5 am on the 1st of July. My alarm went off at 6 am so that I could make a good start in July by taking part in the Haren-Haren ride ("De Ultieme Wielerklassieker"). It's a very well organised sociable ride from Haren in the Netherlands to Haren in Germany and back again and this was the third time I took part. The route and distance both vary. This year there were different route options: a 30 km route for hand-bikers, a 105 km route which turns at one of the refreshment points within the Netherlands and the full route of 165 km length.

7:56 am: 25 km from home, I join the queue for "Velo Koffie" in Haren

Almost everyone rides a racing bike for this event. Recumbents and velomobiles are also permitted.

The route is very well signposted, with arrows like this showing which way to go at every junction and often in-between, which is a great help on long stretches.

The route mostly uses the extensive network of excellent cycle-paths in this area, which cope perfectly well with a thousand fast cyclists following the same route together.

Cycle racers gain a huge aerodynamic advantage by riding in a group. I have my own personal aerodynamic advantage when riding singly in a velomobile, but the difference in bicycle shape means I can't profit from riding in the middle of a group.

Germany. See flag and the different style of buildings which appear immediately after we cross the border. Naturally there's nothing else to note. A seamless border within the EU.
The furthest point was a stop at a small airfield just short of Haren (DE). Cake and sport drink were served. Then we rode back to the Netherlands.

A section of country lane in Groningen on the way back to Haren (NL). Roads like these do not function as useful through routes for drivers so there are very few cars to contend with. Cyclists so far as the eye can see.
As ever with rides like this some preparation is required. In particular it's a good idea to make sure your bike is in good condition. Because punctures are not amusing at all when you're a long way from home I don't use "fast" tyres but instead go for reliability. Schwalbe Marathon tyres pumped up to their maximum rated pressure are perfect.

Preparation also means sun block and a hat, and it's also important to take care of what you eat and drink. Hummus and salad sandwiches are my usual staple for lunch, augmented with nuts and crisps, snacks and a banana. In additional to a couple of bidons of water I also took a bidon of energy drink and had cartons of soy milk and fruit juice stashed away. I find that what seems appealing before or at the start of the ride isn't necessarily what you want to eat by the end of it so variety is important so you can find something that you like. Short distance cycling doesn't require eating anything more than usual, but on longer distances you do need to eat: This ride consumed about 4000 calories.

In total I rode 215 km in slightly over six and a half hours which is good enough for me. I was home, had a shower and was sitting in the garden with a book by mid afternoon. A very enjoyable day.

Regular weekend / midweek rides
Quite apart from our daily cycling for utility purposes, Judy and I try to get out for rides on the weekend and sometimes also mid-week

Wide cycle-paths mean sociable cycling.

There's a butterfly garden a few kilometres away which we visited on one of our recent rides. No butterflies stood still long enough to get a decent photo, but this dragonfly posed nicely for a photo.

An oddity on the cycle-path network of Drenthe: This kink in the cycle-path seems ideally designed to allow display of a classic car.

Watched by a horse while stopped for a snack.

Tractors are sometimes quite horrible to follow because of their exhaust fumes. They're usually limited in speed, in this case the tractor was limited to 30 km/h making it not difficult to race. We were rewarded with fresh air to breath.

One of the joys of living in a rural location is being able to buy fresh vegetables while cycling. These courgettes for sale at 40 cents each were actually quite large marrows. I bought one of them and it fed us for three nights.

Plenty of space for cyclists on the cycle-path along the canal

Unfortunately, there's not always fresh air to breath. Boats like this burn twice as much fuel per passenger kilometre as Concorde. Because no-one ever checks their emissions they get away with producing horrible clouds of smoke, yet local governments invite them into city centres just when they should be trying to reduce such pollution, especially near where people live.
Dutch lessons
I've mentioned in the past about how children not only cycle to and from school in the Netherlands, but schools also take children on trips by bicycle. That's something that doesn't happen so much elsewhere because of worries about liability but it's very normal in the Netherlands.

School trips by bike are not only for children. I signed up for a new course of Dutch lessons at the start of this year and our end of year activity was, of course, a cycle-trip. A few weeks ago we rode about 30 km one evening to a nice location in the countryside where we shared a picnic.

My fellow students and our teacher somewhere near the front .
Making deliveries
"Free delivery by velomobile" is a service which you won't find offered by many companies.

We offer local customers the option of free delivery by bicycle, which we normally say is within the city. However sometimes the sun is shining and I could do with a bike ride and I'll go further. One customer 25 km away who ordered a tyre and inner tubes this month received his parts by velomobile. A 50 km round trip through Drenthe is always tempting.

We don't only write about cycling and about bicycles, we use them every day and we sell parts which work for everyday cycling.

Parts for the customer - a tyre and two inner tubes.
Stopped for lunch on the return journey
Colour change in cycle-paths
When it's not rained for a while the cycle-paths of Assen change colour due to tyre wear. Particulate pollution isn't something to celebrate, but at least there is far less as a result of bicycles in comparison with cars.
Particulate rubber as a result of thousands of bicycles on dry asphalt. It's washed away by even quite light rain.
The much larger problem resulting from a few cars demonstrating performance during an event during the TT festival a whole month ago. There are orders of magnitude more rubber dust here: at the time of the photograph, this evening, this had survived several downfalls of rain.
Bicycles as Pollution
Assen's new railway station, built to replace the old station which dated from 1989, has now opened. With it, the temporary station's cycle-park has been closed. Owners of bicycles which had been parked there were warned weeks in advance that they had to remove their bikes. Most of the bicycles were removed, but these are the bicycles which were left at the station and which have been collected for scrapping. The blue shed is full and there are more bikes on the other side of it:

A small part of the temporary cycle-park a few days before closure. Most bikes had been removed.
But a month later these bicycles, extending into the blue shed and beyond, could be found near the town dump waiting to be scrapped. They're not all wrecks. Bicycles as pollution.
Self-destructing cycle-paths
The heat has taken its toll on some of the cycle-paths locally. I came across this a few days ago: A concrete cycle-path which had cracked spectacularly. This happens occasionally when the expansion gaps become full of solid objects such as small rocks. Luckily, there was a work crew already fixing the problem.
Heat damage to a concrete cycle-path

By the time I found this damage it was already being fixed
In order to avoid damage to asphalt cycle-paths which could melt, salt is applied in exactly the same way as it is in winter.
For the last 53 years, Assen has hosted a Fietsvierdaagse. It's a four day cycling event in which 11000 people took part this year. I rode on just one day, Thursday, and entered to ride the 100 km route rather than the more popular (and slower) 40 km route.

I've enjoyed the fietsvierdaagse routes, short and long over different years since we've lived here but I think it's a mistake that they've stopped putting up arrows for the longer routes as that makes them much less fun to follow. GPS on a bike isn't really my thing: I don't want to have to stare at a screen when cycling.

People arrive at 8:00

The fietsvierdaagse is about gezelligheid, not speed.

While the shorter routes are way-marked, the longer routes are not. Following a not very well printed map without GPS and often finding myself riding on the same paths as people taking part over much shorter distances was impractical so after going along half the distance on approximately the route as I was supposed to I made the rest of the journey along familiar routes back home on which I could keep up a sensible speed.

Another delivery
All the parcels we send out to mail order customers begin their journey on one of our bikes, most on our cargo bike. Customers within Assen either collect from us or we deliver and use it as an excuse to ride a bit further. This morning, delivery to a customer 2 km away turned into an 18 km ride. Not a long distance, but a nice way to start the morning.
I made another delivery this morning, taking an oversized chainwheel to a customer just 2 km away from home in a new suburb of Assen.

In total, this delivery to a customer 2 km away resulted in an 18 km cycle-ride. Part of the journey back to Assen was along this dead-end (to cars) country lane which serves half a dozen farms. It is being improved with safer edging.
Assen now has a rainbow zebra crossing. I'm all for recognizing diversity in all its forms. Something notable about this particular crossing is how it has been created. Some rainbow coloured crossings are not legal zebras because of their design but in this case the white stripes comply to the regulations for a standard zebra contrasting to the surface underneath, which can be any colour. Unfortunately, they've dropped the advisory cycle-lane broken white line through the rainbow section, and this is right in a location where drivers enter the cycle-lane regularly because its on the inside of a corner. The paint looks nice, but this change doesn't fix several other problems of this junction either.

This evening in Assen. My town bike among the others parked near a cafe.

Continuing a theme from above, the spearmint in our garden attracted dozens of bees today.

Thus far, all the cycling I've done this month on all the bikes I've ridden adds up to about 750 km.

The Tour-de-France ends tomorrow. Competing cyclists will have ridden 3351 km in the last three weeks, somewhat exceeding my efforts.

The finishing line
However, even more impressive and happening as I write this, Nici Walde is attempting to break the human powered 24 hour cycling record which currently stands at 1219 km as well as the women's record which stands at 1012 km. She started at 10 this morning and will continue to ride until 10 tomorrow morning and she'll have to maintain an average speed of better than 50 km/h for 24 hours. At the time of writing Nici has covered 602 km in the first 12 hours. Already awesome. Good luck Nici.

Update: Nici Walde rode 1088 km in 24 hours, easily breaking the previous women's record. That is the absolute limit of human power as of the 29th of July 2018.