Saturday 24 August 2019

The car-free myth. The Netherlands is a great country to live in if you're car-free, but it's a very long way from being a car-free country. Dutch car ownership and use are at an all time high.

The 1970s in Assen. The city was then full of cars. Cars are
now restricted in the city centre, but it would be incorrect to
assume that they've gone away. In fact, car numbers have
tripled since this photo was taken.
A myth has grown up about the Dutch being enthusiastic cyclists who live in green cities and rarely drive. In reality, the majority of journeys are made by motorized vehicles and people who live car-free are in a small and shrinking minority.

A life without motorized vehicles
Over the last year I've travelled about 7000 km. 6200 km was covered by bike and the rest I walked (I walk our dog 2 km a day on a normal day, sometimes much more). 6000 km is nothing to boast about. It's by no means an extreme distance to cycle in a year - it's barely more than enough to provide the minimum amount of exercise required for health.

It's quite easy to arrange a life so that you don't need to drive. When I took jobs which were too far away to cycle to, I moved closer to them so that they were within cycling distance. My shortest round trip commute was about 8 km and the longest was 60 km, so work was always within reach by bike and I never "had to" drive. When we lived in the UK we either took our children to school on a bike with us or we walked with them. Here in the Netherlands they made their own way by bike just like all the other kids. We've always made routine journeys like grocery shopping or visiting the dentist by bike because it's more convenient that way. It's also easy enough to carry food for a family in bicycle baskets or panniers or, if you really need a lot of things at once, in a trailer.

30 kg of parcels on the way to customers yesterday. The first
few km are under our control. We don't own or use motorized
vehicles so our customers' bike parts travel by human power.
I work from home these days so I don't have a commute, but I do cycle for work: Our business doesn't make use of motor vehicles so I transport parcels with a cargo bike. That distance is included in my total (all my bikes have bike computers so its easy to add up the total).

I've only travelled by motor vehicle twice over the last year, both times to help a friend with his fledgling business. Otherwise all my travel has been by bike or by foot.

We did actually own a car until a year ago when I took it to the scrapyard. I've not missed it. Cars just are not that fantastic. I didn't own one for most of my life and during the period when we did own a car, it would often go months (sometimes years) without either of us finding a reason to drive it, resulting in frozen brakes and dead batteries as the most common maintenance issues. It was occasionally a very convenient thing to have access to, but it was mostly a nuisance.

While we never used a car much in the UK, living without a car is even easier in the Netherlands because the excellent cycle-path network makes cycling much safer and more convenient. Conditions for cycling where we live in Assen are better than average for the Netherlands - that's not something which happened by accident but on purpose: we chose this location after looking around most of the country. But as a result, cycling is just excellent here.

The Dutch cycle-path network goes everywhere and works well anywhere in this country for people who don't want to have to rely upon a car. However, it would be a mistake to assume that because some people get about by bicycle in the Netherlands, and because some people make a choice not to run a car, that this means that cycling is in a healthy state in the country, or that a large percentage of people are happily living car-free because of that excellent cycling infrastructure. The willingly car-free are actually a small and decreasing minority.
On days off we go riding in the countryside. There are cycle-paths everywhere, not just in the cities.
Cars - the transport mode chosen most often by the Dutch.
A Dutch motorway in the middle of the day. The traffic is
constant and growing. Emissions, particulates, noise, all are
growing. This isn't helped by higher speed limits than in the
past leading to higher fuel consumption (130 km/h = 80 mph)
In 1992, 42% of Dutch households were car-free. By 2016 this had dropped to about a quarter. Car ownership has continued to increase since then. Higher car ownership leads to higher car usage. Almost anyone who can easily afford a car has one and there aren't many people at all who choose to go without if they can afford one: Amongst people of average income, just 12% of households don't have a car and that drops further to just 6% for high income households.

It shouldn't be a surprise that lower income families are most likely not to own a car as this is clearly a function of affordability. It's not a curse in the same way as it can be elsewhere as the excellent cycle path network offers relief from transport poverty. Therefore Dutch people who can't afford a car are not stuck with a terrible choice of trying to prioritize keeping a car or having to pay for expensive public transport as happens to people elsewhere. However the impressive road network which everyone pays for is primarily of use only to those who do own a car.

Cycling is still a significant mode in this country with around a quarter of all journeys still made by bike, but the lengths of journeys that Dutch people make has steadily grown and those journeys are increasingly being made by motorized means. The most popular vehicle by far is the private car. It's not helped by the tax free allowance of 20 cents per km driven paid on top of the salary by most employers (something which gave me quite a nice bonus when I cycled 60 km a day to get to work and back) which helps to encourage long commutes. Dutch commutes are the longest on average in Europe.

Cycling in the UK and Netherlands 1950-2000
Cycling dropped precipitously in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s with the rapid growth of motorized transport, especially private cars. The decline was arrested back in the 1970s, but cycling has not grown much since then. The motorized modes of transport which we sometimes like to think that we conquered have in fact continued to rise in popularity.

When I first wrote about car ownership and car-free living in the Netherlands 11 years ago I got two things wrong: First, I was overly impressed with the relatively high percentage of car-free households (42%), which unfortunately has now nearly halved. Second, I thought at the time that I could see a levelling off of car ownership in the data which was then available. That turned out not to be the case. The blip in the data can still be seen in the middle of the graph below, but you can see for yourself what happened afterwards:
From 197 cars per 1000 people in 1970 we've grown to 662 in 2019. i.e. we now have more than three times the number of cars per person even compared with the "bad old days" of the car dominated 1970s as portrayed in photos like that at the top of this article. We mustn't believe our own myths about having conquered the car. The simple fact is that Dutch car use has grown continuously for 70 years much as it has in every other nation. The government expects that growth to continue and roads are being expanded to cater for it.

The rise in driving is obvious to anyone who has been taking notice of how busy roads in this country have become in recent years. We've lived here for 12 years now. During that time we've seen enormous expenditure on road expansion all the way across the country and the number of vehicles being driven has increased to fill all those new roads.
Several shocks to car ownership can be seen on this graph if you look very closely. e.g. cars declined by 2/3rds during the second world war and you can also see a slight reduction in the rate of growth which coincides with the 1970s fuel crisis. However, none of these shocks to car ownership look actually did anything significant to prevent an ever-increasing rise in driving. The Dutch government continues to plan for more growth.
There are now around 8.5 million cars on the roads in the Netherlands. That's a million more cars than when we moved here 12 years ago. A million more cars contributing to climate change, creating particulate pollution and noise and putting people in danger. A million cars spread across the entire road network of the Netherlands means an extra car every 7 km. Of course they won't be evenly spread, and much of the time they'll be parked by homes. The extra cars are visible in Dutch cities. For instance, this city (Assen) has about half of one percent of the country's population, so we probably have around the same proportion of the additional cars, which is about 4000. There are roughly 250 km of streets in our city so we can now expect to find an extra parked car every 16 metres on residential streets in comparison to the situation 12 years ago.

This graphic show the imbalance between the small danger cyclists create and their relatively large exposure to danger.
While much has genuinely been done to make cycling safer here, the main cause of injury and death to cyclists (apart from older people having single sided collision on e-bikes) remains motor vehicles so we really do still need more work on this. Adding extra cars to every street increases the potential danger on every street.

On average Dutch people travel about 6500 km per year by car (that's an average per person, not per driver). You'll note that it's about the same distance as I cycle each year. Car ownership in recent years has grown especially strongly amongst older people. 50-65 year olds, 65-75 year olds and especially drivers aged 75+ use their cars far more now than ever before with 39% growth in the distance covered by in 75+ drivers between 2005 and 2015.

Not just cars. All motorized transport is a problem.
Our local airport installed solar to
greenwash its image. They don't put
fossil carbon back under the ground.
The total distance travelled per year by the average Dutch person is about 11000 km. You'll note that this is nearly double the distance distance travelled in cars. Much of the difference is composed of longer distances travelled by air. Flying is one of the fastest growing modes of travel in the Netherlands.

The rise in flying is something I've written about before. Between the 1960s and now, commercial flying has increased by a factor of 30. During that time, the efficiency of aircraft has improved by a factor of three, leaving us with 10x the emissions now that we had in the 1960s.

The use of trains is also growing sharply in the Netherlands. This not only means more trains, but also more, bigger railway stations. All of this has a huge environmental cost. While it's common to find people celebrating the enormous cycle parks at Dutch railway stations, they're not really an example of cycling success. What they represent is that Dutch people increasingly do not use their bicycles to make whole journeys but instead use them to allow them to make longer journeys by motorized transport. Cycling is not a green mode of transport when it is used merely as an adjunct to a motor vehicle.

The efficiency myth
If each car is twice as efficient then we have similar emissions to the 1980s, when cars were also not sustainable. If each car can be made three times as efficient then we can reach a situation where a much larger car fleet has the same impact as cars had on the Netherlands in the 1970s. But all that can do is return us to a similar pattern of energy consumption and emissions as we had from cars in in the 1970s, and that wasn't sustainable either. The only way that we will reduce the impact of cars is to have far fewer of them.

We see a similar picture with air travel. Graphs showing ever rising numbers of flights rightly cause many people concern. Unfortunately, a significant number, including campaigners on green issues, seem to think that making the same journeys by a different mode can fix the problem. It can't. The most optimistic estimates for emissions of high speed rail are that the emissions due to trains are about 90% lower than that per passenger km of an aircraft. There are reasons to doubt such claims, because for example they ignore the high environmental cost of railway infrastructure, but let's stick with that claimed 90% improvement for now. The question we need to ask is "was flying sustainable 40 years ago" ? The answer is of course that it was not. Now take a look at this graph:

It is estimated, byAirbus who hope to sell lots of aircraft, that flying will double over the next few years. Just imagine it were possible over the next 15 years to shift all those air passengers onto rail with a 90% improvement in efficiency. If that were possible, then we would expect the emissions of trains carrying those passengers to be proportional not to 15 trillion RPK by air per year, but to 1.5 trillion. That's about the level of air transport in 1979. i.e. if everyone switched to rail then by 2034 we'll be able to travel with the same emissions as we did 40 years ago. Of course, this wasn't sustainable 40 years ago and it won't be sustainable in the future either.

We need to travel less. Sailing ships and bicycles have no emissions. Everything else does.

Los Angeles in the 1950s. Does this look like a picture
of sustainability ? There are many more cars today.
Improving efficiency is not enough to solve the problems.
Not just a Dutch problem
Of course this isn't just a Dutch problem. The same things are happening world-wide. A few weeks ago I wrote about how the number of cars in the UK has doubled in the last 30 years, a similar growth rate to the Netherlands. Another interesting case for me is the USA. It's interesting because the USA was the first nation to adopt mass motoring. Perhaps they've reached a limit to growth in emissions ?

The photo on the right shows traffic in Los Angeles in the 1950s. The accompanying text points out that building more roads couldn't solve the problem of ever increasing traffic. This was already understood to be a problem 60 years ago.

It could be thought, optimistically, that US car ownership should have plateaued since that time however that has not happened. Instead, the numbers of cars on US roads have continued to rise.

How quickly has US car ownership risen ? Well, there are twice as many cars now as in the mid 1970s and at least four times as many as when the photo of Los Angeles in the 1950s was taken. That is why traffic congestion on roads remains a problem today. The US did not succeed in building its way out of congestion. Nor will it succeed in building its way out of emissions. This graph illustrates why:
For some years during the second world war no new cars at all were available to buy, but data points ten years apart shows little effect due to a total lack of new cars during that period. Similarly, the fuel crisis of the 1970s is almost impossible to discern. The rightmost part of the graph is flattened slightly because the final figure I could find was from 2017, while I really needed ownership figures from 2020.
Graph from a recent blog post about car growth in the UK. It's dramatic enough but note that this actually looks less steep than it should in comparison with the others because the X-axis scale is different: even the insert which looks steeper goes back only to 1950.
As with the Netherlands, car efficiency is being pushed as a way of solving the emissions problems of cars. However, no creditable study of the environmental impact of electric cars suggests that total lifetime emissions are significantly better than those of conventionally engine cars. The most optimistic studies suggest that total emissions could be as low as a quarter of that of cars with conventional engines but even if it were the case that electric cars had a quarter of the total impact of conventional cars, this could only return US emissions from cars to a similar level as that which they had in the 1950s, a similar level as was seen at the time of the photograph above, levels in other countries such as the Netherlands to those seen as recently as the 1970s and levels in developing countries to perhaps those of around decade ago. The emissions in the 1950s, 1970s and 2000s were not sustainable. Achieving those same emissions in the future with four times as many cars on the road also won't be sustainable. All we do is set back the clock a little. We don't really change anything.

We need to travel less. Bicycles and sailing boats are the only really sustainable modes of transport and these are the modes which should be encouraged above others.

What can be done about this ?
the excellent cycle paths in this country help us to run an
ethical business, but they're not attractive enough to convince
the majority of people that they can live without a car.
The Netherlands has built the most comprehensive grid of mostly very high quality cycling infrastructure anywhere in the world, but we are still failing to make cycling attractive enough to encourage people not to use motorized transport because actually we are still encouraging people to make ever more and longer journeys.

We need to change how our society is structured. Quite apart from the climate changing effects, the road deaths and the particulate production due to mass transport, people are wasting far too much of their time making long journeys in motorized vehicles. This is not a good use of our limited life-spans. The resultant stress is not good for our mental health. Instead of encouraging people to make long commutes by paying them 20 cents per kilometre that they travel, by giving subsidies for buying new cars and providing free public transport for commuters and students, thereby encouraging a high degree of use of motorized vehicles, we should be encouraging people to live near their work or work near their home. If we're going to offer subsidies, we should subsidise people to live in an ethical and low impact manner. For instance, we could subsidize people to move home to near their work, rather than help them to make long journeys every day. Maybe we could start to subsidize the most efficient vehicles on the planet instead of those which are amongst the least efficient.

Many people already choose to live in a less impactful way. They already choose to move instead of commute, to travel by human power even when carrying quite heavy loads. However while this behaviour benefits everyone it is not something which the government really supports. We certainly don't see a cent of subsidy for behaving in an ethical manner.

A poster from an a protest
against our local airport.
We also need to start to tax air travel in particular, but also all long distance transport by any means. It's an outrage that air travel is encouraged by both government subsidies for the airports and flights as well as a total lack of taxation on the fuel. Despite all efficiency improvements, the environmental impact of aviation has risen by a factor of ten during my lifetime. We need to fix this (and recognise that switching to an alternative mode which is "90% more efficient" represents nothing more advanced than setting the pollution clock back to the wasteful 1960s.

Other countries: You need to do all of that and also build the cycling infrastructure. Otherwise your citizens will, even more than the Dutch, feel that they have no choice but to drive cars daily and to travel long distances. Our continued relatively peaceful existence on this planet requires that we act.

We are asking the wrong question
Lots of people are asking the question "how can we continue to make ever more long journeys in future?" Few are asking the question "how can we live lives which require us to spend less time travelling?"

Update 27 August: Here come the urbanists
This blog post has attracted quite a bit of attention on twitter and has been re-tweeted by people who appear not to have actually read the text but who seem to think that the graph showing rising car usage indicates something along the lines of that Dutch suburbs have failed and that in future everyone should live in densely populated cities and travel by bus or train. That is not what the text above says. I don't say that because it would not be helpful and it would condemn the world's population to a grim existence of living on top of one-another in packed cities.

  1. Population density: The Netherlands has the world's highest proportion of journeys by bike, but it does not have especially densely populated cities. Cycling is relatively attractive in the Netherlands because people can make a positive choice to cycle on infrastructure which is convenient and safe.
  2. Suburbs: Suburbs can be designed to encourage and support a high degree of cycling and walking. This results in far more attractive living conditions than a densely populated city. Think of a suburb as being quite similar to a village, so long as we make sure that there are facilities within the suburb and that they are not built as dormitories.
  3. Public transport: It is true that Dutch people do not use public transport much. However, this is not a negative point about the Netherlands. Instead of being large users of public transport, the Dutch have the highest use of non-motorized transport in Europe. In fact, the proportion of journeys walked or cycled in the Netherlands is higher than the proportion of journeys taken by public transport in any European nation, even much poorer nations where there is less choice other than the take public transport. Walking and cycling are the two truly green transport modes. It is certainly not beneficial to seek to encourage people to swap bicycles for public transport.
  4. Public transport and wealth: The use of public transport declines with wealth. People who who a choice, because live in a more wealthy country or become more wealthy, are less likely to accept that their journey from A to B should take place on someone else's timetable and include a detour through C and D. That is why people opt to drive, and in the Netherlands why they opt to cycle as well. The Netherlands is one of the richest countries in Europe yet has one of the highest rates of non-motorized transport. That is a success. It's possible because cycling offers direct and convenient journeys. We merely need to provide go-everywhere infrastructure to make it also safe and attractive.
This article aims to bust a myth about the Dutch being particularly keen cyclists who do not drive because the fact is that Dutch people are quite wealthy, they own a lot of cars and they drive a lot. However it does not aim to call the relative Dutch success in cycling anything other than a success.

This country has the highest modal share for cycling in the world. Our cycling infrastructure is second to none and this has created opportunities to cycle which do not exist elsewhere. The infrastructure has normalized cycling amongst a population which is rich enough to drive for a higher proportion of their journeys than they do.

The problem that we are facing now, along with every other nation as none have tackled it, is that we have not addressed the ever growing usage of motor vehicles. Every car, bus, train, airplane is polluting the planet and slowly killing us. We need to reduce the usage of motor vehicles and should not aim simply to swap from one motorized vehicle to another because as pointed out above ("the efficiency myth") that cannot not solve the issue.

The Netherlands offers a tantalizing glimpse of something that other countries could and should adopt. Building high quality cycling infrastructure works to give people a positive option, addressing the problem of motoring to some extent. However it's not enough. We must also counter motor vehicles.

The "disappointing" response
For some reason some people see the growth of driving in the Netherlands as particularly surprising, as if they expect the Dutch to be different to people in other countries.

Dutch people are people. On average they're fairly wealthy so can afford cars. They are just as influenced by advertising and the appeal of shiny new things as anyone anywhere else. What's more, there are tax breaks and subsidies for buyers of new cars, Dutch roads are excellent, traffic jams are rare and here in the Netherlands you can actually make a profit from a long commute by car because you'll be paid an extra 20 cents tax free for every kilometre of your commute.

What is unusual in the Netherlands is the extent to which people still choose to cycle, despite all this encouragement to drive. They do so because the cycling infrastructure makes cycling an appealing, convenient and safe option. But until we stop encouraging driving, we can only expect the number of cars and the distance that they're driven each year to continue to increase.

Update 17 September 2019 - A new official driving record has been set by Dutch drivers
A study just published by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics has found that Dutch drivers drove their cars a record distance in 2018 - a total of 121.4 billion kilometres, or 1.2% more than in 2017. The average usage per car actually dropped by 1%, but the 2.2% growth in the number of cars over a year more than made up for that (note in the text above the shift from people being passengers in cars to driving alone). The growth in total kilometres driven for business use at 4% was higher than the growth in individual use at 0.4%, but it's important to recognise that both of these figures show growth.
Light blue shows personal car usage which has grown steadily year on year while the dark blue shows business use which took a dive with the 2008 crisis before rising more sharply. Note also that while businesses are catching up and did so particularly last year, it's a steady increase in personal usage which is actually the big growth area.

Due to the diesel scandal, the use of diesel powered cars has dropped by 2.5%, but the growth in petrol powered cars was greater at 2.7%. While the Netherlands has by some standards quite high numbers of electrically powered cars, only 0.5% of total km driven are driven in an electric car vs. 99.5% in fossil fuel cars. Even if they were a solution to something (which they are not), their numbers would in any case be too small to make a difference.

In other recent news, European cars are getting bigger with SUVs now making up 36% of total sales, expected to rise to 40% by 2021. This trend can also be seen in the Netherlands. This, unsurprisingly, has resulted in CO2 emissions from motor vehicles rising year on year. While car companies are supposed to limit their average emissions per vehicle sold to 95 g of CO2 per km, the average SUV emits 120 g over the same distance. From January car manufacturers will have to pay a €95 fine per g CO2/km per car. To work around the fine, car manufacturers are subsidizing some buyers to buy lower emission cars so that they can continue to sell the high emission cars to other purchasers, keeping their average emissions per vehicle at the highest point that they can without paying a fine. It's an accounting trick. i.e. not helping in any way to clean up our environment.

Even if electric cars were a solution, which they're not, they remain a tiny fraction of the cars sold (even here, and more so worldwide). What's happening at the moment is that we're seeing more and more fossil fueled cars being added to the roads. They each have an expected lifespan of around 20 years so we're locking in a high level of fossil fuel consumption for personal transport for another 20 years. And this year's cars are not the end of the story: we also have no reason to expect much to change next year, or the year after. Car companies plan to continue to produce more cars for as long as they can, oil companies plan to produce more oil to fuel them. No-one is actually tackling this problem. Somehow we're supposed to want to see our carbon emissions decrease before 2030, but all of those new cars cumulatively will work to ensure that this doesn't happen by staying on the roads for many more years than that.

The only solution is for car usage to drop. So what is the Dutch government doing about it ? Much the same as any other: the budget which was just announced includes billions for more motorways, billions to install 1.8 million extra charging points for electric cars, billions to encourage people to make long journeys by train, and also a little bit for cycling which a minister described as "the secret weapon against congestion". So secret that it receives little in funding compared with more polluting modes of transport.

Burning oil
I don't have rights to a photo of the Saudi Arabian attack
so this is actually a gas flare near my home.
In addition, readers will no doubt also be aware of the drone attacks at the weekend on the oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia. This has been quite big news and it has led to oil price rises. The thick black smoke resulting from the flames is obviously a significant pollutant. But note this: If were not burnt as a result of this attack all that oil was going to be burnt anyway in a car, truck, bus, train or aeroplane somewhere near you. All that carbon was going to be emitted into our environment. The burning with black smoke is less efficient and has resulted in a lot of soot, but the soot hasn't been converted into CO2 as would have been the case had that oil been burnt as was intended. The attack may actually have resulted in lower CO2 emissions than would have been the case otherwise. We need to stop burning oil, whether in vehicles, power stations or in attacks like this one. It's all the same.

Are younger people driving less ?
One part of the picture is that the influence of younger people on the growth in driving in the Netherlands is less than the influence of older people who on average account for more of the growth. Naturally, there have been some attempts to make a generational issue out of this, to make out that the young are behaving differently because they think differently. Unfortunately, there's no real evidence for that. In fact, these differences are very small and there is another better explanation: It's not about age, it's about wealth. Wealthier people drive more than less wealthy people. This holds true for entire nations (though NL bucks that trend a bit) just as much as it does within a nation.

Dutch lottery advertisement. Yes, you can win a bike.
But I suspect most people would rather win the car.
There is no indication that younger people are driving less by choice. Rather, younger people these days are under more financial pressure than was the case for people of the same age a few decades ago. For instance, accommodation is more expensive now and is consuming a larger proportion of income. Rents are higher than they used to be and it's really much more difficult to "get on the housing ladder" now than it was when the people who are older now were getting started. As a result, other things have to be prioritized. But give people money and they tend to buy a car. That's why lottery adverts always feature cars, including here in the Netherlands.

Car companies are no more likely to solve the problems which inevitably come from using cars than cigarette companies can be relied upon to solve the problems caused by their product. Different new cars are not the answer to any of the problems caused by cars. We need far fewer cars.

Update September 2020 - even more driving
We now have the stats for 2019. Another record year of car driving here in the Netherlands. Dutch drivers drove 122.5 billion kilometres last year. While the 1.2% rise in driving last year prompted my concern, this year we've seen an even bigger 1.9% rise.

Benzine is Dutch for petrol / gasoline. I think you'll work the others out for yourselves.

The main growth was, unsurprisingly, in petrol / gasoline powered cars (light blue in the graph), which still outsell all other kinds of cars. While use of electric vehicles has doubled, they are still only a tiny fraction of the total so even if they were transformative, which they are not, their numbers are still too small to make any useful difference and that will remain true for many years to come. To solve the problems caused by cars we don't need different cars but fewer cars being driven less.

Fact check: Dutch car ownership continues to rise, just as elsewhere around the world

Thursday 8 August 2019

Long term review: My Pashley PDQ touring recumbent. 20 years on the Ship of Theseus.

Long term review: 20 years ago I bought a Pashley PDQ recumbent bicycle for touring. I still have it and still use it.
Pashley PDQ recumbent bicycle. Compact, simple in design, reliable. Still a good buy second hand in my opinion.
Cycling need not be an expensive activity. Good quality bicycles last a long time. If we're careful to buy decent quality machines and we maintain them with some care then we can end up with the apparent luxury of a "fleet" of several bikes suitable for different purposes without that being expensive.

Recumbent cycling
I've been cycling for nearly 50 years, and for the last half of that time I've ridden recumbent bicycles for at least some of my journeys. My interest in recumbent bikes initially came about due to an injury: At the time I rode a narrow-tyred racing type bicycle with dropped handlebars and I worked as a software engineer so I had vibration in my hands on the way to and from work and then spent my working day was behind a computer with keyboard and mouse. Over several years this resulted in a carpal tunnel injury. I initially was interested in a recumbent as a way of relieving the pressure on my wrists while allowing me to continue to cycle. My first recumbent was a home made tricycle which was comfortable and fun to ride, but it was also heavy and slow. Nevertheless, it sufficed for my 16 km round trip to work and the new bike combined with a change in how I typed it resulted in more or less full recovery from my injury. But I now wanted to keep that comfort and also gain a bit of speed.

Next I bought a used Speed Ross bike. This was more like a racing bicycle to ride, being light and fast. Unfortunately it was also a bit fragile. It was fun, but not entirely trustworthy. For touring I really needed something else. The Pashley PDQ had several attractive features: two same-sized wheels (that means fewer spares to carry), a very comfortable seat, it was particularly compact, and it could take a lot of luggage. It was never the fastest of recumbents, but it also wasn't slow. It's certainly quicker than a conventional upright bike ridden in an position un-aerodynamic enough to give such a good view of where we're going.

Anyway, my PDQ was bought at some time in mid 1999 from D-Tek in the East of England, near where we lived at the time. Mine was an ex-demo machine so I got a small discount on the then new price. I paid something like 800 pounds for the bike, which works out as 40 pounds per year so far.

Blurry photo from my old commute - rapidly catching up with
a gaggle of teenagers on the way to school
I actually don't know how many kilometres the bike has been ridden in total because it outlasted a few different cheap bike computers before I fitted a reliable bike computer. I unfortunately didn't keep a record of the distances I'd covered. The total now is probably not far off 100000 km. When we lived in the UK I used the PDQ as a daily commuting bike for several years. It was also used for holidays, weekly rides with friends, occasional Audax rides, and for touring rides such as Land's End to John O'Groats, to visit relatives (Judy's parents lived 100 miles away and if Judy had gone to visit in the week I'd ride up to meet them at the weekend).

We sold most of our bikes before emigrating so when we first came to the Netherlands but I kept this one and initially had just the PDQ and my town bike so the PDQ continued to be used for all the longer recreational rides as well as a 60 km per day commute, to collect stock and to visit people in other parts of the country. I work from home now and the bike has competition for the longer rides, so the PDQ's usage has dropped to just over 2000 km a year but for our first few years in the Netherlands it was doing a lot more than that.

The PDQ's origins go back a long way. It was originally an American design, the Counterpoint Presto, until that company went bust and the design was sold to the British company Pashley. Pashley produced it with some modifications until 2003. All PDQs are now second hand and all are a minimum of 16 years old, but unless they've been treated very harshly there is probably plenty of life in them yet.

Photos of the PDQ in action
The PDQ has accompanied me on many adventures and holidays as well as on many mundane commutes and other utilitarian rides.
My PDQ when it was nearly new on a short cycle-camping trip in Lincolnshire, UK in 2000 I used to wear a helmet back then. These days I wear a cycling cap in summer or something warmer in winter.

2006 - Old Warden aerodrome. That's a Pietenpol Air Camper in the background. What makes this an interesting aircraft is that it's one of several designs created using a car engine (in this case Ford Model A) which goes faster, and therefore achieves better efficiency, than the car which donated the engine. People often assume that flying is automatically less efficient than land bound transport but that isn't true. The problem with flying isn't that it's a particularly inefficient means of transport but, just as with driving, that it has grown in popularity so much that it now threatens our survival.
A country lane somewhere between Cambridge and London
Shap Fell
This artificial hill, the highest point in Drenthe, was built for cyclists to ride over.
Judy and I on holiday

Our bikes relax while we have refreshments
On a ferry in Friesland. Lots of bikes and unfortunately also one car.
A cold foggy day in Drenthe
Bringing home bicycle racks from one of our suppliers
A group ride in the North of Groningen.
In the past the Fietsvierdaagse included 100 km routes so I've ridden some of those with the PDQ, but unfortunately they now only organise shorter distances. I've also ridden the PDQ on the 160 km Haren-Haren "classic" ride a couple of times.
Details of the bike
I apologise in advance for the dirt on the bike when I took these close-up photos. While I make sure that the bike is in good mechanical order, polishing it just takes time out from riding.

Due to the usage that this bike has had I've worn out many tyres, chains, cassettes and chainrings. The latter are made to last by replacing the chain whenever it has "stretched". This is made easier with a chain wear checking tool.

The frame, the seat, the handlebars and the luggage rack are all original, but I've rebuilt both the front and rear wheels (twice), the brakes, bell, gear shifter, cranks, chainwheel have all been replaced as they wore out or were broken.

There have been occasional incidents as well: A truck driving into me when I was on the way to work in Cambridge was the reason for one of the rear wheel rebuilds. caused me to have to rebuild the rear wheel.

The bike came with a Sachs 3x7 hub to provide a wider range of gearing but I found the hub gear part of this wasn't reliable. After rebuilding it three times with new bearings, the axle broke and so I replaced it with this standard Shimano hub which has been perfectly reliable. For the last eleven years I've had seven gears in total, which is enough for most purposes. I measure the chain length regularly and change the chain if it is worn as this saves the cost of also replacing the cassette and front chainring. I find that the SRAM PC850 chain is a good choice for a long life while not breaking the bank. There is some evidence of damaged paint to be seen. Some rust appeared on the rear triangle ten years ago and I resprayed the back end of the bike.

The handlebars: Original Tektro brake levers, which still work perfectly, reliable Sigma computer, the Busch und Muller mirror which I attached after two weeks of ownership still works perfectly - swapped from right to left after emigration. Replacement gear shifter and grips.

The original Tektro brakes were awful. They seemed impossible to adjust so that they worked reliably over any period of time. After a couple of years  I replaced them with a set of Shimano V-brakes which have been perfect. The brake blocks have of course been changed several times. Also the rims when they wore through due to braking.

The original seat rails broke after a few months. This was a production fault which Pashley were quick to set right: the faulty ones were replaced by a new design with a bit of triangulation under the rear support. 20 years later, the replacement seat rails are still fine. The seat looks worn but it's not broken and it's still a very comfortable bicycle to ride.

The bike was supplied with low quality tyres which punctured easily. I wore out a few more sets of tyres before settling on what I have now, the ever reliable and good performing Schwalbe Marathon tyres. I chose the relatively wide 47-406 size because these offer a nice smooth ride with a low rolling resistance while still fitting easily into the frame and forks. I use good quality dynamo lighting on the bike as it's always there ready for use when needed, never has a flat battery, and with this good quality headlight there is plenty of bright in a useful pattern.

When I bought the bike I wasn't at all convinced that this rubber suspension part would last. But it did. 20 years later it still works perfectly. Note that the bolt visible underneath was replaced. The originals worked loose and stripped the thread in the frame so I drilled them out, cut a thread and replaced them with a slightly larger size, installed with thread lock. Problem solved.

The idler, a skateboard wheel with grooves cut out on a lathe, was another part which I expected to fail early. However 20 years later it's still working perfectly. If it fails then I'll use a pair of standard idler wheels to replace it. The metal part around the idler can come loose and contact the chain. You can see where this has happened in the past. It's not a big issue - just tighten up the nut at the centre of the idler, taking care that washers are fitted sufficient to allow the wheel to rotate freely.

One of the most disappointing things about the PDQ as sold was the 46 tooth chainring on the front of the bike. In order to cycle at any speed it was necessary to use the step up hub gear which was less efficient. I quickly replaced the 46 tooth chainring with a 52, then a 53 and eventually settled on a larger than average 60 tooth chainring. This would be a very high gear to push if the bike had a 28" rear wheel, but with my setup it is about equivalent to a 46 tooth chainring on a bike with a larger rear wheel. Therefore I now have a sensible range of gearing without either a hub gear or a front derailleur.
It was a fine bike when I first bought it and it's still a fine bike now. Bicycles designed in a simple way, with no reliance on electrical parts or anything complex or unusual to go wrong, last a very long time. This is one of those bikes. Probably one of the best things I ever bought: it was an absolute bargain. 100000 km. 800 pounds. Just maybe I've spent twice that amount again on parts over 20 years. It still works out that this bicycle has cost me about 3 cents per km. I suspect that it costs more to walk even with cheap shoes...

Recumbent bicycles are excellent machines for touring. The PDQ has served me well, but there are also lots of other models out there which work extremely well. My wife rides a Sinner Spirit. Nazca, Optima and several other manufacturer's machines are also great. Pick one and give it a go. Second hand prices make it possible to try a bike with the likelihood that you'll lose very little if you don't like it and sell it on. A new bike also doesn't cost much if you ride it lots. Cycle touring need not be an expensive activity.

Relaxing ?
Every so often, someone asks me whether recumbent bikes actually really are comfortable. They're the same shape as what are sold as "relaxing chairs". So yes, recumbent bikes definitely are comfortable...