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...

1 comment:

Kevin Love said...

My touring bike is also a recumbent. The Sunseeker "Short Wheel Base." See:

I've put on a proper Dutch rear rack and panniers, bought from Dutch Bike Bits, of course. Also fenders and a few other bits and pieces. The comfort is amazing!