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The erosion of back road England

Yesterday I did a slightly longer day in the saddle than usual.

The morning was spent leading a rideout with a bunch from Kent and Sussex Bikers (www.kentsussexbikers.com/) from Maidstone to Rye. As around half the group hadn’t done a group ride before, I avoided the obvious main roads and took some less-trafficked routes that would keep the group together and avoid the need for overtaking. Including the ride from Canterbury to pick the group up, I guess I clocked up around 70 miles.

I followed that up with just over two hours and around 40 miles on a ‘Bends Basics’ course around Rye, again on moderately technical twisty roads.

As one of the trainees had to get back to North Kent, I rode with him from Rye via a cross-country route for around 45 minutes before we went our own ways from Charing. That was around a further 40 miles.

By the time we parted company at around 4pm, we’d covered around 150 miles in just over six hours and I actually needed to get off and give myself a five minute break before doing the remaining few miles back to Canterbury.

Now, the XJ6 may not be a two-wheeled armchair, but it’s comfortable enough for me to ride it down a motorway to the limit of the tank – around 170 miles and maybe two and a half hours.

But yesterday, I’d been on and off the bike at regular intervals yet my backside felt like it had been pummelled for a week, not a day!

The truth is that most of the UK’s roads are disintigrating, but the deterioration here in the SE of England has been particularly marked.

Potholes, bumps, collapsing ‘made good’ surfaces where utilities have dug trenches in the surface, broken-down margins, resurfacing jobs which have now come ‘unglued’ from the old surface and even entire roads which have suffered subsidence are now the norm rather than the exception.

Some of the roads which I would happily take trainees with just a few hours experience back in 1997-8 when I worked as a DAS trainer in Lydd are now almost unrideable even by an experienced rider.

One particular combination of ridges and ripples trapped the tyres on the Diversion and threw the bike totally off-line.

The thing is that this kind of wear and tear is gradual. It’s not exactly imperceptible as you do spot new problems as you ride on a day-to-day basis but it takes a day out like this to actually see the issue in perspective and remember that they WERE in reasonable condition just over a decade ago.

Not even the A roads are totally immune. With roads in the state they are in, I can’t see the point of a sportsbike on the road in the UK in 2011. I’m surprised dual-sport sales haven’t taken off more than they have – a 650 V-Strom makes far more sense than an SV650 on these kinds of roads.

The pace of of the collapse of the road infrastructure has undoubtedly been accelerated by the two bad winters of ’09/10 and ’10/11.

This blog isn’t the place for an argument about economic priorities and who should pay for repairs, but what is obvious is that roads in France, which used to be appallingly bad back in the 1970s when I first ventured abroad are now very obviously better surfaced than English roads. Belgium’s roads through the Ardennes are mostly well surfaced and pothole-free. So are Germany’s. Even Spain seems to have a massive road-building programme in the north, widening and resurfacing the roads that cross the Cantabrian mountains and the southern Pyrenees. I’ve never been there, but watching some of the recent “Tour of Poland” cycle race on the box, I was struck by how beautiful the road surface was there too.

And if you haven’t been to Luxembourg recently, you should, just to see the state of the roads. Mile after mile of smooth, immaculate tarmac clads nearly empty twisty roads through the forests. Lovely riding.

By contrast, the UK seems to be allowing minor roads to revert to dirt! Certainly I know of a couple of roads that have sprouted “not suitable for motor vehicles” signs in the last few years!

Something’s very wrong somewhere.

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