Are UK road surfaces really worse than abroad?
It’s a popular grumble among cyclists to complain about the state of the roads, but are the UK’S roads any different to those on the Continent?
ock a bunch of pro cyclists in a room and they’ll struggle to agree on much – but there is one subject on which they will stand united: roads.
‘All pros say the UK’S roads are gritty and hard to ride on, whereas in France, Mallorca or Lanzarote they’re smooth and easy to ride on,’ says British Cycling coach Will Newton. ‘At one point Lanzarote’s roads were worse than the UK’S, but they had local elections coming up and all the roads were resurfaced with beautifully smooth tarmac. They deteriorate with the sand and wind, but you can guarantee that every time local elections are due they’ll be resurfaced.’
Surely the state of European roads doesn’t come down to politics? You wouldn’t get that here because… oh, wait.
Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association, is clear what – or who – is to blame. ‘The main problem is lack of proper investment and funding for maintenance,’ he says. ‘National government is unable to understand the importance of rural and local roads and concentrates on trunk roads and high-profile projects such as HS2. There’s no joined-up thinking, as it’s local roads that connect everything.’
Ah, but an island nation such as ours can be very set in its ways, so perhaps the UK is simply behind the times when it comes to choosing the best surface.
‘Surface dressing is the most common road surface treatment on C and D roads – mainly rural roads,’ says Robinson. ‘France, Germany and Spain have massive surface treatments industries, which means it’s the main surfacing over there as well.’
So we’re not that out of step, then. Surface dressing involves covering the road with a thin layer of bitumen binder and stone chippings, which are then rollered until they’re compacted. The road will then be opened up to traffic at a reduced speed to further compact