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?

Cyclist - - Cycle Science - Words MICHAEL DONLEVY Il­lus­tra­tions ROB MILTON

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

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