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The death of fun

How men with clipboards are destroying motorcycling...

I don't want to sound pessimistic, because actually I'm pissed off. No. Furious. Or disappointed. Possibly resigned. Any combination of emotions – any but surprised.

What's got my goat? Something that's been going on for ages now: the creeping lowering of speed limits. Now it's reached some of the great European touring roads. The Grossglockner and other Austrian biking roads will have a 70kph limit when they open this summer. The B500 through the Black Forest now has one – and in several places, it's down to 50kph. And they're not the only ones.

I've just ridden the B500 - sticking strictly to the speed limit. To see what it's like. Don't get me wrong, it's still a beautiful road but frankly for motorcyclists, the fun's been knocked out of it like the feathers being expelled from a punched-in pillow. See for yourself in the video (it's not a short one: it's the entire length of the top stretch of the B500... watch as much as you dare!)

The irony here is that, while it would be wrong to confuse these roads with racetracks where maximum velocity is the name of the game, these are usually the roads that were built not merely to attract tourists but specifically to attract motoring tourists. One of the founding principles of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road road was that it should be engineered to be good to drive – and the day after it opened in 1935 it was used for a race...

So vehicles are part of the DNA of these roads – and they were created with an understanding that to be good for vehicles, they should allow a little speed. You can tell that from the way the sightlines are so good, the way corners are usually constant radius and even the tighter ones rarely tighten halfway through. They're roads that have been built to let good drivers/riders enjoy using bikes or cars.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter now. Maybe there were too many accidents. Maybe there were too many complaints about noise or speed. Maybe there are now too many cyclists or walkers or motorhomes on the road to safely mix with faster traffic. Whatever the reasons, lower limits have been imposed. And it looks like they'll be enforced, as well...

This depresses/angers me not so much because I'm in favour of unrestrained speeding but because I'm definitely opposed to unnecessary slowing. These are roads that any competent driver or rider could enjoy perfectly safely at the previous speed limits: we know this because hundreds of thousands have done so over a great many years.

Clearly, some people have failed to enjoy it safely... but I'd wager the worst accidents occurred when people ignored the 90kph limit – and I'd also bet people who didn't stick to that one will also exceed the 70kph one too...

Worse, it's really hard to ride artificially slowly for an extended period of time – and it's tiring, with too much of your attention on the speedo rather than everything else that should demand your focus.

And I wonder how many bored car drivers will get back on the phone, spend more time looking out of the window, turning round to talk to the kids on the back seat... basically stop paying attention to the road because they're so uninvolved.

Unfortunately, the tendency to think "slow = safe" is everywhere. A forest of roadside signs has sprung up across Europe, lowering limits whenever there's a junction or a tight corner. Why? Why not let the driver assess the potential hazard of a junction or the tightness of a bend, moderating their speed if it's necessary?

Because apparently the pervading view in officialdom is that road users aren't capable of making informed judgments about their speed. Men with clipboards will look at the road and then plant a stick with a number on it, telling you to slow down regardless of whether it's necessary.

And once men with clipboards control how we ride, that is the death of fun.

The return of fun

So much for moaning about European speed limits. This summer I'll be heading to Scotland – and you can come too. Bruce Smart - aka Teapot One - challenged me to put together my dream Scottish touring route, which he's packaged up as a tour. For info on how to join the pair of us, follow this link.

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