An American's observations of Scottish roads

Discussion in 'Europe' started by ELB, Sep 26, 2017.

  1. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    Hello and thanks for reading.

    My fiance' and I just got back from Scotland. Sadly, we toured by car, not motorcycle, but I was thinking about bikes the whole time. And these observations apply to them.

    To give you a sense of our trip, we began in Edinburgh, went NW to Stirling, then Loch Lomond, the Trossachs and Glen Coe, Fort William to Mallaig, further NW to the Isle of Skye, then due East to Inverness and Elgin, and then South through the Cairngorms to St. Andrews, ultimately ending in Edinburgh again.

    Now the aforementioned observations:
    • Scottish roads are amazing. Despite being a wet, cold(ish) country, the pavement was pristine throughout. No potholes, patches, tar strips or gravel. Made where I've lived in the U.S. (New England, Washington DC, New York and NYC, and now Milwaukee, WI) look like the third world. Our infrastructure is shameful.
    • Lovely curves everywhere. Here in America's Midwest I scour the maps for any curve I can find. Four or five in a row is a win. In Scotland, it's nothing but curves. They're so constant you end up frustrated for lack of a decent straight for passing. And the roads actually go up and down (elevation changes!) too. Obviously, America has all manners of terrain and some wonderful roads to go with it, but not anywhere within 1.5 hours of where I live.
    • Almost everything is a passing lane. Here, a mile-long straight will still have a double yellow line (no passing). There, they put a dotted line on a blind corner next to a sheer drop-off.
    • The speed limit is 60 everywhere outside of towns. Even on roads where no sane driver would exceed 40, the limit is 60. It's often above what you can reasonably do. Same road here would be 25-40.
    • It's absolutely gorgeous and bafflingly undeveloped. We didn't see one billboard in the whole country. Idyllic mountain lakes had maybe one or two homes on their shores. If you ride there, you're as likely to get killed gawking at the sheer beauty of it as by anything else.
    But all is not perfect in the highlands:
    • What's with all the speed cameras? Everyone there goes the speed limit or below, even if it means creeping at 20 through town. Makes sense when you're automatically going to get a ticket every single time you don't. To anyone who lives there or somewhere similar...what do you do about this? Are there websites that post camera locations? (Though the above is true, I'll point out what I wrote above about the speed limit of 60 everywhere...which still leaves plenty of room for fun on Scotland's narrow, abundant roller-coaster twisties.)
    • Yes, it's a cold, wet country. Definitely puts the "adventure" in "adventure rider." Bring your slicker. But if you can manage the damp, it's spectacular. I'd gear up and ride there in a heartbeat.
    When I got home, I immediately went riding the next morning. Unseasonably balmy 80+ degree (that's Fahrenheit) day here. Was a nice ride through our pretty farm country. But on our mainly straight, pathetically cracked and crumbling roads, I couldn't help but hate them a little.

    - ELB
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  2. Herman1

    Herman1 Been here awhile

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    Oh good I am off there tomorrow for the first time on a bike in far too long. I live in the south so nearly always head south but have a guilty nagging feeling I should be exploring my back yard rather more.
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  3. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    I wish you the best, Herman1. For scenery, that Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is unbeatable. For twisties, well, as I said, they're everywhere. I remember the Cairngorms having some amazing roller-coaster roads, but you could just set Google on Satellite mode and take your pick. Or maybe try one of the many sites for motorcyclists in Scotland like this: https://www.motorcyclescotland.com/routes/

    Consider yourself envied.

    - ELB
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  4. Vince

    Vince Been here awhile

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    We have plenty of cameras about here in Sydney, I have my Smart Phone with a TOM TOM GPS app on constantly with speed camera alerts to my earbuds, and even then it's so easy to slip up and be 10kph over and get a flash. And then we have mobile parked up privately operated camera cars that can appear anybloody where, and roaming marked and unmarked cars and bikes with all kinds of electronic monitoring gadgets running all the time. Any slight speeding over the limit is akin to child abuse and cracked down on hard. You just learn to live like a criminal when on the road.
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  5. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    In the UK, all fixed site cameras are marked on your nav programme. There are also mobile cameras (!!! as if there weren't enough) but most police forces announce them over the local radio so they only catch the incomers - but maybe online too.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip. The UK is fairly notorious for rain, being in the Gulf Stream and all, but it certainly is not all rain, all the time.
    You were up at Lat N high 50's, ie Alaska north.
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  6. alicethomas

    alicethomas Been here awhile

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    Obey the limits. ;)
    Recently Germanys governemnt passed a law, that speeding can be punished with 2 years jail. With concrete danger 5 years, with damage 10 years. Similar already for a long time in Switzerland.
    Yes, but neither reliable nor up-to-date.
    If you see a posted 50 kph limit, you better stick to <40. Because you might have overlooked the next sign in the bushes, indicating 30.
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  7. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    With these types of restrictions, it's a wonder anyone in Europe buys anything the top power tier. For that matter, it's a wonder that European makers like BMW, Triumph, Ducati and KTM even bother with that market. A 160 hp offering like the S1000XR or 1290 Super Duke GT seem utterly silly in a context where you'll rarely/never do more than 70 mph. I guess at least you can get up to that 70 mph faster than anyone else.

    - ELB
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  8. Vince

    Vince Been here awhile

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    Just as long as you don't break traction or even worse wheely.
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  9. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    There are plenty of roads, and plenty of areas that have no cameras at all. And not all European countries think they are worthwhile.

    UK has many, but there are rules which determine their location - there must have been several deaths for example. And a location once chose will have a box, bit no guarantee of anything inside. My county (3rd largest in England) has 50 sites, but only three cameras. There are 360 cameras in London.
    Also in UK, there must be prior warning signs and and the boxes must be completely visible and florescent yellow.

    Cameras tend to get put where there are lots of likely customers, so find the road less travelled.
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  10. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    Well, I still feel for you guys. Not a lot because Europe (how's Australia?) seems chock full of amazing roads (and then there's the often gorgeous scenery) — perhaps that means I should feel for you more — but some. Then again, as you said, nickguzzi, if you know your way around, it sounds like you can reliably anticipate them and ride accordingly.

    At the same time, my curiosity led me to do a little reading, and it backs what
    Vince has written. The system in many countries that liberally employ cameras seems draconian, with extremely stiff penalties. One article I read on the UK said that speeding between 1-10 kph over the limit (so, minor) will net you a ticket equal to half a week's pay. I guess over there fines are based on income, which I've always thought inherently more fair than the U.S. flat fee system that can devastate a minimum-wage worker with an amount a well-to-do person would consider pocket change, even if the totals are outrageous overall. Most Americans would consider me pro-government, but I find all revenue-boosting government practices disturbingly predatory (extreme taxes on specific goods, absurd parking fines, drive to build casinos). If they need more money to run, they should raise taxes, not look for underhanded ways to bilk their citizens so they can avoid the discomfort that accompanies a legitimate tax hike. But now I'm getting a bit political, which is unwise and unintended.

    At least it seems to correlate with safety, as
    nickguzzi wrote. But if the margin for error is indeed very slim (tickets issued at just one or even, say, four kph over), this would unfairly punish motorcyclists. Because we all know how easy it is to twist your wrist ever so slightly and easily fly over the line. And you'd better hope your speedo is dead accurate too.

    In the car, I had cruise control on nearly all the time. Even when just going 20 kph through a town. Especially then. Despite my diligence (and I tried to be extremely careful), I half expect to get a ticket in the mail a month or two from now. Here's hoping it's not half a week's wages.

    - ELB
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  11. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    In UK (which Scotland is currently part, so vaguely on topic) fix camera sites usually have a 2 to 3 mph tolerence. Then there is a discretionary 2 to 3 mph where you may be offered a 1/2day training session. It is always best to take that if offered as currently you do not have to declare it as a conviction to your insurance - and that is the real kicker. The course costs the same as the fine, but you may need time off work if you can't get an evening one.
    There are, as ever, rumours of phasing the classes out, as someone other than the govt gets the cash.

    https://www.gov.uk/speeding-penalties

    A police stop, or a mobile camera does not have to allow any discretion. A fraction over is enough, although I think some common sense is allowed.
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  12. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    A police bike patrolman once told me, that anyone getting pinched for speeding deserved it, either through lack of observation or lack of respect for others.
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  13. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    I acknowledge that this thread would likely have readers concluding that I'm a disrespectful speed freak who's always breaking the law. That's actually far from the truth, though here in the U.S. there's an unwritten rule that, on roads above, say, 40-50 mph, there's a 10 mph margin that nearly everyone takes advantage of...and, at speeds below that, it's a 5 mph margin. That said, as I mentioned in the thread's first post, our limits seem decidedly more conservative in many cases than they were in Scotland (and perhaps throughout Europe). Maybe this is also a function of population, since limits are definitely lower in both locations when in residential areas (which are often harder to escape in the U.S. than in a more rural country like Scotland, acknowledging the the U.S. is vast and quite diverse from region to region).

    I'm not a chronic speeder, and certainly not one of those folks who breaks limits with abandon (doing 80 in a 40, for example). I just know that it's nice to be able to relax some and not worry about exactly where the needle is. I expect it makes riding a bit more tense when you have to always be on your game about where cameras are to avoid racking up the tickets.

    Regardless, I dream of multiple tours through Europe's amazing landscapes and often beautifully maintained and technical roads. I'll have to watch out for those cameras with the rest of, but it's a small price to pay (unless you're caught :-)).

    - ELB
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  14. Vince

    Vince Been here awhile

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    Little story from last Sunday, first off I have had one speeding fine in the last 30 years but I did the 5 to 10kph over thing to make me stand out on the road and that's completely forbidden by the safety nazis these days even if its kept me at zero collisions for the past 40 years. So I am on a ride with 4 others on one of the better local bikes roads. Bells Line of road is ita name. So for the first time in ages, I am in the lead in a 100kph zone. I am cruising along with my smartphone GPS on and monitoring my speedo at what I thought was my usual 10 over and along in a stream of traffic comes a marked Hwy Patrol car the other way. I see him and I expect slowed a bit but thought nothing of it. A week latter at my bike club dinner meet
    the others on the ride come in and start raving about how lucky I was, it seemed that cop imediatly after passing me pulled over and attemphted to pull a U turn but the traffic stopped that from happening. Seems he was franticaly arroused by my massive 10kph over the limit, even though my buddys seemed to think it might have been 20kph over. I do admitt my speedo cable broke about 70k later in the day and it did wobble around a bit but I was watching the GPS speed and was doing the usual 4000rpms in 5th gear. So thats what we have to put up with, 10 to possibly 20kph over the limit and its a hanging offence, lucky me last Sunday. BTW the fine would have been $400 oz and 3 demert points, 12 ponts in 3 years and 4 months and you loose your licase for 3 months. Its a great road on a bike.
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  15. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    I wasn't trying to be sanctimonious. I get as pissed off as anyone with the stupidity of some limits, and ditto the crassness of people who drive at well over the limit in places where it is obvious there are pedestrians around. But thinking about the coppers remarks - If you can't be bothered to look around you and be observant enough to spot the police following, or spot the stripey van on the hill top then what chance do you have with the idiots who are equally ignorant of other road users.

    I live in a deeply rural area, and although there are plenty of limits - stupid or otherwise - there are no cameras and very very rarely any police. Limits are enforced by the heave and subsidence - to have fun you do need to be sort of in control.

    My most desirable stomping ground abroad is in the south of France. Again, I can only think of a couple of sites with cameras - the A75 around Clemont Ferand as you descend off the edge of the Massiv having several. the rest of the time, it is ride as you feel able. I have never seen police presence on Mt Ventoux for example and that is fast as you can up, fast as you dare down. Run offs into forest or cliff faces or edges, blind corners and crests.
    It's great, the main danger though are the myriad cyclists, all trying to be Froome, Indurain or Anquetil, depending on age.
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  16. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    I appreciate the anecdotes (and what that one officer had to say...as a biker, if you're not fully "present," you shouldn't be riding, if only for your own safety).

    While speeding really isn't an issue here in Wisconsin (certainly no cameras and I rarely see cops), the roads really are abysmal near Milwaukee where I live. First off, this is flat country, which, beyond the obvious nonexistence of entertaining elevation changes, means there's absolutely no reason to create anything but a grid of dead straight roads. If you're bored, check it out on Google earth/maps satellite view. It's a biker's nightmare. The few curves we have that aren't in housing developments are out in what's called the Kettle Moraines, glacial formations that amount to earth ripples. There, you do get a taste of hilliness. And there is where you find just about the only curvy roads within an hour and half of where I live. Which, of course, I've now crisscrossed over and over and over like your nearby racing circuit.

    The rest is just straight lines through pretty farmland. You want to know what Harley-Davidsons (headquartered right here in Milwaukee) were made for...this. Not so bad having an overweight pachyderm of a bike when that's your territory. Oh, and the condition of these roads, which I've referenced before, is appalling. It's like the surface of the moon. So, if you don't get a Harley, you get an ADV bike because you may as well be offroading.

    I've heard that our fine state (large, like most in the U.S.) has some lovely byways further out beyond that 1.5-hour radius I mentioned. Not that I want to ride an hour and a half on the highway each way every time I go out for some weekend fun, but I'm honestly looking at new bikes right now because my humble Versys 650, while surprisingly good fun in the twisties, is decidedly uncomfortable after 40 minutes of highway (and has no cruise control). Of course, my fiance's bike is dismal for distance too, so it'd be a two-bike investment to get us both out there (though I do ride solo a fair bit as well). Actually, I'm considering getting a truck and trailer to get us both out there in relative comfort instead.

    I suppose these are "first-world problems." But what I wouldn't give to live in a land of curves like Scotland.

    - ELB
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  17. Vince

    Vince Been here awhile

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    I live 5 minutes from the centre of Sydney and any good roads at 2 hours of boring expressway away. And they are well known and patrolled heavily.
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  18. ELB

    ELB Adventurer

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    Well, Vince, that puts my complaints in perspective. Thank you.

    You've got me curious now about what you ride.
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  19. mountaincadre

    mountaincadre Been here awhile

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    Agreed cameras are a pita but like most of the posters from the UK have pointed out not all work and regarding a little over the speed limit, its generally 10%, so 30-33,40-44etc, this I can validate as I do it twice a day everyday, one bonus though is that most are frontal so not very good at taking pictures of your number plate :-)
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  20. Herman1

    Herman1 Been here awhile

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    Oddly I had found that site and was staying where they are based in Moffat. It was only a short trip for a wedding but the sun shone and the roads twisted. Methinks I shall be back next year for a longer visit. As to speed cameras I saw no mobile ones, no patrol cars and a few average speed installations in roadworks and the others I felt were designed to catch the freight haulers heading for the ferries to Belfast. A good trip in all and pics to follow.
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