For one thing, it is undeniable that motorways are the safest way to travel. Motorways account for only 3% of the KSI (killed and seriously injured) figures for the UK, and yet have around 20% of the total traffic. And they are getting safer: between 1998 and 2008, motorway traffic increased by 28%, whereas fatalities decreased by 9% over the same period. The reasons motorways are safer:
- Despite the higher speeds, all traffic is going in the same direction
- Central barriers to reduce risk of head-on collisions with opposing traffic flow
- 'Hard' safety features like crash barriers and guard rails
- Limited number of junctions, and joining traffic highly controlled
- All bends are gentle, all gradients are shallow
- Clear roadside zones with few obstacles to hit if you lose control
- Hard shoulder for stationary or broken-down vehicles
- Better quality and better maintenance of road surface
- Vertical separation of crossing traffic
- No access from private property
- Good directional and warning signage
- Prohibition of very slow vehicles and learners.
Another thing in favour of motorways is the ability to maintain high average speeds. As long as a motorway is going in the direction you want, there is no quicker way of getting to your destination. It is easy to average 60-65 mph (not to be confused with cruising speed) on a journey with a lot of motorway miles, compared to a journey on A-roads, where an average of 45-50 mph is good going. (I'm talking about total, door-to-door journey times here.) Maintaining a cruising speed of around 80 mph is easy, safe and quite practical. There are regular and convenient places to stop and have a comfort break, although bringing your own food and drink is advisable from a quality and budgetary standpoint.
What's not to like about all that?
Well, the main objection is boredom. Mile after mile with nothing to look at but the number plate of the car in front. In a car, you can have music on, or the radio, or chat with your passengers. On a bike you don't even have that. Roadworks or congestion can mean long delays, although some of the worst delays I have experienced have been on A-roads. A lot of people find motorways stressful and competitive, although there is no need. Just chill out, be nice to everyone, and adopt a Zen-like acceptance of whatever happens. It works for me.
The biker's objection to motorways is that it's not what bikes are good at. Bikes love twisty roads, plenty of bends and variety. Bikes are not meant to spend much time in the vertical plane. Because the rear tyre has a curved profile to allow the bike to lean, riding upright concentrates all the wear in the middle section, leading to the tyre becoming 'squared off' and handling badly, as well as wearing out prematurely. (I'm talking about the UK here; in countries with huge distances and long, straight roads, the cruiser style of bike, which gains comfort and stability but loses manoeuvrability and dynamic performance, is more appropriate.) In addition, on a 'naked' bike such as mine, without wind and weather protection, sustained high speeds can be very tiring on the neck, arms and back.
So, for any journey where time is not critical, I will avoid motorways wherever possible. But if I need to use them, I will do so quite happily. There is no easier way of getting through large urban areas that you don't want to visit but merely pass through. And if there is congestion - well, a bike is the thing to be on.