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40mph Everywhere

Blog Date 1 September 2023

A large 40mph speed limit sign along with the posts and skies behind
40 - It's the new 60 doncha know.

As I've been writing up about my Devonian trip I'd noted a few times that everyone there seems to go about their business at 40mph when they're in the 60 zones. I thought it was a Devon thing but after this weekend's rideouts I'm beginning to think it's just a thing, no matter where you are.

Oh lordy, t'owd codger's at it again. 

When I started riding (back in the day when it was black and white and we used to get up six hours before bedtime to work a 33 hour day and pay for the privilege of working...) we certainly had speed limits and you could be prosecuted for speeding - if the Old Bill could catch you. I seem to recall there were "speed guns" (hand held radar speed detectors) but they were few and far between. Otherwise you'd have to be followed by a "calibrated" car for some time. Oooh, then them white painted squares appeared on the road for a while, they were something to do with measuring speed.

A police car parked across a main road blocking the traffic for reasons unknown
Back in the day you'd have to see one of these if you were going to get done for speeding.

My point is getting caught and prosecuted for speeding didn't seem to be easy 30 years ago. 30 years ago speed limits were solid enforceable law but the populous treated them more like guidelines. It wasn't uncommon to see most drivers doing 36-40 in a 30 zone and if you actually did 30 in a 30 you'd be harassed by the following drivers.

Today with a myriad of scifi-esque detectors, a camera on every street corner and ANPR artificial intelligence big brother systems watching your every move - being caught for speeding is super easy. I'd say the vast majority of drivers these days are keeping to the limits or at least thereabouts. With more vehicles on the roads than ever before and fatalities on the roads fortunately dropping there's a very strong argument to support the idea all this is tech bringing speeds down and saving lives.

I have learned to accept and understand that most car drivers are not enthusiasts, the driver is only interested in moving themselves from point A to point B with the least amount of hassle. They have no interest in their car other than "does it work?" and/or "does it make me look successful?" They have no desire to hone their driving skills, their car is a necessary evil for transport and a status symbol. Getting and keeping their licence is another necessary evil. 

Part of keeping this licence is not speeding. The easiest way to avoid speeding without having to think is to go at the same speed as everyone else. One slow driver travels at 40 in a 60, everyone else does the same because it's easy, doing 40 "out of town" becomes the norm, hey presto and here we are. 

The modern mini parked up at Lynmouth. They are now quite a large car
This is a Mini... apparently. Perhaps modern cars are too big for our roads?

There are more cars on the roads according to this link. According to those stats there's around 50% more than when I started riding, give or take. Surely it's inevitable with more traffic the speeds will be slower? No, even if the road is quiet a noticeable number of drivers, without anyone else on the road, will still only be doing around the 40 mark. 

I think this is due to habit. As noted above most drivers are not passionate about driving, and with a handful of drivers doing 40 in a 60 causing everyone else to do 40 in a 60 it just becomes habit to do 40 in a 60. This habit is reinforced by the increased levels of traffic on our roads that makes overtaking much more hazardous. 

This weekend while out enjoying the wonders of Derbyshire - at mostly 40mph - when stopped at lights Sharon pointed out something. With the new generation of drivers seldom experiencing 60 zones as they are becoming rarer - are new drivers incapable of doing 60? It's not a lack of natural ability, it's a lack of experience. They don't have the opportunity to experience that speed on country lanes, they never get the chance to learn how to read a corner and judge a road surface. 

A narrow lane, steep rocks, dense trees and a stone wall in the Highlands of Scotland
Single track lanes are often 60, but you're a fool to try and do 60 on this kind of road.

As a person who enjoys riding motorcycles it's frustrating. Regulars here will know I'm no speed merchant but I do enjoy "making progress" as some people like to call it. Hang on, wait a minute, is it me?

Time and time and time again excess speed is a significant factor in many serious incidents. Is it not fair to say those travelling below the speed limits are safer? Is it not fair to say the enthusiasts like myself are the ones risking our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others more than those travelling slowly? Do I have a god-given right to achieve the speed limits? Is it not fair to say MY frustration with slower drivers is the issue and not the slower drivers themselves? Where is the problem... is it me?

Speeds limits are being eroded too. Unless I can get into The Highlands of Scotland or a motorway my 47bhp CB500X is seriously overpowered. Sharon's 27bhp Z250SL is more than fast enough. Let's face it a 125 will keep up with traffic just fine save for the steepest of hills. Every month another road hereabouts goes from 60 to 50, 50 to 40, 40 to 30 and 30 to 20. There are scant few places around the UK where enthusiastic riding can be carried out without breaking a law or getting stuck in a line of cars doing 40.

As an enthusiast it is frustrating. And still when a executive Audi or hopped up hot hatch goes whizzing by when I'm enjoying an evening walk I curse them and their dangerous ways. Am I not then a hypocrite when I'm cussing and moaning behind a driver safely sauntering down a country lane? When I finally find a safe straight and overtake the slow car I bet the driver is cursing me and my dangerous ways. We each and every one of us has an opinion on what is right and what is wrong. Statists are on the side of the slower driver.

A super wide but narrow scene of mountains and a Llyn in the sunshine in Wales
Gratuitous panoramic view of Wales.

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Reader's Comments

CrazyFrog said :-
I always laugh at MCN bike reviews where they describe a 60bhp twin capable of doing 0 - 60 in under 5 seconds and with a top speed of approaching 120 as 'A wheezy old commuter not capable of keeping up with traffic on dual carriageways and motorways'. I genuinely don't know what planet these idiots live on. My 125 is my best motorway bike for any motorway within at least 50 miles of my house, probably 100. It's quick enough to cruise at 55 - 60, when such speeds are possible, which is very rarely, and it's slim enough to filter through the miles of stationary traffic.

Most of the really good biking roads round here have been reduced from 60 to 50, or sometimes even 40. If I'm honest with myself, the 125 is all I need for 95% of my needs, though if course it is nice to let rip the unbridled power of the Inazuma from time to time...
02/09/2023 20:35:53 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
It is not your fault Ed, you are officially faultless, a delight.
I'm from the ride as fast as you're safe camp, but now with the proviso of speed limits. It is not safer to ride/ drive slower but it is slower.
If I overtake other vehicles safely and within the appertaining laws then I truly don't care what others may or may not think.
The only time that folks don't drive at the limit or over in this part of the world is following tractors, HGV's and tourists. Most HGV's are at around an indicated 60 anyway.

02/09/2023 21:00:25 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I know the roads Pete (crazyfrog) refers to well and as he says many have been downgraded. However, few have speed cameras and as Ren says there are few patrol cars these days (my only speeding ticket was about 40 years ago when a sneaky patrol car hid in the nearside lane on a motorway when I was doing 85 in the outside...). So I generally ignore the 50s and treat them as 60s. Traffic congestion is however getting much worse although I don't really often experience the 40-in-a-60 syndrome.

The only advantage of higher power is the ability to overtake those slower drivers but again many of the better roads don't have too many opportunities.
03/09/2023 10:09:09 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Been out this afternoon on the 125 which is three years old today. Guess what? 90 percent of the time I was riding at 40mph.
03/09/2023 21:06:04 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
CrazyFrog - MCN's target market is the punter who's going to go out and spend 10k plus on a new machine that will help the owner's cool rating. A CB125F or 250 'Zuma ain't going to do that when everyone else is on an Africa Twin and/or MT09. MCN needs the adverts and the manufactures sell dreams to rich westerners not a means of transportation.

Thank you Upt', although I fear your compliment carries some sarcasm...

Ian Soady, I thought you were a law abiding citizen! You can't treat 50 zones as 60 zones, it's illegal. My goodness I didn't realise this website was being visited by hooligan criminals. Wait a minute... can the XBR500 reach 60?

ROD - were you doing 40mph 90% of the time because you were stuck in the traffic... or is it you that's doing 40 and holding up the traffic. We need to know.
04/09/2023 07:54:26 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
"Ian Soady, I thought you were a law abiding citizen! You can't treat 50 zones as 60 zones, it's illegal. My goodness I didn't realise this website was being visited by hooligan criminals. Wait a minute... can the XBR500 reach 60?"

Well it can now after fitting the expensive CDI unit - runs very well, slight stutter coming off idle, a bit reluctant to rev over 6000rpm. But romps up to 60 mph or so very adequately. 30 miles on some of Crazyfrog's favourite roads.....

I suspect it's a bit retarded but will dig out the strobe which I haven't used since my Triumph Stag days and check it out.
04/09/2023 11:22:20 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Ren, I am in the fortunate position of having a network of 'b' roads on my doorstep, so I avoid the traffic.
If a vehicle is catching me along these roads, I pull over and let them pass as you would on single track roads.
04/09/2023 17:02:01 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Are we allowed to say "a bit retarded" these days Ian? Oh I see, the ignition timing. I'm glad to hear XBR is doing it's thing once more.

ROD - I'm glad to hear you let traffic by too. There's a lot of single track in The Highlands and plenty of signs informing people they should pull in to allow vehicles to pass. The locals do, the more considerate tourists do but there's far too many that don't. I want to let them past, it means I can get back to dawdling at my own pace and looking at the pretty scenery.
05/09/2023 07:59:32 UTC
Badger said :-
40? ....... Luxury. I'm in Wales.
19/09/2023 20:48:41 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Yeah it's all 20 in the built up areas now in Wales. I suspect this is our future.
19/09/2023 22:01:19 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
There's a lot of discussion about this on many bike forums at the moment, it's the normal nonsense to a great extent but people do feel aggrieved. But why?
If we believe in science and you can't argue with science (?), then the lowering of speed limits makes as much sense as the drink drive law and SRS legislation. It will reduce KSI figures, it's science.
I don't think this is probably as detrimental to a good days ride as folks are making out, now blanket 50's like in Derbyshire are a PITA, but again, what about the science. Pffffffftttttt.
As an aside I am still very glad I live in North Northumberland without a traffic light, roundabout or pedestrian crossing for 20 miles or more in any direction. Now that's science I can live with.
Now stop your blubbering.
20/09/2023 10:25:58 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Well said Upt'. As I've mentioned before we do have quite a few 50s round here but they're not really policed and riding them at 60 is unlikely to cause a problem. What is are the lunatics who howl round bouncing off the rev limiters every warm evening and can be heard for miles around.

Many urban roads can't be driven at much over 20 anyway. I do note that the police in Wales have said that they're unlikely to prosecute anybody doing beteen 20 and 30 but will give them a talking to which seems sensible.
20/09/2023 13:35:12 UTC
Badger said :-
I believe it's initially a talking to, and after a period of settling in, prosecution. I did discover it will be 26 mph for prosecution.
I wouldn't put it to the test mind.
I think it's just a matter of getting used to it.
The only problem I can see, is the sort of driver that's constantly 'angry'.
I have experienced this personally, normally overtaking on blind bends, then you catch them up at the lights/junction.
I have an 800 Suzuki c800 and my third gear is comfortable at 20. My friend's Honda 500 rebel, no so much. How's your 500 at 20 Ren? Maybe I just wasn't used to riding it.
My Suzuki is a head Turner, so I've no problems riding slow, as I'll be too busy looking good. Haha .....

22/09/2023 09:15:02 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
The Norton will run happily in top at 20mph on full retard.......

I've recently seen a road test of a Honda CL500(?) which looks like a nice sensible bike.
22/09/2023 10:16:04 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Yes the story is it'll be a good talking to for a while before they start clapping folks in irons. And we will, sooner or later, get used to it. Once upon a time the motorways in the UK didn't have speed limits, we've all swallowed the 70mph limits nowadays. I know I'm not "happy" about the new regs but I can see and understand the reasons and adjust accordingly.

Is my 500 OK at 20? I concur it never seems to be in the correct gear. It either feels revvy or chuggy, never quite settled. I wonder, I wonder, if this becomes a thing globally manufacturers will gear them such to be "right" at 20? It's fine though, it's only a case of me being finicky, the damn thing will do 20 just fine.

As for the CL500 Ian - it's on my radar. I await to see 2 things - if the aftermarket comes up with luggage that goes around that exhaust well and if the 19 inch front wheel limits tyre choices. I'd like to find out if it's easier to get to the tappets than my otherwise wonderful CB500X.
22/09/2023 11:01:31 UTC
Badger said :-
'Is my 500 OK at 20? I concur it never seems to be in the correct gear. It either feels revvy or chuggy, never quite settled'.

That's EXACTLY how I felt riding the Rebel. Same engine I think.
I found the Rebel handles well and likes to be revved.
My C800 is a bigger engine and a V twin cruiser. It's a lazy bike (in a good way).
I'm interested in the new Royal enfield 450 due in November.
22/09/2023 11:49:01 UTC

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