12 Jan 2013

Why roundabouts are the last bastion of fun

Race drivers have all the fun.  Hit the track in their powerful, lightweight cars with sticky tyres and spend the next few minutes testing how many G their cars and bodies can cope with.

For those of us in the real world most journeys in the car involve traffic, urban roads, traffic lights, speed cameras, HGVs and cyclists willing to risk life and limb to make a point (that they hate you).  But there is one last bastion of fun available to you and me on the UK's roads - the humble roundabout.

OK, not mini roundabouts in 30mph zones and not huge motorway roundabouts littered with traffic lights, and certainly not Swindon's magic roundabout - but proper A road roundabouts with a clear line of site all around.

A clear roundabout, with no traffic approaching, allows the driver in almost any car to approach at speed and experience the flik-flak of the car as it's turned left then right then left again.  If the roundabout is sizeable, like the fantastic one at the intersection of the A340 and A4 near Reading, then the car can be slung round what is effectively a long, constant radius, corner.  Then, as you take the exit, a lovely drift can be achieved as the steering is flicked left.

A decent roundabout is better than a traditional corner on a remote country road in many ways.  They're generally free of tractors, of cars (mainly BMW X5s) coming the other way in the middle of the road, free from large patches of mud, of piles of wet leaves, of puddles stretching to the centre line and, (and this is the pièce de résistance of roundabouts) the apex and exit can be viewed from afar.

You don't need a powerful car to achieve awesomeness on a good roundabout.  Anything with a half decent chassis will do because if the roundabout ahead is free of vehicles, approach speed can be modulated and just enough scrubbed off to achieve the desired effect.  This is impossible on most country lanes because the adjacent hedges block the exit, so a slow-in fast-out approach is required and for that a powerful car is needed to experience a modicum of thrill.

America picked up the idea of roundabouts rather late. Carmel, in California, is leading the charge.  The mayor of Carmel has ordered the destruction of 82 sets of traffic lights in the past 2 years, to be replaced with roundabouts - more than any other city in the US.

That's the case for roundabouts.  Do you agree?  And what's your favourite roundabout?