I found the following claim on the website of an offroad motorcycle course company:

Over 95% of the world's roads are unpaved, so if you don't like to (or can't) ride in the dirt, you'll find yourself confined to a mere 5% of the planet. Source: BMW Off-Road Academy

It sounds like just another made-up-on-the-spot statistic that is there to entice motorcyclists into taking their off-road courses.

  • Is there any basis to this number?
  • How would you even arrive at such a number?
  • What qualifies as a road?
    • From the moment is it ridable by motorcycle?
    • Or is every hacked path through the jungle also considered a road?
    • What about the fifty-meter passageway between the major roads near my house (I'm sure if you add all of these kinds of roads all over the planet up, that you'd have quite a few hundred of thousands of kilometres of road).

The only data that I have been able to find related to this is on the website of the World Bank, and this data seems to, in no way, point at >95% of unpaved roads all over the world: - If 36,4% of all roads in Afghanistan (not exactly the most industrialised country in the world) are paved, how can 95% of the world's road be unpaved? - The lowest number in the table, 7%, for Kenya, is the only one that comes even close to 95% of the roads being unpaved, in that specific country (not at all the whole world).

Besides, I also have serious reservations about these data: the same methodological concerns that I outlined above apply (what is considered a road?), but also the fact that some countries seem to have 100% paved roads make it seem unreliable. Not a single unpaved road in Denmark, Austria, and France? Having hiked thousands of kilometres in France, I can personally testify that this is false.

  • It seems that the answer will depend heavily on the definition of "road." Are worn paths which are only passable by motorcycles, ATVs, or 4x4s "roads"?
    – Flimzy
    Nov 3 '14 at 23:43
  • Either way, the conclusion "confined to a mere 5% of the planet" has nothing to do with the statistic.
    – ugoren
    Nov 4 '14 at 7:46
  • If you have to ask "What qualifies as a road?" then the question is vague and doesn't address a specific claim.
    – Christian
    Nov 5 '14 at 17:04

Maybe there's a basis, but if so, it doesn't come from official statistics.

From the CIA World Factbook on roadways, the United States (#1) and China (#3) have 7,758,605 km of paved roads in their official road networks.

USA Roadways:

total: 6,586,610 km
country comparison to the world: 1
paved: 4,304,715 km (includes 76,334 km of expressways)
unpaved: 2,281,895 km (2012)

China Roadways:

total: 4,106,387 km
country comparison to the world: 3
paved: 3,453,890 km (includes 84,946 km of expressways)
unpaved: 652,497 km (2011)

In order for the claim to be true, there needs to be at least 155,172,100 km of unpaved road in the world. The total length of the roads on that list is around 64,000,000 km, but as the Factbook itself notes, it's an underestimate of the total road length (the stats for Brazil, for example, don't include urban roads). Even so, with the huge contribution of paved roads from the US and China, the list would need to be off by a factor of at least 3 (consisting entirely of unpaved roads) for the world's roads to be 95% unpaved.

(And as for dirt roads in France, the World Factbook doesn't have a paved/unpaved breakdown for it.)

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