Motorcycle touring in France: the basics

How do I know where I need to go?

That’s easy - follow us! We have a range of routes covering most areas of France. There are daytrips, four complete tours and cross-country routes to get you from the Channel ports to where you want to be. As the tours all pass through locations where we have daytrips, any one can easily be extended if you want to take more time somewhere. If you have a sat nav, you can download our routes to guide you, but road signs in France are clear and easy to follow. As long as you know the names of the towns you need to ride through, it should be fairly easy to find your way around. Bigger town and city centres can get a bit more confusing (though our routes avoid these) but again, a sat navcan make the difference between getting where you want to go quickly and going the long way round the houses.

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Do I need an international driving licence before riding in France?

No. Your standard UK licence is all you need to ride in any European country.

What about insurance?

All UK insurance covers you automatically for the legal minimum in any EU country (usually Third Party only) so legality isn’t an issue, but if you want the same cover as you have at home, you need to check your policy. Most insurers will cover you for riding in Europe for a number of days - anywhere from 30 to 90 days usually. Most require you to inform them of the dates when you’ll be travelling and the countries you’re visiting. It may be worth getting travel insurance to cover your trip, but check what your home insurance cover is like: if you’re worried about losing something like a camera or luggage, that may be covered on your household policy. Medical cover may be useful, particularly if it includes repatriation, but check that it will cover you for motorcycling - not all holiday medical cover does.

What documents do I need to carry with me?

You should take your passport, V5C logbook, your driving licence and your insurance certificate. We’d recommend taking colour photocopies of everything as well, so if there is an incident involving the Gendarmerie, you can let them have a copy of your documents. You also need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the old E111 scheme and shows that you’re entitled to health care in the European Union (not in Switzerland, if you stray over the border). It’s free, as long as you apply online at www.ehic.org.uk - avoid websites that offer to apply for you, as they may then charge for it.

Don't I have to wear reflective kit and carry a breathalyzer in France?

No. Those proposals have all been scrapped. Technically your crash helmet is supposed to have reflective patches on it, but we’ve never had a problem riding without them in France.

Do I have carry a warning triangle, a hi-viz vet and spare bulbs?

No, yes and maybe. You don’t need the triangle, but as of last year, you do have to carry an approved (to EN471 or EN1150) Hi-Viz vest, which you must put on if you have to stop on or by the side of the road following a breakdown or accident, or if you’re in a dangerous position. Contrary to myth, it’s not obligatory to carry spare bulbs but if you’re stopped with a duff one, the police can refuse to let you continue until fixed.

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Untitled Document
In the dry KPH MPH
Built-up areas 50kph 31mph
Open roads 90kph 55mph
Dual carriageways 110kph 68mph
Motorways 130kph 80mph
   
In the wet KPHMPH
Built-up areas 50kph 31mph
Open roads 80kph 49kph
Dual carriageways 100kph 62kph
Motorways 110kph 68kph

Speed limits

Most bikes with digital speedos will let you switch the display from mph to kph. If you have an analogue speedo, you might want to put small stickers to show the main limits (see below). The other alternative is to use a sat nav to display current speed in kph. There may be lower posted limits, such as 20kph (12mph) near schools or some town centres, but the main ones are below. You won’t see signs for the 50kph urban limits. Instead, every French town or village has a sign at the boundary, with the town or village name in black lettering on a white background with a red border. The 50kph zone starts exactly at that sign, and remains in force (unless signposted otherwise) until you see the same sign with a diagonal black line though it on your way out the other side.

Prepare the bike

Is your bike roadworthy? With a current MoT? Would you happily ride it to Scotland – or Cornwall, if you live in Scotland? Well, there you go: you’re ready to go… If there’s a problem, get it properly fixed before even booking your ferry, never mind setting out. If a service is due soon, get it done before you go – the engine won’t complain about getting fresh oil a bit early. If the chain and sprockets are on their last legs, switch them as well. Tyres a bit worn? Don’t muck about - you need to know they’re going to last the trip, so get them changed and save the old ones to use later. For touring you’re looking for a good road-focused sports touring tyre - unless you’re on an adventure bike and really will do gravel roads, in which case fit a dual sport tyre, not knobblies.

Do I need breakdown insurance?

It’s sensible, just for peace of mind. If you have a new bike, check to see if it comes with Europe-wide roadside assistance (some do). Make sure you get cover with repatriation – to get you AND the bike back to Britain. Shop around - we’ve found prices vary wildly. And check the small print - we’ve seen policies which insist you buy cover for the whole trip from home to home, not just the time you’re abroad. Try and save the cost of a day’s cover at each end and you can find yourself with no cover at all.

Do I need to carry spare and tools?

Can you use them? If not, don’t bother (but in this case, you definitely need breakdown cover). The exception is a suitable socket for the hub nut of some single-sided swingarm bikes - get a puncture and you can’t guarantee a tyre fitter or garage will have the right size. If you are handy with a spanner, check your paranoia levels: it’s one thing to carry a few cable ties, a puncture repair kit and enough tools to tighten any fasteners that work loose, but going ready for a complete top-end rebuild is probably excessive.

I’ve heard thtat old bikes are banned from Paris - is that true?

Sort of. Bikes first registered before June 2000 are excluded from metropolitan Paris (basically the area contained within the Périphérique ring road) between 8am and 8pm on weekdays. All other vehicles must display a Crit’Air sticker to prove they comply with the necessary emissions regulations. The sticker is available from the government’s website at a cost of €4.80.

What's this ‘PRIORITÉ À DROITE’ business about?

It gives drivers pulling out from the right priority over those already on the road. Less common than it used to be but it’s still in force in some towns and rural areas. On main roads, a junction with priorité à droite should be signalled by a triangular sign with a red border and a black cross on a white background. Elsewhere you’ll see a diamond-shaped sign with a white border and yellow centre - this means your road has priority, while if it has a black diagonal line through it, that says your road doesn’t have priority. Bottom line: a healthy paranoia whenever you’re approaching a side road junction is a wise strategy.

How will I know which way to go round roundabouts when I'm riding on the right?

Roundabouts are easy: generally you’re fed onto them in a way that leaves no room for doubt, plus there are usually great big arrows pointing which way to go. The time to watch out is when pulling away from the kerb, either in town, or out of a petrol station: that’s when it’s easiest to set off, riding merrily on the left. Particularly if you’re tired or are rushing and not concentrating properly. The trick is to get into the habit of saying to yourself, “Ride on the right – ride on the right,” before turning the ignition key. Sounds stupid… but it works.

What if I get flashed by a speed camera?

It never used to be a problem - you’d hear nothing more. But as of now systems are in place to allow other EU countries access to UK vehicle registration data to track down cross-border offenders. Will they use those new powers? Very probably...

What if I get stopped for speeding by a policeman? Don;t they time you between toll stations on the motorways?

No, they don’t time you between Péage booths, but there are often speed traps near the services on motorways, where there’s a cash point so you can stump-up the on-the-spot fine. The standard fine for out-of-town speeding is still €90, but the law allows fines of up to €1500 for faster offences and €3750 for repeat offenders.If you’re doing more than 40kph over the limit, you can be banned on the spot (if you have to walk home, that’s your problem). Anyone caught doing more than 50kph over is likely to have their bike impounded, with no guarantee you’ll get it back - it can be crushed or auctioned-off. France has been cracking down ever harder on speeding in the past few years – especially on motorways, and especially foreign vehicles. Our advice: it’s not worth it.

Is there anything else the gendarmes might be picky about?

Yes: radar detectors are strictly forbidden in France - just owning one carries a fine of up to €1500. The same fine applies to using a sat nav or other device warning of fixed speed camera locations. You must disable these before riding in France, although if your maps are up to date you’ll probably find that option’s no longer available for France anyway. In addition, you must use a dipped headlight during the day, and it’s also obligatory to wear motorcycle gloves approved to EN13594. In practice, so long as you’ve got some kind of proper bike gloves, you won’t have a problem but riding without gloves might get you a slap on your (exposed) wrist.

What's French traffic like?

It varies - in Paris and some other big cities, it’s mental. Out of town, it’s usually pretty relaxed, and far less busy than the UK. French drivers are very bike-aware, and normally move over and let you past where they can. It’s polite to acknowledge with your right boot (since your right hand’s occupied with the throttle). Bikes coming the other way will usually wave or signal (it’s a sort of Victory-V sign) – again it’s polite to acknowledge. Flashed headlights, though, aren’t just being friendly – it almost always means there’s a police presence just up the road..

How easy is it to find fuel?

In most places it’s easy. Apart from normal garages, most supermarkets sell fuel and it can be significantly cheaper. Motorway fuel tends to be a LOT more expensive. Be aware that France pretty much shuts on Sundays (and in some places on Mondays too), but major roads have plenty of garages. Automated pumps taking credit/debit cards are common, and normally give the option of instructions in English.

What about money? Will my credit cards work over there?

Most businesses in France will accept most UK credit/debit cards (American Express is less widely accepted). If you have two different cards (ideally from different providers) then one of them should work. The same goes for most automated garage

machines, but the time to find out is for a daytime top-up rather than when you’re running on fumes at 2am... Credit and debit card transaction charges vary wildly, so it’s worth shopping around. We’d recommend the Nationwide or (for those who qualify) Saga debit cards, but comparison sites like MoneySupermarket will have the latest deals.

Do I still need to take cash?

Yes. Probably not too much, nowadays, but it always pays to take some as a contingency. We’d work on a €200 plus €20 a day as an emergency/souvenirs cash fund. Get your Euros from the Post Office and there’s no commission. Hang onto the receipt and they’ll convert any unspent notes back to Sterling when you get home, at the same rate.

Will my mobile phone work in France?

It should do. Depending on your contract, it may just automatically connect to the nearest European network (make sure roaming is switched on), or you may need to contact your phone company first and warn them that you’re going abroad. Roaming charges used to be horrendous but as of June 2017 new rules mean call charges to numbers within the EU will be the same as if you were in UK, plus a small surcharge of 5p per minute for calls made, 1p/min for calls received, 2p per text and 5p per mb of data.

What happens on the Eurotunnel?

Generally you’re just standing beside your bike for 30 minutes. You don’t have to strap it down, just park it nose-in-to-the-kerb and leave it in gear, on the sidestand. Then relax - as much as you can while basically standing in a moving car park.

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On the ferry

Honestly, it’s nothing to worry about. Normally the deckhands will do it for you, although it’s best to supervise to make sure there’s no way straps can chafe paintwork or damage seats. Otherwise, park the bike between two tie-down points (you’ll normally be directed into position). Leave it in gear, and on the sidestand. Top tip: always roll it forward until the gear stops it moving, as there may be a few inches of play. Next, once you’ve sorted yourself out (no point doing it with your helmet on) get the strap and pad ready. Pad goes on the seat, strap goes over it. Make sure the ratchet mechanism is on the same side as the sidestand so it compresses the suspension and pulls the bike down towards the stand. Tie the front brake lever against the bar if you like, but we don’t bother. That’s it. Now go to the bar or the restaurant.

Do they really eat frogs' legs and snails?

Yes… but it’s not compulsory! You’re far more likely to see pizza, pasta, steak or more familiar fare. The wine and beer (lager) are what we’re used to as well. If you want a beer from a pump, it’s “un pression”.

What should I pack?

The basics: clothes, shoes, your phone charger, an adaptor for the phone charger. Don’t forget your sunglasses and make sure you have any prescription medication that you need. Don’t panic if you forget a few things - France has shops... In terms of riding gear, base layers are nice, especially if they can be rinsed and dried overnight. We’d take an extra layer for warmth and proper waterproofs, even if you are wearing textile kit. We’d take a spare pair of waterproof gloves and at least one spare neck tube. And if you use a dark visor, you must take a clear one too. But really, that’s all you need. It’s a bike trip: travel light and don’t strain the luggage.

 

Please note: This page contains the routes for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website pages are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes. TomTom users can either download the individual routes or use the MyRouteApp (depending on the age of your device). For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed roads, such as high Alpine passes when they’re shut, so these may not work for every route all year round.