Germany and Austria hold some of Europe’s finest roads. The beer and sausages are good, too. And here we’ve got all those little nuggets of info that you might need to know before you set-off on your adventure. So what are you waiting for?
What insurance will I need?
All UK insurance covers you automatically for the legal minimum in any EU country (usually Third Party only) before Brexit and insurers were saying this should remain the same after it. Even so, we still recommend checking your policy or contacting your insurer before setting out. Most would require you to inform them of the dates when you’ll be travelling and the countries you’re visiting anyway.
You will also need to get travel insurance – and specifically health insurance – to cover your trip. This may be more difficult, as you’ll need to find a policy that will cover you for riding a large-capacity motorcycle. Many basic holiday insurance policies include cover for riding upto 125cc machines (as presumably underwriters believe the only riding anyone would do on holiday would be on a hired scooter on a Greek island). However, after Brexit the UK will not be part of the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) scheme, so you won’t have free access to public health services in other EU countries. Make sure that, as well as covering the cost of any medical treatment, your policy includes cover for repatriation to the UK, if it’s necessary.
What about my driving licence?
Again, things are different post-Brexit. Once Britain leaves the EU you will need an International Driving Licence (IDP). You can get one from any major Post Office – it costs £5.50 and lasts for a year. When you go to get it, you’ll need to take a passport-sized photo as well as your driving licence and another form of ID (we’d take the actual passport). You will need to carry your UK licence with you when you’re in Europe as well as the IDP.
Do I need to take cash?
Yes. Probably not too much, nowadays, as contactless payment is on the rise across Europe… but smaller and more-isolated cafés may be less likely to take a card (contactless or otherwise). This means it always pays to take some cash 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. Just make sure you hang onto the receipt and they’ll convert any unspent notes back to Sterling when you get home, at the same rate.
What about money? Will my credit cards work over there?
Most businesses 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 in most countries – though we’ve found that automated pumps in Italy are the most likely to decline a UK card. But wherever you are, the time to find out is not 2am when you’re running on fumes... Credit and debit card transaction charges vary wildly, so it’s worth shopping around. Look for a card that doesn’t charge you a commission on each transaction. We’d recommend the Nationwide or (for those who qualify) Saga debit cards, but comparison sites like MoneySupermarket will have the latest deals.
Will my mobile phone work?
It should. Depending on your contract, it may 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 you’re going abroad. Before Brexit, call charges to numbers within the EU were the same as if you were in UK and if you had unlimited calls and SMSs when at home, then the same was true when roaming in the EU. The same goes for data use, though some operators may have added a ‘fair use’ policy.
What’s the best way to get there?
For those in the north of the UK, an overnight ferry (Newcastle, Hull or even Harwich) to Holland can jumpstart the trip. It avoids spending a day riding the length of Britain to reach a Channel port and also you’re usually off the ferry early in the morning, allowing you to cover a good amount of ground on day one. From the Midlands south, but the conventional Channel ports may be the simplest option, with Dover being the biggest and busiest route. Some riders like to relax on the ferry; others prefer the quick Eurotunnel.
Are there places I can’t ride?
There are several roads in Germany that are closed to bikes at the weekend (often just the Sunday). There will be signs at the start, stating times when bikes can’t go down them very clearly.
What’s traffic like?
It varies. In big cities and the areas immediately around them, it can be pretty busy. Out of town, it’s usually pretty relaxed. The north-west corner of Germany is very built up and so is busier than the rest of the country – more like the south-east of the UK. Generally, though, most European drivers are pretty bike-aware and often move over to let you past where they can. It’s polite to acknowledge with a wave of your right boot as you pass (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 up the road.
What about the autobahns?
OK, first things first: there are speed limits on some stretches. And when its busy, it’s sensible to observe the recommended 130km/h limit (as much of the traffic probably will). However, there are large stretches that are derestricted and they can definitely be the tourist’s friend: if you don’t mind an hour or so on a derestricted road, you can soak a large amount of distance out of the day, letting you cover ground to the best roads very quickly. But. If you’re riding fast on an autobahn, you need to keep your wits about you. For a start, anything pulling into your path is likely to be going a fair bit slower. However, what’s behind you also warrants attention as there will be faster things out there – from flying BMWs to sportily driven Porsches. They’ll roar up behind you and expect you to move.
Are there toll roads?
Not in Germany (apart from the Nürburgring…) but the Austrians love a good toll. You’ll need to buy a vignette to use their motorways. They’re available in petrol stations on either side of the border, you can buy a 10-day ticket for less than a Euro a day. However, there may be additional tolls – particularly on some of their alpine roads, as the toll pays to maintain them.
What if I get flashed by a speed camera?
If you get stopped by a policeman with a hand-held camera, you can expect to pay an on-the-spot fine. The size of the fine will reflect the scale of the offence and the German and Austrian police have the power to impound bikes if particularly unhappy. If you set off a fixed-position camera… we’re still waiting to see how this works, post-Brexit. There’s a chance you’ll never hear anything about it, but an equally good chance the speeding ticket follows you home (as before Brexit). The good news is you won’t get points on your licence, but the bad news is that you’ll have a fine to pay…
Does Brexit mean I need a visa?
No but you will need an ETIAS – European Travel Information and Authorisation System. This is normally described as a ‘visa waiver’, despite the ETIAS website identifying it as the ‘visa for Europe’. The fee is €7 and it will last for three years. We recommend applying (at www.etiasvisa.com) at least a month before you plan to travel. As well as completing the form, you’ll need at least six months left on your passport.
I’ve never ridden on the right before
Don’t worry. It’s remarkably easy – even roundabouts. Generally you’re fed onto them in a way that leaves no room for doubt about which way to go, plus bigger ones have great big chevrons to make it obvious. 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, rushing or 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.
Do I have to carry lots of stuff?
Not really – but your motorcycle must have a GB sticker attached (especially post-Brexit…). You don’t have to carry a warning triangle or carry spare bulbs – but if you’re stopped with a duff one, the police can refuse to let you continue on your journey until it’s been fixed.