02 March 2012 by Jessica Boston and Roger Nicholls
Tips for Motorcycle Holidays in France
Motorcycle holidays don’t have to be epic journeys down route 66 or riding across India; you can enjoy the thrill of biking abroad much closer to home by taking a trip through France.
Whether your passion is the latest touring bike, a vintage classic or an old favourite you’ve spent hours tinkering with, France has the fantastic scenery, quiet roads and friendly people that will make your biking holiday really special.
Roger Nicholls, owner of 3 holiday cottages in Brittany and motorcycle holidays specialist, gives us his top tips and words of advice for a perfect biking holiday in France.
Rules of the road in France
There are some important differences when driving in France, most notably the fact that you need to drive on the other side of the carriageway! This can be harder to remember for bikers than car drivers so many choose to tie a ribbon or put some tape on their left hand mirror as a visual reminder.
There are also some unique rules on right of way that may mean even on some of the more main routes you need to be very aware of people pulling out from side roads onto the main carriageway – where this applies, the rule is “give way to the right” so even if someone pulls out right in front of you it will be your fault if you hit them.
Remember it is a legal requirement to carry spare bulbs, but as of 1st July 2012 every road user must also carry their own breathalyser! Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, they should be available nearer the time from most ports and embarkation points for between £1-2.
It is compulsory for motorbikes to use dipped headlamps day and night, and from 1st January 2013 it will be compulsory for motorcycle riders to wear reflective clothing with a reflective surface of minimum 150 sq.cm (23 sq.inches) – with fines for those not complying.
Be very cautious and vigilant and watch your speed when junctions are ahead. Speed limits in France are 50km/h (31mph) in built up or residential areas and this applies even in villages where no speed signs are displayed.
Motorway speed limits are dependant on the weather with 130km/h (81mph) permitted in dry weather and 110km/hour (68mph) in the wet.
Driving offences & fines
There are numerous radar speed traps in operation and speeding carries immediate fines so you may be taken directly to a cash point to pay up. Being from the UK won’t exempt you from payment and fines of up to €60 are common.
If you are caught exceeding the limit by a significant amount you may even get your bike impounded and have to pay to get it repatriated and yourself home.
Drink driving (anything more than a single spirit measure, small glass of wine or small beer) will also result in your bike being impounded and repatriation in the case of police impounding of your vehicle will not be covered by your insurance.
Planning your perfect route
Planning your route is very important to get the best from your trip to France.
Modern touring bikes are more than suitable for long road trips, but if you are using vintage bikes or you wish to take a longer holiday or explore the further reaches of the south of France and Spain you might want to consider taking a van or trailer. This will allow you to bring more luggage and reach your chosen ‘base’ more quickly and easily.
When planning your route or daytrips out you should not expect to cover more than 350km in a day by motorbike, but the distance you cover will obviously depend on your route and the type of bike you ride.
Sat-nav can be useful but you should remember that many rural roads may not be in the system and often the most direct route is not the best for bikes or scenery.
Remember – the best roads to ride in France are usually the minor routes and there are often D roads running alongside major motorway routes that are quieter, toll free and offer better scenery and insight into the French way of life.
Research your pit stops
Online forums and bike magazines are great places to get advice on routes from those who have already travelled them. Research before you go and don’t forget to plan for lunch!
Many restaurants, especially in rural areas, only serve lunch between 12 and 2pm and at other times you’ll have to rely on ubiquitous fast food joints – hardly a way to enjoy the best cuisine France has to offer!
95 and 98 octane petrol is available across France, but “4 star” leaded petrol is not. (Lead replacement petrol available, known as “Super Carburant”, and also lead substitute additive is available however.)
The new unleaded petrol containing 10% Ethanol is available (labelled “SP95-E10”) – however this may not be compatible with some bikes, so ensure you check compatibility with the manufacturer before using as it degrades seals and hoses made from conventional rubber.
There are many automated petrol pumps in France, which can be used even when the petrol stations are unmanned – but be aware that some UK credit or debit cards may not be accepted. Make sure you factor in estimates and timings for getting petrol, you don’t want to be caught short in the middle of nowhere!
If you break down, your insurer should be prompt in repairing or repatriating your bike (check the level of cover for foreign travel before your holiday) but if you are staying at accommodation that caters for the biking community you’ll often find the support, skills and parts to get back on the road on site.
French roads – the good, the bad and the ugly
French roads can be a joy, light on traffic and the drivers there have respect for bikers and often let them pass. The French in general have a great affection for motor bikers that we don’t have here in the UK because the historical link with aggression is just not there.
There is even an annual rally in Rennes each August called “Madonna des motards” where thousands of motorbikes and riders convene in order to receive a blessing and remember bikers who have died.
Unfortunately the French roads can also be perilous, particularly during repairs, which are not always clearly signposted and often use basic methods of laying down tar oil and covering it with loose gravel even on D roads. This combination is potentially lethal on a bike and can result in nasty accidents for even experienced bikers. You should also watch out for mud and loose material on roads in farming areas, particularly at harvest time.
The same principles apply whatever country you are in, motorbiking can be dangerous, but it’s also exhilarating, exciting and for some a way of life. Just be aware, be prepared and drive at safe speeds for a successful holiday.
Ten top tips when biking in France:
- Plan your route, remember to factor in petrol stations and food stops, alternatively take a guided tour that will have all this covered.
- Drive on the right hand side of the carriageway!
- Be aware that the “give way to the right” rule may apply
- Carry your original Insurance and Registration documents with you at all times (copies won’t do and you can be fined without them)
- Keep your lights & hi-vis jacket on at all times or risk a large fine
- Give your bike a thorough check over before you travel and pack any spare bulbs or wires you may need (there are bike shops to buy from in France but prices are usually higher than in the UK)
- Remember to keep a drink handy on long journeys; it’s easy to get dehydrated especially in warmer weather.
- Choose biker-friendly accommodation – you’ll have the support of a workshop and people who can offer first hand advice and help on routes etc
- Go in a group, or make new friends on the road, it’s a sociable way to travel.
- Enjoy France! Make sure you get to see the sights and experience the food – after all you won’t be able to bring back many souvenirs travelling by bike, so make those memories good ones!