Motorcycling in Europe can be a delight and having toured extensively throughout Europe for many years, Ewen Stewart, who is the Legal Assistant at Motorcycle Law Scotland, thought it might be a good idea to pass on to you some of his helpful hints and tips. If you haven't ever ventured into Europe, then we hope to encourage you and assist making your trip a success.
Ewen estimates that in the last 15 years or so he has travelled approximately 50,000 miles in Europe on various motorcycles, so he probably knows a wee bit about it.
Before you travel
- Roughly plan your route to estimate your overall mileage.
- Ensure that your bike is well serviced before you depart and more importantly, that your tyres have sufficient tread for that journey. Not only will that save you time looking for a tyre dealer and waiting on a tyre fitting, but it might also save you money, because tyres in Europe can be more expensive.
- Take out European Recovery to transport you and your motorcycle home should anything untoward occur. It should cost between £50 and £75 for a couple of weeks peace of mind. Don’t assume that the breakdown cover supplied with a new motorbike includes Europe, so best to check before you go and have cover in place.
- Make sure you have a basic tool kit, tyre foam and/or a puncture repair kit.
- Ensure you should also have valid travel insurance in place, just in case something happens before you depart or while you are away.
- Ensure you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you can take with you. It is free and will be valid until at least 1/1/21 when we leave the EU (check from then on for any changes). An EHIC provides you with reciprocal and basic health cover should you fall ill while in Europe, but your EHIC does not cover you for every health eventuality and you may still have to pay for some treatments. EHIC is not valid in Andorra.
- Tell your motor Insurer about your intended trip dates and the countries you intend to visit. Check the level of cover you will have while abroad because UK comprehensive insurance may not provide the same benefits to you when you are in Europe. We suggest that after you call your Insurer, you also send an email confirmation with your Policy Number, trip dates and destinations to confirm your conversation.
- Be aware that Andorra (Pyrenees) is not part of the EEC, such as for EHIC purposes etc.
When you travel
- You will need to have your original V5 Registration Document and your Motor Insurance Certificate with you. You should take the originals, not a photocopy, and if your motorcycle has finance on it, we recommend that you take a copy of the Finance Agreement with you as well.
- A Full UK Driving Licence (card) is required and you should have it accessible. Check its validity dates (they only last 10 years). At present (2020), you do not need an International Driving Permit, at least not until 1.1.21, but at £5 from any Post Office, we feel that it is best to take one anyway. You do not need a photograph to get one, but you will need a separate one for Spain.
- Make sure that you have at least 6 months validity on your Passport and also keep it handy during your trip. Your other documents can be packed, but you may need to access your Passport at any time. Consider buying a waterproof map type zip bag from a mountain/outdoor pursuits shop for your Passport, driving licence and any other important documents like ferry tickets. The type that hangs from your neck is ideal.
- If you do not have an ‘EU’ number plate, affix a GB sticker to the rear of your motorcycle and anything you are towing. ‘Alba’ and ‘Ecosse’ are all very nice, but not strictly legal when motoring abroad.
- If you are travelling with other bikers, we suggest that you all swap around your spare keys in case of losses.
Weather conditions abroad and your motorcycle kit
- One obvious advantage of visiting Europe on a motorcycle is the weather, but don’t be fooled, as it can still be cold and very wet over there, especially if you are visiting the mountains. Our advice would be to layer up and take a change of gloves (summer/winter) as well as good waterproofs. You might consider purchasing a ‘summer suit.’ They are normally available for under £200 for jacket and trousers. You never know, you might even get some use when back home (for at least 1 day a year!).
- When you pack clothing for your trip, consider our ‘shrink wrap’ method! Get some large food bags that reseal or close with a zip. Put a change of underwear and perhaps a t-shirt for each day into a bag and squeeze the air out with a rolling pin before sealing. You will be amazed at the space you can save plus you now have a bag to bring your washing home in. Another tip is to take old underwear and socks, then leave your DNA all over the place!
Booking your trip – Ferries and roads
- When you book your ferry, look for offers through the motorcycling press and other discounts if you are 60+. Arrive in plenty time for loading onto the ferry as it often commences an hour or so before sailing. It can be a bit of a pain waiting at the Terminal, but better to be early than to be stuck in traffic or repairing a puncture when the ferry sails away without you.
- Don’t be afraid to ride your bike on the metal on/off ramp, just take it steady and smooth and you will be fine.
- Without doubt, some roads you will be travelling on are stonkingly good, and in our experience, foreign driving standards throughout Europe are very high. However, you still need to be alert for the odd occasion when somebody else gets it wrong.
- Do you need a reminder to drive on the right? Try wrapping some red insulating tape around your right-hand grip if you do.
- Choose your holiday dates carefully. If you are heading south into the mountains, such as the French, German or Austrian Alps, the Pyrenees, the Dolomites in Italy or the Picos de Europa region of Spain, you might wish to consider missing the ski season and getting there before the summer holiday season begins. This way you can bag some real bargains with your accommodation, so think about travelling from April to the end of July. You will find the roads a bit quieter then as well.
- Pack a light overnight bag if sleeping on the ferry; something you can access easily when you get on board and not too bulky for a small cabin. Consider buying a lightweight cable and combination padlock which would allow you to leave your jacket (through the sleeves) and helmet secured to the bike on the crossing (this will also be handy when touring and stopping for lunch.)
- All ferry companies will supply you with ratchet straps for your bike and some crew will even secure your bike for the crossing. Often these straps are fed over the bike saddle from one side to the other, so you may want to take something with you like a foam pad to protect your seat and paintwork, or perhaps just use your gloves or jacket.
- Be aware of the fact that on docking in Europe, many Port Police now administer random breath tests, particularly to motorcyclists, so don’t get off to a false start by having one too many on the boat!
- Obtain a European accommodation guide for motorcyclists, such as the Touren-Fahrer guide, or check it out on the Internet (www.tourenfahrer.de). Here you will find accommodation lists from affiliated and motorcyclist friendly hotels throughout Europe. Booking.com and other UK sites also work well when you are abroad and they can allow booking to be made at no cost, which could be a bonus if you have to cancel for any reason.
- Lane discipline on motorways is generally well adhered to in Europe, and particularly in Germany. You need to be aware that fast cars can come up behind you in a flash. And by fast, we mean very fast! Be aware that not all German Autobahns are unrestricted, but they are in some places and that is where fast cars can be driven to the max by their owners.
- Because you are unrestricted in your speed on some stretches of the Autobahn, German drivers tend to adhere to speed restrictions in all other places. Speed enforcement cameras are normally forward facing and can be cylinders placed at the side or in the central reservation of a road. They are not fluorescent painted as they are in the UK, and they are not signed in every case, so be alert and watch your speed.
- The German Police are usually quite tolerant, but filtering between lanes of traffic is illegal, and frowned upon by the Police and other motorists.
Riding in France
- You almost get the impression that the French do not like UK motorists, but having been there in 2019, I saw no evidence of that on the ground. However, you do need to be aware of a number of things.
- You will need reflective stickers on the front, rear and both sides of your helmet, regardless of the fact that you may not be riding in darkness and the fact that your helmet may already have a reflective aspect to the design. The stickers cost a few pounds on the internet and can easily be removed from your lid on your return to the UK if you buy the right ones.
- You will need to carry a reflective vest and so will your pillion. The fine for not having one is €11 and for not wearing it when stopped at the roadside, the fine increases to €135 each!!
- It used to be the case that an unused breath kit had to be carried while motoring in France, but not any more. That rule was postponed indefinitely in 2013 and is due to be scrapped altogether in January 2020. My advice is, if you already have one, then take it and if you do not have one, take one anyway.
- Be aware that when you enter a French ‘Peage’ Autoroute (Motorway), your registration is noted and your exit time is recorded. This means that if you exceed the speed limit over the distance you travel, you may receive an automatic monetary fine on your Credit or Debit card if you used it to pay the toll. French ‘N’ roads (Truck Routes) and ‘D’ roads (County) often run alongside the Autoroutes roads and are much more fun anyway!
- You DO need to carry a spare bulb kit, but you DO NOT need to carry a red warning triangle when riding on a motorcycle.
- You will also need to be aware of the ‘Priorité à Droite’ rule. This means that you must give way to traffic approaching from the right, so do not assume that you have the right of way at all junctions. You will also encounter signs reading ‘Cedez le Passage,’ meaning yield to traffic from the right. ‘Rappel’ means reminder, and it is often seen below speed signs in restricted areas.
- Be aware of your speed when riding in France and particularly when decreasing into a lower speed restricted area. For example, the French have an uncanny knack of placing speed cameras on or near to off ramps, where speeds can alter from 130 km/h to 80km/h.
- In France it is illegal to have any device fitted to your mode of transport with a speed camera, fixed or mobile, detection system. That means almost every sat nav on the market! If you have a sat nav and are using it, we suggest disabling the speed camera warning facility to give you a chance if stopped.
Riding in other European countries
The Italian, Croatian, Slovenian and Polish authorities tend to be very tolerant, but not so the Austrian. They hide all over the place with speed traps and will prosecute you with an instant fine for the smallest misdemeanour. Like in all countries, be courteous and sensible, particularly in built up areas and you should be fine.
Road Traffic Collisions in Europe
If you are involved in an incident with another vehicle, it is important, if you able, to:-
- take details of that vehicle including the driver's name and vehicle registration number.
- take photographs and contact details of witnesses.
- contact the local police.
EU legislation is in place (for now!) which allows you to bring a claim for damages incurred in an collision within the EU in your home country. This means that for accidents in the EU, you won’t have to instruct a foreign lawyer to pursue a claim for you.
Do get in touch with us as soon as possible at Motorcycle Law Scotland if you have been involved in an incident as the time limits for making a claim can vary depending on where your incident happened.