Tips and tricks for riding in France and elsewhere
Every time I ride on the Continent I learn something else which improves my understanding of the way they behave. I try and remember these points for the next time, as they increase my enjoyment or ease problems that arise. I have France in mind for the majority of these points but many equally apply to other countries. I have thought for some time about writing them down, if only to assist my memory. You might have some of your own.
When you pack for your journey, keep things you will want on the ferry, such as toothbrush etc, in one bag so that you can board easily.
Most companies get you to put your helmet on when riding to the ship.
The ramp and decks of the ferry can often be wet and slippery.
The deck hands will tie your bike securely. If they do a really good job, take sea sickness tablets. If you park on the mainstand a strap round this and the front wheel gives extra stability.
If you return to your bike to find it damaged, get the deck officer to agree the damage and make a note of his name. Take a photograph of the damage if appropriate.
People will treat motorcyclists as if they were normal human beings, unlike the UK. It helps enormously if you have a dozen words in their language to begin with, such as please, thank you and sorry. They will then speak to you in perfect English.
On the continent they drive on the right. I know that and you know that, but you will most likely forget at some point. That point will usually be after you have stopped for a rest, fuel, or first thing in the morning. Just when you have it sorted it’s time to come home. In the UK we drive on the left ... see above.
The French 'Priorité à Droite', which means the vehicle on your right has priority, has been done away with. However not all French people got the memo, so watch out. People still fall back on this at tricky junctions in towns, so it's worth remembering.
For all that's said about French drivers, they are very positive when they do something. If they pull out in front of you on the autoroute they will get a move on. They don't pull out and then slow down, or slow down and then pull out like at home. It's a waste of time trying to let them out because they won't understand. While you need to ride defensively, being as decisive as they are is the best policy. They rarely stop at pedestrian crossings and will probably overtake if you do. Incidentally, the white paint on zebra crossings is especially slippery in the wet, so arrange to ride over the black bit which is plain road surface.
Speeds in general are higher. Perhaps because there is less traffic. In smaller towns and villages there might not be a speed limit sign but the 50kph limit begins at the sign with a red border which shows the name of the place, and it ends with the same sign with a line through it. There appears to be an unofficial 70kph-ish limit on the outskirts of these places, which are often straight wide roads. This reduces to 50kph as you get into the town proper and roads become narrower, bendy or populated.
Most motorcyclists wave to each other. The outstretched left arm with 2 fingers is customary and is said to originate because of the battle of Agincourt. The English victors cut off the fingers of the French archers, so those that kept their freedom show they still have their fingers. They say.
People you have overtaken are 'waved' to using the right foot.
It helps to have a rough idea of where the major cities are. These are often sign posted from hundreds of miles away. They choose ones that are just off the bit of map you can see on your tank bag. When you plan your trip, note the next major town and the next village on your route plan.
In general ignore diversion signs which try and send you miles out of your way. You can often get through on a motorcycle. Even when you cannot, there is usually only a short detour round some houses.
If you leave a town on the wrong road it is often quicker to turn round and find the right one. It seems that cutting across country to find your route is often impossible, where you can almost always do it in the UK.
On autoroutes you will notice that destinations in the same direction are on separate signs from those in a different direction. As you approach major junctions and spot your destination, remember the other towns on the same sign. They will omit the town you are looking for from the next signpost, but one of the others will be there.
Also on autoroutes they very helpfully tell you the distance to the next fuel station on the approach to services. However, read the sign carefully because it might say vers Lyon for instance. Which is fine if you are going in the direction of Lyon but chances are you will want the junction 1 mile before the fuel station, that goes in a different direction and has no fuel for 20 miles. Running out of fuel on the autoroute is an offence, so always have another excuse ready.
On the approach to toll booths, in general keep to the right where they are manned. Watch for specific motorcycle signs. Some prohibit, some direct. Some bridges are free and they have a narrow motorcycle lane. On some motorcycle race weekends, bikes are free.
Be very careful if you see a clear booth at the last minute. Someone behind you probably saw it before you. They will be doing a Formula 1 style pit stop.
At some autoroute barriers all you need to do is take a ticket. This often appears automatically, if not push the button. Be aware of the repeater dispenser and button for lorry drivers above your head. They have been known to activate for motorcyclists.
If you are riding in a group it is often quicker for the first bike to pay for everyone. He/she will need the tickets for the entire group, so pull alongside and pass them over. When the barrier goes up only one bike should go through. Wait for the barrier to go down and up again before the next bike goes. Pull away from the barrier, off the sensor, or it won't go down. If you are going to wait for your mates you can pull over to the side, but again watch out for cars leaving the booths, the télécarte guys don't even have to stop.
If you do ride with a group, make sure that you all want to go at the same pace. It can be a very long and trying day otherwise. Always have an idea where you are and where you're going, as getting separated is easy to do.
If paying by cash, it helps to keep your coins in a small bag or an empty camera film container. As motorcycle tolls are not that expensive you can often just hand the container to the cashiers who will help themselves. That way you don't need to take your gloves off or work out the various denominations of coins.
I'm told that it's a myth that the police time you between stations using your ticket. What actually happens is they set their speed check just before the toll booths, knowing that you will be stopping anyway. So slow down when you see the péage signs.
Should you find yourself out of fuel at a 24 hour credit card only station, most locals will let you use their pump for the reimbursement in cash. UK credit cards don't work in these places yet.
There are a number of situations where motorcycles seem to be exempt.
- Parking on paved areas is ok.
- Filtering is expected, except in Germany where it is verboten.
- Overtaking is expected. Cars and trucks in particular will drive up the bank to let you past. It is often better to pass even though you didn't intend to. Otherwise sit well back. If you are going faster then them, they will get out the way. If they are going faster than you, then get out of their way.
- If you don't actually stop at a stop sign, don't hang around as someone in a big blue van might be watching.
- The same applies to overtaking across solid white lines. The French seem to expect it, but again don't hang around. They are quite good at warning of a police presence by flashing headlamps.
- If you do get stopped, don't try and joke with the officer. Be courteous and show lots of documents, including your registration document. Always carry your documents with you when you are on the bike, even if you are just out for a short ride from your base.
- If there are roads blocked to traffic in protest, such as by lorry drivers, they don't mean motorcyclists.