Riding Motorcycles in France
File under France Tips/How To
Author: Mike Werner
Location: Normandy, France
I've had several emails in the past asking about any hints for riding motorcycles in France. So, instead of writing new emails, I decided to put a few pointers on paper (ehhh, I mean screen):
In one sentence, you can sum up the biker situation in France:
"Bikers are RESPECTED in France" and
"The French love mavericks, and bikers are mavericks !!" (ok, that's 2 sentences)
We all know that the French see the law as a "guideline" only. They'll do whatever they want to do...... WRONG !! That has changed since the beginning of the year 2003!! There's a new Sheriff in town, and his name is Nicholas Sarkozy, the (former) Minister of Interior and Security. Actually, he did such a good job that they moved him to Minister of Finance.....and from there he became the president of his party, and now he's the President of France.
The number 1 Presidential Election issue in 2003 was road security, so he got a "carte blanche" to change things. And he went out with all guns blazing !! (to be fair, he has brought down the number of traffic deaths by amazing numbers).
Starting June 2003, if you're caught speeding 30 kms over the speed limit, you'll lose your license for three years. Apparently, this now also applies for all EC members. Speeding fines are never really taken from abroad, but apparently, the license suspension is international. This still needs to be verified. But there are several bilateral agreements in place between France and Germany and Luxembourg (more coming), that will allow the French cops to get your money and points even if you live abroad.
If you're caught doing 50 kms over the limit for a 2nd time, you will go to jail for 3 months. In other words, going over the limit and getting stopped by the cops, means you'll end up in jail. No appeal !! And its automatic !! You do not pass before a judge, and you do not receive 200 US$.... You'll also lose your motorcycle.
|Over the Speed Limit|
|Points off ||License Suspended ||Fine (Euros) ||Prison |
|<20 ||1 ||No ||135 ||No |
|>20 and >30 ||2 ||No ||135 ||No |
|>30 and <40 ||3 ||3 Years ||135 ||No |
|>40 and <50 ||4 ||3 Years ||135 ||No |
|>50 ||6 ||3 Years ||1,500 ||No |
|> 50 2nd time ||6 ||3 Years ||3,750 ||3 Months|
LINK: Click here to read My Daily Blog on the new Sheriff
Currently, hundreds of fully automatic, digital laser radars are being installed all over France. Traffic Cops and Gendarmes can be seen all over the place, especially autoroutes and areas where traffic can go fast. When you see cops on the side of the road (or on the bridges over auto routes) there will be a radar! It might be a photo radar, or the cops manning the radar will phone a Gendarme Mobile (Bike Cop) ahead of you who will intercept you further on. Often this is at the next toll (péage) area.. So when you are about 5 kilometers before a toll, slow down.
If you see cars and bikes flashing their lights, it means that there’s a radar control up ahead. Slow down !! Warning other vehicles of an upcoming speed trap is LEGAL!!
Sometimes, the police will post cardboard cutouts of a Gendarme and put them alongside the road. That's usually enough to slow traffic down......
France has started an aggressive campaign by purchasing and installing the latest technology digital radars. In the past there were not that many radars throughout France (maybe 100 in total). Now, with the new regime, that has changed. 1000's of automated radars ware being installed.
But, to be fair, the French government has published a list of radars (web site: French Government List of Radars - in french).
The radars are digital, and therefore do not need film, and therefore are ALWAYS ON!
A very good website that keeps an up-to-date list of all radar locations, including mobile ones can be found by clicking here. However, it's in French. For a translation I made of the more important points, click here (the link to the actual radar website can be found here as well).
NOTE: Click here for a list of digital radars downloadable in different formats (including Garmin/Mapsource) that you can upload in your GPS or routing software. The actual list of GPS coordinates in web format can be found here.
In most cases, the radars are front facing, in other words, are not a threat to motorcyclists. There are currently some several radars that operate front AND back facing, and they target motorcyclists. All new radars are fitted with frotn and rear cameras, so slowly there's less room for us bikers.
More are placed every day, so check the websites I listed above.
Motorcycles must at all times have their lights on.
Bikers must wear a helmet, and have a valid (international) license, bike registration and insurance. Minimum age is 18.
When riding on auto routes (=motorways, freeways, toll roads, autbahns,etc) you can (and you are expected to) pass cars in between the left lane and the next to that one. Obviously this applies when there's a traffic jam, but if the cars are driving around the same speed and there's a gaggle of them, often you can split the lane (ie lane filter).
Legally, filtering is tolerated!! That means you can do it at your own risk. If you have an accident, you're at fault !! But you will not be fined for doing it.
Caution, when there is slowed down traffic, and you are on the left lane, if a car moves to the left and puts out his left indicator, he's telling you go ahead and pass. And I MEAN he is TELLING you, it's not really an invitation. If you hang on his tail for a while and do not pass, you're going to see the car's rear window up real close !! Either pass in between or hang back. (Cars in France have gotten smart, they realize that the bikes take up value real estate on the road, and would rather see you in between the lanes).
Recently I saw an English Ducati group on the A13 motorway (Le Havre-Paris) at rush hour. The traffic was very dense and speeds were around 50 kph. They were lane splitting at 60 kph. There were about 30 French bikers stuck behind them. Several times the French bikers passed the British when they had a spot, and while they passed either put out one finger, cut them in, or twice slapped the Ducati rider on the back of his helmet..... It's not nice, but these guys (and gals) ride that route every day, and don't want to be held back. If you can't keep the pace, don't split the lane, but hang back....
Toll Roads/Auto routes
The toll roads in France are numerous, but very well maintained. The French recon that these roads are one of the best in Europe. Auto routes and their associated signs are always marked in BLUE.
Bikers are expected to go through the manned lane (so not the automatic télépeage lane which can be found usually on the left lanes– see photo on your left- or the credit card lane) since there’s a reduced tariff for motorcycles, but you can only get that if you go through the manual lane. These lanes are usually on your right. They will accept most credit cards, even for the small amounts.
Some auto routes (to my knowledge that applies only to the A14) have a lane especially for motorcycles.
The maximum speed is 130 kph, but when it rains, the maximum is 110.
LINK: www.autoroutes.fr (Click on Traffic to see the traffic jams, or webcam to see the actual road conditions.)
In most rural areas you will have problems tanking at night or on Sundays, unless you have a French CB Card (banking card). Some foreign bank/ VISA/ Master cards do work, but in most cases they don't. So be warned. At night or on Sundays, most gas stations are automated, so no human present.
All most all gas stations on autoroutes are manned 24 hours per day, and cities usually have some 24 hour manned pumps. So plan you trip well and best is to tank up on a Saturday avoiding problems on Saunday.
If you do get caught out, often locals will help by accepting your cash while they tank up your motorcycle with their CB card.
When passing a car that has gone out of her/his way to let you through, after you've passed the car, stick out your left foot (or right one if it's the car on your right). Stick it out in a gentle way, keep it straight for a second or two.
That means "Thank you but I can't let go with my hands to wave at you". Obviously waving with your hand is fine as well, but often not too practical.
There are a couple of very dangerous areas for foreign bikers. The main one is worlds largest DEATH TRAP; the Paris Peripherique. This is the ring road that goes around Paris. It's often 5-6 lanes deep (and sometimes only 2), with a maximum speed of 70 kph.... theoretical !! The BP (=Boulevard Peripherique) is always full, no matter what time of the day, but during rush hour, it's a madhouse.
As on all multilane roads, you'll find most of the bikers passing on the left-most and next to the last lane (though it’s so busy nowadays that you’ll see bikers everywhere). Cars do try to get out of your way (remember to thank them), but often the road is very narrow and there’s not that much space.
The biggest danger on the BP are not the cars, nor the trucks, or taxis, but the other bikers !! Keep checking your six (ie rear mirror). Scooter Delivery and sport bikes are known to ride in triple digit speeds (there's even an un-official race around the BP. Current record is held by a Hayaaveraging 190 kph in rush hour with a maximum speed done at 280 kph).
If you start your move to split a lane with a car, check to see if there's not one of the kamikaze squads moving in. They'll have no problem whatsoever to nudge you out of the way, specially if you have a foreign license plate!! Believe me, I've seen it happen so often I’ve lost count!!
If you see bikers coming behind you, move to the left (or right depending on the holes in the traffic) and stick out your right foot (or left one if you're going to the right). This means "I've seen you, pass on my right". You'll see that most bikers will thank you.
WARNING:And remember, this is not a motorway !!! It is a Boulevard, meaning it's a road like any in the city. So if you decide to not partake in the madness, and take the right lane (the slow lane), you will have to give PRIORITY to the incoming traffic that is merging in to the BP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Saturday night after 23:00 the BP is GTI heaven - young kids from the burbs going out to/from the nightclubs, drunk, and very fast. It's a place to avoid at that time.
The other danger spots are the large roundabouts, especially Porte Maillot and Etoile (but equally apply to large roundabouts in big cities). Often they have no lanes, and are a free-for-all. Etoile has as added challenge that the road is bricked, no tarmac, so quite slippery when wet.
The simple rule is that priority has to be given to the right ! So try to ignore what's happening on your left, and concentrate on your right. However, being on a foreign registered bike, you are a target !! The Parisians know you’ll blink first. So try to keep one eye on your left!
LINK: Etoile Click to see the photo in full size. Notice after the first block of buildings is the ring road).
Not so long ago, Etoile was the only place in France when you had an accident, you received half of the blame, not matter what happened. Now, the normal rules apply, so if you're hit from the left, it's their fault. Speeds are not high, but it's an ugly scene. Best is to avoid it. If you have to go via Etoile, there is a 2 lane ring road around Etoile which turns counter clockwise. It starts about 100 meters before the roundabout starts itself. There is also a tunnel from the Champs Elysee to the Avenue Grande Armée, avoiding Etoile.
Nantes, Caen and Rennes have equally dangerous ring roads. Nantes and Rennes are both in heavy biker populated areas.
The Cote d’Azur during summer can be very dangerous due to the high number of tourists, that are either driving around slowly in their caravans, or bikers that have rented a motorcycle and only ride once a year.
It used to be that parking was more or less permitted on sidewalks as long as you leave plenty of space for pedestrians. If there's plenty of space on the sidewalk and you park your bike in a car space, you'll probably not like what's going to happen to the bike. Remember the French nudge cars when the park !! The French Kiss was invented here (and it started with cars I think).
The Champs Elysee is forbidden for bikes to park on !! It was the first such road that the law forbids bikes to park on the sidewalk. There are many bike parking areas (see photo on your left) on the side roads. More and more main roads in Paris (and other cities) now have bike parking areas. If you see those, it'll mean that you need to park there and not on the sidewalk.
Almost all public parking garages are free to motorcycles !!! Usually there are no signs, but when you enter the garage and see the barrier is a three-quarter length, it means you can pass through it with your bike. Or there is a special lane for bikes, marked with a motorbike symbol!
When you do park in a free garage, don't use up the car space. Either there's a special designated area of motorcycles, or there are lost spaces where you can park where a car can not park.
Greeting Other Bikers
Bikers are very “solidaire” in France. On the country roads you are expected to wave and return a wave. In the main big cities, this is not the case, apart from when stopping next to another bike at a traffic light. You give each other a nod.
You do not wave opposing bikers on a motorway, but when you pass another biker on one, stick out you foot. If you're being passed, you can stick out a foot or hand.
Most bikers will stop if they see you're stopped and appear to have technical problems. This also applies to foreign bikers.
If you are in trouble with a car driver, you'll find other bikers coming to the rescue (I've had that four times already... one car driver go roughed up very badly by other bikers who came to my rescue).
Traveling in a Group
When you are traveling in a group of bikers, and French bikers arrive behind you, they will usually wait to see if you are going to pass. After a while, if you do nothing, they'll pass (usually sticking out their right foot to say hallo).
When there's a biker behind you and you're not going to pass yourself, be nice and stick out your left foot or hand to indicate that you've seen the other biker and that the biker can pass you.
If you're traveling at a moderate pace, and cars come up behind you, best is to stay towards your right so that they can pass (remember that most cars will do that to you when you arrive behind them).
The Gendarme Mobile (Bike Cops) are bikers first, cops second !!
They are in most cases friendly, they wave at you (or nod) and mostly leave you alone even if you’re breaking the law. Unless you're doing something really stupid or dangerous, you might get them saying that you're naughty and to cut it out...just don’t tempt them….
The Gendarme follows a very intensive training course that lasts 3 months and is repeated every 8 years. These bike cops are equally at home on the auto routes or on off-road pistes.
In the summer you will see them riding in sleeveless shirts and horse riding boots (a left-over from their origins – the Calvary). It is NOT their choice, but a tradition that they don't really like.
So don't think they're playing it cool, just feel sorry for them! Remember, they are your friends !!!!
France has many areas that are fantastic to ride bikes in. Normandy (coast line Calais – Mont St. Michel), Alsace, Champagne area (Troyes), Loire Valley, Pyrenees, Alpes and the Dolomites, Midi and the Cote d'Azure. On my other site, VisitNormandy.org, you will find routes you can take in that area. These include GPS files you can download.
So go out and enjoy yourselves..... hope this helps.