Protests are a way of lifes here in France, and usually when the motorcycle world does one, people take note. 18th of June of this year was a day of massive protests. The French government has over the years been playing hardball with all vehicles, all in the name of safety, but enough was enough. After the latest measures announced that would hit French drivers hard, and motorcycle riders even harder, it was time to hit the road and show our displeasure. To find out all the things they are going to impose, check the related articles at the end of this article.
The big difference with previous protests rides, was the fact that 1) all other road users were going to pitch in, and 2) even foreign motorcycle associations in surrounding countries (like MAG) were going to come in droves to show support.
Because the other vehicles (cars, trucks, taxi) are not used to these kind of protests, and don't know how to organize them, the French Federation of Angry Bikers (FFMC ) was in charge of organization, logistics and security. In other words, cars would be shepherded by the motorcycle crews... a first.
I decided not to go to the main protest in Paris, but instead I went to the smaller city of Rouen , located in Normandy. Usually some 2,000 motorcycles go and protest there, and it's more manageable for me to take photos. The region is run by FFMC 76 . The day's protest statistics for Rouen, Paris and France can be seen at the bottom of this article.
Unfortunately, the day started very bad.... a massive storm hit Normandy, and even in the 100 km ride to Rouen, I had to stop several times because of a hail storm and massive amount of rain falling.
Here's a bunch of photos I took, followed by a video round up. All photos can be clicked on for a bigger version (not that big, since it will take ages to load all 40 photos). If you plan to view bigger photos, please make sure the whole page has loaded before you do.
Riding towards Rouen was difficult and I got soaked. The rain and hail at times was so hard, I had to stop for shelter.
During the ride, I caught up with a large group of some 500 motorcycles that were on their way to Rouen. They had come from other areas in Normandy, and the group was getting bigger by the minute. Eventually, we ended on the motorway:
After having passed all the bikes, I stopped on the motorway to photograph the unofficial ride. Since it's a protest, they were occupying both lanes, and riding slowly...
Since it was not part of the official organization and no-one really knew where to go, we ended up in Rouen on one of the river islands
The "Official" motorcycle you see is part of an organization that stewards bicycle races. Called ANEC (Association of Bicycle Escort of Normandy), their main role is making sure that the many bicycling races held here are safe. They are well equipped (walkie-talkies, etc) and have a lot of experience keeping groups together. Their role in this protest is to keep everything going, making sure that the police and official stewards can do their job, and that no one does something stupid.
While we were parked there, many other motorcycle joined us. They were arriving from all over the city, and anywhere you where in and around Rouen, you could hear the noise of 1000's of motorcycle. Eery...
The problem was that no one knew where we should be. Eventually, FFMC stewards arrived, and brought us to the correct place.
The white shirts are the official FFMC stewards, making sure that motorcycle were parked where they should be. These guys and girls had an important role further on during the ride.
Motorcycles were streaming in, nonstop.
All types of motorcycles came, from fast sportsbikes to choppers. Any brand, any age, any type.
The organization is well equipped and already set up. The 4-Wheel car is the command post, and runs in front of the protest ride, with loudspeakers blaring out the protest. They even had a small diesel power generator for the sound system, and all stewards brought lunch, something most of us forgot since the protest started around lunch.
In the mean time bikers had dismounted and the long wait started. Gathering time was set between 13:00 and 14:30.
The dummy is steadfast at most motorcycle protests, and symbolize the current French president, Sarkozy. The sign says "License plate for myopic radars and cops" (note: one of the protest points is that the government wants to increase the size of all motorcycle license plates).
Another false license plate seen reads "Is she big enough for you, you head without meat".
This plate is probably the best, apart from the number done in the way modern French license plates are, it's the three words at the bottom that make the difference. Normally the French national motto is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", but since we're being royally screwed by the government, it reads "Liberty, Equality, Vaseline".
Then the cops arrived, several national police (not Gendarme) motorcycle cops who have as duty to stop all traffic when the protest ride begins. All of them are bikers at heart, and walk around the other bikes admiring and talking to the owners. The atmosphere is very relaxed and good natured, despite the falling rain.
Another hot item in the government's list of things they want, is that all bikers must wear a fluo hi-viz vest. This, according to the government, so that car drivers can see us better (so that we're better targets... ). This vest says "And now do you see me better", with a nice hand gesture...
The early bikers had it the worst, since the rain did not stop, and most of them took shelter (on the right of the photo).
In the mean time, the parking space was growing very rapidly.
The presidential dummy was placed on the command car, together with the association flags.
The flow of incoming motorcycle did not stop. Many of them got dressed up for the occasion.
They were not just 2 wheeled motorcycles, all sorts of motorcycle-based vehicles joined.
At one stage, incoming motorcycle had to wait a good 10 minutes before they could park their bikes, there was so much traffic.
The president is ready to go...
All dressed up, and somewhere to go...
Anything to make sure we're noticed... right. How's that for an idea Mr. Government?
There were so motorcycle, trikes and other PTWPowered Two Wheel - motorcyles, scooters, mopeds coming in, that the organization got overrun. Expansion parking was sought close by, and the protest was divided into 4 different parts, since the number had gown to some 4,000 motorcycles.
Even the 1%-ers send their representatives. It's a true "one for all, all for one".
This one says "Stop to the liberty robbing stupidness".
Finally we had reach max point, there was practically no more space to store the motorcycles.
The last bikes were arriving, and were being shepherded to the last waiting area.
This was truly the last "motorcycle" to arrive (notice the grin of the steward).
10 minutes before the announced time, the organization decided to start moving. There was no more parking space, so the show went on the road. It started with the stewards taking their initial positions....
... followed by the initial procession of bikers....
... followed by the main wave.
During the ride, the motorcycle police would ride up-front into an intersection and block traffic. The yellow vest would bring the wave of bikers through while the incoming cars and other vehicles were stopped by the cop....
... then a white t-shirted steward would take over the traffic block from the cop, allowing the cop to leapfrog ahead to the next intersection. Using several cops per procession, it worked very well and smooth.
The white t-shirt stewards would hold all traffic up until the last motorcycle passed, and then rejoin the front of the group. The left "lane' of the procession was asked to be kept open for cops and stewards. It takes about 20-30 minutes for a whole procession to pass through.
The view from within the ride. yes, it was still raining.
Brave people the stewards. Though most car drivers supported the movement, even joined in, some who were in a hurry were not happy. But that is life in France. The 5 processions (4 were motorcycles, 1 was cars ) eventually made it to the local government (prefecture) for speeches. At that stage my camera had died from water exposure, and since I already have 2 cameras in the shop, and this was my backup, I now have none....
The day was an enormous success. In Rouen some 4,000 maybe 5,000 bikers and other vehicles attended, while in France some 75,000 attended. (Paris had 15,000).
Now the wait is to see if the French government has gotten the message. If not, more, and much harder protest will follow. As history has pointed out, it can get very hard, and eventually the government caves in.... if not...:
Here's a short video I made using my iPhone:
Motorcycle Protest In Rouen, Normandy (2 minutes 0 seconds)|