Motorbike touring in France
Guide to bike touring in France
Tips on riding in France, motoring rules and regulations as well as French motoring laws and more.
All of our French ports are close to fast roads, allowing you to head your bike in whatever direction you choose with the minimum of fuss. If you have a specific destination in mind (perhaps in the south of the country) and you want to get there as soon as possible, then obviously the main (and frequently toll-charging) motorways are your best bet for opening up the throttle on your bike. If you're not in such a big hurry you'll find that a lot of these major roads have lesser-graded routes running roughly parallel with them. The advantage here is that these, apart from being free of charge, are usually much less busy. And in many respects a whole lot more interesting for bikers.
The French road network stretches over one million kilometres with 15,000kms of these being motorways or 'Peages', which typically have motorway service and rest areas every 20 kilometres. Rates are calculated between the point of entry and exit with a ticket being obtained at your start point and handed in at the exit. Cash and credit cards are accepted and it is a quick and efficient way to cover large distances.
However, the best roads and motorcycle routes are to be found on the D and N routes, equivalent to A and B roads in the UK. If you want to make progress without having to pay on the motorways the RN roads are an efficient conduit to move through France.
As well as speeding and the regulations on having reflective strips on both your helmet and clothing, the French are very strict with their drinkdrive laws. The normal blood alcohol content limit is 0.49 grams/litre (g/l), and 0.19g/l for professional drivers. Drivers detected with levels between 0.5g/l and 0.8g/l receive a fine. Those with levels above 0.8g/l face court.
If you need to wear spectacles for riding you will need to carry a spare pair with you, or face a fine. Staying with the general advice if you break down or have an accident, if possible park in the emergency lane if available and then call 112 on your mobile if there is no fixed phone box nearby.
If you are involved in any collision with a French vehicle, you will be asked to fill in a "constat amiable" (an amiable declaration) by the driver of the other vehicle involved. Be especially careful if you do not speak the language and try to call your own insurance company and get the advice of a local French representative before signing anything. If someone is injured, even if you were not at fault, then you must remain at the scene until the police can attend.
Like the UK when there is injury or when the road is blocked police must be called.
Just in case you didn't know, French law says that all motorcycles when moving must display dipped headlights - yes, even in broad daylight. Also, most European countries require you to carry a full set of replacement bulbs for your bike. You can be fined for not being able to show these when asked to.
Speed limits and radar detectors
General speed limits are: 130kph on motorways which reduces to 110kph in the event of rain, 110kph on express highways and 90kph on the majority of secondary rural roads. 50kph is the general rule for towns although it drops to 20-30kph in certain areas and at times can be lower for two-wheeled vehicles.
While in the UK we are used to large signs at the start of every speed restriction such as when entering towns or villages, the reduction is often not indicated in France apart from the town or village name being displayed at the start of the restriction and it ends when the same town name has line through it at the end of the town boundary.
Speeding is quite rigorously enforced with static and mobile speed cameras as well as unmarked police vehicles. Radar detectors are illegal even if they are not used. If caught with one, fines are very heavy and you still have to go to court and may have your bike confiscated.
Anybody caught in excess of 40kph above the speed limit is likely to have their licence confiscated, which could make onward travel difficult Fines are payable on the spot and they will expect you to get money from a cash machine if you have insufficient funds on you to pay the fine!
You cannot legally ride in France until you are 18 and hold a full Category A motorcycle licence. A lower speed limit also applies of 100kph on dual carriageways and 110kph on a motorway.
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Recommended French roads
From the glorious green landscapes of the Loire southwards, the variety of roads appealing to bikers really begins to widen. The Massif Central for instance, with its vast number of extinct volcanoes, can in parts give the impression of being almost lunar-like.
On the other hand, you'll also find a great deal of pretty countryside and if you absolutely want to hit the heights, the Pyrénées and Alps both offer mountain roads to ride that will reward bikers with some truly spectacular views. Remember though, many of these high altitude roads are best visited between June and September because the winter snow can have a tendency to linger around for months after falling.
D22 - Tinchebray to La Haute-Chapelle in Normandy : A nice twisty route through rural Normandy.
D514 - Caen to Honfleur in Normandy : The coast road running past the D-Day beaches with terrific veiws and lovely coastal towns.
N138 - Alençon to Le Mans in Western Loire : Some magnificantly long straights, perfect for just opening up the bikes throttle.
N138 - Ecommoy in Western Loire to Tours in Loire Valley : A very pleasant and pacey run through the rolling hills and sweeping bends of the Loire Valley, this route has a little something for every motorcycle rider. Up and down straights, sweepers, good surface and nice environment through the countryside through quaint towns and past poppy fields, and all only 20km from Le Mans.
D749 - Saumur to Lussac-Les-Châteaux in Western Loire : A typicaly great French D route with great road surfaces, fast stretches and great scenery. Hardly any traffic and a good way to bypass Poitiers.
D952 - Angers to Saumur in Western Loire : Great road running beside the river Loire with little traffic and lots of straights with plenty of places to stop.
D944 - Neuvy to Bourges in Loire Valley : Meandering road passing through forests and woods. Great for fun at sensible speeds.
N144 - le Puy-en-Velay to Mende in Limousin : Running across the top of a plateau with generally light traffic. 80mph bends are possible.
N9 - Millau to Lodeve in Limousin : Winding dual carriageway with light traffic. The kind of road you want to ride again and again.
D526 - La Mure to Mens in Rhône Alps : Narrowish road around 10km long with a fantastic series of corners just made for flipping the bike around.
Although most road traffic signs are identical or similar to those in the UK and those that are not are easy to work out, the rule of law in France is still 'priorité au droit' or Give Way to the Right which also applies on roundabouts. Unless you see 'Vous n'avez pas la priorité' or 'Cedez le passage' it means that you may be on a main road, but you will be expected to give way to vehicles coming out of side roads.
Ergo, they are not pulling out because they have not seen you; they are driving according to French law. However, if you are on a road displaying a yellow diamond sign it all changes and you have priority!