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Motorbike touring in Spain

Guide to bike touring in Spain

Tips on riding in Spain, motoring rules and regulations as well as Spanish motoring laws and more.

From the Brittany Ferries' arrival port of Santander in northern Spain your riding options are virtually unlimited. And in a country that is more than double the size of Britain but with a significantly lower population, there should be very little to get in your way.

An excellent network of road links allows you to head off quickly in whatever direction you fancy; not that you have to travel very far for your first taste of truly wonderful scenery. The road network is made up of 166,000 kilometres of different class roads, with 4,964 of these being on the coast serving over 8,000 beaches and 16,000 being of motorway standard.

Six major motorways link the major towns with two coastal motorways running down the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and carry an A or E prefix. In the main these 'Autopista' are in good condition and mainly toll free, but those that are not have an additional prefix of P (peajes).

Lack of road maintenance in some areas can make riding on some roads hazardous - especially in parts of south-west and northern Spain. Overall the quality of road surfaces is still very variable and you need to take care and be prepared to deal with uneven surfaces, narrow lanes and frequent diversions or hold-ups due to road-works.

Road safety

Spain has not had the best road safety record of late and recently the Spanish government have been tightening up, hence the recent temporary reduction in speed limits on main roads from 120kph to 110kph. It is now common to see checkpoints at various junctions where standard documentation checks take place, but increasingly so do breath tests.

Changes in legislation now give a court the authority to imprison an offender for 3 months. All fines must be paid on the spot, with police escorts to a cash machine common for those with no money on them. (Some police vehicles now have card readers!) Failure or inability to pay may result in imprisonment!

Speed limits and radar detectors

The Autopista now have a maximum speed of 120kph unless otherwise stated. The normal Autovia or normal dual carriageway's have speed limits varying from 80 to 110kph while the Carretera Nacional - N or CN - prefix to road number have limits between 60 and 100kph.

Carretera Comarcal - C - prefix to road number which are basically country roads vary between 60 and 100kph. While the Carretera Local highways are normally individually signposted but do not generally exceed 100kph.

Like France and Portugal, Radar detectors are illegal, again heavy penalties for those who use them to detect the large number of unmarked cars and static checks now being used to cut fatalities. Heavy fines are also now being handed out for crossing slid white lines, which have figured heavily in their crash statistics.

Licence information

Spain is of course well known for its love of motorcycling with nearly two and half million powered two wheelers (PTW's) being registered. However, while in general terms you need to be 18 years old to ride a motorcycle over 75cc, (which again removes a 17 years old riding on a UK licence) there are some anomalies.

From December 2005 the privilege of riding a two wheeler up to 49cc without a full driving license was withdrawn. But bizarrely as a visitor (nonresident), if you have the normal "B" car licence and held it for over a year you may ride a 49cc moped or scooter. However, if you have held it for over three years you can ride up to 125cc. Local residents can get a moped licence at 15 years old.

Crash helmets are only compulsory on machines over 125cc, but this is one law that it would not be advisable to take advantage of! 

Riding tips and advice

Although most countries have particular anomalies two are worth noting. Spanish drivers do not usually stop at zebra crossings unless they are accompanied by traffic lights. So take care when approaching one if there are cars behind you and you adopt the UK stance, because you could be hit from behind or to have an irate driver shout and blow his horn at you if you slow and stop without a light. Also, some towns and villages have flashing amber lights prior to a normal traffic light. If you are riding at or below the speed limit, the red traffic light will change in your favour. If not, the light will remain on red to slow you down!

In some areas, like France, to turn left across a dual carriageway you are expected to go into a pull-in on the right and wait until it is clear in both directions. This does at least prevent you sitting in dangerous position between two carriageways.

If you need glasses for driving you do have to carry a spare pair with you as in France.

In case of an accident or breakdown, do not sign any forms that you do not understand even if asked to by an official. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible for a local representative.

Recommended Spanish roads

Just outside of Santander, to the west and spanning the regions of Cantabria and Asturias, is the spectacular Picos de Europa National Park with 300 square miles of amazing natural beauty. Dramatic rocky peaks rise up over 8,000 feet, while the vast areas of lush green surrounding countryside is home to all kinds of rare and endangered wildlife including the European brown bear.

The N621 highway goes from Santander directly to the heart of the Picos, and almost all of the main subsidiary routes within the park branch off of this. Try to stop off at Fuente Dé where, for a short while you can enjoy an exhilarating ride of a very different kind in the cable car that will take you up nearly 3,000 feet. And if there's a camera somewhere in your panniers or bag, be sure to take it up with you. You'll kick yourself if you don't.

You may also like to stop a while at Oviedo, the capital city of Asturias. Quite apart from being a lively and interesting place, it is also the home town of F1 world champion Fernando Alonso.


N320 - Cuenca to Almodóvar del Pinar in Castilla La Mancha: Not a beauty spot but a great smooth surface and very few junctions to catch you out. Part hilly and twisty, part straight and open. Some 100mph bends possible.

TE-901 - Teruel to Albarracin in Aragon: A great little road of two halves. Open and fast at first, then the hills and twists arrive. Frequently almost traffic free.

N330 - Huesca to Sabinanigo in Aragon: What you'd call a fun road with a high pass, good views and nice bends.

C250 - S Feliu de Guixols to Tossa del Mar: This road asks a lot but gives a lot back in terms of satisfaction. Full of sharp bends so constantly challenging.

N623 - Santander in Cantabria to Burgos in Castilla y León and then Madrid : A really good selection of tight hairpins, fast sweepers, some decent straights and a nice view as the road rises up from sea level to around 1000m. This route is ideal if you've just got off the ferry from Santander.

N621 - San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria to Riaño in Castilla y León : This road takes you through some wonderfully tight bends through the gorges of the Picos de Europa National Park. There are and many views as bends, of which there are plenty. As you begin to drop down back down again the road surface improves and is slightly wider, offering faster sweeping bends and a few good straights until you arrive at Riaño.

N625 - Riaño in Castilla y León to Cangas de Onis in Asturias : First section is realy nice with beautiful scenery, with some amazing bends to follow. Hidden bridges can take you by surprise, the road can veer suddenly as well.

To the south the whole of Spain rapidly opens up before you, with wide-open horizons of unspoiled countryside offering mile after blissful mile of almost traffic free roads. A word of warning though... in many central parts especially there can be huge gaps between towns and cities, so do make sure that your tank is well topped up. Even more so if your machine is of the thirsty kind.

Finally, if you are planning to cross the Pyrénées and into France before your journey home, try the Somport, Bielsa, or El Formigal passes. They are all excellent choices, and which one of these you choose can be entirely down to convenience of route.

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