5 things to know BEFORE RIDING IN... France
France is biking heaven – fantastic roads, great scenery, welcoming people and relatively few cars to spoil the fun. But there are a few specifics you need to be aware of to make sure your two-wheeled trip goes smoothly…
The general speed limit is 90kph (55mph) unless otherwise indicated. 130kph (80mph) is allowed on motorways (110kph (68mph) if it’s raining and on urban motorways). 50kph (30mph) is the rule in towns and villages but there are no signs – the limit begins as you pass the village sign and ends as you pass the crossed-out sign on the other side.
France has been clamping down hard on speeding lately and on-thespot fines are the norm. If you can’t pay or if you’ve grossly exceeded the limit (around 50kph over the motorway limit is enough) they can impound and even crush or sell your bike. So you’ve been warned. It’s common to find a speed trap hidden away under a bridge just before a major motorway services.
If you’re flashed, a chase car (often a dark blue Subaru or Renault Megane RS) or bike will pull you into the services, where you can be frogmarched to a cashpoint to pay the fine. Any kind of device that warns you you’re nearing a speed camera (even if it’s just a sat-nav with locations loaded) is strictly illegal.
Supermarkets are by far the cheapest option. Motorway services are breathtakingly expensive. Don’t assume you’ll easily find fuel late at night or on a Sunday, especially in rural areas.
When you do find a 24 hour garage, it will almost certainly be cards only, and not all UK cards work at French pumps – the time to test it is when there are other options, not late on a Sunday night. Debit cards are cheaper to use abroad than credit cards but fees vary wildly – check in advance.
These are far cheaper for bikes than cars, but they can still mount up. On some holiday weekends and all year round at many toll bridges, passage is free for bikes – look out for signs directing you towards a separate lane off to one side.
You must carry your driving licence, passport, registration document and proof of insurance and be prepared to produce them on demand. Failure to do so is punishable by an immediate fine. Your UK policy automatically covers you for travel with the EU, but only for the legal minimum (in most cases Third Party Only).
Some insurers offer automatic extensions of full cover, but you need to check before travelling. Breakdown insurance is highly recommended. Read the small print though; many policies insist you buy cover for the entire journey, so cover must include the day that you leave home and not just begin as you land in France, or you may find you have no cover at all.
By law you must carry a disposable breathalyser; in practice, there’s no fine for not carrying one, so it’s up to you if you bother, but they’re only cheap...
Priorité à Droite – IMPORTANT
If you ignore everything else on this list, please don’t ignore this one...
Less common than it used to be, it’s still in force in some towns and rural areas, and gives drivers pulling out from the right priority over those already on the road. Which wouldn’t be so bad but a lot of drivers won’t even look as they pull out. On main roads a junction with priorité à droite should be signalled by a triangular sign with a red border and a black cross on a white background. Elsewhere (and especially in towns and villages) you’ll see a diamondshaped sign with a white border and yellow centre – this means your road has priority. If it has a black diagonal line through it, that means your road doesn’t have priority.
French traffic lights are similar to ours, but flashing orange means traffic joining from the right has priority, unless indicated otherwise. You can’t trust the locals to take notice of this though... The bottom line is it’s the bike that comes off worst, so a healthy paranoia as you’re approaching a side road junction is wise.
“The bottom line is it’s the bike that comes off worst, so a healthy paranoia as you’re approaching a side road junction is wise.”