Everything considered, France is my favourite motorcycling country, and it’s becoming more so the more I see of it. A recent visit to a friend in Brittany has opened my eyes to yet another wonderful place to ride, although even the back roads and forests of the Atlantic coast can’t beat the Alps Maritimes.
Keep in mind that this is despite the way the French make life hard for visitors. No problem if you get straight off the plane into a coach to be driven around the photo opportunities, but if you’re riding there are hurdles to jump. These are not as bad as they might seem at first, however. For a start, you do not need to carry a reflective warning triangle. Whoopee.
So, yes, visibility. The law requiring riders to wear motorcycle jackets with reflective areas on them has been scrapped. Pity, really. I have a (French-made) jacket that has pull-out strips of dayglo material which can be clipped on. I was kind of looking forward to stopping just short of the French border, pulling them out and meticulously clipping them in place… no, I wasn’t. Riders and pillions must now comply with the same law as car drivers and have a fluorescent vest within reach when riding. This need only be worn if there’s a traffic incident or a breakdown. Note, however, that they must be within reach – don’t put yours at the bottom of a pannier.
The requirement for helmets to have four reflective stickers is still on the books, however. The problem is that Australian law, and some other national laws, specifically forbids you from attaching stickers to your helmet. Since helmets no longer need to carry Australian standards identification, you won’t even be able to show a French police officer that you bought your helmet outside France. This is a mess, in line with some other French laws, and it’s up to you how you deal with it. I saw very few locals’ helmets with stickers when I was there recently. But consider this: the fine is 135 euros.
It’s also up to you whether you carry an International Driver Permit. I hate these things and I don’t – there is an alternative in France, which is a notarised translation of your license, but that’s just as much trouble. Likewise, while there is a law requiring you to carry a pair of breathalysers, there is no penalty for not doing so. Zut, alors. I suggest you comply with the law (a two-pack of breathalysers cost very little) because a police officer who wants to make life tough for you can use this law to do it. Try to imagine the ways…
Other paperwork you need to carry includes registration papers, your rider’s licence and an insurance certificate. Don’t forget your passport, either. If you bring a bike over from Britain you don’t need any extra paperwork (for now, anyway, let’s see how it pans out after Brexit) but you do need a GB sticker on the back of the bike and a headlight deflector. Some bikes, including all Harleys with Daymaker headlights, have straight beams and don’t need these; all others do. Pick one up from just about any bike dealer in the UK.
Another tricky one is the question of carrying a spare set of lightbulbs. No, this is not required by law. However, you may not drive or ride a vehicle with a blown or missing bulb, not even to a shop to buy a new one. Once again, a police officer can make your life very unpleasant if, say, you’re pulled up on the autoroute miles from nowhere and you can’t ride on. Carry the bloody bulbs.
Yet another French requirement that falls into the same category is the Crit’Air law. Designed to control pollution from vehicles, it requires vehicles to have stickers ranging from 1 to 5 defining the pollution level – 1 is highest, 5 lowest. This allows the authorities to ban higher-rating vehicles from cities and nature areas when the danger of pollution is high. It’s not just a matter of staying out of, say, Paris when pollution is high; you need the sticker even when all is well. Stickers are cheap, but you must apply via the website at https://www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/en/. If you don’t have time to wait, the receipt that they send you pretty much instantly is enough. Show it to the nice flic.
The nice police officer may also ask to see your gloves. You must wear these, and they must be approved: in other words they must have the CE kite mark. That applies to both riders and pillions. Don’t worry, it’s worse in Belgium where motorcyclists riding, including foreigners, must wear protective clothing: gloves, jacket with long sleeves, trousers with long legs or overalls, and boots protecting the ankles.
France has removed warning signs from speed camera locations and is adding substantial numbers of these little revenue gatherers. They are relatively unobtrusive, too – low to the ground and not stuck up on poles the way they are in civilised countries. It is also illegal to carry devices capable of detecting speed cameras and that includes GPS units and even mobile phones. If you have such a feature on your equipment, disable it.
Finally, while in-helmet speakers are legal, ear buds (which protrude into the ear) are not. Look, all this might seem like a pain but France is worth it. Just be nice to the flics because they can cause you a lot of pain!