Riding through Europe is a dream for many motorcyclists. Unfortunately, it can become a nightmare if you catch a policeman or woman on a bad day. There’s a whole bunch of regulations you will probably not expect, that can catch you out. Let’s look at a few of them.
Did you know that in France, motorcyclists and passengers must wear gloves? Not only that; the gloves must comply with a CE standard and bear a CE mark. Reflecting patches on your ECE-22 approved helmet are also mandatory. Some helmet manufacturers now supply these, so if you’ve recently bought a helmet and found some oddly-shaped reflective stickers in the box, that’s what it’s about.
You are also required to wear gloves in Belgium, as well as a long-sleeved jacket, long trousers or overalls and boots or other protection for your ankles.
Fortunately, in most cases foreign riders are not punished for violation of these regulations in either France or Belgium. The police tend to have a reasonable amount of discretion with foreigners, and are often inclined to overlook breaches of the rules; just be polite to them.
That doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply; it just means that the flics will almost certainly not bother you, especially if you don’t flaunt your freedom. But some of these odd regulations can catch you out badly. Take the French requirement to carry a box of breath testers. There is no penalty for not carrying them, but if you don’t have them a cop is supposed to demand you leave your bike and head off to the nearest pharmacy to buy some.
The pharmacy might be quite a way away, which would be bad luck. The lesson once again? Be polite.
Few regulations are as odd as differential speed limits. In Bulgaria, cars can travel at 90km/h on country roads and 130km/h on motorways. Motorcycles are restricted to 80 and 100, respectively. It’s worse in Greece with 90 to 110km/h and 130km/h for cars, and 70 and 90 for motorcycles. In Turkey the limits are 90 and 120km/h for cars and 70 and 80 for motorcycles while Ukraine has 90 and 130km/h limits for cars and a blanket limit of 80km/h for bikes. In Lithuania, both cars and bikes can travel at 90 on country roads but motorcycles are only allowed to do 110km/h on motorways as against 130km/h for cars. The same limit applies on country roads in Russia, but motorway limits are 110km/h for cars and only 90 for bikes.
This sort of thing is of course insanely dangerous for motorcycles as well as being confusing for riders. Fortunately, you will mostly find the information signposted at the border, so you’d better memorise it when you cross.
Nine European Union countries have toll roads with payment booths where you cough up for the use of the road. I have actually been let off on one trip; that was in Italy during appalling rainstorms. The toll collectors weren’t interested in opening their windows and getting wet, so they just waved me through. Got to love Italy.
You’ll find pay booths on toll roads in France, Spain, Italy, Greece, the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Poland and Portugal. There are also toll bridges and tunnels in various countries, but you’ll see the booths in each case. Life is more difficult in Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Here you have to buy a toll sticker before you access motorways, and display it on your bike. Penalties tend to be draconian.In Albania, Montenegro, Austria, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Hungary motorcyclists must carry a first aid kit. In Latvia, it’s only required if the motorcycle has a sidecar.
A high visibility warning vest must be carried in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Hungary where it must be worn when getting off the motorcycle if there’s been a crash or breakdown. Usually, the vest must be accessible without dismounting so the tank bag is probably the best place for it, unless you’re wearing it anyway while riding. You need to do that by law in Belgium, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Czech Republic. In Finland your pillion must also wear a vest.
I have fairly recently ridden in some of these countries and have not been bothered by the police even though I wasn’t wearing a high visibility vest. Admittedly, I got an admonitory shake of the head from a flic in France when I admitted that I did not even have one. I apologised profusely and blamed the supplier of the bike. Sorry, Harley-Davidson Germany.
In Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and Malta a warning triangle must be carried on all motorcycles, but in Hungary it’s only mandatory for a motorcycle with a sidecar. In France and Croatia, you must carry a complete set of spare lightbulbs unless your bike is fitted with xenon or LED lights.
The venerable green insurance card is compulsory in Albania, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro (validity for Montenegro must be specifically noted on the card), Romania and Ukraine. Your rental company will supply this, but if you’re on your own bike or one borrowed from a friend, make sure you buy it. The card is available at some border posts. You may require additional insurance for Armenia.
That’s pretty much it except for helmets. But they’re quite another thing, which I will start to research as soon as I can. Any input from inmates is most welcome.