Motorcycling abroad this summer? It pays to do your research

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When motorcycling abroad this summer, MotorCycle Direct encourages all bikers to do their research as motoring rules and regulations can change from country to country.

Motorcycling abroad

When heading off on the open road to the Continent – or beyond – this summer, there are lots of exciting adventures to be had, discovering new routes, stunning scenery, great food and fascinating cultures.

However, to make sure the trip runs smoothly and according to plan, it pays to do a little research before setting off. Planning the route is the fun part so a good map or an up to date Sat Nav will be needed. But there’s a lot more to think of besides which scenic routes to take or what side of the road to drive on.

Rules and regulations governing motorists vary widely from country to country across Europe and it is important to know what these are before crossing the borders, especially since breaking the rules could lead to an expensive on-the spot fine.

For example, in many countries, it’s compulsory to carry a high-visibility vest or jacket, or you may be required to carry a stash of spare bulbs in case yours blow while travelling.

While it’s never wise to drink and drive, most European countries tolerate far less alcohol in the bloodstream than here in the UK and some have a zero tolerance policy, especially for under 21s or new drivers. In fact, from July 1st 2012, France has introduced a new regulation requiring motorcyclists to carry two approved breathalysers displaying the French NF symbol. These can be obtained from ferry ports and terminals. Anyone found to be over the 0.05 per cent limit in their bloodstream could incur anything from a fine to a prison sentence, and possibly have their vehicle and licence confiscated.

Countries other than France also have their own idiosyncratic rules for bikers. For example, in Spain two-way intercoms between bikes are illegal, while Sat Nav systems that warn of speed cameras and radar traps are against the law in Switzerland.

Speed limits vary widely too. While the maximum in built up areas is almost always 50kph, it can vary between 90-130kph on European motorways. And don’t forget, speed limits abroad are always expressed in kilometres, not miles per hour!

If you want to check out the legal requirements for a specific country ,visit http://www.theaa.com or the British Motorcyclists Federation website at http://www.bmf.co.uk feature useful information.

Other travel essentials include:

  •     Motorbike insurance – be sure to check whether existing cover is valid for the trip before setting out.
  •     Vehicle documents - including registration document, MOT, licence (paper and card), passport – these are a legal requirement and it is worth checking with the foreign office website whether a Green Card or International Driving Permit will be needed.
  •     GB sticker – a legal requirement and useful even with EU plates
  •     European Breakdown cover
  •     Travel insurance
  •     European Health Insurance Card
  •     Copies of your documentation carried separately from the originals
  •     Spare keys
  •     Mobile phone and charger
  •     Emergency numbers
  •     Bike lock
  •     Spare bulbs – always handy and sometimes compulsory
  •     Hi–visibility vest or jacket & warning triangle

Remember, forward planning is not only required for trips to Europe. Motorcycles are the preferred form of transport in countries like Thailand and Vietnam and their stunning scenery means both countries are growing increasingly popular as destinations for bikers. Again, whether using an owned bike or hiring one locally it’s important to understand the legal requirements and to be prepared for the somewhat haphazard rules of the road.

In Vietnam, for example, it is illegal for foreign tourists to ride a motorbike unless you have a temporary Vietnamese driving licence. To qualify for a temporary licence a full UK motorcycle licence or an International Driving Permit and a valid 3-month tourist visa is needed. Helmets have also been a legal requirement since 2007 even though some local people may be seen riding without them.

To ensure no rules are broken and the trip runs smoothly, MotorCycle Direct would recommend booking ahead with a reputable motorcycle tour company. It’s also worth remembering that riding etiquette is very different in places like Vietnam and Thailand. It’s probably safe to say that ‘right of way’, especially in busy cities or on major roads, is not always a concept that local drivers abide by always expect the unexpected! Potholed or poorly lit highways can also be a danger to motorcyclists, especially at night.

Wherever you’re off to this summer, be sure to plan well, keep safe and have a really great time!

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Sophie Williams
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