Vive la différence

European touring means glorious roads, wonderful food and inspiring cultures. It also means a smörgåsbord of uniquely quirky rules of the road... 

Priority from the right. European suburbia is a perilous place if you don’t understand that traffic coming from the right has priority. ‘Priority from the right happens whenever there are no other signs,’ explains Edelweiss Bike’s Christian Preining. ‘It happens everywhere in Europe, from French suburbia to small Austrian villages where they’ve taken down all road signs.’ Look for yellow diamond signs, though. These tell you that the route you’re on has priority over routes joining from the right, but it’s cancelled by a yellow diamond struck out by a black line. Watch out for villages where a new speed limit isn’t expressly marked. Christian again: ‘Just the village name sign can mean an urban speed limit applies, and it’s cancelled by the village name with a red cross through it.’

Give way on roundabouts, even in Morocco. On unmarked roundabouts keep a sharp look-out for upside-down triangle give way signs and the shape of a stop sign. Why just the shape? Sometimes it’s all you’ll have to go on because the sign will be pointed towards traffic merging from the side road. If they’re told to give way you have priority.

The weirdest craze currently sweeping internet forums is the reflective helmet stickers in France debate. Never have stickers been at the root of so much controversy. By law helmets in France must have reflective stickers visible on all sides. However, the EU Commission has responded saying that the regulation can’t apply to helmets already in use. This implies that foreign riders can’t be forced to display stickers on their helmets. ‘It only applies to French motorcycle riders who have purchased a helmet in France since 1 January,’ says Toursareus owner Graham Sanders. ‘It doesn’t apply to non-French residents who are wearing a helmet purchased outside France. In fact, another EU rule states that stickers are not allowed on helmets.’

Beware of British shops selling products that ‘comply with European laws’ when they don’t actually apply to you as a motorcyclist visiting Europe or aren’t enforceable. Search online for motorcycle warning triangles and there’ll be a lot of websites telling you it’s mandatory kit. But as a motorcyclist you are exempt from the requirement to carry a warning triangle. So don’t bother buying one.

There’s a difference between legislation and enforcement. The on-spot fine for not carrying at least one unused breathalyser in France, due to be implemented back in 2013, has been indefinitely suspended. 11 euros would have been the penalty for not carrying one unused breathalyser which is just £4 more than a packet of the things cost. Don’t bother buying them.

Do bother with a fluorescent vest. ‘You need a fluro vest for emergency breakdown only,’ says Graham Sanders. ‘But it has to be in reach of you. Put the vest in your pocket, and do not get off your motorcycle until you put it on.’ This rule applies in France and Spain: if a policeman pulls you, and asks to see your fluro, and you get off your bike to fish it out of a top box, he’s going to hand you a 50 euro fine.

Carry your driving licence, passport, V5 and insurance certificate at all times. Unlike the UK, you won’t be allowed to saunter into a police station with the stuff six days after being stopped. You do still need an International Driving Permit (IDP) for some countries on the European periphery. It costs £5.50 from the AA, RAC or Post Office. Some information about the IDP on the web seems to be out-of-date. For example the RAC website lists Albania as a country where you need an IDP to drive. But when I passed through their a year ago they had no problem with my British licence. That said, if you want to be sure of hassle free progress get yourself an IDP. 

A green card is old-school proof that you’re insured to ride in specific countries. Back in the day they were a requirement for any foreign travel and thanks to Brexit that situation might become a reality again. There are still a few borders close to Europe where guards ask for the green card: Morocco, Montenegro, Turkey, and Bosnia Herzegovina. Explaining to these guys that your insurance company has stopped issuing them can be tricky, so it’s best to follow their directions to the insurance booths and purchase specific insurance for the country in question. For example: if you’re riding south through Croatia to get to Dubrovnik you’ll have to cross a seven- mile stretch of Bosnian coastline that cuts right through the country. It’ll cost 20 euros to purchase a cover note at the border, but if the booth isn’t open the guards will send you back north to Opuzen.