Top

Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

motorcycle guide to france touring col de turini - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

I just love France. My first French motorcycle tour was over 15 years ago when I rode my Hornet 600 from the rigid roads of Milton Keynes to the ribbon-like roads of Menton in the South of France. I was instantly hooked.

Since then, I’ve been back to France countless times on the bike. From long weekends exploring WW2 sites in Normandy to 10-day ‘Laps de France’, clocking up big miles through gorgeous countryside.

It is so easy to get to France from the UK, the roads are amazing, the locals like motorbikes and the scenery, food and hospitality are superb.

Despite traffic laws tightening up and the ever-ominous rise in anti-speeding technology, it’s still possible to blast 300 miles across France in a day and not see one police car or speed camera.

You just have to know what you’re doing and that’s what this guide to motorbiking in France is here to help you do.

Getting there

motorcycle on channel tunnel 1024x640 - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to getting over to France. You have two options; Channel Tunnel or Ferry or if you’re renting a bike then obviously you can fly there too.

Channel Tunnel

The quickest route to France is to use the Channel Tunnel. There are around 4 crossings an hour and the crossing takes 35 minutes.

As a motorcyclist, you’re usually on either first or last. You ride on, get your front wheel tucked into the kerb on the train, leave it in gear and you spend the crossing by your bike. You don’t strap it down and you do wonder if it’ll rock over but I’ve never seen it happen.

There’s a toilet onboard but nothing else.

Ferries from the UK to France

You can take a ferry on a similar route to the Channel Tunnel and that’ll take around 90 minutes for the crossing plus a little bit of time to load. Once you’ve docked, as a motorbike you can usually get off faster than the cars.

Or you can take an overnight ferry if you like your crossings classy.

Until last year I had always used the Chunnel but if you’re heading over to Brittany or Normandy or just down the west side of France you might prefer to get a ferry to Caen or Cherbourg as you’ll have fewer miles to do once you’ve reached France.

The overnight ferry is a great experience – if you book a cabin that is; I don’t much fancy trying to sleep in a cinema seat.

The restaurants have great quality food, there are a couple of bars too. You can get up to four to a room and split the cost, making it a no-brainer. Wake up refreshed, have a decent breakfast onboard and then get cracking. You can finish work on a Friday, jump on your bike and head south to grab a late night ferry departure.

UK to France motorcycle crossings guide

Route Duration Approx Cost
Channel Tunnel Folkestone to Calais 35 minutes £80
Ferry Dover to Calais 1 hr 30 £60
Ferry Dover to Dunkirk 2 hrs £50
Ferry Portsmouth to Caen 6 hrs day (9hrs overnight) £130
Ferry Portsmouth to Cherbourg 3 hrs £150
Ferry Plymouth to Roscoff 5 hrs 30 £150

Legal requirements for riding in France

  • A full, valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance (third party or above)
  • Proof of ID (Passport)
  • Proof of vehicle ownership (V5C Certificate)
  • GB Sticker, if you don’t have a GB EU number plate
  • CE Approved gloves
  • Carry a Hi-Vis vest
  • Reflective stickers on your helmet

French Driving Laws

While it’s worth paying attention to French road laws, in some cases it’s worth taking them with a pinch of salt as I hope to explain below.

Filtering

When it comes to filtering it’s technically illegal. In the cities of Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Lyon you can now ride between queues of stationary traffic. However, if you pay attention to what the locals do in whatever town or city you’re in, barely any French bikers sit in traffic. Just like in the UK, they want to get around it not be part of it.

Reflective helmet stickers

You’re supposed to have a reflective sticker on all four ‘sides’ of your helmet. If you like to follow the letter of the law, I am sure you can buy a kit off eBay. I’ve never stuck any on my lid and never had any trouble but technically the police can fine you for not having any.

Hi-viz vest

You might have heard of the Gilets Jaunes, the French protesters who are fighting for lower taxes. Well, if you’re heading to France, you need to carry a ‘gilet jaune’ (yellow vest) as well, but you don’t need to join their movement, block any roads or set fire to any cars. Not unless you want to.

You have to carry a hi-viz vest which you must wear if you breakdown. The fine for not carrying one is currently 11 Euros, increasing to 135 Euros if you’re caught roadside, with a bike that’s going nowhere fast – and no sign of your hi-viz.

My touring jacket has a zip-up hi-viz which, with a few shoulder-shrugs thrown in, should pass any gendarme test – but you can also buy a cheap vest from Amazon.

How to avoid the fines

My advice on all this? Be sensible, don’t attract unnecessary attention and you’ll be able to breeze around France without any hassle.

Get caught doing something you shouldn’t and the chances are the police will go over your bike and your kit with a fine-toothed comb.

Some people say the French police target foreigners. I have no idea whether or not this is true but one of the (many) advantages of a motorbike is the fact that the police won’t be able to tell if you’re foreign or not as you’re approaching a speed trap, so if you do get pulled, it’ll be because you were breaking the law (probably speeding) and not because you’re an easy-to-rinse Rosbif.

Grab a super cheap hi-viz vest, tuck it under your seat and hope you never have to use it.

Speed limits in France

french speed limits 1024x640 - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

French speed limits are very similar to those in the UK. There are different limits on motorways, dual carriageways and A roads in the rain.

Recently the French passed a controversial law that reduced the speed limit on single carriageway roads (the equivalent of our NSL) from 90kph (56mph) to 80kph (50mph).

Watch your speed in towns

When you approach a town you’ll see the town’s name on a sign and with a red border, this indicates it’s a 50kmh limit. Once you leave the town, you’ll see a similar sign but with a black border and a red line through it. This indicates you’re back to an 80kmh limit.

You’re very unlikely to see a speed camera on open roads outside of towns or built-up areas. Fortunately, France hasn’t (yet) followed the UK and gone GATSO mad.

French speed limits chart

 Speed Limit (Wet Speed Limit)
Towns / Villages30kmh / 19mph
Built-Up Areas50kmh / 31mph
Approaching Villages70kmh / 43mph
Open Roads (Wet)80kmh / 50mph | (70kmh / 43mph)
Dual Carriageways (Wet)110kmh / 68mph | (100kmh / 62mph)
Motorways (Wet)130kmh / 80mph | (110kmh / 68mph)

French Speeding Fines

fixed speed camera france - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

The French are pretty hot on speeding and issuing speeding fines.

Where you’re likely to get caught

In my experience, the majority of the mobile speed cameras are located on motorways or dual carriageways. The often traffic-light motorways forge through the vast countryside and it’s easy to take your eye off your speed.

The police will often park away from the road, use a mobile speed gun and they may also work with a motorcycle gendarme who’ll escort you to the nearest service station and help you empty your wallet.

I have only ever seen one police car with a radar on a country road and even then I was flashed by lots of oncoming drivers before I went past it. 

Other bikers have told me they tend to set up shop on the way into towns, where it’s easy to miss the change in speed limit and be caught at a relatively high speed. Keep an eye out on your way into towns and never speed through them.

Fixed speed cameras are easily visible. They have a sign alerting you to the fact there’s a camera, approximately 500m before the camera. Mis that and you deserve to be flashed! You probably won’t get a ticket as most are forward facing but if you’re taking the p*ss, the authorities may well track you down.

Speed camera detectors

These are illegal in France. However, gone are the days where you could buy a unit that detected speed cameras (some of them tried to jam radars too). These are a definite no-no. However, Sat Navs or apps that also warn you of speed cameras are technically illegal. Some manufacturers have an option for you to disable this but unless you’re caught at silly speeds, you’re not likely to be scrutinised. Waze is a great app to keep you alerted of any police presence.

Fines, Bans and Confiscations

The French police won’t be shy in issuing you a fine and the amount you’ll owe depends on how badly you were breaking the speed limit. If you’re going less than 12mph (20kph) over the limit you’ll get a 68 Euro fine. Up to 25mph over the limit (40kph) and it’ll be a 135 Euro fine. If you’re over 50kph (31mph) over the speed limit you’ll get a huge 1500 Euro fine.

These fines are slightly reduced if you pay immediately. Contrary to rumours the police don’t pocket the cash – they’ll issue you with a receipt. 

If you’re caught speeding over 50kph over the limit you could also see your vehicle being impounded or your licence confiscated. Both will ruin your trip.

Priorite a Droite!

One rule in France that's different to the UK is 'La priorité à droite'.

It's a strange law and I've no idea who sanctioned it in the first place. Essentially it means that cars waiting at a junction to your right have the priority. So they can pull out of a side road into a main road, right in front of you.

It's a confusing rule made even more so by the fact that in some areas there are signs saying that this rule doesn't apply and in others it does. The sign is a yellow diamond with a white outline If it doesn't apply there's a black line through the middle.

You really don't want to be trying to remember which sign means what at 60mph on a country road, so the easiest way to interpret it is to ALWAYS keep an eye out when a car appears at a junction. Just like you would do in the UK, except in France there's a greater likelihood of them actually pulling out.

That said, French drivers are ten-times better than UK drivers at looking out for motorcyclists, so we'll forgive them for this odd road law.

Motorcycle Tolls in France

The majority of French motorways operate a toll charge. It’s really not that expensive but you do need to factor it into your costs if you’re on a budget.

You’re roughly looking at needing to budget 50 Euros to take the motorway all the way from Calais to the south of France by motorcycle.

You can use this French motorways toll calculator to give you a more accurate estimate

Personally speaking, I try and avoid French motorways. The A-roads often run close by. They’re open, fast and flowing and unlike in the UK, they rarely go through towns.

In recent trips around France where I’ve clocked up 2,000+ miles, around 30 have been on motorways. It does make sense to blast down a few junctions to save having to take a country-road detour.

Using motorways in France, for me, defeats the point of riding a motorbike around France in the first place.

If you’re planning a rough route with Google Maps, just use the option to avoid motorways and tolls and compare the difference for yourself.

Some French Highlights

DSCF6316 - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

There are hundreds, probably thousands of fascinating places to experience in France. Every region I’ve visited could keep you occupied for weeks. You’ll struggle to find a bad road and one of the most enjoyable experiences is hopping between towns on random back roads and then going back to ride them again.

Great roads aside, listed below are a few personal favourite destinations of mine.

pont du gard - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

Pont du Gard, Occitanie

Deep in the South of France this area (known as le Midi) is nirvana for biking roads. The climate is very Mediterranean and Pont du Gard epitomises this. An ancient Roman aqueduct that spans the Gardon river as part of its 50km route. You can swim in the river and explore the remains of the aqueduct on its way through the nearby town, Vers Pont du Gard. Stay at ‘A gauche du Pont’ nearby and eat at Le Petit Gare and you get the full French experience.

Oradour sur Glane France Motorbike - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

Oradour-sur-Glane, Haute Vienne

This town was the scene of a massacre during WW2 where 642 villagers were rounded-up and killed by the German SS as retaliation for alleged partisan activity nearby. The village was then torched by the Germans and after WW2 it has been left as a memorial to those who died. It is a harrowing yet profoundly moving location and I’ve never been anywhere that so clearly demonstrates the viciousness of war.

colmar france - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

Colmar, Haut-Rhin

Colmar is a charming French town located in Eastern France, close to the German border. It’s unlike almost any other French town I’ve visited and that’s because from 1871 to 1918 (and not to mention 1940 to 1945) it used to be German. The architecture is a clash of German angles versus French romance with canals and cafes, Gothic churches and pretty open squares. Away from the town, the roads in the Vosges forest are some of the best in France. You could get lost around there for days.

The Best Ride Routes in France

france - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

It’s quite hard to find a bad road in France but once you get away from the main roads, you’ll find miles and miles of stunning, challenging and interesting routes.

In France, N-roads are like our A-roads and if they look straight on the map, they’ll probably be less interesting to ride. Down south, N-roads can be really interesting as they wind their way through valleys, gorges and forests.

D-roads are the French equivalent of our B-roads and these are almost always great fun. Some can be narrow, others have a slightly loose surface but on the whole these roads are perfect for bikers.

There are hundreds of routes out there on the internet but you really don’t need to go too mad downloading every GPX file you can get your mitts on, as you’ll be able to find great roads of your own, just by glancing at a map, picking a destination and then heading there on the twistiest-looking routes.

Below are three great motorcycling routes in France: 

Mostuejouls to Florac

mostuejouls to florac - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

This is a great route that you can do in a loop, or just take the same road there and back if you want to attack it the second time around.

It’s around 80 miles as a loop and takes you from the Gorges du Tarn along the Tarn river on some amazingly scenic and undulating roads through the cavernous valleys of the Tarn. Take the D996 pretty much all the day to Florac, a very pretty town.

From Florac you can either take the D16 back or head for a longer route by taking the narrower D907BIS. You could do this route for days on end and not get tired of it.

D-Day scenic route

normandy motorcycle roads - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

If you get the ferry to Cherbourg or Caen (Ouistreham), then this route is right on your doorstep. 

It’s about 120 miles all in but if you stop off at the many WW2 sites, it’ll be a day-long trip. The part of the route that runs along the coast is a good but not thrilling road but it’s made up for by the WW2 sites, sights over the sea, myriad museums and artefacts dotted along the route.

From the famous Sainte-Mere-Eglise, head away from the coast into classic French bocage countryside along gently arcing roads. Head out on the D974 to Carentan, another famous battleground in WW2.  Then pick up the D8 then D13 and stop off in Caen for lunch before heading to the Merville battery, Pegasus Bridge then finishing off at Ouistreham for a well-earned beer. 

The Vosges Forest

vosges forest motorcycle routes - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

The word epic is overused but this is an epic motorcycling route, that’s packed full of challenges. If I could only ride one route for the rest of my days, I wouldn’t be annoyed if I was given this one. 

It’s around 130 miles all in with almost 1,000 metres of elevation throughout the route. The views are stunning, you’ll want to stop time and time again to take everything in. 

On the northern tip of the loop, you head on the D424 where you might be forgiven for thinking the fun’s ended but it connects you to the D253 which is a fast, flowing ribbon of Tarmac through the forest that you’ll want to ride again and again. Almost traffic-free, you’ll finish this route and spend the rest of the day wondering what you’d have to do to up stick and move here.

Guided Motorcycle Tours in France

Guided motorcycle tours are a great way to ride great roads, minimise the admin and meet new people. There are more motorcycle tours in France than you’ll be able to sample in a lifetime. 

Some of these outfits will put you up at their B&B and take you on tours to suit your time and budget while others will run scheduled tours where you ride planned routes each day and stay at different hotels and B&Bs along the way.

We have no affiliation with any of the companies listed below, but these companies cover all types of tours in many different regions around France. If a guided motorcycle tour is what floats your boat, these are good companies to contact.

Bike Normandy

Bikers Lot

Caday Rouge

Dordogne Motorcycle Tours

The French Ride

Motorcycle Rental in France

Motorcycle rental is a great option if you want to explore some of the further reaches of France without having to bash out hundreds of miles just to get there.

You can arrange a hire bike in the area you want to visit, fly to a nearby airport with your kit, set up your digs and jump on the rental bike and go exploring.

You can rent anything from a 50cc scooter, to a Harley-Davidson but Adventure bikes like the BMW R1250GS, Ducati Multistrada and Honda’s Africa Twin are popular choices.

Budget around £700 to rent a motorbike for a week, which is pretty good value for money, especially if you factor in tyre wear and servicing. Check for mileage restrictions and that insurance and breakdown cover are included. Often extras like luggage and sat-nav are an additional cost you’ll have to factor in.

Lots of rental companies will also help you with accommodation and some also offer guided tours.

One of the great advantages of motorcycle hire is that you can rent a bike that’s better suited to the type of riding you want to do. Unlike if you’re using your own bike, you don’t need to factor in a bike that’ll just be comfortable for big-mile-days; you can get one that’s great for twisty roads but less-suited to big miles, like a Ducati Scrambler or BMW R NineT.

For a low-hassle holiday or if you just fancy riding a different bike, then motorcycle rental will be right up your rue.

Ride in Tours

We Rent Motorcycles

Universal Riders

Loca Moto

French Travel Tips

ride on the right france - Motorcycle Touring Guide to France

Avoid motorways – the A-roads are far faster than in the UK, free to use and far more scenic.

Make sure your breakdown cover includes repatriation – so if the worst happens your bike will be transported back to the UK.

Ride on the right side – stick some tape on your top yoke, draw a road as you see it (i.e. two lanes) and draw an arrow facing away from you on the right and towards you on the left. Then write “Ride on the right side” on the tape and it’ll stop you making an easy mistake when you leave a petrol station or lunch stop.

Download our Guide to Motorcycle Touring in France below and get more great tips, a printable packing list and a guide on all you need to know.

FAQ

Can I ride a 125 in France

 

Can I ride on an A2 licence in France?

 

Do I need a GB sticker on my motorbike in France?

 

Do motorcycles pay tolls in France?

Is lane splitting legal in France?
In Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux you can filter through stationary traffic. It is technically illegal elsewhere but the French seem to have a laissez-faire attitude towards it; it’s unlikely you’ll get pulled for it if you’re sensible.

Do you have to wear a helmet in France?
Yes, any rider, pillion or sidecar passenger has to wear a motorcycle helmet that conforms to EU standards.

Do I need reflective stickers on my helmet to ride in France?
The law states you have to have four reflective stickers on your helmet, one on each ‘side’. It is unlikely you’ll get pulled over for not obeying this but if you are pulled over for another reason you may get an additional fine for this.

Does my AA membership cover me in France?
If you only have UK breakdown cover then no, you’ll need to extend it to Europe. You can buy a single-trip policy – check out our European motorcycle breakdown review.

Do I need an Air Quality Certificate?
If you are going to ride in Paris, Grenoble, Lyon or Strasbourg city centres then you’ll need a certificate.  There are six different emissions brackets and you’ll pay more if your vehicle is in a higher bracket. You can apply for your certificate here.

Do I need to carry a breathalyser in France?