Kid on a toy motorcycle

Driving in France – With A Motorcycle

Motorcycles, also called motorbikes depending on which side of the Atlantic you come from, are very popular in France. Not only in big cities enabling people to escape the busy traffic logged roads, but also used to ride the scenic country roads. Therefore the country is well used to these powered two wheels, and there is a substantial respect towards bikers.

However, like with cars and camping-cars, there are still several laws, regulations and customs/habits you need to take into account when travelling in France with a motorcycle. Here are a few of them.

NOTE 1: I advise you to read the car portion on this site to read about the general laws (signs, motorways, etc). Click here to read them in a separate window.

NOTE 2: I will be using the term “motorcycle” for all types of bikes (scooters, trikes and sidecars). There are no distinctions.

The Laws

Here are specific laws for motorcycles, most of them ridiculous:

  • Vintage: If your motorcycle’s manufacturing dates before June 1999, you ARE NOT ALLOWED to ride in Paris. The exception is the Boulevard Peripherique (the Paris ring road) and the two forests (Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes).
    Penalties: €68
  • Motorways: If you are planning to ride on the motorways (autoroutes in French), you need to have an engine bigger than 50cc and your bike must be able to ride at the minimum speed of 80 kph! 125cc bikes are allowed on the motorways.
    Respect the minimum speed on motorways
    Respect the minimum speed on motorways
  • Bus Lanes: You are NOT allowed to ride in bus lanes
    Penalties: €135
  • Lane Splitting: Lane splitting, also known as filtering, has been illegal but tolerated for many decades, but now the law, as an experiment, allows it in 11 “departements” (equivalent of French state). The departements are: Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-St-Denis, Val-de-Marne, Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Essonne, Val d’Oise, Rhone, Gironde and Bouches-du-Rhone. You need to use common sense, i.o.w. don’t fly past cars, respect security distances, etc
    Penalties: €135 and 3 license points for non-respect of security distance, and €135 and 3 license points for changing lanes without indicators. These are the penalties the other “departements” can give you if you filter. However, it’s very rare.
  • Alcohol: As with cars, alcohol is highly regimented; Fines for alcohol level of 0.5 to 0.8 mg/ml are €135 (and loss of 6 license points), while driving with an alcohol level of over 0.8 mg, will be fined €4500 not to mention the loss of 6 license points. That’s one glass!… and after that you’re toast.
    Riding and Drinking is not a good idea in France
    Riding and Drinking is not a good idea in France


  • Pulling A Trailer: Pulling a trailer with your motorcycle is a headache. There are a lot of legal factors to take into account (not to mention manufacturer warrantees, insurance issues). In France (and most of Europe), the rule of thumb is that you can only pull a trailer that represents a maximum of 50% of the DRY weight of your motorcycle! So if your motorcycle’s dry weight is 100kg, you can only tow a trailer weighing 50kg (fully loaded). If the weight of the trailer is over 750kgs, it must be equipped with its own brakes.
    A trailer pulled by a motorcycle
    A trailer pulled by a motorcycle

    As for putting a motorcycle on a trailer pulled by a car, the same rules for trailers or camping-cars are applied; check out the rules by clicking here.

Mandatory Equipment

Here’s what you must have with you, or on your motorcycle:

  • Crit’Air sticker: The Crit’Air (clean air) sticker is mandatory if you are planning to ride in one of the (growing) cities that have anti-pollution days. The sticker has a number and a colour, and when there’s heavy pollution in one of these cities, only vehicles below the announced number are allowed into the city. Click here to read more about the Crit’Air rules on our site.
  • Helmet: The biker and any passengers must have a European-approved (CE label) helmet.
    Penalties: €135 and 3 license points if you don’t have a helmet or it’s not CE approved. The fine can go up to €750.

    Approved helmets mandatory
    Approved helmets mandatory Photo: (c) Bye Helmets



  • Helmet reflective stickers positions
    Helmet reflective stickers positions

    Helmet Stickers: Helmets need to have approved reflector stickers on the helmet in the specified places.
    Four stickers (top front, sides and rear) for jet or open face helmets, five stickers (+ chin) if you have a modular or integral helmet.

    The stickers need to be approved (Amazon US and Amazon UK sell them).

  • Gloves: The biker and any passengers must be wearing European-approved (CE label) gloves. Even if you have gloves bought many years ago, and THERE IS NO APPROVED label, you will be fined!
    TIP: If the label bothers you and you want to cut it off, keep your invoice with you that specifies that the gloves are CE approved.
  • High-Visibility Vest: In France you must have at least one high-visibility vest on you. It must be approved, colour yellow or orange, BUT, you do not need to wear it while riding. However, if your bike breaks down along the road, you need to put on your hazard warning and put on the hi-viz vest.
    Penalties: €11 if you don’t have one with you when stopped, €135 if you have broken down and you’re not wearing one.
  • Driving License: Your license, even a foreign one, must be approved for riding your motorcycle (ie power, engine size or whatever else your country can restrict). I.o.w. if you are legal in your country, you are legal in France, EXCEPT for age. If you are younger than 18 and you are allowed to have a license in your country, you are illegal in France!
    Penalties: €75 if you don’t have your license with you.
  • Registration papers: You need to have your bike’s registration papers on you.
    Penalties: €75 if you don’t have yours with you.
  • Insurance: You need to prove that your motorcycle is properly insured.
    Penalties: €135 if you don’t have any proof of insurance on you. If you don’t have insurance, a fine of €3750 and the impound of your bike and possible loss of your driving license.
  • Breathalyzer(s): Legally you need to have at least one,  but if you don’t have one, you’ll not get fined. Stupid you say? Indeed, but what can I say?



Parking your motorcycle in France has in the past been easy. Put it on the sidewalk, and you’re done. But alas, no longer. Now, motorcycles need to park in special motorcycle parking spots. You are not allowed to park (at least so far you are not charged any fees for parking, but that will change eventually):

  • Sidewalks (especially if you are hindering pedestrians)
  • Places reserved for special vehicles (like handicapped spaces)
  • Places where you hinder other vehicles
  • Bridges, tunnels, fly-overs
  • Emergency lanes
  • Pedestrians walkways

Penalties: €35 and possible impound of your bike

Motorcycles and Children

Children less than 5 years old need to have specially adapted seats that have a restraints system. The biker must also ensure that the kid’s legs can not go between the bike and wheel. Obviously, the child must have a CE-approved helmet and gloves.

For older children, they will need a special seat if their feet can not reach the passenger foot pegs.


Transporting animals is less regulated, but common sense prevails. If you’re going to do it, make sure the animal can’t escape and especially, that it can’t hinder you riding safely.

Be careful and use common sense with animals on motorcycles
Be careful and use common sense with animals on motorcycles


There are a few habits for motorcycle riders; between bikers and between bikers and cars drivers.

Biker and Car Drivers

    • When riding in a traffic jam, or just coming up to a car on a country lane, chances are quite big that the car will move over. Some of them will use their indicators to tell you that they saw you and are moving over for you to pass.
    • Usually on the motorway, on the left most lane, the car will move to the left, leaving space for you to pass in between the left most and centre lane.
    • On country roads, usually single lane, the car will move to the right, leaving you room to pass between the car and oncoming traffic.
    • Biker saying thank you
      Biker saying thank you

      In both cases, it is customary to stick out your foot to thank the car driver for going out of their way to let you pass. On the motorway, stick out your left foot (unless someone went out of their way on the right/centre lane, then stick out your right foot) and on the country road, stick out your right foot.

      Obviously if you can, wave, but that increases your danger and car drivers know that.

    • If on the motorway the car driver put out their left indicator, better pass. If you linger behind the car for too long, you might get a chance to admire the car’s rear bumper up close.


Between Bikers

  • When travelling in busy traffic, particularly on motorways or busy ring-roads, keep checking your rear, since there can be motorcycles coming up that are quicker than you. At the first opportunity move aside.Tip: When moving aside, you could stick out your foot to let the biker know that you are letting them pass in the “lane” your foot is sticking out.
  • Biker saying Hi
    Bikers saying Hi

    Waves: In the city and on any other road than motorways, wave to upcoming motorcycles (yes, even scooters). However, in the city where there can be a lot of bikers, a nod will do.

  • It’s rare to wave upcoming motorcycles on the motorway since your hand can be blown away because of the speed.
  • When coming up to a motorcycle on the motorway, don’t immediately pass. It can be seen as a challenge. Wait for a few seconds, if the other biker signals to pass, go for it. If after a while there’s no signal, pass slowly.
  • Break Downs: Although it’s happening less and less, normally when you see a motorcycle broken down along the road, you stop and offer to help.


Riding in Paris

Riding your motorcycle in Paris is unlike anywhere else in France. It’s a very busy city and a lot of stressed Parisians driving their cars. But you’ll do fine on all roads, except for two areas:

Etoile/Place Charles de Gaulle

Place Charles de Gaulle/Etoile
Place Charles de Gaulle/Etoile

This is an enormous roundabout which at the best of times is hazardous to ride through, but in rush hour, you’re in for some trouble. Like most roundabouts in France, you have priority over the left, so the only advise I can give you, IGNORE what’s happening on your left and concentrate on your right. 99% of the other drivers are doing the same, however, the 1% who aren’t (usually foreigners) are the danger.

To make matters even harder, THERE ARE NO LANES on the roundabout!

Boulevard Peripherique (BP)

The Boulevard Peripherique
The Boulevard Peripherique

The “Periph” as it’s known is the Paris ring road, and it’s 35 km long. The normal speed limit is 70 kph AND THERE ARE SEVERAL radars positioned along this road. To ride all around the Periph, on normal days with no traffic jams, it’ll take you 30 minutes.

During rush hour, motorcycles ride in between the left and centre lane (although there are so many bikes now that some are filtering in other lanes which make it much more dangerous). Most cars will move out of the way (remember to thank them) to let you ride in between the lanes.

HOWEVER, when it’s not rush hour (usually after midnight) traffic is fast and you will need to be very attentive. Kids in fast cars from the suburbs drive fast between radars, often racing each other.

WARNING: This is NOT a motorway, despite sometimes having 5 lanes. Therefore normal rules of the road apply, meaning that traffic that comes ONTO the road HAS PRIORITY (they come from the right, so just like traffic coming onto a normal road, right has priority)!!! So if you are in the right most lane, YOU MUST give priority to traffic coming onto the Periph!

The Peripherique is signalled with two directions; “Peripherique Interieur” and “Peripherique Exterieur“. “Interieur”, meaning inner ring, is the ring that turns clockwise, the “Exterieur” is the outer ring, travelling counter-clockwise.

Some parts of the peripherique are sometimes referred to by its direction. In the southern part of the ring road, the “Interieur” is called the Périphérique Ouest (“Western Ring”) since traffic flows westbound. The “Exterieur” is called the Périphérique Est (“Eastern Ring”) as traffic flows eastbound. In the northern part of the Periph, these are reversed.


  • Relais Calmos logo
    Relais Calmos logo

    Whenever there are big motorcycle races, like MotoGP, SuperBike, Bol D’Or, Enduropale, etc the French Federation of Angry Bikers (FFMC) places strategic rest points along the way where most motorcycles will pass. Called “Relais Calmos“, they allow bikers to rest, drink & eat and usually there are technical facilities (air, gasoline, mechanics, etc) available. They can be found along the motorways, just look for the “Relais Calmos” signs.

    A FFMC Relais Calmos facility
    A FFMC Relais Calmos facility


  • HINT: Usually most motorways during the weekend of a big motorcycle event are free to motorcycles, but you’ll need to find out which ones. Click here to access the FFMC (French Federation) where they (and the Relais Calmos) are announced, but it’s in French.
  • Though most of the motorways are in very good condition, and even the “N” roads are pretty well maintained, once you get on the “D” roads, and worse yet, the “C” roads, you’ll be finding many potholes. Although communities are responsible for their own road maintenance, if you crash in one of them they are held responsible, however, in the reality of life, there is very little money to properly maintain these roads. Cash-rich communities usually keep their roads in good order, but once you hit poorer regions, watch out!
    Potholes in roads
    Potholes in roads


  • High score for speed limits
    High score for speed limits

    Speeding: It used to be that France was a paradise for bikers to speed. No one looked at you if you doubled the speed limit. Cops were easy going and motorcycle cops (who are all real bikers in private – that’s part of their own rules) would smile when you passed them at the speed of sound.

    But that’s no longer the case, far from it. Highly automated and intelligent radars are placed almost anywhere, and police have been instructed to watch bikers more attentively.

    Many foreign biker have lost their rides because of speeding. You only need to go 30 kph over the limit and the police can take away your license and motorcycle EVEN IF YOU ARE A FOREIGNER!

    Click here to read the limits and penalties.

  • Dangerous crash barriers
    Dangerous crash barriers

    Barriers: Despite many years of protests, reports and safety actions, the French Federation of Angry Bikers (FFMC) has not been able to make the French government move fast to make crash barriers safer for motorcycles riders.

    The old fashion crash barriers were designed to stop cars and have a space at the bottom that allows a biker to pass through if the biker is sliding over the ground after crashing. The results: at its best the biker disappears over the edge or crashes into a tree, at its worst, the biker is decapitated (it has happened a few times already).

    So watch out when riding.

  • Motorcycle theft prevention
    Motorcycle theft prevention

    Like most countries, motorcycle thefts are rampant. Thieves keep coming up with creative ways of taking your prized possession away from you, so even if you leave your bike unattended for a minute to hop in the bakery to buy a baguette, LOCK you bike.

    Remember that insurance don’t pay up if you have not locked your bike and it gets stolen!

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