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Riding in a “Unified” Europe
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Chris Geerse with additional material by Martyn, The Older Gentleman, and Martin Hense.

This document does not have the force of law. While it is believed to be correct, you should check with your local laws to be sure.

At the moment, the European Union (more popularly known as “Brussels”) has been trying to make rules and regulations which should be able to be applied in all the Union’s countries. Unfortunately, the countries are free, to some degree, to apply these rules. This means that in the case of motorcycling all rules are either not enforced or not applied, depending on the country.

An example of the above is the so-called stepped licensing scheme, which allows 16 year olds to ride a bike with a maximum capacity of 125cc. Or if between 18 and 21 years old, a bike with a maximum power output of 25kW (35 hp; see the list) or with a maximum power to weight ratio of 0.16kW/kg (0.1 HP/lb). These people are required to ride with the restricted license for a minimum of two years before they can apply for a “full” license, this means that if you got your motorcycle license on your 18th birthday, you can upgrade on your 20th. Alternatively, if you get your license a day before your 21st birthday, you can only upgrade on your 23rd. Older “adults” (We’re all children at heart aren’t we? :-)) who only have a car license are allowed to commute on a 125cc motorcycle in some countries.

People with a “full” license or above 21 years of age can get a full-power bike.

In the following I’ll try to give a global view of rules and regulations across Europe with some notable exceptions.

Motorcycles

Essentially subdivided into two categories (leaving the mopeds out of the equation for the moment).

  • Bikes suited for the restricted license (sub 25kW bikes)
  • Full power bikes (notable exception here is Germany which subdivides these again into Amax 100hp and actual full power bikes)

Bikes that fit into the first category are, amongst others:

  • all 125cc bikes,
  • 250-400cc bikes, as long as their power output does not exceed 25kW or 0.16kW/kg/kg,
  • selected larger models that have been detuned. (For the posers, a few years ago a Kawasaki ZZR1100 could be bought which only produced 25kW, the looks of a big bike, but......)

All other bikes are considered Full Power.

NB: If the engine size does not exceed 49.9cc, and 3kW the bike is classified as a moped. Thus you can have a 50cc motorcycle.... Mopeds are further classified according to their maximum allowable speed. If it is restricted to 30km/h (in some countries 35km/h) you are allowed to ride it without a helmet. With speeds restricted to maximum 50km/h a helmet is required. If it goes faster it is classified either as a motorcycle or if it does not sport a license plate it’s illegal. (NB: countries like the Netherlands require mopeds to only have an insurance plate, motorcycles require to be insured and have a license plate)

In France motorcycles are limited to max horsepower limit of 106bhp. Tuning is illegal if it takes the bike above this.

Licensing

Has already been mentioned above, but to list them separately:

16-18 years:
moped or maximum 125cc (the Netherlands, allows only moped. Until a few years ago only insurance was required, now one also requires a moped license)
18-21 years:
maximum 25kW or 0.16kW/kg (A list of bikes that comply has been added at the end of this document)
21+:
unrestricted license (Germany's motorcycle manufacturers had a voluntary restriction to 100hp, but that has expired. In Germany, and perhaps under the new UE rules, the age for an unrestricted license is 25. Between 18 and 24 you're limited to 25kW for two years, or get approved training and you're unrestricted.)
21+ with only a car license:
maximum 125cc (the Netherlands does not allow the operation of any motorcycle (50cc+) without a motorcycle license)

In the UK, 16 year-olds can’t ride 125s. If you’re over 21 you can take your test on a bike bigger or more powerful than 33bhp and go straight onto bigger bikes.

Helmets

All the European countries require that a helmet be used which meets the required regulations and standards as set by the EU. In other words a DOT only helmet may not be legal in every country. Also helmets meant to be used on mopeds do not have to meet the higher standards required for motorcycle usage.

There are some countries, Italy and Greece come to mind, that do not enforce helmetless riding very much. Sometimes giving you the idea that helmets are not required. This is not the case. Also not wearing a helmet may invalidate your insurance. Be warned.

Apparel

Aside from common decency rules only a helmet is required. So theoretically you can ride wearing nothing but a helmet, and you’ll only get ticketed for indecent exposure.

Lights

Pre-1997 motorcycles with double headlights are only allowed to have one light burning on the dim setting. Post-1997 motorcycles may have both lights burning.

Some countries (the Netherlands, Luxembourg) and parts of others (northern Belgium, northern France) allow daylight running lights others tolerate it (oncoming traffic may signal though....) In all countries it is recommended to ride with your lights dimmed. Running with the high beam on blinds oncoming drivers and is not appreciated by the local authorities.

In France and Germany, bikes must have their headlights on.

If you ride in England and your motorcycle's headlights have an area to the right where the bright part of the beam is raised up to illuminate roadside signs, put black tape on the part of the headlight that makes that.

Insurance

Liability insurance is mandatory.

Taxes

Most European countries don’t require additional taxes to be paid. A few, like the Czech Republic and Switzerland, require you to pay a tax by way of buying a so-called Carnet. It may be easier to see it as a toll as you are required to have a Carnet if you want to make use of any highway class of roads, such as a motor way. As long as you stay away from these you may be exempt from buying a Carnet, it is advisable to check up on the requirements for such before traveling to these countries, as a Carnet costs quite a bit more if you have to buy one at the border.

Lanesplitting

Most countries allow lanesplitting, as long as the speed difference does not exceed 20km/h (12MPH) and traffic in the lanes is not traveling faster than 40km/h (25MPH).

Germany is the only country (as far as I know) that has a ruling about it. It is recommended that when lanesplitting to do this between the leftmost lane and the lane beside it. In case of an accident the lanesplitting vehicle is seen as the offending party unless it can be proved (witness or police report) that the non-lanesplitting vehicle or person (in the case of someone opening their door as you come along) did not apply due caution.

The Netherlands also have a ruling on lanesplitting, where, in case of collision, blame is divided 50/50 between both parties, unless reckless driving can be ascertained. Otherwise same rules as Germany.

Keep Right

All European countries (excepting the UK, which has a keep left policy) require that you keep right when traveling on public roads. In other words, if you pass a vehicle you are required to return to the right (left in UK) lane as soon as prudently possible.

Speed Limits

Every country has its own speed limits, but a general guide line would be 120–130 km/h on highways, 80–90km/h on byways, 50–70 km/h in urban areas.

In Germany, some section of every Autobahn has no speed limit. However, in areas that tend to be congested or with special circumstances such as common congestion or a long steep downhill run, there will be a speed limit. Where there is no limit, the officially recommended speed is 130 km/h. Your insurance may not cover you when riding or driving above 130 km/h on these Autobahns. It is best to check your insurance policy before you twist that throttle.

Parking

Few places have dedicated motorcycle parking areas, and they are not all easy to find. According to one source, in general the following “rules” apply:

  • No parking in a car parking spot unless you park two or more motorcycles in that spot.
  • Parking your bike on the sidewalk or road side is allowed as long as the bike does not pose a hindrance to passing (pedestrian) traffic.

According to another source, bikes may occupy car spots, as long as they pay the parking meter. They may also share car spots with a car already there, for free, assuming car drived has fed the meter, but if the meter runs out then bike will get ticketed with car (this is certainly the case in London).

Fines/Tickets

Getting a ticket in middle or northern Europe is not cheap, I haven’t managed to get any tickets in southern Europe nor any information on the subject.

But to give an example: In Belgium if you exceed the speed limit with less than 40km/h you’re looking at a ticket worth 60-350 Euros if you’re a Belgian resident. If not, then it’s 250-1500 Euros. Both depending on speed and traffic situation. Exceed the limit with more than 40km/h it’s 350-900 Euros and a revoked license for 3+ months depending on what the judge decides and depending on the situation impounding of your vehicle, if you’re a resident. If not, it’s 500-2500 Euros, and you lose your license and your vehicle. This phenomena is not limited to Belgium, but just about all the countries have different amounts depending on your residency. By the way, if you’re a resident, you get your ticket in the mail. If not, you get to pay on the spot, if you can’t pay your vehicle can be impounded or if possible you get a police escort to the nearest ATM or bank so you can withdraw the required amount.

The UK does not have on-the-spot fines, so simple speeding tickets are unlikely to be enforced (unless they're incurred in a hire car, in which case the rental agency or whoever will bill you.

 
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