ABR’s resident expert of all things bikes answers your questions…
Dear Dave, I passed my bike test last year and have decided to do a ‘big’ trip this summer. When I say big, I mean I’m planning on riding on the continent somewhere, probably France. Aside from riding on the wrong side of the road, how should I prepare myself for my first European trip? And are the ferry crossings straightforward?
Thanks for the question Geoff and well done on passing your bike test! We’ll get to your question about the ferry crossing in specific a bit later, but first, it’s worth talking about preparation for riding abroad. Breakdown cover and travel insurance are a must when over the water, and they’re two very different things.
The breakdown cover has to include your model of bike (some exclude bikes above 125cc or bikes over a certain age) else you could be in a bit of a pickle. Travel insurance to cover motorcycle touring is a must and you’ll find only a few policies do, try Carol Nash or the Post Office. Remember to pack all paperwork, passport, license, insurance certificate, V5c (log book) and MOT.
Some countries have their own legal requirements that it’s worth being aware of, for instance, if you wear spectacles the Spanish require that you carry a spare pair with you, else you’ll get a fine.
Make sure you check on the country or countries you intend to visit for what they require a biker to have, a good source of advice is the ABR forum (www.adventurebikerider.com/forum).
So, what happens on the ferry? The ferry staff will direct you to the bike deck, careful if it’s wet as it can be slippy, follow the car tyre tracks, that’s where the grip is, not in the middle. Once stopped on the deck you’ll notice you don’t have a lot of space, they only give you just enough.
Some ferry companies will then proceed to strap your bike down. They do this with a heavy-duty ratchet strap and cushion to put on the seat. My preference is to strap with the side stand down and the bike in gear – a tripod is a very stable structure. Others prefer to use their centre stand, but it’s not as stable in rough seas, in my opinion.
Other ferry companies will just point you to the straps and cushions, if you’re not sure how the strap works go and ask another biker, we’re all in this together, and someone will eventually help. I carry an extra strap in my tank bag that I use to secure the stand side of the bike to the deck mount, it’s possible during a choppy crossing for a bike to slide under the big strap and go over.
I know because it happened to me. Depending on how long the ferry trip is be sensible when hitting the bar! It has been known for the local cops to pull drivers coming off a ferry for a document check and breathalyser test.
You’ll notice most of the bikers stop once through passport control, it’s at that time when you kit up for the road and acclimatise to riding on the right (which isn’t as daunting as you might think), just go steady for the first few miles and you’ll find it comes naturally.
Just a warning, travel is like a drug, when not on a trip I spend a lot of time planning the next one!
When my bike went over
When my bike went over and got damaged on the ferry to Bilbao I couldn’t report it until the return crossing. The Brittany Ferry staff were most helpful at all times, my claim was processed efficiently and the bike was repaired at no cost to me, so a big thumbs up for them.