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First motorcycle trip in Europe : What to expect ?
Roads, accommodation, trip, common mistakes…
Edition 2022, first edition.
From Ambroise Mercier-Gallay, founder and owner of Moto Plaisir, motorcycle rental company based in Geneva area in France, at the Swiss border and close to Italy.
What is Moto-Plaisir ?
Geneva, the best place
The biker’s playground : roads
Where to go ?
Ways to travel / accommodation
FAQ (bikes, gear, weather, etc…)
WHAT IS MOTO PLAISIR ?
Specialist in motorcycle rental. It was created in 2010.
Helps bikers to travel through France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria.
Provide the bikes, as well as GPS, luggage cases, road books, guide, hotels…
WHY GENEVA IS THE BEST PLACE TO START A MOTORCYCLE TRIP ?
Why is it such a good place to start your motorcycle trip ?
It has an international airport with direct flights from 100 countries. Direct connections to mains hubs (Dubaï, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, …).
Easy to come by train from Paris or Milan with high speed train in about 4 hours.
It is a small city compared to most European capitals. This gives you a quick access to great roads, no need to take the motorway for hours before you reach interesting places. This is important when you only have a few days for your motorcycle trip.
By the way, Geneva is a beautiful town. You can walk by the lake, and have a lovely diner there, you can visit the old town, you can go shopping. You can buy a Swiss watch from 30 euros to 300 000 euros.
To better understand how well Geneva is situated, just have a look to Geneva location on a map of France, Switzerland and Italy. On the south west of Geneva, you have quite a few mountains : the massif central and French alps. You have plenty of winding roads, scenic roads, high altitude landscapes…
Going further east, in Switzerland, you have swiss alps and north of Italy, the Italian alps, all the way to Dolomites.
On the south west, you also have the Pyrénées. There are plenty of options of remote places and roads to reach Pyrénées !
Corsica is a great place to ride too. We have a lot of local customers living in Geneva area, who get on the bike, go south across the French alps, and take the boat from Toulon to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and ride Corsica.
IN TERMS OF DURATION FOR YOUR TRIP, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT :
The round trip from Geneva to the French riviera takes 4 to 5 days. Maybe a bit less if you don’t go all the way down to the riviera, but they are great places to ride in the south. 4-5 days is reasonable.
If you want to go to the Swiss Alps, all the way to the Dolomites, it can take 8 days.
They are great places to ride from Geneva in 3 days.
Going southwest to the Pyrénées will take you 7 to 11 days.
Of course, beside theses typical destinations, we have a lot of places of interest, beautiful regions: Alsace, Jura, Bourgogne, Auvergne, Dordogne, Cevennes, Verdon, Italian lakes.
Remember, France is the first touristic destination in the world, there must be a reason, and this is the same for bikers !
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BIKER’S PLAYGROUND, THE ROADS !
For more than 10 years, I have had a hard time to explain how different it is to ride in France, Switzerland, Italy compared to countries like Canada, US, Australia…
Here are facts and figures to explain why it is different.
- It has a density of paved roads among the most in the world.
France has 191 km of paved roads for 100 km2, Switzerland 204 km, Italy 162 km.
When you relate this to the number of inhabitants in the country, France has 16,3 km of paved roads for 1000 inhabitant compared to 10,1 in Switzerland ; 7,9 km in Italy.
This means that in France you have paved roads where nobody lives.
If we compare to other countries, UK is 175 km, USA 44,5 km, South Africa 12,8 km, Canada 4 km, Autralia 1,8 km of paved roads for 100 km2.
As a conclusion, it means you have paved roads to go about everywhere in European countries.
If you have a look at a map of Vercors region, 2 hours south from Geneva.
You have a plain in the west side, you have mountains in the middle, and you have a network of a lot of some roads.
What you have to imagine, 200 years ago, people were living here, growing food and breading animals for their survival, exploiting the land. They were connected to each other with multiple short roads.
Combe laval road has been built at the end of the 19th century, it is a crazy road, this kind of road has to be a shortcut to somewhere, otherwise it wouldn’t have been built.
Let’s have a look at different types of roads :
The less interesting ones : highways, toll roads, Motorways. They are useful if you want to reach your destination quickly, but in my opinion, they are boring to ride, and you have many other options.
Road signs can be confusing between France and Switzerland. They are blue in France and green in Switzerland.
In France, you have a toll to pay. On some lanes, motorcycle shouldn’t go, it is not forbidden, but it is cheaper for a motorcycle, so on this line, you won’t be able to have the motorcycle price.
In Switzerland, to go on highways, you pay a sticker of 40 CHF (2022 price) for one year. You can get it in most of the petrol stations.
If you avoid the motorways, you don’t have to pay this sticker.
Another type of roads are the national roads, you can use them to cross the country, no toll gates, no need to pay.
As they are the main roads, they are busy most of the time, most of them are not very interesting.
Road signs are also confusing between France and Switzerland. It is green in France and blue in Switzerland.
D roads or “départementales” roads. They are the most interesting ones.
They are the suggested roads, less crowded, scenic most of the time. On the other hand, they are a bit slow, let’s consider you will ride at 50 km per hour as an average.
You can ride these roads setting the GPS on the winding road setting.
It is a great way to have fun riding beautiful scenery, on winding roads, crossing small villages…
You can just follow the yellow signs and it is a great way to ride.
Watch a Michelin maps, it shows the scenic roads, they are highlighted in green. It is very useful.
If you look at Michelin map between Annecy and Chamonix or south east to the “route des Grandes Alpes” near Beaufort, you have many alternatives.
You can go south around the lake or north, you have several passes to go in either direction, so that gives you numbers of possibilities to reach your destination. And you will see that most options are underlines with green, for beautiful, scenic roads.
WHAT A THE DIFFERENT WAYS TO TRAVEL ON A MOTORCYCLE IN EUROPE ?
Guided : Someone rides a motorcycle with you and guide the group.
Self-guided : you are on your own and follow the instruction on your GPS or map.
100% free : you just rent your bike, you are on your own and book your hotels by yourself.
Guided and self-guided are similar, a travel agent has organized the trip for you and booked your hotels. You will be provided a booklet describing the tour, maps of the area with underlined roads, a GPS to guide you as well. Assistance can be provided by your guide or by phone if you are on your own with a dedicated phone number.
Guided or self-guided are very easy, it cost a bit of money, but you don’t have to spend time to look for hotels. And you can trust our travel agent to select the best routes to ride and the best hotels to stay.
The third option is 100% free, common questions are Where to go ? Should I book the hotels as well ? Let’s talk about the common mistakes…
WHERE TO GO ?
That is pretty easy, just follow the passes ! Open a map, look for passes and make your loop. Passes are in higher altitude, so you will discover winding roads to go up there, and it is a good way to have fun riding. Some of the roads will be challenging with small curves, narrow roads and hair pin turns.
You will also discover a lot of remote places with beautiful landscapes.
From Geneva, riding south : there is more than 160 passes. 22 of them are above 2000 meters.
If you ride east, through the Swiss alps, all the way to the Dolomites, you have more than 380 passes, more than 40 of them are above 2000 meters.
In France, the most famous passes are Col de l’Iseran, Col du Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Col de la Croix de fer, Col d’Izoard, Col de la Bonnette.
All these passes got famous thanks to Tour de France.
In Switzerland you will find Furka pass, Susten pass, Grimsel, Gothard, Grimsel pass, Stelvio pass, Bernina, Splugen pass… Beautiful places to ride with stunning landscapes.
SHOULD YOU BOOK THE HOTELS IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR MOTORCYCLE TRIP?
You can hardly tell your pace on the trip, if you have never been riding in France or Europe.
It is difficult to know the weather forecast during your trip. Even if it is summer season, you can have rain anytime, especially higher in the mountains.
So your pace will not be the same under the rain or with great weather.
You cannot imagine in advance the points of interest you will find on the way and the time you will spend there.
If you book all the hotels, that is comfortable in a way, because you will not have to look for a new hotel every day. But if you want to spend more time somewhere, or if the weather is bad, you will have to go because you have booked a hotel.
If you book no hotels at all, you have a lot flexibility, but it can be a bit annoying to look for a hotel every day.
So maybe something in between is the right choice. You can book a hotel in the middle of your trip, or 2 nights because you are having some rest days over there.
There are no rules, but you must imagine that the weather, and the time you will spend on the road are important to decide.
TYPE OF ACCOMODATION
Let’s talk about the hotels you will find on the ways, there will be only a few chain hotels on the remote roads and cities you will be riding.
You will be able to find independent hotels like B&B, guest houses or chambre d’hôtes. Most popular ones are Logis de France, Gite de France, relais motard, …
The reasonable price range is between 70 to 120 € in France. It will be a bit more expensive in Switzerland and Italy.
To find a hotel, your favorite search engine will help. It is better to use your search engine than booking or trip advisor
The availability of the rooms might not be up to date on theses platforms and you will not be able to contact the hotels directly.
If you stop in a city with a tourist office, they can help you to find a room to your taste and budget. Follow the red “i”.
You can stop on your way and visit hotels and rooms. If the room is ok and the price is right, go for it.
Don’t start to look for a place too late. Around lunch time is fine as you would know better where you will be in the evening. I would suggest not to look after 5pm, because if you don’t find immediately, you will have the time to push a little further to find another place.
Remember that a lot of bikers do that, so if you are the last one to arrive, there might be no availability.
You can also find hotel that are part of the network “relais motard”.
These places will enable you to perform basic maintenance like chain tension, they can provide you some tools. That is very handy. On the other hands, they might not be the nicest in the area.
LUNCH AND DINNER
Gastonomy in France as well as in Italy is something. A typical lunch is between 20 to 25€ and is taken between 12:00 and 14:00 in France
Dinners are a bit more expensive between 20-30€. This is a reasonable price range, but you can find much higher prices. This does not include the drinks.
The time to take a dinner is between 7pm and 9pm.
You will not be able to find Mc Donald’s or other fast food in the remote places, but you will be able to find a boulangerie able to sell you a sandwich throughout the day. If you don’t find a boulangerie, you will probably find supermarkets on the way to find sandwiches or make your own picnic.
WHAT’S THE BEST MOTORCYCLE GEAR TO RIDE IN THE ALPS ?
In France, helmet and gloves are mandatory. All the rest is not mandatory.
One common mistake is to wear a winter gear.
High passes are colder, but it does not last long.
Start in the valley 300m above the sea, it is 25°C. You arrive at 2000m, it will be 10°C but quickly you will go down. It will be cold no more than one hour. It is not like riding in winter, riding under 10°C all day long. Having several layers to adapt to the temperature is the best idea in the Alps in summer.
We have a lot of questions about heated vest to plug in the motorcycle. It is useless to have a heated vest riding the Alps.
It is a good idea to have a good rain gear. Even if the weather is nice, you are likely to have a storm at the end of your riding day around 5pm in higher altitude.
My recommendation is to use rain gear. Some riding gears are waterproof, but they can be so loaded with water, it is likely it will still be wet the next morning.
RIDING OFF ROAD
We talked already about high density of paved road in France, Switzerland and Italy.
Riding on gravel roads or small pass are more dedicated for hiking, most of them are private so you are not very welcome to come in these areas.
We understand that coming from the US, Canada, Australia, when you are talking about having fun on a motorcycle, that means to go off roads. This is not true in France and Europe, there are so many roads, you will have fun.
And besides the alps, you have so many areas of interest riding a motorcycle, if you really want to ride off roads, Europe is maybe not the right place to ride off road.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO RIDE THE ALPS ?
If you want to ride the alp’s, you will be able to ride there between June and September.
Some of the highest passed only open mid-June like col de l’Iseran which is the highest paved pass in the alps.
But there will be a lot of other passes open.
After September, the first half of October can be ok, but the weather gets a bit more unpredictable, and it can be freezing in the highest passes.
If you want to ride at lower altitude, from April to October is fine.
There are many other nice places to ride apart from the Alps: Vercors, Ardèche, Bourgogne, Jura, Alsace, Verdon, Dordogne, Cevennes, Auvergne, Alsace, Provence...
WHAT IS THE BEST MOTORCYCLE TO RIDE THE ALPS ?
Any bike will ride the Route des Grandes Alps.
The question is more “Which bike will help you to ride route des Grandes Alps?”
It depends on you : What are you used to ? What is comfortable for you ? Do you have a passenger ?
If you are young and the Harley Davidson Breakout is your dream bike, go for it !
For sure, you have to know the lean angle is not the best and the comfort is a bit on the stiff side.
There is no wind protection. The lack wind protection in summer is not a problem, if it is later in the season, if you need to ride a bit on the motorway, you will prefer more wind protection.
If you have a lot of luggage, you will need a bike with a good luggage capacity.
If you are used to ride a big Harley Davidson Electra Glide, there is no problem to ride this bike on the small winding roads. It is not a bad motorcycle for sure. It is just that the pace will be the pace of the motorcycle.
You do not need a bike with off road capacity, as we have seen before, all the roads are paved and if you have a gravel road, it will not last long.
We see a lot of all-rounder adventure motorcycles like R1250GS, it is because the versatility of the bike is great, it is powerful enough, it has a great luggage capacity, good comfort for the passenger, it handles beautifully, it is fun to ride…
Any bike will do the job, just make sure you choose the right one for the best experience and good fun.
WHAT IS A GOOD MOTORCYCLE RENTAL COMPANY ?
It is important to choose the right motorcycle rental company.
Especially when you come from abroad, you fly across the ocean, and you don’t want your holidays to be ruined by a bad motorcycle.
There are more and more company offering motorcycle rentals.
It can be motorcycle dealer, offering their test bike for a rental.
It can be local companies, dealing only with local customers and they mainly offer short terms, test rides. Maybe they are not used to welcome customers for longer rentals.
There is a lot of platforms as well that are gathering content, fleets of multiple rental companies and you don’t really know what you book on these platforms. They take their commission, then you deal directly with the rental company, and it is not always easy to talk with them.
There is also specialists that are more likely to offer the best service.
Of course, ask for the insurance conditions, and for the security deposit, you can also ask for the age of the bike.
And if the price is too low, it is probably too low for a reason !
When you consider the total budget of the trip, with plane tickets, hotels and food, the rental motorcycle remains a small portion. Make sure the service will as expected !
Riding in Europe, France, Switzerland, Italy, is a must in biker’s life if you have not experienced the roads and the landscapes we have.
Riding a motorcycle is a great way to visit a country.
Don’t forget, ride the “D” roads : as long as you stay off the main roads, roads are beautiful, and you can go everywhere.
Don’t ride too much 250 per day is probably the best on winding roads, and you shouldn’t ride more than 300 km or that means you miss a lot of things.
There is no bad motorcycle but choose the one that is the right for you.
Thanks for reading!