Guide to Riding in Spain

1 July 2018
Guide to Riding in Spain

With summer Euro tours for bikers either underway or happening imminently, it's high time to get to know what to expect when you go to some of these countries. In this post I'm going to cover what to expect in Spain in terms of riding, the laws you need to abide by, and recommend some stops and things to try in the countries. Over the next few weeks I'll cover some other European countries in a similar way.

I'll start with Spain - Spain is obviously part of the EU (so easily accessible, with your passport and insurance covering you) and is an easy ferry journey (about 24 hours) from the UK. You can also travel there via France, but with the western portion of France being so flat I wouldn't advise that route. Once there you've got a massive country to traverse, but it's varied and motorcycles are much more of a passion here than in the UK so you're bound to have a good time!

The northern end of Spain is home to the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa, as well as several cities, including Santander and Bilbao for ferries, as well as Barcelona which is probably my favourite city in Spain. The weather in the summer is consistently good, but rain isn't out of the question, especially when in mountains. You've got the added complication of both Basque and Catalonian languages in this region too, with roads signs and place names being a little different to traditional Spanish, however most will understand any of basic Spanish phrases that you'll likely need to use.

27 Jun 2018 12:50:30

Heading further south the climate will change, almost to desert in some places, but you won't run out of mountains and twisties. Granada is my favourite city in the south, and it's nestled up against the superb Sierra Nevada mountains. Tapas are well known in Spain, however Granada takes them to the next level - almost any drink you buy in a bar in the city will come with some food, after 3 drinks you'll have had your dinner for free! Poë is my favourite tapas bar in Granada, and allows you to choose the food with the drink. They also do a flaming absinthe which will end your evening nicely! Head further south and you'll reach the famous Costa del Sol which is home to some great beaches, as well as twisties in the mountains behind it - the A-397 from San Pedro on the coast to Ronda is a must-ride, and Ronda itself is well worth a visit. Head even further south and you'll reach Gibraltar which is a peculiar little place, but good for a cheap fuel stop if en route, and spending some pounds! Pizzeria Plaza by the main square makes an excellent lunch stop here. Jerez and Sevilla are both west of here, and both are worth a visit, just beware Sevilla in the summer as it can reach 50 degrees here!

Road laws in Spain differ somewhat from UK ones, however common sense generally prevails. Take note of the speed limits (usually signposted, but 80-100km/h out of town, 50km/h in town, and up to 120km/h on motorways), and keep an eye out for speed camera signs (they're generally quite large, but the cameras aren't) and you shouldn't fall foul for speeding. Guardia Civil (green and white), Policia Nacional (dark blue and white) and Policia Local (white and blue) are the law enforcement, but generally it's Guardia Civil Trafico that need looking out for on bikes and in cars. All are armed and should be treated respectfully - horror stories abound, but I've never had a bad time with them during the occasional routine stop.

Roads are divided into A (and AP), N and D roads, effectively main roads that can be motorways, less major roads and minor roads. You'll also see E roads which are EU wide roads that are usually major motorways. A roads are generally dual carriageway, while the AP denote 'peaje', or toll. In the summer the toll roads can have a high tariff, with a 120km/h speed limit. Most toll roads have an A or N road running parallel, joining up every so often. There are other designations but generally anything other than A or N will be more minor.

Road surfaces on main roads are generally excellent, but urban areas can vary greatly. Always be aware of urban roads, and less major ones as often the tarmac has suffered under sun and tyres and become very slippery - something be very aware of at roundabouts (it almost feels like a tyre with too little air the way the grip just disappears). Roundabouts are quite a hazard - Spanish law differs to UK law in that you must be on the outside lane to exit, but this means some people stay in the outside lane, even for a U-turn. Signalling is only required on exit, not prior or while going around the roundabout, so predicting movement is difficult. My personal advice is to approach all roundabouts as you would in the UK, signalling the same way, but being very careful on exiting the roundabout, even when going straight on. Filtering is permissible in Spain, but avoid crossing solid lines as you would expect - generally motorists are quite accepting of bikes squeezing through gaps, but always be on your guard for people who don't look, and bear in mind the road surface. City riding isn't normally too hectic, but signposting is often terrible.

You'll see the phrase 'cambio de sentido' on motorways and dual carriageways a lot, and it took me quite a while to realise what it was - it means somewhere you can turn around. UK motorways commonly have roundabouts to turn around over the road, but Spanish roads don't always have this, hence the signpost.

Don't be afraid to use service stations on major roads for food and drink - quite often the kiosk will be a big brand (Cepsa, Repsol, etc.) but often there is a restaurant nearby that will (generally) serve food and drink at normal prices and of decent quality. Tostada con tomate makes a great mid-morning snack (toasted baguette with blended tomato, oil and salt), and the coffee is plentiful and cheap (cafe con leche for milky coffee, cafe solo for espresso and cafe americano for black coffee). Fuelling is sometimes done by an attendant, but you'll pay slightly more per litre, so avoid this. Fuel stations in large cities are commonly manned by attendants however, you don't even need to get off the bike! Fuel prices are generally comparable to the UK, and 95 and 98 octanes are usually available.

Overall, Spain is a great place to ride a bike - traffic levels out of town are minimal compared to the UK, and riding on the motorway is generally much simpler than in the UK as a result. Toeing the line regarding traffic laws is advisable, especially when riding on a foreign plate, but generally traffic and law enforcement are bike-friendly. Don't be afraid to try the local food, and avoid chains where possible to get cheaper and better food and drink. Don't expect service to be quite the same as the UK, but a smile and a few words of Spanish will help you along, and don't be afraid to put your hand up to ask for attention.

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