Even without speeding tickets, the cost of riding a motorcycle in France can seem prohibitively expensive. Last week, I bought gas for 1.60 EUR per liter. At that price (assuming a 1.35USD/EUR exchange rate), a motorcycle that gets 42 miles per gallon will consume your gas money at a rate equal to a vehicle that gets 18.5 miles per gallon on gas that costs $3.40 a gallon. After a few fill-ups, you feel like you're stopping to pay tax, rather than stopping to buy gas. Road tolls are steep too. On the 775 km ride from Marseille to Paris, a motorcyclist can expect to pay 34EUR of road tolls, and buy 85 EUR of gas. Moving around is expensive enough that a carpool service called Covoiturage has exploded. So has OUIGO, a cut-rate TGV train service that hits nearly 200 mph and will shoot you from Marseille to Paris in three and a half hours for as little as 20 EUR.
Scooters, though, are everywhere. The high-energy costs and motorcycle-friendly parking attitudes are a big reason why so many people ride motorcycles, and why the scooter market is so huge here. People don't necessarily prefer riding to driving, but motorcycles are the only fiscally—and temporally—responsible way to get around town. A 3-wheeled scooter or Yamaha T-Max is de rigeur in big French cities, and tellingly, the people who ride scooters treat them like little cars. More often than not, they have topcases, skirts, heated grips, and big windshields. I even spotted one scooter in Paris that had a baby seat strapped on the back.
The “motorcycle as little car” concept is why BMW's innovative C1 is so popular in Paris, too.
Motorcycle taxis can make life even more convenient. From the train station in Paris, you can toss your stuff in the panniers on a cushy Honda Goldwing and have an expert rider whisk you anywhere in the city. They even give you a jacket and a skirt.
For some reason, everyone in Marseille blasts around on tiny monkeybikes. Of course, Europeans can buy cool machinery we don't get in the U.S., so you see lots of 125 cc two-stroke supermotos by Beta and Derbi, as well as the odd Africa Twin, and manic TDR240.
Finally, it's good to keep in mind that there are lots of strange rules for French motorcyclists. The worst one is that all motorcycles are limited to 100 bhp here. Yes, the Hyperstrada I rode was limited to 100 bhp in all its electronic modes. That's enough for wheelies, but it's frustrating to know that there are more ponies bottled up in there somewhere. Even a Panigale or Superduke R will make only 100 bhp if it's been purchased in France. The drunk-driving limit is 0.5 mg / ml, and by law you must have two disposable breathalyzers with you when riding (though there is no fine for not having them). There must be a small reflective area on your jacket for visibility, and you must have a complete set of spare bulbs for your motorcycle (LED lights excepted).
Aside from the fuel costs and speed cameras, it's heaven here. The roads are magic and the cars are friendly. The food is second-to-none. For more proof of what nice riding can be had in France (and a very good reason to learn French), check out this video by French magazine MotoJournal.
Have you experienced roads outside the U.S.? Of so, where and how was it?