Anyone with a big, fast bike will have been tempted by the thought of a trip to that mythical land where you can go as fast as you like without fear of a nicking, but there's a lot more to Germany than the Autobahn. From the Eifel Mountains in the south, to the Harz range in the north and from the wonderful Schwarzwald (AKA the Black Forest) to the rugged Baltic coast, it's a great place to ride a bike. Best do a bit of homework before you go though…
Urban limits are 50km/h unless posted otherwise – the start of an urban limit is effectively signalled by the town name sign, and the end by the same name with a red diagonal line through it. Within those areas there will often be 30km/h limits in residential areas or near schools etc., and it's worth pointing out that you're legally required to exercise extra caution near children and elderly people, and be able to stop safely without danger of collision if necessary. Outside urban areas the national speed limit on normal A-roads is 100km/h (62.5mph) for cars and bikes. For motorways, see below.
If you see a blue sign with white lettering saying for example: '80-120km/h' that indicates an advisory speed range for that stretch of road.
The German system of policing is fiendishly complex, with powers vested mostly in the local states rather than at national level. That's meant in the past that different states would have different uniforms and police vehicle liveries, the latter making it harder to work out whether that dot in your mirror is something to worry about. These days it's pretty much standardised as silver and blue for vehicles (although Bavaria and Saarland have yet to comply and use green and white or silver) so keep any eye out.
Unmarked vehicles are also common, but almost always German-made.
On-the-spot fines of up to 35 euros for minor offences are the norm in Germany. For anything above that (which basically means more than about 25km/h over the limit) they can take more as a deposit against the likely higher fine, which will be imposed by a court. If you refuse to pay (or can't for whatever reason) they can impound your bike until you do.
Nothing complicated – you'll need your licence (UK licence is fine, no need for an International Driving Permit unless you're from outside the EU), proof of insurance, and the bike's registration docs. If it's not your own bike you'll also need a letter authorising you to ride it abroad.
In addition, you also need to carry your passport with you at all times. Some sources will tell you that you also need an Umweltplakette (Emissions Sticker) to enter low emissions zones in many German cities. That's true for cars, but for the moment at least, motorcycles are exempt. The same sources say you have to carry a warning triangle and a first aid kit, but again that's not true for motorcycles (although the latter is a good idea anyway).
You must ride with dipped beam on at all times.
Two things everyone knows about the Autobahn: firstly, they were invented by the Nazis to speed troops along to the frontiers, and secondly, there's no speed limit. Both of these 'facts' are mostly wrong...
The first motorway in Germany – and for that matter, the world – was started just before the first world war, and the programme of building others was well under way long before Hitler's mob came to power in 1933. During the war the autobahnen were more likely to be used as airfields than transporting troops (who went by train instead).
These days there are about 12,000km of Autobahn across Germany, and about half that length is covered by speed restrictions of one form or another, usually a maximum of 130km/h. For the rest, although there's no specific limit, there is an advisory limit of 130km/h, and exceeding that is taken as tacit admission that you also accept the consequences if it all goes wrong – which might mean being liable for damages etc if you cause an accident.
Even where there's no limit, you won't necessarily be able to go for it – traffic jams are common, especially at peak times. There is also an overriding rule that says you mustn't ride at a speed that exceeds your ability to stop within your line of sight, and you also need to keep checking your mirrors, because no matter how fast you're going, there may well be someone faster coming up behind.
Basically, have fun but be sensible about it.
Germany's peppered with fantastic roads. Some of them – called Ferienstrassen – are specifically signposted as being worth exploring. Arguably the best of these is the Deutsche Alpenstrasse – the German Alpine Road. Skirting the Austrian/German border from Lake Konstanz in the west to the Königssee in the east, its well-maintained, well signposted, and beautifully scenic. At 450km from start to finish, you could do it in a day, but you'll want to stop and take many, many photos along the way.
If you're really ambitious, you could try following the Deutsche Motorradstrasse. Best make sure someone's feeding the cat while you're away though – the full route is over 9000km...
In some areas, roads have become so popular with bikers that there were real problems with conflicts with other traffic, as well as the usual accident risk. According to some sources, that's led to specific roads being closed to bikes at weekends, although frustratingly we can't find any proof of that, or a list of affected roads. Eifel resident and Nürburgring expert Dale Lomas isn't convinced: “It's really not normal, and I can't point to a ban that's 100% happened. The sweeping road down the hill to Cochem near the Ring now has a 50km/h limit for bikes and 80km/h limit for cars though, which was passed locally due to the damning statistics.”
Yes, filtering's legal in Germany, but only when other traffic is completely stationary.
Lane splitting – cutting between lines of moving traffic – is verboten.
As well as the possibility of getting your collar felt for filtering, you'll also probably find that drivers ahead of you will deliberately close gaps to prevent you getting away with it – they're a generally a law-abiding bunch in Germany, and they don't like other people (especially foreigners) taking liberties in that way.
Be aware that if there's a 'no overtaking sign' it really does mean no overtaking, not just 'don't cross the solid line'. Bizarrely (and unfairly) a car is allowed to overtake a motorbike in that circumstance, but not the other way around...
At traffic lights, a green arrow to the right allows you to turn right when the ahead route is on red, but you have to give way to traffic from the left.
On the subject of the law, some motoring offences are considered serious enough to be treated as criminal rather than civil offences. These include excessive speeding, drink/drug driving (the drink/drive limit is so low that it may as well be zero) and illegal overtaking. So don't...
Ah, yes, the Nürburgring, or more specifically the Nordschleife, or Northern Loop. A shade under 21km in length, winding in and out and up and down through the Eifel mountains. A track so complex that experts fail to agree on exactly how many corners it has – some sources say up to 170 – but the generally accepted number is 73 (40 right handers, 33 left).
A track so fiendishly difficult to learn, with surrounding forests masking sight lines, and so lethally dangerous, with rock faces instead of run-off, that Grand Prix legend Jackie Stewart christened it Die Grüne Hölle – the Green Hell – and reckoned it was better to go fast there, because if you went slow you'd be terrified by your surroundings.
Originally built in the 1920s, with its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s, the circuit's fortunes declined after Nikki Lauda's horrific fireball crash in 1976 (remember what we said about the rock faces...) spelled the end of top class racing there.
These days it's used as a test track for driver training and for public access. Officially, on public days it's classed as a one-way toll road. So you can pitch up to the tollbooth, pay for a lap and get on with it. No matter how many track-days you've done though, we can guarantee the Ring will still come as a shock. It’s just so long and complex, and although you can just try and ride it as you would a normal road, while you do that there'll be cars, bikes (road and race), and even tourist coaches, most of which will be a LOT faster than you are. The worst are the tyre testers; again, both cars and bikes. If they're told to go out and do an eight minute lap, that's what they'll do, regardless.
In addition to that, if you get it wrong then as well as the ambulance and tow truck, you can be charged for any damage to the circuit or the safety equipment (yes, dent the Armco and you'll get a bill) as well as potentially for any inconvenience caused by having to close the circuit etc.
Have we put you off? We hope not – it’s a fabulous place and you really should take the opportunity to ride it while it's still there.
Most insurance policies specifically exclude the ’Ring from their foreign cover clauses, so you need to check before you hit the track.
You must also keep in mind that if you do have an accident, you could be left out of pocket or struggling to get medical care, so it’s well worth buying a quality motorcycle-specific travel insurance policy that can offer cover for the Nürburgring, like Bennetts Bike Travel Insurance
Regardless of whether you ride the ‘Ring or not, travel insurance can cover your belongings and help in the event of health care being required. An annual policy could save you money in the long-term as it can cover both you and your family on all your trips, regardless of if you’re riding or not.