From the Picos de Europa mountains in the north, to the Straits of Gibralter in the south; the plains of the centre to the tourist traps of the Mediterranean, Spain's got a lot to offer. It's a big country with a relatively small population, and most of that is concentrated on a few big population centres, so the vast majority of the country is virtually empty. There are fantastic roads, stunning scenery, and great food. But there are also a few potential problems for the unwary traveller, so here's our guide to the rules and regulations you need to know.
Speed limits are similar in Spain to the UK, but you need to be aware of where they apply
The general limit on normal roads (with no central separation or hard shoulder) out of town is 90km/h (55mph) unless signed otherwise. If there's a second lane in one direction (usually a short overtaking lane) that goes up to 100km/h (62mph), and the same applies to roads with a hard shoulder each side. Motorways are 120km/h (75mph) (although that may be increased to 130km/h (80mph) soon). Urban areas (within town/village/city signs) are generally 50km/h (31mph) but might be lower and there are often residential areas that have 20km/h limits (12mph) – as you might imagine, these are widely ignored, not least by the residents themselves.
There is one sensible oddity; on normal out-of-town roads (single lane each way) you're allowed to exceed the limit by up to 20km/h (12mph) in order to overtake slower traffic. And here's another one: in small towns and villages there are often speed sensors on the way in. If you're within the limit, no problem. If you're over the limit they automatically turn the next set of traffic lights red, so you're held up for longer than if you'd stuck to the limit in the first place. Simple but effective.
Spain has some truly stunning roads
In some places (mostly Barcelona and Madrid, but there are others), there are dedicated bus lanes, marked 'BUS-VAO'. VAO is short for the Spanish for High Occupancy Vehicles, which includes bikes, so you're allowed to use these lanes. Watch out for the buses though – they don't slow down for much...
You'll need all the usual stuff: your passport, your full driving licence (you can be fined for not carrying it), proof of insurance, MoT certificate and V5c (along with a letter from the owner if it's borrowed/hired).
You should also carry a European Accident Agreement Form to fill in in case of problems. When you contact your insurer to get that, it's also worth checking whether your full cover is active abroad – under EU law you will be covered for the minimum anywhere in the EU, but many insurers charge extra to extend the cover to include theft or Fully Comprehensive cover.
Just like any holiday, a trip on a motorcycle – be it in the UK, Europe or beyond – can be ruined by delays, lost documents, illness and more. There are plenty of travel insurance options, but you need to make sure you get a policy that includes riding motorcycles, and if it does, that it's for bikes of the engine size you'll be riding (many only cover up to 250cc). At its most basic, you should look for insurance that provides cover for the following:
In addition though, if you’re taking a motorcycle (or you're renting one while you’re away) be sure that your insurer will cover you for any medical expenses, should you have an accident. You must also think about where you’re riding – some policies won’t cover you if you’re trail or enduro riding, or if you’re on a race track. Remember – this isn’t about your bike being covered, it’s about your medical expenses, should the worst happen.
If you're only going away once, a single-trip policy will likely be all you need, but also consider an annual policy, which could extend to cover your family holidays too (a good insurer should also be able to offer cover for your whole family).
BikeSocial’s parent company, Bennetts, has a motorcycle-specific travel insurance policy – find out if it suits your needs by clicking here.
You can get a ferry with Brittany to Spain in 24 hours
You must carry a hi vis gilet or jacket at all times, although you only need to wear it if you're actually stopped by the side of the road.
If you need glasses for riding, you must carry a spare pair as well (look on the bright side - if you lose one pair, the second pair will help you find them).
You need a GB sticker on the bike as well.
Some sources say you are required to wear gloves at all times, and anecdotal evidence says you might be stopped for riding without them. However there doesn't actually seem to be a law in place to that effect, and we've seen Guardia Civil officers riding gloveless...
You must ride with a dipped headlight during the day.
You are still allowed to use radar detectors and indicators in Spain, but not radar jammers – that'll get you into serious trouble.
Depending on who you ask, you'll be told that Bluetooth headsets aren't allowed; that's true for the kind of unit designed to act as a hands-free set for a mobile phone (any kind of mobile phone use while riding/driving is forbidden), but a Bluetooth adapter relaying your GPS instructions, music or the witterings of your other half are fine so long as it uses speakers in the helmet, and not in-ear buds.
One oddity; you're not allowed to use your horn in built-up areas. Naturally, everyone does.
Know your Spanish police – some will ticket you for speeding, some for washing your bike!
The Spanish police are mostly very similar to the French set-up, with three separate forces with overlapping responsibilities (the Basque, Navarre and Catalonia regions have a slightly different set-up).
The Guardia Civil are part of the military - they're the ones you're most likely to see out in the country and they're the ones who man the speed traps and roadblocks. They carry guns and they're quite prepared to use them, so be polite... The Policía Nacional are civilians, based country-wide but concentrated on the towns and cities, so you're unlikely to have dealings with them unless you're unfortunate enough to get your bike stolen, in which case you need to report it to them.
Policía Local are just what they sound like – locally employed by towns and cities, with some responsibility for local traffic offences. You shouldn't fall foul of them unless you park on a narrow pavement (less than 3.5m wide), or chain your bike to a lampost, or wash your bike on the street, or do a burnout or a big skid – all of which are illegal. Or unless you run one of them over, which is also frowned upon.
Away from main population centres you don't see a heavy police presence, but if they do stop you for speeding, they're usually pretty unforgiving about it – fines go up to 600 euros for serious offences. On the spot fines are the norm, and they can impound your bike until it's paid.
The roads are generally great, but there can be rough surfaces…
The road surface in Spain vary hugely. At their best they're smooth, flat (usually no camber) and grippy. At their worst it's like the surface of the moon just after a meteorite shower. They often go from one extreme to the other with no warning, usually at the borders between different administrative regions (and sometimes even just different local councils).
In summer, in the dryer areas (which means most of Spain) there's a gradual build-up of dust that can make the surface very slippery indeed – the later in the year, as a rule, the slippier it gets, waiting for the heavy rains of winter to clear it off again. So exercise caution.
In towns, there's a similar build-up of rubber and oil residue, which doesn't get washed away, so it can be just as dangerous.
And then there's the white lines. Spanish white lines really are something special – they must be 99% Teflon. Absolutely no grip to them at all, even in the dry, and in the wet you could spin the rear up on a push-bike, let alone anything with an engine. Be very, very careful of white lines in Spain, okay?
It’s no surprise that the majority of the world’s motorcycle press launches are held in Spain
Out in the country, wild or feral animals can be a problem. Especially stray semi-wild dogs, but you might also come across horses, goats, cattle and sheep wandering about, usually just around a blind bend. If you're really unlucky you might even come across a camel in the road; remnants of a herd imported from the Canary Islands 200 years ago and left to roam free in the south.
Back to more mundane hazards, traffic approaching from the right needs careful watching – in some instances it has priority (like the French Priorité à Droite rule), and as is usual in such situations, the locals will exercise that right without even looking.
On a similar theme, roundabouts are a fairly recent arrival in Spain, and it's fair to say that the Spanish haven't entirely got the hang of them yet. Be very careful, especially if you're on the roundabout and there's traffic approaching fast from the right – you've got priority, but that's not a lot of help if you've also got a SEAT front grille embedded in your kidneys.
The biggest danger in tourist areas though is other Brits. Whether they're permanent residents, half-and-halfers wintering in the sun, or short-term holidaymakers venturing out in a hire car, they have a nasty habit of forgetting they're supposed to be driving on the right, and crashing headlong into whatever comes around the next corner. Since even the locals tend to drive in the middle of the road on smaller roads, it makes a lot of sense to take a very wide line on the way into blind bends.
Don’t be put off by all this – we’ve rounded up everything that could go wrong, and Spain is one of our favourite places in the world to ride. The stunning roads and scenery are why the majority of motorcycle press launces are held in Spain, and with Brittany Ferries running down to Santander and Bilbao, or BikeShuttle getting very close with Toulous, you don’t have to ride through France to get there (though if you take the back roads, it’s well worthwhile, then get the Ferry home from Spain at the end).