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Riding Motorcycle in Spain: Rules and Tips
Spain is a fantastic country to explore on a motorcycle! A variety of scenery, mostly perfect weather and so many things to see make it a great destination for a motorcycle holiday. However, as is anywhere in the world, driving and riding in Spain has its own specifics, written and unwritten rules of the road and some hazards that are unique to Spain. It’s not easy to write an article like this without being accused of generalising and painting everyone with the same brush. However, we would rather provide our tips and opinions (subjective of course) to help our guests have a safe holiday and return home in one piece - same goes for the bikes.
The Spanish official national speed limits (for motorcycles and cars) are as follows, unless signposted otherwise:
Within city limits, one lane in each direction: 30 km/h
Within city limits, two or more lanes in each direction: 50 km/h
Outside of city limits: 90 km/h
Autovias and Autopistas (motorways): 120 km/h
The city limits in Spain start with the sign indicating the name of the town/city and end with the similar sign with the name of the city crossed out:
Watch out for this! It’s not unheard of to have a speed camera on the road leading out of the city just before the end of the city limits sign.
It’s worth noting that while within the actual cities the Spanish drivers mostly stick to the limit (hardly ever 30 km/h, but at least 50 km/h), there are often ring roads around towns which are still technically subject to the 50 km/h limit - but the drivers will speed significantly there. We wouldn’t recommend doing so - a few seconds saved is just not worth the risk especially if you aren’t aware where the cameras are - so better stay in the right hand lane and let the others speed.
Speed cameras do exist, both fixed and mobile. Those are usually preceded by a sign indicating the speed check ahead, though not always. In short, if there is a sign, you are guaranteed a speed camera very soon. If there is no sign, you’re not guaranteed anything.
Right of Way and Roundabouts
Most of the intersections will have a sign indicating who has a right of way - it will either be a give way sign or a stop sign. However, don’t count on anyone to stop at the Stop sign - for the majority of drivers it means “proceed with caution” at best.
At the roundabouts the traffic already on the roundabout usually has right of way (unless signposted otherwise). However, according to a recent research by AXA, 2 out of 3 Spanish drivers don’t know how to use the roundabouts. And indeed roundabout is probably the biggest hazard that you’ll likely encounter as the rules you might be used to back home don’t seem to apply. The most common thing one would see is for the drivers to stick to the outside lane on the roundabout - even going all the way around. What that means in practice is that if you’re in the inside lane and want to exit, you need to be extremely careful to not crash into a car that is in the outside lane. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’ll take the next exit. So be extra careful, establish eye contact, slow down, make sure you absolutely know where that car is going.
Roads, Conditions and Tolls
Most of the inter-city roads in Spain are in very good condition and have perfect tarmac. Some of the secondary roads might be significantly damaged though - in which case there is usually a sign warning you of this.
The condition of the roads in the cities varies - while most are good there could also be sections with large potholes.
Some of the roads, particularly in the Southern parts of Spain, are very “polished” and slick. Those are fine when it’s dry - but when it’s wet there is no traction at all, it’s like riding on ice. So be extremely careful with those when it’s wet, keep the speed down and try not to lean the bike much.
Some motorways in Spain are tolled, normally designated as Autopistas (prefix AP-). Road signs and entrances to toll sections should also have a round sign “Peaje”. Around Malaga the most notable toll road is the AP-7 south-west along the coast towards Gibraltar. There is an alternative A-7 road though it can be busier with traffic. There is also a toll section of AP-46 north of Malaga which you really don’t need to take as A-45 is just as good. And there is also a toll AP-4 motorway between Cadiz and Seville. If you’re wandering further away from Andalusia note that in the north of the country some tunnels are tolled too.
There are no special prices for motorbikes on the Spanish toll roads - it’s the same tariff for bikes as it is for cars. So it can get quite expensive and you pay as you go.
Filtering / Lane Splitting
Filtering (i.e. riding between the lanes of stationary or very slow moving traffic) is very common in Spain and you will see the locals filter even before the traffic lights to be the first when those turn green.
As always, use common sense, keep the speed down and watch for any signs of cars changing lanes. The chances are high they will not indicate.
There are special parking bays for motorcycles in most big Spanish cities and those are free. So we recommend using those instead of the car bays (which might cost you). Additionally, in the city centres it’s common for motorcycles to park on the pavement as long as one doesn’t obstruct the pedestrian passage in any way. While not necessarily entirely legal it is still a common practice - you can watch what the locals are doing and follow them.
It is generally safe to park a motorcycle on the street during daytime in most of the country, except Madrid and Barcelona. As long as you park where the others park and use an alarmed disc lock that we supply your bike should be fine. That doesn’t apply to your personal belongings though - be sure to take anything valuable with you.
For overnight parking you should not park the bike on the street. While it might still be there in the morning (or it might not), it might also be damaged either by other vehicles or by late partygoers. While some hotels located in the city centres might charge extra for motorcycle parking it’s worth it for a peace of mind. If you need any recommendations for motorcycle-friendly hotels along your way please let us know and we’ll be happy to help. Remember, the rental insurance will not cover theft of the motorcycle if it was parked on the public road at night.
Documents and Essential Equipment
You must always carry the following documents with you - originals or certified copies:
Motorcycle Registration Certificate (Permiso de Circulación)
Technical Inspection Certificate (Ficha tecnica)
Passport or a national ID card
In some countries when the driver doesn’t have required documents with them they are given some time to produce the documents in the police station (known as the producer in the UK). This is not the case in Spain. Not having the above documents will lead to an on-the-spot fine.
With the rental bikes we include copies of the registration certificate and ficha tecnica which we have certified in the traffic office. As such, those are sufficient in case the police stops you for a document check.
In terms of the equipment, unlike for cars, there is no obligatory equipment that needs to be carried on the bike. However, as a precaution, we will give you hi-vis vests to carry and be seen in case you need to stop on the side of the road.
Obviously, the driver and the pillion must wear helmets at all times.
In-helmet communication systems only became legal in Spain in 2022 but now those are fine to use. However, in-ear headphones are still prohibited.
Alcohol and Drugs
The legal alcohol limit for driving in Spain is 0.05% BAC which is lower than some countries (e.g. in the UK it is 0.08%). However, we strongly suggest that you only crack open that beer when you park the bike for the day. It’s impossible to predict how alcohol will impair the riding skills, there are many factors at play - and we need to be perfectly alert particularly when riding in foreign countries.
Our rental insurance will not cover anything if the driver is found to have any alcohol in their blood. Our limit is 0.00% and for a good reason. Goes without saying the same applies to drugs.
Riding in Portugal
Portugal is just across the border from Andalusia and some people who rent bikes from us also go and explore the region of Algarve in the south of Portugal. Portuguese people are lovely, friendly, welcoming and tend to speak good English too. However, in our subjective opinion, the driving standards in Portugal are, on average, substantially more aggressive and lax than those in Spain.
We are saying this not to insult Portuguese people (who, as we’ve mentioned, are lovely) but to warn you to take extra care if wandering across the border. Another unusual hazard in Portugal is that the streets in cities are often made with cobblestones which aren’t only very bumpy, but can also be very slippery when wet. And the streets are often very steep. Be careful!
In case of an accident
If you’re involved in any sort of an accident or collision, the first thing is to protect yourself from further danger!
Do not attempt to remove the helmet or move an injured person in any way if there is a possibility of a spinal or a head injury - this can lead to a catastrophic further damage.
If you’re confident that both you and your pillion are not injured, move to the side of the road for safety as soon as possible - without moving the vehicles. If you think you need urgent medical assistance, unless the accident happened at a remote place, it is better toask passers by (who will most likely stop) to call an ambulance (“Por favor, ambulancia!”). As they are more likely to be speaking Spanish fluently - and also not be in a state of a shock (which is normal) - they will be in a better position to explain to the emergency services what happened, the location and the nature of assistance required. If you need to call the emergency services yourself, the number is 112.
We hope this information gives you some insights into riding a motorcycle in Spain and will help you to have a safe holiday here!
An exciting Sport Touring Motorcycle! Comfortable for long distance trips and lively for some twisty roads fun! Touring screen, heated grips and ample luggage capacity and power for traveling with a pillion.