Smooth riding: motorcycle safety

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

It’s pretty simple to see how a motorcycle enthusiast moving overseas would get excited. First, look around. These rolling hills, historic destinations and scenic routes sprawling across Europe are just begging for an easy, weekend ride. Plus, you can ship your motorcycle in your household goods and not have to count it as your one POV to ship. Who needed those boxes of clothes, anyway. Or, if you decided you just can’t wait for that ship to dock and unload your bike, there are some pretty sweet incentives to buy a new Harley, Kawasaki or BMW while stationed abroad. For you vintage lovers, Veterama, Europe’s biggest vintage bike and car flea market, sells nothing but veteran bikes, cars and parts. Imagine finding a classic DKW or Horex Imperator not too expensive and simply needing a little T.L.C. That might make your day. Now, before you start dreaming of new parts and accessories and hitting the road, be mindful that you’re legal and properly geared up, because when you ride, your whole family is depending on your safety, not just you. 

It’s Safety Time 

If you’re an active duty military servicemember, or a DoD civilian whose job description requires that you ride a motorcycle, then you’re required to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course to be legally allowed to ride a motorcycle. To ride a motorcycle in Europe, you’ll need both a valid MSF card from the course (the course is valid for three years) and have a motorcycle endorsement on your valid U.S. driver’s license. After you pass the USAREUR driver’s exam and receive your license, your endorsement transfers to your new license. You will need to re-take either the MSF course or Basic and/or Experienced Rider Course (BRC/ERC) every three years to stay valid. Also, check with your new commander. Some units require that mentor rides be completed before receiving permanent motorcycle endorsement on licenses. 

If dependents of active duty military or DoD civilians (who don’t have specific work duties to ride a motorcycle) have a motorcycle endorsement on their valid U.S. license, their endorsement is automatically transferred to their USAREUR driver’s license once they pass the USAREUR driver’s exam. Neither is now required to take the MSF course to ride in the U.S. or Europe. However, staying active with MSF courses will keep you skilled in motorcycle safety. It is recommended that you take a course with an off-duty MSF instructor. Once you’ve taken your tests and received your USAREUR and MSF licenses you may register your motorcycle. 

Don’t Ride? School’s In Session 

If you don’t have a motorcycle endorsement but would like to ride, you may have to pass an extensive motorcycle rider safety class offered by your host country. Some U.S. states will accept the U.S. MSF course as enough riding time and skills set to allow for a rider’s endorsement, but some do not, and you’ll have to find one locally that will suffice. They can be lengthy and expensive. 

Countries in Europe and the UK offer several different training courses for those interested in riding or gaining safety experience. Prices vary depending on the course. Additional information on those in the UK can be found at

Get Your Gear On 

Wear protective gear. Your safety is your family’s safety.

  • Helmet with ECE 22.05 regulation 
  • Eye goggles or full-face shield eye protection 
  • Long-sleeve shirt or jacket 
  • Full-fingered gloves 
  • Long pants 
  • Sturdy boots that cover the ankles 
  • Brightly colored vest or jacket during the day
  • Reflective vest or jacket during the night

Regardless of where you’re assigned, you and your passengers must wear protective helmets that meet the ECE 22.05 certification regulation. In the U.K., the helmet can be either ECE or British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI Kitemark. DOT regulation helmets won’t pass. Also, wear eye protection like goggles or a full-face shield; long sleeved shirt; full-fingered gloves or gauntlets that protect hands, forearms and wrists; long pants and sturdy leather or synthetic boots that cover and protect the ankle; brightly covered vest or jacket during the day; reflective vest or jacket at night. 

It is also recommended that you and your passengers choose and wear motorcycle clothing that is designed with body armor to protect vulnerable parts of your body in case you wrecked. Some jackets and pants have full, internal armor that protect shoulders, elbows, back, knees and ankles. 

Don’t buy used protective gear like helmets and armored clothing. They may be cheaper, but they also may no longer protect you if they were unknowingly damaged in a wreck. That’s not much of a savings. And, never be tempted to ride without gloves. If you have even the smallest of mishaps and fall, road rash or the force of impact can seriously injure your hands and wrists.

Loud Pipes Save Lives… but Annoy Europeans 

Now that we’ve covered your required protective gear, let’s look over your bike. If you brought it from the States, it will probably need a few modifications to be legal in both Europe and the U.K. If you have after-market pipes on your bike to make them louder, chances are they won’t pass inspection. When you take your bike for its pre-registration inspection, they will let you know what needs to be modified. In the U.K., headlights need to be dipped in the other direction due to driving on the left. There is also a minimum size for number plates, and they sometimes have fit issues on bikes. And, you’ll need to display a road tax disc while you ride, and it has a special holder. That will need to be fitted to your bike. 

Hit the “Twisties” 

Europe and the U.K.’s roads are curvy and are often narrow with no shoulders. Although cell phones and hand-held devices are illegal, people in vehicles still find too many things to distract them (even the scenic view) and Europeans drive extra fast anyway. You must always ride as if you’re the only one on the road paying attention. It very well may be the truth. 

That’s it! I hope you take advantage of the beautiful summer months to ride the roadways and even take some European bike tours. Your bike will thank you.

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