Since the advent of time, or in the context of this article, since the creation of the motorcycle, for every product invented, there have always been companies and individuals who have striven to improve upon the standard item. In the case of motorbikes this has generally been by way of performance in either handling, weight loss, or power output. The goal of making a good thing better isn’t unique to motorbikes of course, it’s a methodology applied to virtually everything you care to mention, and is the driver for the world and how its technology advances. Take an idea and improve it, and over time we get better and better machines (motorbikes in this case), and our life becomes easier and better as we take advantage of these advances, but in France, there has been a limit to how far that advancement has been allowed to progress. I’m talking here about how the French government has stifled the motorcycle industry for over three decades through the imposition and enforcement of its iniquitous 100bhp limit for motorcycles.
For those of you who don’t live in La Belle France and have been riding for years on machines of ever increasing horsepower, you may not be aware that up until this year, those of us who do live in France, have been deprived of the “right” to ride a motorbike with a bhp figure greater than 100. The H2 Kawasaki and it’s 220bhp has been but a dream for us. IF we could buy one here it would only have 100bhp. Imagine that if you can? Buying a rocketship but only being allowed to ride it with less than half its power. Take that back a step and it gets worse when you consider that we can’t even have a full power relatively small engined 600 like an R6, as its 120bhp has been verboten. We can buy one and will pay the full retail price for it (another bugbear as the French don’t seem to understand the concept of discounts), but it will have been restricted in performance by any number of mechanical or electrical means. “Why would you pay full price for a castrated bike you ask?” Well simply put, there hasn’t been any option. Back in 1984 the French decided that speed was a major influence in accidents, deeming that the more powerful the bike and the faster it went, the more likely you would be to be involved in an accident, so they decided that if they restricted power to 100bhp, and consequently speed, this would help prevent accidents.
In the UK if you’re old enough, you may remember MAG lobbying Brussels to ensure that the UK didn’t implement the same policy? They were successful in halting the implementation of this hated legislation and you should be grateful to them, as for the past 32 years the French have been forced to ride bikes that might on paper make 160bhp, will cost them the same as your identical bike with 160bhp, but are only allowed to have acceess to 62.5% of that power, because somebody decided long ago that it was good for you and the French accident statistics. The Swiss for a time also had restrictions on power but later revoked the limits, an action that unfortunately wasn’t replicated across the border here.
Over the years French bikers protested against this restriction and had a strong legal case, as it was in effect a restriction on the passage and sale of goods within the EU, and contrary to one of the supposedly fundamental benefits of EU membership. The motorcycle manufacturers argued that there were additional costs incurred in restricting the power of bikes sold in France and that those bikes would be unable to be sold outside that country, as no-one would buy something inferior to the same item sold elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, such was the furore that Brussels told France to drop the restriction, but the French government basically said screw you, and happily paid the fines Brussels subsequently imposed on them, in order to keep the law on their statutes. Despite countless studies done throughout the world showing that speed was NOT the main cause of accidents, and that there was no correlation in the power of a motorbike and speed related accident statistics, they buried their heads in the sand and ignored everyone and everything and continued paying the fines, whilst the public continued to lobby for equality and legality in application of a supposedly Europeanwide law,which would have rid them of the unjustified horsepower shackles.
The whole situation is made even less understandable when you realise that in France it’s legal to ride a moped from the age of 14. This creates a youth who become mobile at an extremely early age, but whom also become accomplished riders very early in life compared to other nationalities. Ride or drive in France, and you will find car drivers move over to let bikers pass. This is something seen in very few countries as elsewhere bikers seem to have developed an unwarranted bad boy image, perhaps harking back to the bad press of the mods and rockers days in the UK, and the gang activities of the Hells Angels. The likelihood in France though, is that this courtesy comes from drivers having started their own mobility as a youth on a moped and knowing what it takes to ride bikes and to stay alive, so they look after their own, and it’s something that ought to be recognised, applauded, and copied worldwide, in order to promote better understanding and safety on our roads.
Back to restricted power outputs, and here’s a great example of how crazy things used to be. I worked in Germany for a couple of years and owned a ZX10R which I loved. Knowing I was returning to France and wanting to keep my prized low mileage bike, I went to the Kawasaki dealer and asked him to restrict it so it conformed to French law. He thought I was crazy but nevertheless purchased the relevant restriction kit, fitted it, charged me €300, and off I went back to France where I expected to be allowed to ride my restricted bike without any problems. In France I went to the sous prefecture, which is I guess the equivalent of the DVLA in the UK, and presented the paperwork from the German dealer which showed the cost of the kit, the invoice for fitting it, and a re-registration document from the German TUV confirming it was now a 100 bhp machine. After some head scratching the lady says “your frame and engine numbers aren’t on our database”, unsurprising since it was a German machine. After hunting round for 10 minutes she called someone higher up the ladder whom she passed to me and who informed me “you cannot register your bike in France.” No I can I replied, the bike has a Kawasaki supplied and fitted restriction kit, has been re-registered in Germany as 100bhp, and I have all the documentation. “It doesn’t matter” the guy told me. “We don’t know what kit they fitted?. You have to take it to a French Kawasaki dealer, they will review the bike and fit their restriction kit ”. Knowing this is likely to mean the replacement of the ECU at a cost of several hundred euros, it’s difficult to comprehend that this guy expects that I will now pay several hundred euros more to basically do exactly the same job the German dealer did, but this time they will keep my parts and refuse to return them to me ” in case I refit them as soon as I have regisitered the bike” . Surely this is banditry under any other name and all done in the interests of safety, allegedly!
A few years ago it was rumoured that the French would be forced to backtrack and allow the sale of full power machines. Originally slated for 2014 they managed to hold out until 2016, but as of Jan 1st 2016 it has been possible to buy a full power bike, if it were new. That of course is great news, but what about the millions of used bikes that are restricted? How can you have new bikes full power and not allow all bikes to be full power? So the next great idea was that if a used bike conformed to Euro 3 it would be allowed to be derestricted, but since a good part of the Euro ruling is pollution based, that got dropped in favour of a bike having ABS, good news you would think? Of course there was even more prevarication and the March deadline for the legislation to have been agreed soon passed with its eventual approveal coming in April 2016, and two weeks after that agreement I was at the BMW dealer having my K1300GT derestricted, so am I a happy bunny now? The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, the power increase from 100 to 160bhp is fantastic, the bike has come alive and I now see what all the fuss was about. My perception of my 285kg behemoth as a workhorse with its lowly 100bhp, has changed to a fun bike which elicits whoops and hollers as I have found new and powerful acceleration which has introduced the missing fun element I’ve not had for the past 7 years and 87,000kms, it’s been a long time coming, and it’s been worth it, BUT.
There’s always a but. The process to have my 60bhp liberated is not without issue. I had to take the bike to the BMW dealer and then hand over €250 for them to spend 20 minutes, tops, loading a new engine map to the ECU, sending the details of my bike to BMW France, who will create a new European certificate of conformity, in order that I can go to the Sous Prefecture with this document and get the bike registered as a full power machine. This will entail an hour and a half round trip and circa €36 in their admin fees. OK, so at least it’s all legal and above board and there is no risk of the insurance company dobbing out of their liabilities because it’s all legit, BUT, and here we go again, they’re not so keen on the idea of us now having access to all this power and it seems they’re not going to make it easy for us.
I had asked my insurers as far back as October last year (2015) what they would do when all their customers came to them advising them their bikes were now full power, and I was told there had been no word from the top as to their response, so clearly there was little advance planning being done here.
I duly advised my insurers by mail once the work had been done, and that I would forward them the new certificate of conformity and registration when I have it. I told them the dealer had told me to expect a delay of up to 5 weeks for the paperwork as everyone is getting their bike derestricted and they’re swamped, in fact my BMW dealer had done 28 bikes in 2 weeks, not a bad little earner at €250 a pop!
I hadn’t heard back from the insurers until this week when I spoke to them on another matter, and this time they demanded the paperwork. I told them it would be forwarded to them as soon as I had it, and I thought she was going to have a heart attack when I informed her that the power had increased from 100 to 160bhp. I was stunned when she told me that the company had no tariff for full power bikes, would likely decline to insure them, and even if they did the premium would likely increase. This was like a red rag to a bull, and I told her that since 1984 the insurers had based their tariffs on the full power output figure of non restricted bikes regardless of the fact French machines could never exceed 100bhp. The reality being that for 30+ years they had charged premiums assessed on the risk of theoretical outputs (160bhp on my bike as an example) and now that the bike is actually legally able to be ridden with that figure, they want to charge more??? Outrageous!
The bike magazines had speculated that the insurers would wait a year to see if the accident rate increased dramatically before hiking their premiums. If the rate doesn’t go up in that first year the government will have been proved wrong, but it seems the insurers aren’t prepared to take the risk and want to hike the prices immediately. I find this morally reprehensible. The motorcycle forums are awash with bikers claiming their premiums have increased by up to 40%, and my dealer says all the insurance companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are increasing prices, which just goes to show that insurers are the leeches we always knew they were, onto a good thing in the past 30 years and now a chance to increase profits even more. If the accident rates don’t increase you can bet they won’t drop their prices, they never do, instead French bikers find themselves royally screwed yet again.
To those of you riding around on your full power bikes with half way decent insurance costs, I envy you, enjoy your bikes and the simplicity of doing so, over here it wasn’t simple before, and it seems it won’t be simple in the future, and we’re undoubtedly going to paying a lot more than you for the privilege of being on two wheels.
C’est la vie!
UPDATE 3/6/2016 – My insurers MAAF have now quoted a new premium 38.6% higher now the bike is derestricted so they’ve lost my custom and that of my car too when that comes up for renewal