UK Motorbike Licence

Fed up with riding pillion?

Lets go back a couple of years to 2001 when I was confined to being a pillion. I’d been interested in motorbikes for a while, well sports bikes in particular and I was rapidly deciding that I needed to learn to ride a bike. I didn’t mind riding pillion, in fact I usually quite enjoyed it, but I wanted to be in control, I wanted it to be just me and the bike. So I decided that it was about time I did my test.

But how exactly do you learn to ride a motorbike?

If you stop an adult in the street and ask them how you go about learning to drive, the chances are that they will be able to tell you. You get a driving instructor, have driving lessons, take your theory and hazard awareness test, and then take your driving test. Cross your fingers and hopefully (?!) there will be another novice driver loose on the roads.
However, if you ask most people how to go about learning to ride a motorbike – the majority won’t have a clue. And even if you do find someone who knows what steps you need to take, there are so many different options available to you. This was the problem that I was faced with when I wanted to learn to ride.

I learnt to drive as soon as I was 17, with a driving instructor, in a dual control car (your untrusting instructor has a set of pedals too) so the obvious problem to me was – how does your instructor teach you? I don’t want him on my pillion (I doubt very much that he would want to be there!!) and more importantly, how do you communicate?

What do I do?

So I set about doing my research, I asked the two bikers I knew but since neither of them took their bike tests in this country they weren’t much help! So with the help of Google and various bike magazines I managed to figure out what options were available to me. I soon realised that there were several tests I needed to take before even taking my motorbike test

  • Compulsory Basic Training – CBT You must take this to ride any motorbike on the road. It lasts for two years and enables you to ride upto 125cc with a power output of 11kW (14.6bhp) on the road whilst displaying ‘L’ plates on the bike.
  • Theory Test A multiple guess, sorry multiple choice test consisting of 35 questions and you have about 40minutes in which to complete it. your pass certificate is valid for 2 years.
  • Hazard Awareness Test This came in after I passed my test, so I know pretty much nothing about it other than it exists.

I’ve completed my CBT what do I do now?

I rang up several bike schools and booked lessons! But before I could book, I had to decide which licence I was going to go for. And this, is where it starts to get complicated; you have different options available to you depending on your age. If you are 17 or over, you only have the following two options available to you.

  • Category A1 - Light motorcycle licence You take your practical test on a motorbike between 75cc and 125cc. On passing this test you can ride any motorbike without ‘L’ plates up to 125cc with a maximum power output of 11kW (14.6 bhp). You can carry pillion passengers and use motorways.
  • Category A – Standard motorcycle licence You take your test on a motorbike between 120cc and 125cc and it must be capable of doing at least 100km/h (62mph). On passing this test, you can ride any motorcycle without ‘L’ plates with a power output of up to 25kW (33bhp) and a power-to-weight ratio not exceeding 0.16kW/kg. You can carry pillion passengers and use motorways. With this type of licence, you are restricted to 25kW for two years, after this time period is up, you can ride any size motorcycle

If you are 21 or over, in addition to the above two options, you have a third option available to you

  • Direct Access If you are 21 or over, then you can take your test on a larger motorcycle with a power of at least 35kW (46.6bhp). On passing this test, you can ride any motorcycle.

If you have taken your Category A motorcycle licence, but reach the age of 21 before the two year restriction is up.

  • Accelerated access You can take a further test on a motorcycle with a power of at least 35kW (46.6bhp). Once you have passed this test you can ride any motorbike

I opted for an Intensive Direct Access course. I spent 1 day doing my CBT on a Yamaha SR125 and passed that. My next lesson I then jumped on a Honda CB500 and did a couple of days intensive riding and took my test.

What’s involved in the CBT?

The CBT is just that “compulsory basic training”. It’s a 1 day course, the first half of the day is spent in a car park where you practice looking in your mirrors, changing lanes, left and right turns, stopping, emergency stops, u turns, starting the bike and putting the bike on the stand. The second half of the day is spent loose on the public roads where you put into practice what you have learned in the morning.

How do they actually teach you?

Unlike when you learn to drive a car, your instructor is unable to sit you and point out where you are going right/wrong and to give you directions and tell you when to do your manoeuvres. This may seem obvious to some of you, but when learning to ride a bike, the instructor follows you on his own vehicle and gives you directions and pointers via radio contact. Luckily for the instructor (but unlucky for you?) you are unable to talk back to him! If the instructor needs to tell you something in more detail, they get you to pull over to the side of the road.

What do they teach you?

I’m not even going to attempt to cover everything that they teach you for your bike test here because I will almost certainly miss out something vitally important. One thing I did notice is that (sadly) they are much stricter on use of mirrors etc than when you learn to drive a car.
These are the points that I can remember that were covered in the bike test

  • Observation
  • U-turn
  • Emergency stop
  • starting on an incline
  • Road positioning

It doesn’t sound like much does it?

So how much does it all cost?

The cost of getting a bike licence varies so much depending on the route that you take.
The test prices are as follows:

  • CBT between £80 and £100
  • Theory Test £21
  • Hazard Awareness Test £20.50 Although I'm not 100% sure as to who has to take this
  • Week day practical test £51
  • Weekend practical test £60

In addition to those fees you also need to get some lessons to learn all the material you need to pass your test. As with driving lessons, these vary with who you learn to ride with. If you are only going for your category A1 or restricted category A, then you can ride around on a 125 on the roads after passing your CBT to get some practice in. However, if you want to do your Direct Access and get some practice on a bigger bike, then your only real option is to get some lessons. I was fortunate enough to have access to some private land where I could practice riding around in circles, but that really is no substitute for proper tuition on the roads.
I did a five day intensive Direct Access course. My first day was doing my CBT, I then had 3 days of lessons on a Honda CB500, and on the 5th day I did my bike test. From what I remember, I think this cost me about £600. That included my test fee, bike hire and insurance and instruction.

To Conclude:

At the end of the day the licence you decide to go for will probably be determined by what sort of bike you want to ride. I chose to wait until I was 21 and do my Direct Access so I was able to ride my lovely ZXR400.
Decide what sort of licence you want, and phone up a bike school – you’ll need to do your CBT anyway and they will be able to point you in the direction with where to go next.
Good luck and keep grinning :-)