Learning to Ride a Motorbike

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What You Need to Know

  1. There are three main categories of motorbike, mopeds, ‘light’ bikes, and standard bikes. There are different rules governing how old you have to be and the qualifications you need to have in order to ride each type of bike.
  2. No matter what kind of bike you want to ride, you need to pass Compulsory Basic Training and the theory test to do so.
  3. You can ride a moped from 16 onwards and, if you obtained a driving license for a car before 2001, you don’t need L plates.
  4. To learn on a ‘light’ bike you need to be at least 17 and hold a provisional motorcycle license.
  5. When it comes to the practical test, depending on the bike you learn on and your age, there may be restrictions on the kind of bike you’ll be permitted once you’ve passed.
  6. The Direct Access Scheme is an intensive course aimed at teaching over 21’s to ride, starting out on bigger bikes.
  7. Bike boots provide maximum comfort and an excellent barrier against rain, wind and cold.

It seems more complicated working out what you need to do to ride a motorbike than it is to pass all the necessary tests. Here’s a brief guide.

There are three categories of bike based on engine size. Depending on age and documentation, you may be able to start riding straight away.

(Don’t get confused by the differences between motorbikes and scooters: for the purposes of passing your test, they are treated the same.)

Also it is of upmost importance to remember that motorbike users still need insurance for their vehicle.


A moped is defined as having an engine no larger than 50cc, weighing less than 250kg and going no faster than 50kmph (that’s about 31mph).

Anyone who passed a car driving test before 1 February 2001 can hop on and ride a moped without L-plates. You can even carry a pillion passenger (though with such a small engine, it might be quicker to walk!)

Everybody else needs to complete the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) before riding a moped. There’s more on the CBT below. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to pass the Theory Test too. And all this at the age of 16 onwards.

Light (or ‘learner’) motorbikes

Any bike or scooter with an engine up to 125cc and a power output of 11kW is regarded as a ‘learner’ bike.

At 17 you can move from moped to learner motorbike. You will need a provisional motorcycle licence and, if you haven’t done it yet, the CBT.

Younger riders must continue to ride a smaller bike with L-plates; riders aged over 21 may also ride a larger bike while accompanied by and under instruction from a qualified instructor.

Standard motorbikes

To move on to full-sized bikes, you need to complete the CBT and Theory Test, if you haven’t already done so. (Both certificates last for two years – any longer and you need to go through the procedure again.)

The practical, road-going bike test is next.

Depending on your age and the bike you ride on the test, you may be limited as to the size of bike you can then ride.

For example, anyone under 21 can only pass on a category ‘A’ bike (between 121-125cc and capable of 100kmph) and will be restricted to bikes ‘up to 25kW with a power/weight ratio not exceeding 0.16kW/kg’ for two full years. Confused? Your instructor, examiner and bike dealer will all be able to point out what that means in practice.

Once they reach 21, these riders can take an Accelerated Access course allowing them to ride any bike.

Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) and Theory Test

Whether you’re aiming to ride a moped on a provisional licence or the latest super-charged street-legal racing bike, you need to complete these first.

The CBT is where you actually learn to ride a bike: how to start and stop, turn and go, and quite possibly how to fall off – at low speeds! It usually takes the best part of a day. Starting with a run-through in the classroom, you move on to an off-road location such as a car park where you learn the basics. When you are ready, you take your new skills out on the road. Your instructor will be looking for mastery of the controls of the bike, but also for road sense, safety, awareness and confidence.

The Theory Test is designed specifically to reflect the unique dangers and rules of two-wheeled transport: even those with full car licences need to sit this. You can book your Test via the Driving Standards Agency website./

Direct Access Scheme

Anyone aged 21 or over can take the Direct Access course allowing them to ride any bike. It’s designed for people who have never ridden before and want to start on bigger bikes.

Part one: complete the CBT and pass the Theory Test.

Part two: with the preliminaries out of the way, you are ready to progress to a larger bike, probably 500cc, and a course designed to get you through the test. This will take anything from three to five days. Your instructors will recommend how much training you need.

Starting off road, in a car park for example, you will learn to control the bike at low speed before anything else. Expect lots of repetition and lots of frustration (at first) but before you know it you will be taking your new skills out on the streets. (You can even pass your Direct Access test on a Harley)

Most DAS courses will see a small number of learners working with one or more instructors. It’s quite intensive and tiring, so the biker lifestyle of riding all day and drinking all night may have to wait.

The test itself will last anything from 20-60 minutes, depending on conditions and how quickly the examiner is satisfied with your performance. It’s the two-wheeled equivalent of the car test – there’s no such thing as a three-point turn on a bike with no reverse gear.

Never stop learning

The best motorbikers aren’t necessarily the fastest, and they certainly aren’t the most aggressive. They are those bikers who never stop learning: refining their own technique, registering more about road and traffic conditions, understanding the capabilities of their machine. These are the riders who are consistently safe and benefit from cheaper motorcycle insurance policies.

Further Reading

Advanced rider courses and safety tips are available with RoSPA

There’s more detail on guidelines for motorcyclists on the government's site.

You can find a host of quality motorbike riding schools online.

18 comments - Want to comment on this article? Click here
chris chris

Is there such a thing as a licence that only allows you to ride automatic motorcycles. The same as there is for a car licence? Just wondered if you took a test on a automatic bike if that was all you could ride.

Bob Bob

My 37 year old son has a full car driving licence. At the moment he commutes to work on a 125cc motorbike with L plates.
What tests would he need to pass to drive a 650cc bike?
Can you recommend a bike driving school in the Pontefract area.

Brian havis Brian havis

I am 64years old I passed my bike test in 1967 I rode bikes of all sizes till I passed my driving test 1978 because I never ticked a box on my licence renewal my bike one was left off I never noticed it for a few years d.v.l.a no help at all am I allowed to ride a 250.ariel arrow with Lplates please help.many thanks

Frank Frank

I'm 53 years old but I've never ride a motorbike in my life. Had my CBT done last Thursday but it was a failure. Another CBT is booked for tomorrow but I'm not sure if it is a good choice in my age.
Does anybody have an opinion about this?

kevin kevin

i am 50 years old and have always dreamt or owning a scooter. i am in the position of buying a 150cc lambretta what tests do i need for this, i have had a full uk driving licence since 1985?

Jen Jen

I have absolutely hated my direct access course, because I am slower, I get relegated to an empty part of the training area and left to practice. Whilst I don't mind the practice I would like to feel I am being instructed instead of this intensive - what feels like a 20 mins on each area and expected to know it!
I LOVE biking, all I want is a decent instructor who won't get impatient.

Jo Jo

Oh how absolutely delightful .... 2 people here - both 60 (or above) who are just about to start riding motorbikes. Aaagh - there's "Life" in us yet !!!! I'm 64; have been driving anything & everything with 4 wheels since I was .... er .... young, and am now trying to "educate" my feet & hands to take on totally different functions.
Good luck Aiden, good luck Sue .... I hope you have as much fun as I am !!!!
P.S. Sue - I'm starting on a 125 chopper ..... believe me - you don't need anything heavier to start off with (besides which, the seating is comfortable and I can at least touch the ground with my short legs !!!!)

Terry Terry

I am 50 years old and never had a bike license, can I learn to ride on a 700cc bike after taking my CBT ....

Jeremy Jeremy

The driving licence rules, vehicle categories and age limits for learning to ride a motorbike or moped changed on 19 January 2013. Some information on this page is now outdated, e.g. DAS now only from age 24..
Go to the DVLA site for the current situation.

Rio Rio

so i can pass and ride at the age of 16


I am a 65 year old male, i have been driving a car since passing my test in 1987, i do not own a motorcycle but would like to buy and ride a 865cc Bonniville, what training and tests do I need to take before being allowed.

sue sue

I am 60 i want to learn to ride a motorbike passed driving test in1979 do i start off on a 125 please where do i apply

Martin Martin

Useful stuff here however I passed my driving test in a car back in 87 and held a provisional licence riding a 125 until then. Do I need to take a CBT to ride a 125cc scooter again given I used to ride one legally before and the fact I now have 25 years car experience.
Apologise may have missed it in the text but read it twice
Many thanks

ade ade

very quick and simple explanantion of what you need and where to get all the help you need to start a biking life . Thank you it was most helpful . just need a bike now lol .

Niall Niall

That has explained it all quickly and simply. I'm alot clearer now, thanks.

bhalin bhalin

thanks for this info... very informative and simple

Bennett Bennett

Gave me all the information I needed for my 20 year old daughter who has a car driving license but thinking about getting a scooter and we dud not know whether or not she needed to take a further test. She does.
Thank you

josh josh

learned alot from this thank yu


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