Learning to Ride a Motorbike
What You Need to Know
- 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.
- No matter what kind of bike you want to ride, you need to pass Compulsory Basic Training and the theory test to do so.
- 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.
- To learn on a ‘light’ bike you need to be at least 17 and hold a provisional motorcycle license.
- 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.
- The Direct Access Scheme is an intensive course aimed at teaching over 21’s to ride, starting out on bigger bikes.
- 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
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.
To move on to full-sized bikes, you need to complete the CBT and
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 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.
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.