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Motorcyclists in the UK can get a full licence in a number of different ways, reflecting the different types of rider and their levels of experience and expertise.

The main routes are spelled out in the leaflet titled Mopeds and Motorcycles: Routes to your licence, published by the DETR (Department of Environment Transport and the Regions). It covers powered two-wheel vehicles with engine size greater than 50 cc. Anyone with a normal car licence may drive a 49cc moped with no L plates or other restriction. The rest of this WU will ignore these small mopeds.*

Jasstrong says, "you need a CBT to ride a moped if you gained your car licence after 1.1.2000" And of course she is right.

Basic training

All UK motorcyclists have to start by getting a CBT (Certificate of Basic Training) The only exception to this is those people who passed a specific moped driving test after 1st December, 1990. The CBT is valid for two years from the date of issue, and if the CBT expires, then the motorcyclist must, by law, attend a second course and obtain another valid certificate. A full motorcycle licence removes the requirement for a valid CBT, however.

The CBT allows motorcyclists to go on the road with 'L' plates at the front and rear of the motorbike, but does not allow them to carry pillion passengers. Learners may not go on motorways and may only use bikes under 125cc. However, if accompanied by an instructor in radio contact, they may use larger machines. This exception is designed to allow experienced riders to gain their full licence more quickly than the normal process (see below).

The licencing scheme is designed to encourage learners to spend up to two years gaining experience, before getting a full licence.

Theory test

After gaining more road experience, the next step is to take a theory test. This is a multiple choice test, covering general riding practise, including the meaning of road signs, when and how the bike might handle differently, safety, and bike maintenance. The test can be booked on-line and is taken at an official test centre using touch-screen computers. You can buy a book which contains all the official test questions and their answers. Working through the book will almost guarantee a high pass score. Out of 35 questions asked, the candidate will pass with 30 correct answers, but fail with only 29.

Successful candidates are given a theory test certificate within a few minutes of completing the test.

Test run on the road

After the theory test comes the most challenging aspect : the practical test on the road. This is split into three categories, depending on the size of bike ridden, but in each case, the test is identical (see below).

The test takes a total of 40 minutes, with the first few minutes taken up with checking documents. You have to take along the CBT certificate, the theory test certificate and your existing driving licence (if you have one). If your driving licence does not have a photograph, you also have to show a passport, or other photographic identity document. The examiner checks these documents, explains a little about the procedure and then fits the applicant with a one-way radio. This allows the examiner to talk to the candidate, but not the other way around.

Once the preliminaries are complete, the examiner walks outside with the candidate, and checks the candidate’s eyesight, usually by asking them to read a car registration plate some distance away.

Next, the candidate is taken to his motorbike and asked to mount it, start it up and begin the practical test. The examiner rides behind the candidate on a large bike, giving instructions such as take the next available road on the left.

The practical test involves the following manoeuvres:

  • Holding the bike and walking the bike through a U-turn on a quiet road
  • Riding the bike, doing a U-turn in a quiet road
  • While riding the bike, perform an emergency stop
  • Turning left and right (and straight on)at junctions,
  • Negotiating roundabouts, mini-roundabouts, pedestrian crossings etc
  • Riding along in normal traffic, where speed limits change on different roads
  • Stopping at the side of the road and starting off again.

All the time, the examiner is looking to confirm that the rider is above all safe and complies with the strict letter of the law. He is also looking for good observation, shoulder checks, use of gears, indicators, mirrors and observation of road conditions and the ability of the rider to deal with hazards, normal traffic and other road users.

For a candidate, the test feels very quick. Once the slow-speed manoeuvres are completed, there are only a few minutes of riding in normal traffic before the test centre comes back into view and the test is over.

Pass or fail

With the bikes parked, in neutral and on their stands, the examiner leads the candidate back into the test centre, discusses the test run and finally gives a result: pass or fail. While the candidate is absorbing the news, the examiner fills in a test run assessment form indicating where the candidate has room for improvement. If the candidate passed, the examiner also fills in a certificate and hands it to the candidate, together with the paperwork needed to update the driver’s licence.

At this point, a loud WooHoo! from the candidate is optional.

Types of licence

I said above there are three routes to a licence, depending on the size of the bike

If the candidate does the practical test on a small bike, or an ungeared bike, then the licence category is A1, which means the rider is only permitted to ride a small (under 125 cc, or max power of 11 kW/15 bhp) bike. However, there is no need for L plates, and the rider may carry a pillionand go on motorways.

The normal route is for the candidate to use a bike of almost exactly 125 cc (officially, 121 to 125 cc), with gears. Once the practical test is passed, then the rider gets a category A licence (for all motorbikes) but is restricted to 25 kW (33 bhp) for the first two years. There are no restrictions on pillions or motorway riding. After the two-year delay is completed, the rider may ride any bike.

The final route is called direct access and allows a more mature (over 21) candidate to take the practical test on a big bike (over 35 kW/47bhp). Once passed, the rider is allowed to use any bike. If a young rider does the test on a 125cc bike, and reaches the age of 21 within the two-year delay, then he or she may take a second practical test on a big bike. If that test is a pass, then the rider may ride any bike immediately. If they fail, then the two-year delay remains unaffected.


Yes, I passed, first time through. The examiner took two points off for speeding (doing 40 mph in a 30 limit), but found no other faults. It was a great experience, and I think underlines just how differently one rides for the examiner, compared with real life.

Wow, the above write-up makes me wish I lived in England. It would seem the UK actually cares about who they give licenses to on the road. Anyway, in America, California, it is very different.

First,in order to get a learner's permit when you are atleast 15.5 years old, you must pass a simple 30 question law and traffic test. The test is entirely multiple choice and does not require you to know a whole lot about motorcycles, just how to ride one on the streets. The multiple choice test the DMV administers is completely ridiculous, full of vague and confusing questions.

For example:

When you drive into a lane of traffic from the curb what do you do?

A. Lean less than you would at high speeds.

B. Turn the handle-bars.

C. Lean with the motorcycle.

Obviously the correct answers are both A and C. However when I took this test I chose A and was marked wrong. The correct answer, according to the DMV, was C, lean with the motorcycle. Now first of all, when don't you lean with the motorcycle??!! The 30 question test is full of this kinda of crap.

Second, in order to get a class M1 license, a full blown motorcycle license, when you are 18, you must pass the motorcycle safety foundation's course, and pass a road test, either with a car or motorcycle. After that they will issue you an M1 license, and give you complete freedom to completely wheelie and trash the hell out of a cherry sportbike to your heart's content.

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