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How to get a Motorcycle licence

A guide to becoming mobile by Dick Henneman

Once upon a time, things were fairly straightforward if you wanted to get around on two wheels. First, you popped down to the Post Office, handed over 10/- (50p) and got yourself a provisional licence. Then, armed with a couple of L-plates from Halfords and a second-hand helmet, it was down to a dealer or a search through the local rag to purchase some wheels. Another £10 bought you a year’s TPF&T cover and off you went. When you felt confident (or cocky) enough and you’d memorised most of the important bits of the Highway Code, you booked a test at the local centre. There, you’d hand over another 10/- (50p) and then ride around the block in a thoroughly upstanding manner whilst trying to avoid the bloke with the clipboard when he jumped out into the road in front of you. Assuming that you missed him and didn’t drop the bike, you were pretty much assured of getting the valued “Pink Slip” and the road to 1000cc power and some very dodgy-handling bikes was yours.

Times have changed!

Training is now very much the name-of-the-game, and what you need and how much of it depends basically upon your age and the type of two-wheeled vehicle you want to or are allowed to ride. I’ll explain.

The Department of Transport currently (November 2003) classifies all powered two-wheeled vehicles as either mopeds or motorcycles. A moped

  • has a maximum design speed of not more than 50kph (31mph)
  • has an engine capacity no greater than 50cc
  • and can be propelled by pedals if it was first used before 1st August 1977

Everything else is a motorcycle. Well, sort of, because there’s two types of motorcycle. The first is a learner motorcycle, which can have an engine capacity up to 125cc and a power output no greater than 11kW (14.6bhp), and the second is everything else.

I hope you’ve managed to follow all this so far, because that’s the easy bit. Now it gets a lot more interesting.

The biggest factor in determining what you can ride is age.

Until you’re 16 you’ll have to make do with push-bikes, the bus and getting your parents to give you a lift, but once you reach the “age of consent” you can dash down to the local Post Office and get an application form for a Provisional Moped Licence. This will allow you to ride a moped on the road with L-plates, but you can’t carry a passenger or use the Motorways. But hold on, because it’s not valid until you’ve completed and passed a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) programme from an approved training company. This will give you the magic DL196 certificate and you’re now off to enjoy two-wheeled life, albeit at a maximum speed of 31mph (downhill with a following wind). CBT pass certificates issued before February 1st 2001 are valid for three years, so the last of these will expire shortly. Those issued after this date have a two-year lifespan. If you don’t go on to take and pass the Theory and Practical tests within this period, you’ll have to re-take the CBT, but the Provisional Moped Licence has no expiry date. The Theory Test is a multiple-choice exam done against the clock and the pass certificate is valid for two years. You can sit this exam at your local DSA test centre.

The final step is to take the Moped Practical Test which again is taken at your local DSA test centre. Pass this and you’ll become the proud owner of a Category P Full Moped Licence, which means that you can throw away the L-plates and give your mates a lift on the pillion, but you still can’t go on the Motorways. Of course, if you’ve already got a full motorcycle licence then there’s nothing to stop you getting on a moped now, irrespective of how long ago it was that you burned those L-plates. And if you’ve got a full car licence and passed your test on or before January 31st 2001 you can also ride a moped without restrictions. After this date, you’ll have to do some Basic Moped Training before you’re fully qualified to ride a moped.

Still with me? I told you it wasn’t going to be easy, and from here on it really gets complicated.

Once you reach 17, you can leave the heady world of 30mph top speeds behind and move on to getting a Provisional Motorcycle Licence. There are three ways of going about this.

  • If you’ve already got a Full Moped Licence then the provisional motorcycle licence entitlement becomes automatic.
  • If you got a Full Car Licence before February 1st 2001 then it will have a provisional motorcycle entitlement.
  • Get an application form for a Provisional Motorcycle Licence from the Post Office and then complete your CBT at an approved centre. Provisional motorcycle licences issued from February 1st 2001 are valid until you reach the ripe old age of 70.

You can now ride a learner motorcycle fitted with L-plates, but you can’t carry passengers or use the Motorways. The next step is to take the Theory Test, but you don’t need to do this if you already hold a full licence for another category of motorcycle or you’ve passed your moped test since July 1st 1996.

With the theory test under your belt, it’s time to move on and take the Practical Test. Simple, well not quite because there’s two test categories. If all you want to do is ride around on a 125cc bike, then you can take the Category A1 Test for a Light Motorcycle Licence. Pass this on a bike between 75cc and 125cc and you can ride any bike up to 125cc and 11kW (14.6bhp) and carry a passenger.

However, if you want something a little larger – and most of us do – then you’ll need to do the Category A Test for the Standard Motorcycle Licence. To take this test you’ll need a bike between 121cc and 125cc and capable of 100kph (CG125 anyone?) for the test, and once you pass this you’ll be restricted to a motorcycle of up to 25kW (33bhp) or a power to weight ratio no greater than 0.16kW/kg for two years. After this time you can ride any size of bike you can get your hands on.

Fail any of the practical tests and there’s no restriction on applying again, but remember the validity of the theory test and CBT certificates. Since test centre waiting lists can be 2 to 3 months long, if you’re unfortunate enough not to pass then the best advice is to re-apply immediately.

So that’s it – well not quite, but I’m glad that you’ve stayed with me this far, because we’re on the home run now. There’s one final piece to the puzzle.

The last magic age as far as motorcycle licences are concerned is 21, when two other options come into play. You’ve done the practical test, got your Standard Motorcycle Licence and you’re still in the two year restricted period when your 21st birthday comes round, but you can’t wait to get your hands on that Fireblade that your mate’s got for sale. Assuming that you can afford to insure a 900cc sportsbike at the age of 21, then there’s the Accelerated Access option. This is the same as Direct Access, which is available to riders over the age of 21 and it works like this. You take the CBT and then the theory test as before, but do the practical test on a bike with a power output of at least 35kW (46.6bhp). All or part of the CBT can be taken on either a learner motorcycle or a larger bike, and you can practice for the practical test on a larger bike provided that you’re accompanied at all times by a qualified instructor who’s in radio contact on another bike, you wear fluorescent or reflective clothing and follow all other provisional licence restrictions.

Well, I didn’t say that it would be a piece of cake, but if you wade through all the permutations and combinations of conditions and ages and come out at the end of it with a full bike licence, then it’s worth every hour and penny spent.

And Finally . . . as they say, take a look on the Driving Standards Agency website at There's masses of information there about driving tests, resources to help you pass the theory and practical tests and you can even book tests online. For details on approved instructors and training centres in your area, pop down to your local dealer or take a trawl through the Yellow Pages.

Have Fun.



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