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How to get your motorcycle licence

Riding a motorbike is one of the most exciting and liberating experiences going, but getting a licence to do so can seem offputtingly complicated. Never fear, MCN is here. Just follow our simple step-by-step guide through the minefield of rules and restrictions.

The first steps to getting your licence

Two documents are needed to ride a motorcycle legally on the road as a learner: a provisional motorcycle licence and a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate.

These will entitle you to ride a motorcycle or scooter of up to 125cc and 15bhp (11kw). You must display L-plates and cannot use the motorway or carry a pillion.

A provisional licence is obtained by completing an application form from the Post Office or online. You must be at least 17 years old to get one for a motorcycle.

At 16 years old you can get one for a moped, defined as having an engine of no more than 50cc and a top speed no greater than 30mph.

If you’ve got a full car licence it should already include provisional motorcycle entitlement. To make sure, check your licence for provisional entitlement to vehicle category A.

If you obtained a full car licence before February 1 2001, you can ride a moped without a CBT certificate.

Otherwise before riding either a moped or motorcycle on the road you’ll need to take a one-day CBT course taught by an approved training body (ATB).

The course consists of practical training at the ATB site and on the road. It costs £100-£135 and most ATBs provide motorcycles and helmets. On successfully completing the course you’ll get a CBT certificate valid for two years. 

If you are under 19 years old at this point you will be limited to 125cc and under-21s will be limited to 47bhp.

Getting a full bike licence

If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously made of the right stuff to be a biker, so keep going.

To get a full licence you have to sit a number of theory and practical riding tests, each consisting of two parts. Depending on your age, you will qualify in a series of steps, known as ‘staged access’. Riders who start at 19 or 24 and leapfrog a stage take the ‘direct access’ route.

Learners aged 17-18 can sit a theory and practical test for a full motorcycle licence, enabling them to ditch their L-plates and ride on the motorway. But it will only be an ‘A1’ licence, limiting them to 125cc and 15bhp – the same power and capacity limits they faced as learners.

At 19, if they’ve had their ‘A1’ licence for two years, they can take a further practical test to qualify for an ‘A2’ licence. This will limit them to 47bhp (35kw) and no more than 0.26bhp per kilogramme (0.2kw/kg).

Riders starting at 19 can also get an ‘A2’ licence but must take a theory and a practical test.

Once they’ve had an ‘A2’ licence for two years they can then take another practical test to finally get an ‘A’ licence, for a bike unlimited in power. This makes the minimum age to qualify for an unlimited bike 21.

Alternatively, riders who wait until they are 24 can take one theory and practical test for an ‘A’ licence.

The theory involves multiple choice questions and a hazard awareness exam using video clips. Both parts are taken using a computer. It costs £23. Free samples can be found here.

The practical test consists of a manoeuvres exam at a test centre (module 1) and an on-road exam (module 2).

They can be booked separately or together but must both be passed within two years of the theory test. Module 1 costs £15.50 and module 2 costs £75 on weekdays or £88.50 for evenings and weekends.

The whole shebang including training can come to around £700.

There are still important decisions to be made.

First of all, it’s important to note that a practical test taken on a twist-and-go automatic will only qualify you to ride twist-and-go automatics. To ride motorcycles with gears, you need to take the test on a geared bike.

There are three sub-categories of bike you can use for your test. That category will affect the sub-category you can ride after you have got that specific licence.

You must use the same sub-category machine for both test modules.

A practical test taken on sub-category A1 bike, which is a motorcycle between 120cc and 125cc, that has no more than 15bhp (11kw) and is capable of at least 55mph, will get you a category A1 ‘light motorcycle licence’.

You’ll be restricted to bikes with a maximum engine capacity of 125cc and power output of 15bhp.

Examples include Honda’s CBR125 and KTM’s Duke 125. You’ll be able to use motorways or carry pillions and can remove your L-plates.

To get an A2 licence, you’ll need to use a bike that’s at least 395cc, produces between 35bhp (25kw) and 47bhp (35kw) and has a power to weight ratio of no more than 0.26bhp per kilogramme (0.2kw/kg).

A bike that fits those regulations out of the crate is the Yamaha MT-03 or Suzuki GS500.

But a lot of bikes with sufficient engine capacity to comply have to be restricted to fit sub-category A2. They include the Kawasaki ER-6F and Suzuki GSX650F. If they are restricted, the normal unrestricted power can’t be more than double its new restricted power.

According to the Driver Standards Agency, if you intend to use an A2-restricted motorcycle, you must bring proof of the restriction to your test, or it will be cancelled.

It must be on headed notepaper from a main dealer, official importer or recognised specialist, and must show the motorcycle’s registration number. A dyno test certificate will not be accepted.

Finally, a category A unrestricted motorcycle must be at least 595cc and deliver at least 54bhp (40kw).

Training for a bike licence

If the sheer complexity of those choices and hurdles has given you a headache, don’t worry.

Whichever route you take you’ll need training and a decent school will guide you through the process from start to finish.

Many will provide everything from CBT to a place on a practical test in a package tailored to get you whichever type of bike licence you need.

The DVSA also provides these handy flow charts to help you work out what your first step needs to be.

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