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How To Ride a Motorcycle
Alan Dowds · September 14, 2023
So you’ve decided you want to learn how to ride a motorbike and pass your test. Congratulations! A whole new world of fun, adventure, exhilaration and freedom awaits! But there are a few hoops to jump through, before you can transform yourself from a complete motorcycling novice into a learner, then perhaps an A2-qualified rider and finally a full, unrestricted licence holder.
Luckily, we’re here to help. This simple five-step guide will get you onto two wheels before you know it…
STEP ONE: Get Your Paperwork
Yes yes, everyone wants to be like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, rebelling all over the place. Or Tom Cruise with his need for speed. But we’re pretty sure even Marlon and Tom had passed their motorcycle proficiency tests…
There are a few pieces of officialdom that need to be complied with here, and the first step is a provisional driving licence. If you’re aged 16 or over, you can apply for an AM provisional licence for mopeds (50cc engine, restricted to 30mph), which is the earliest you can ride a powered two-wheeler in the UK. Once you hit 17, a licence with provisional A1 entitlement lets you into the big house: you can ride an A1 class bike – that’s a learner-legal bike, with engine size up to 125cc, making less than 11kw or 14.75bhp. There’s more information here.
Hang on a minute though: the provisional licence isn’t quite all you need to be legal, decent, honest and true on the road. Before you can lawfully ride on the road, you also need a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate. CBT is a fairly simple procedure, where you’re shown the very basic, er, basics of operating a bike, initially in an off-road environment (often a private car park, school playground or similar). That includes getting the bike on and off the stand, how to operate throttle, brakes and steering, and also how to manage the clutch and gears (on a geared bike – you can also do a conversion course if you’re used to a scooter). There are also some questions on The Highway Code, an eyesight check, and some basic manoeuvring around cones. The final stage is a couple of hours actually riding on the road with your instructor – very exciting.
The CBT isn’t a test which you pass or fail, rather it’s a short training course which you ‘complete’. So no big panic here: it’s the very lowest bar, and the vast majority of people finish it with no problems at all. Once you have the CBT certificate in your sweaty mitts, you’re legally allowed to ride a learner-legal bike, under 125cc, on the road with L-Plates displayed. You can’t carry a passenger, and can’t use motorways, but that aside, you’ll have your first taste of two-wheeled freedom. Brilliant! Ready to get on the road already? Read more about the CBT Course.
STEP TWO: Get The Kit and The Bike
Of course, you could just hire some kit and a bike to get started quickly on the two-wheeled pathway. Many folk do, and it’s worth considering if you want to get a CBT sorted so you can ride your bike as soon as you buy it. It’s also a decent plan if you want to dip a toe in the water and see if biking is for you (it will be, promise!).
But for us, you’re as well sorting your bike and riding kit early on. Owning a motorcycle is about more than just riding, and if you have one in your garage or garden, you’ll be building up the necessary skills and knowledge straight away. Even simple things like putting the bike on the centre stand, checking the oil, and securely locking it up all need to become second nature, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have it nailed. Ditto with riding kit: you can’t beat having your own gear, that fits properly and that you know your way around. Things like helmet cooling vents, jacket collars, boot adjustment, glove straps and the like might seem insignificant, but they can be a big distraction when you’re riding and need all your brain power focused on the road ahead. We’ve put together some guides on buying riding kit here and here. And we’ve got a ready-to-go first rider pack of kit from Spada, with a helmet, jacket, trousers, boots and gloves, from just £260.
There’s lots to think about when choosing a bike – we’ve written a blog about what to do here. Basically, for a novice, you have to make sure your bike is learner-legal, which generally means a 125cc machine. If you choose an automatic scooter with no gears, then your licence will only cover automatic bikes. Make sure the bike isn’t stolen, or has finance outstanding on it (you can check via HPI or other online checking services), and that it has an MOT test if it’s older than three years.
The last parts of the legal jigsaw for your bike is Vehicle Excise Duty – known by all but the most pedantic as road tax – and insurance. You can’t use your bike on the road unless it’s properly insured against third party risks. There’s some insurance help here from our friends at Quotezone.
STEP THREE: Get The Training, Pass The Test
Now comes the hard part – the full bike riding test. This is the biggie: a three-part inspection of your riding skills and knowledge, by a stony-faced government examiner, with no messing about. Eek. Luckily there’s lots of help out there to deal with it, and the first step is to know what’s coming.
The first part is the theory test – similar to what happens with car drivers. It’s a classroom-based multiple-choice affair, with questions from the Highway Code, and a two-wheeled angle. There are 57 questions to answer in 50 minutes, and it’s followed by a ‘hazard perception test’. This is a 15 minute test, where you watch short videos of real life riding situations, and click a button when you spot an approaching hazard. You can do practice tests online, or in a book, and we have a specific guide to it here.
Pass the theory test, and you’re onto the main course: the Module 1 and Module 2 practical riding test. Module 1 is a bit like a posh CBT: it’s an off-road affair, usually in bespoke training areas, and you’ll have to carry out a series of manoeuvres, some at speed, inside a course marked out with cones.
Module 2 is the biggie. The final frontier. The giant kahoona. You go out on proper roads, with the examiner following you on a bike or in a car, watching your every move. It’s no problem though – your instructor will have told you what to expect, the pitfalls to watch for, the mistakes everyone makes, and you’ll nail it. Forty-five minutes later, you’ll get your pass certificate, and you’re good to go. Top work!
STEP FOUR: Buy A 'Big' Motorbike
Okay, maybe not enormous. But there’s nothing like your first road ride on a full power motorcycle after passing your test. For me it was a Kawasaki GPz550 in 1989, after six months on a Honda CG125. It’s a miracle I’m still here.
Nowadays, there’s a slight complication depending on your age. You can only go straight onto an unrestricted A-class motorcycle if you’re over 24 and do what’s called the Direct Access Test on a bike of at least 595cc and 67bhp power output. If you’re younger than 24, you’ll probably be looking at an A2-class motorcycle, which is limited to 47bhp peak power output, though riders who’ve had an A2 licence for two years can take the full power test.
There are some brilliant bikes out there in both A2 and A classes. Indeed, some bikes can be fitted with power restrictors for A2 compliance, and can then be de-restricted when you pass your full test. There are limits to this though: the bike can’t make more than 95bhp before being restricted, and there are power-to-weight rules as well.
STEP FIVE: Keep It Going!
The biggest fallacy about motorcycle training is that it finishes when you get your full licence. It’s true that you’ll gain skills and experience naturally just from sheer miles ridden and time in the saddle. But there’s a lot to be said about post-test training, where advanced riders can assess your riding skills, and give advice and training on things like motorway riding and advanced hazard perception. That can quickly make you into a safer, sharper, more capable motorcyclist than just riding can do, and avoid common mishaps on the way.
The national Bikesafe rider training scheme is operated by UK police forces, and is an excellent pathway into advanced post-test rider training. Safety charities and organisations like RoSPA and the IAM run training too, but the first port of call is probably the place where you passed your test. Most riding instructors can help with post-test skill building, and they generally love to do so – it’s much more rewarding than doing CBT certificates all day…