What do you need to get on the road? What types of licence are there? How do you get yours?
To get on the road, legally, you need three things – a provisional A class licence, a bike with insurance that’s valid for you to ride and to have successfully completed Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) in the last 2 years. These will let you ride around on a 125, with L plates on.
The other option is to go for a Direct Access Scheme (DAS) to work towards a licence that’ll let you ride big bikes from the off. More about both of these routes below. If you’re under 21 then there are restrictions on the type of licence you can get and you need to work up towards a full A licence.
My own personal route was to complete the CBT and get myself a 125 (Yamaha MT-125), which I’ve been riding around and commuting on for the last couple of years. I’m now working on my DAS, so hopefully passing on to an A licence soon.
You can apply for a provisional licence here. However, if you already have a car licence, you likely already have provisional entitlement for motorbikes too. The types of bikes that your licence will entitle you to ride will vary depending on your age (full table here) – in short, if you’re over 24, you can work towards your full A licence (any bike), if you’re younger then there are restrictions on the power of bike that you can ride.
A CBT is a one day course that will be run by a motorbike school – there’s loads of these around you can find ones local to you here. The standard of training should be the same, wherever you do it – the training providers are all approved by the DVSA.
Currently you can complete your CBT on either a geared bike or an automatic – I’ve heard that this may change.
Once completed (and it’s completion rather than pass/fail) then you can get out on anything up to a 125 for the next two years – when if you haven’t passed your actual test, then you’ll need to re-do the CBT.
Direct Access is a bit more like learning to drive a car. You take lessons with an instructor, probably starting out on a 125, then switching to a bigger bike – if you’re going straight to your A licence then this will be a 600 probably. Some of the training will be off road, some on road.
Most schools will offer some sort of pre-paid package that may or may not come with a “guaranteed pass” (this doesn’t mean they’ll fix your test, but, you’ll keep getting free lessons until you do). You can also pay as you go for lessons – at time of writing, expect to pay in the region of £30 per hour, which includes bike hire. Having ridden a reasonable amount in the last two years and not picking up too many bad habits, this is the option I’ve chosen as it should be cheaper.
I’ve done two CBTs and deliberately chose to do them with different schools, so that I could get some comparison (if you only know what one school is like, how do you know it’s good?) – I really liked Roadcraft in Nottingham, so decided to do my DAS there. You can also get a feel for the schools by google reviews or similar and at the very least any school should have fully qualified instructors.
There are three parts to the motorbike test – theory, Mod 1 and Mod 2.
The theory test is pretty much the same as you’ll do for a car – a series of questions on the highway code, signs, hand signals (useful…) etc followed by some hazard perception tests. I’ve written a bit more on the theory test here.
Mod 1 is an off road* test of basic motorbike control. *Off road as in a big car park, not enduro!
Mod 2 is an on road test to ensure you can ride safely on the road.
What’s the best route?
Obviously that’ll depend on you.
For older newbies (I’d put myself in this camp) the DAS is popular. I intended to go that way, but, found it took me a while to get to grips with riding a geared bike, so changed plans and got myself a bike to build up some experience first. Two years on, I’m pleased that I did as I feel a lot more confident riding a big bike and can concentrate on learning to pass the tests rather than needing to concentrate fully on the mechanics of riding.