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Motorcycle licence types explained

Clear up any confusion around motorbike licences

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Unlike a regular licence to drive a car, motorcycle licences are a bit more complicated than simply holding a full or a provisional licence.

There are not only restrictions on what type of motorcycle you can ride, but also at what age you can ride specific bikes.

Whether you’re a young rider looking to get on a bike for the first time or an experienced rider looking to get back on the road, you must make sure you have the right motorcycle licence for your age and the size of bike you want to ride.

Not having the right licence type could result in a range of penalties including a hefty fine, points on your existing licence, and a potential ban.

To ensure you avoid these penalties and to clear up any confusion you about which type you can apply for, here are all the motorcycle licence types explained.

Provisional licence & Compulsory Basic Training (CBT)

First and foremost, you must apply for your provisional driving licence. It costs £34 and you can apply for it when you’re 15 years and 9 months old, but it will only be valid from when you turn 16.

At 16 you can take the first step by signing up for your CBT. If you want to do anything more than just wash a motorbike or moped you must complete your basic training.

The CBT isn’t pass/fail like a conventional practical driving test, it’s an opportunity to get, as the name suggests some basic training and ensure you’re able to ride safely on the road.

There is an introduction and a quick eyesight check followed by four elements. Two are completed within a test area and two are out on the road.

Once you’ve completed these elements and your instructor assess that you’re safe to ride on the road, you’ll be given a DL196 certificate – this shows you’ve completed your CBT and are able to ride without supervision.

What can I ride with my CBT?

Just like with all the different motorcycle licence types, it depends on your age. If you complete your CBT when you are 16 you’ll only be allowed to ride a moped of up to 50cc and you must ride with L-plates on.

If you’re 17 or over, you’ll be able to ride a 125cc motorcycle but you must also ride with L-plates.

There’s only one situation where you don’t need a CBT to ride a moped. If you passed your full driving test before 1 February 2001, you’re able to ride a moped of up to 50cc without needing L-plates or to complete your CBT.

What happens after I pass my CBT?

First things first, remember that your CBT expires after two years so if you don’t progress and get a full licence within that time, you will have to retake it before you can ride a moped again.

Once you’ve completed your compulsory basic training you have a couple of different options depending on your age and experience.

The AM licence

If you want to move beyond your CBT and ride without L-plates and carry passengers, you can apply for your AM licence.

If you’re aged 16 or over the AM licence is the next step on the progressive route through the licence types.

It’s very similar to your basic CBT in terms of what you’re able to ride but as we mentioned above you won’t need your L-plates and you can carry a pillion passenger.

What do I need to get my AM licence?

In order to get your AM licence and begin your journey through the different licences, you’ll need to be at least 16 years old and have a valid CBT (DL196) certificate. You’ll also have to pass your theory test and the two-part practical.

Think of this stage as the equivalent of being a learner driver in a car. Your CBT is like early practice in a car (albeit a legal requirement) and your AM licence is like getting your driving licence.

How does the theory test work?

The motorbike theory test is essentially exactly the same as the car theory test. There are two sections to the test:

– A multiple-choice section which consists of 50 questions which you must answer in 57 minutes. You’ll need to answer 43 of the 50 questions correctly to pass.

– A hazard perception test which consists of a short video featuring hazards which you must spot. There are 75 points available in this section and you must achieve at least 44 to pass.

If you pass your theory, you’ll be able to book your practical test – Remember that you’ll have two years to pass your practical before your theory runs out and you’ll have to sit it again.

motorcycle licence

How does the practical test work?

On your practical test, you’ll be using the bike size that you’ll be riding when you pass. If you’re trying to get your AM licence, you’ll be taking your test on a 50cc moped or motorcycle with a top speed of around 30mph.

The A1A2 and A tests will be carried out on larger bikes with higher top speeds.

The practical motorcycle test is slightly different from the practical driving test as it’s split into two parts – module one and module two.

Module 1 is a 20-minute off-road section that requires you to show you can*:

  • Wheel the moped or motorbike and use the stand
  • Do a slalom and figure of eight
  • Do a slow ride
  • U-turn
  • Handle cornering and a controlled stop
  • Handle cornering and the emergency stop
  • Handle cornering and hazard avoidance

Module 2 takes place on the road and is around 50 minutes long. You must have passed the first module before you take Module 2.

In Module 2 you’ll have to do an eyesight test, answer safety questions then you’ll head out onto the road.

Here you’ll have to do some general road driving including stopping, pulling out from behind a parked vehicle, and a hill start.

Finally, there will be 10 minutes of independent riding where the instructor will ask you to ride a specific route via a radio to see how you ride and whether you make good decisions on the road.

The A1 licence

Essentially the same as the AM licence but for riders who are aged 17 and over and for more powerful bikes. With an A1 licence, you’ll be able to ride a bike up to 125cc (top speed of around 60mph), ride without L-plates, go on motorways and carry a passenger.

To get your A1 licence you must be at least 17 and have passed your CBT, your theory, and both parts of your practical motorcycle tests.

Passing your full motorcycle test will not only allow your ride faster and more powerful bikes but can also reduce the cost of your motorcycle insurance.

The A2 licence

How do I get an A2 licence?

The A2 licence is the first motorcycle licence type which can be accessed in two different ways – the direct access route and the progressive route.

Direct access route

If you are aged 19 and over, you can get your A2 licence in the same way as younger riders get there AM and A1 licences. All you need to do is complete your CBT and pass your theory and practical tests.

Progressive route

If you have held an A1 licence for 2 years, regardless of your age you can get an A2 licence by taking another practical test on a larger, 395cc minimum motorcycle.

You won’t have to resit your theory test though and if you pass you’ll be able to ride any A2 category bike (at least 395cc with a 20 to 35Kw engine power) without L-plates, on a motorway, and with a pillion passenger.

The A licence

Once again there are two ways you can get your A licence. You can get direct access by being 24 or over, having an in-date CBT and having passed your theory and practical motorcycle tests.

You won’t necessarily need any previous riding experience although it is strongly recommended that you do and if you want to practise for your A licence test, because of the bike size, you must be supervised by a qualified D.S.A. approved instructor.

You can also progress from your A2 licence if you’ve held it for at least two years and take another practical test, this time on a more powerful 595cc minimum bike.

Doing it this way means you can get your A licence at 21 rather than waiting till you’re 24.

If you have an A licence you are allowed to ride any size bike without L-plates and carry passengers.

These are the different motorcycle licence types and how you can get them. Whatever stage you’re at and however long you’ve been riding, it’s important that you’re riding a bike you feel comfortable with and can handle.

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