Getting your ACU licence on an MSV trackday

There's a new way to get your ACU licence and it's simpler than you might think

I'd been talking about getting my ACU licence for years but, for whatever reason, up until two weeks ago, I never did it.

The thought of kitting up and riding to the ACU headquarters in Rugby to sit in a classroom and have various flags waved at me and then sitting through a test - something I hate doing - never filled me with much enthusiasm.

However, now there's another way. This year Motorsport Vision have teamed up with the ACU, so you can take your ACU licence as part of a trackday, or just turn up to one of their trackdays and slot in to the ACU licence test session.

The ACU licence test with MSV is a two-parter: a classroom session with a test at the end and an on-track assessment.

The day runs like a normal trackday, so you can arrive in the morning, head out on track and then prepare yourself for the ACU part. When the track closes at lunch, the ACU training begins.

Having been at Cartagena the day before, and arriving back in the UK in the small hours, I opted for just the ACU test, so I only had to be at Bedford for 1pm.

Once I arrived, myself and three other wannabe racers all headed to a room just off the Bedford Autodrome garages. In there we perched on our chairs and stared at a blank projector screen. With enough heat lamps on the wall to turn the place into a sauna, the hour long briefing could have been a very dry affair. However, thanks to Stuart Stevenson, our ACU coach, the session was light hearted and easy to understand. No nodding off in the corner from me.

There's a lot to take in, but it's important to filter out the stuff that's common sense and work on remembering the rules and regs; those are the things that'll catch you out in the test. We covered everything from how to register with a local club, to the all-important flag system, preparing your bike and yourself for race day and pretty much everything in between. If you've done your fair share of trackdays, nothing should come as a surprise.

After the briefing we were given a multiple choice with 18 questions. It'll take you 10 minutes to fill it out. Even though it's fairly straight forward, it's good to know that everyone you're lining up on the grid with has been through the same. You can't say that about trackdays.

After the written assessment it was time to face the inevitable and head out onto Bedford Autodrome in the soaking rain. On a brand new 2011 ZX-10R, with just over 200 miles on the clock.

Stuart stressed that you're not there to set a lap record and that he's there to observe your normal riding. Our group of four headed out onto the track, our mix of bikes would have looked out of place in even the loosest of Open Class races: a Monster 900, ex-British Daytona 675, a race-tuned GSX-R1000 on wets and me on a all-too-shiney stock ZX-10R.

I was last to be assessed, so for the first handful of laps I sat at the back, while Stuart sat one behind the lead rider. The track had a good centimetre of standing water in places, so the main mission for everyone was to stay on. The threat of an instructor sitting a couple of feet from your rear wheel was probably the last thing on everyone's mind. Every cloud and all that...

We came up against traffic from the trackday and either dealt with it or let it get on. I don't know the exact points you can fail your ACU assessed riding test on, but I'd imagine skittling someone else off the track would be quite high up the list of don'ts. So, Stuart's mantra of 'ride how you normally would' bounced around in my head as the rain streamed off my visor.

When it was my turn to be assessed, I got up to speed and got on with the job, riding as if I was making my way home after a long day: self preservation was on my mind, followed by avoiding huge patches of water and white lines. After that, any spare brain capacity got me braking, turning and accelerating in roughly the right places. While I didn't want to fall off from trying too hard, I didn't want to end up sliding across the grass due to cold tyres, so I was braking as hard as I could at the end of the back straight to try and build up some warmth in the front Bridgestone. I saw 172mph on the clocks passing a CBF1000 on the back straight before getting on the brakes just after the 200 metre board. At all times Stuart wasn't far behind, proving we weren't wobbling 'round like 125s in a CBT car park. I felt confident in the bike and the tyres and after a lap of being assessed, Stuart hauled everyone in.

Except me. I didn't see his signal, carried on and the next time I looked in my mirrors he wasn't there. Nor was anyone else. For a brief moment I thought I'd flunked the test by not seeing his signal to go into the pits. That last lap felt like it took forever. I pulled into the pits and went and found Stuart with an apology from my folorn face. "I thought you were enjoyijng yourself and you wanted to stay out there!" said a cheery Stuart. It seems I got away with it.

After the riding assessment, we went through our riding and written tests on a one-to-one basis with Stuart. I got 18/18 in the written test and sevens As and one C (for body position) in the riding assessment. If only my Physics A-Levels went so smoothly.

Stuart then ran us all through the ACU licence form and gave us some rough prices for eye tests (mine was £20 from Boots). With all the neccessary paperwork, all that was left was for me to fill in my payment details, select the type of licence I needed and fire the bundle of paperwork off to the ACU.

The range of emotions I went through are strangely addictive. I've only ever felt them a few times before in my life. Once was riding the automatic VFR1200 FA, where I started the day feeling like I had been hypnotised to be unable to remember how to ride and the second was, more obviously, when I did my bike test proper.

I started the day at Bedford questioning my ability. I ride bikes for a living but was I good enough? I finished the day with a huge sense of satisfaction and the proof that I'm ready to race. If only I'd done it all those years ago.

I've been talking about doing my ACU licence for years but never got around to doing it. Until last week, that is. The thought of travelling to Rugby to sit in a classroom and have flags waved at me was never that appealing. That and the fact I had to take a test, I hate taking tests.

Now, there's a new way to get your ACU licence. MotorSport Vision have teamed up with the ACU to offer ACU licence tests as part of their trackdays. You can either book in on the trackday and choose to take your ACU licence as a bolt-on or, just take the ACU licence and not join in on the trackday.

Having got home from Cartagena in the early hours, it was sleep I needed and not track time, so I opted for the ACU licence test-only which meant I didn't have to be at the trackday's 7:30am sign-on at Bedford Autodrome.

I arrived at Bedford at around 11am, enough time to mooch around, sign on and grab a coffee. When the trackday stopped for lunch, the ACU training began.

The ACU test comprises of two parts: a written test and an on-track assessment. Myself and three other wannabe racers headed to a room just off the main pit garages where we perched on our chairs and stared at a blank projector screen. The room's electric heaters threatened to make this session as dry as a sauna, but thankfully our ACU instructor, Stuart Stevenson kept things lively.

In the hour-long session we were shown plenty of slides, covering everything from how to join a club, to the all-important flag system, to preparing yourself and the bike. There's a lot to take in but if you've done a fair few trackdays, it'll feel very familiar.

After the briefing session, we were handed an 18 question multiple choice test. It took me around 10 minutes to fill it out. It's reassuring to know that when you line up on the grid, everyone around you has taken the same test. You can't say that about a trackday.

Once we'd all completed the written test, it was time to face up to the unavoidably rain-soaked Bedford circuit. On a brand new 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R, with 200 miles on the clock.

Stuart gave us all a quick briefing before heading out onto track. The main message was 'you're not here to set your fastest lap, ride how you normally would'.

With that fixed in my mind, we lined up ready to head out on track. Our line-up would have looked odd at even the most liberal of open-class club races: a Monster 900, an ex British Supersport Daytona 675, a race tuned GSX-R1000 on wets and a bog-stock ZX-10R. Nevermind, we headed out onto the track, with Stuart positioned behind the lead rider and the rest of us behind Stuart.

Our pace was set with the lead rider. We started off fairly cautiously as we were out on track with the normal trackday session. So some bikes were coming past and we were coming up on others. I don't know what you need to do to fail your ACU riding assessment, but skittling another rider onto the grass is probably high up the list of don'ts. Discretion being the better part of valour; it's probably not a good idea to re-create your favourite Rossi overtakes on random trackday punters when your ACU instructor is sat a couple of metres from your rear wheel. Save that for your first race, I imagine.

After a couple of laps, Stuart waved the next rider past and this went on until it was my turn to go. I rode in the exact way I do when I'm coming home knackered in the rain: self-preservation was my number-one aim, followed by avoiding large patches of water and white lines. Any spare brain power went into braking and turning in at the right time and being as smooth as I could. I was conciously trying to keep heat in my front tyre. The ZX-10R is new to me and this was the first time I had it on track, so I couldn't resist the temptation to open it up. Towards the end of the lap I saw 172mph on the clocks down the back straight, passing a trackdayer on a CBF1000 into the braking zone, braking as hard as I could given the conditions. Instructor Stuart was just a few metres behind me taking it all in.

At the end of my lap Stuart signalled and everyone entered the pits. Everyone except me that is. I wasn't looking at his signal and carried on riding. A corner later I looked in my mirrors and Stuart wasn't there. No-one was there. The lap ahead was one of the longest I've ever ridden. Next time around, I pulled into the pits and rushed to find Stuart, spitting out an apology from my folorn face. "You looked like you were enjoying yourself, I guessed you wanted to stay out for another lap" said a cheery Stuart. I think I got away with it.

After the riding assessment, Stuart ran us all through our written and riding scores on a one-to-one basis. I scored 18 out of 18 on the written test and seven As and one C (for body positioning) on my riding test. If only my Physics A-levels went so smoothly.

After being given our certificates, Stuart ran us through the next steps to getting our licence. He explained about the eye test and gave us some rough prices (mine was £20 from Boots) and he ran us through the ACU licence form to make sure we knew what boxes we had to tick. To get my licence for the year and my novice bib (!) cost me £50. The ACU licence test with MSV cost £150.

I went through a range of emotions on the day and even though I'm an experienced road rider, I had my moments of self-doubt. First, as the test paper loomed infront of me and secondly, putting my lid on and heading out into the pouring rain. However, after the assessment I felt like I'd chalked up a serious milestone. If only I'd done it sooner.

Click here if you're interested in taking your ACU licence with MSV. I'd thoroughly recommend it.