From a car licence to a motorcycle or scooter

If you have a full car licence, how can you get onto two wheels be it a 125 or A2?

BACK in the day, when ‘health’ and ‘safety’ were two separate concepts and neither was taken terribly seriously, most riders got on a motorcycle because it was easy. As a teenager a bike was more attainable than a car and you could ride some pretty crazy 250cc two-strokes on an ‘L’ plate.

Cars were expensive, slow and not that much safer than motorcycles. People graduated to them when they had families and had to knock the bike on the head because running two vehicles was something almost unheard of. But that was a long, long time ago, and these days virtually everyone who comes into bikes has already got a car licence. Even if they rode mopeds at 16, the right-of-passage that is taking your car test (remember the bragging rights over how soon you passed after your 17th birthday?) was almost inevitable.

So getting on two wheels now is a choice, a hobby, even if it’s one that takes over a large portion of your life. It’s not cheap or even terribly sensible, but neither is playing golf or having a model railway. So, let’s say you’ve decided to ride rather than hit small white balls around a field or spend hours painting tiny little cows to stand on plastic-grass hillsides next to your idyllic 1950s branch line. How do you get from ‘I wanna do that’ to actually doing it and passing your motorcycle test?

Until a few years ago, it was pretty simple. You learnt how to ride, took a test and – if you passed – got a bike entitlement. Unfortunately, those days are gone and now there’s a plethora of routes, restrictions and tests between a car licence and two wheels.

16 years old - Moped

The first thing to consider is your age. If you’re 16, you’re limited to a moped – that’s less than 50cc and 4kW (sorry, we’re under European legislation, so bhp is heading the same way as the lb or the pint – 1kW is 1.34bhp, so 4kW is 5.36bhp). To get on it, you need a provisional licence, which means meeting the age requirements, promising you can see, holding a UK passport or one of a limited number of other identifying documents and parting with £50. It can all be done online (https://www.gov.uk/apply-first-provisional-driving-licence#before-you-start) or via the Post Office.

Once you’ve got the licence, you need to complete your CBT, after which you’ll be able to ride with L-plates for two years until the CBT expires. Pillions are verboten when you have L-plates, though. Yes, you can take a moped test, both theory and practical, (allowing you to ditch the L-plates and carry passengers) but virtually nobody does.

17 years old with a car licence

However, let’s assume you’re 17 or above and already have a car licence. That gets rid of the need for a provisional licence, since a provisional bike licence is included on the car entitlement. Here’s where things get complicated but we're here to make it simple…

If you passed your car test before 1 February 2001, you can ride a moped – 50cc and 4kW – straight away. No test, no L-plates, take passengers, whatever. If you passed your car test on or after 1 February 2001, you need a CBT, and then you’ll be fully qualified to wield a moped, again with no L-plates needed.

The A1 motorcycle licence

But who wants to ride a moped? No, we want a proper motorcycle or scooter. So where do we stand?

Well, for a start there are now three classes of bike out there, each with their own age limits and performance envelopes, and each with multiple routes to a valid licence. So let’s take 'age' as the defining factor and try to work our way through the maze.

At 17 you’re able to get your first taste of a proper motorcycle, but it will be an ‘A1’ machine. That means a limit of 125cc and 11kW (15bhp). Your car licence will be a provisional bike entitlement, but you’ll still need a CBT before riding with L-plates. Again, most people stop here – the CBT will last two years, at which point you’ll be old enough graduate to an ‘A2’ bike. As with mopeds, you can take a test (theory and two-part practical – half off-the-road, half on-road) but relatively few people choose to do so.

The A2 motorcycle licence

If you’re 19 or over, you’re eligible for an A2 motorcycle. Now we’re talking about something that, if you’ve never ridden before, might actually feel fairly swift. The power limit is 35kW (47bhp) and there’s a strict power-to-weight limit of 0.2kW per kg of the bike’s unladen weight – that means at least 175kg if the bike is right on the limit, power-wise.

There’s no ‘stick and L-plate on and off-you-go’ here, though. You’re going to have to do some proper training and take some tests. First comes a CBT, if you don’t already have a valid certificate, and then a motorcycle theory test – again if you haven’t already passed it. Then you’ll need to be properly trained, under the wing of an instructor, before taking your two-part test on a bike over 395cc and with between 25kW and 35kW (33bhp and 47bhp). Fortunately, training schools – and you’re going to need to use one – will sort all this stuff out for you. Pass the test and, congratulations, you’re a motorcyclist.

The full A motorcycle licence

But if you did all this at 19 – or even at 20, 21 or 22 – you’ll be limited to that A2 bike, and therefore 47bhp, for at least two years. Sorry. After two years, you can take another two-part test, this time on a bike over 595cc and with at least 40kW (54bhp) to get your full ‘A’ licence and freedom to ride whatever you can afford or insure...

Again, with no opportunity to practise unsupervised on the bigger bike, some supervised training is well advised first.

The next big step comes at the age of 24. This is the age at which the powers-that-be in Europe now reckon you’re big and ugly enough to make your own choices about what you should be entitled to ride, so it’s the earliest opportunity for someone who’s never held a motorcycle licence before to go straight in at the deep end and get a full, ‘A’ class licence.

Of course, it’s not simple. If, at you’re 24th birthday, you already have an ‘A2’ licence but haven’t held it for more than two years, you can still go straight to a two-part test on an over-595cc, 54bhp-plus bike, presuming you’ve already got a valid theory test certificate (if not, you’ll need one to do the theory test too). If you hold a full A1 licence you can go straight to the A2 test.

Just a car licence or no licence at all

If you’re 24 or over and coming from nothing but a car licence, or from no licence at all, you’ll need to go through the CBT, motorcycle theory test and finally the two-part practical test on a bike over 595cc and 54bhp. Pass that lot and that’s it; you can legally ride anything. And you deserve it – just remember that even if you feel you’ve been taught everything, the learning process really starts at the moment you begin riding ‘for real’ out on the road.

The last thing you probably feel like doing is spending more money on more lessons, but a bit of post-test advanced training is probably about the wisest investment you could possibly make at this stage…

Want to know more?

Click here for our motorcycle learner tips section.

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