Guide to Motorcycle Licences in the UK

Getting around by motorbike makes sense these days. Motorcycles and scooters are cheap to run, good for the environment and easy to manoeuvre in traffic. It doesn't actually take that long to learn to ride a scooter or a motorbike compared to a car, and you can learn to ride and take a test on your own bike, or on a training centre's rental motorcycle. There is one small issue, though: The Government is continually bringing in new regulations for motorcycle tests. It's tough to keep up sometimes.

The result is that in the UK it's harder for would-be bikers to get on the road. In fact, of the 23 million motorbikes in Europe, only 1 million are ridden in the UK. This article will demystify the process of getting on the road, whether you want to drive a 50CC moped or the latest race bike. No matter what size you ride, make sure you arrange a suitable motorcycle insurance policy first!

Table of Contents

How to get a Motorcycle Licence

To get a motorcycle licence in the UK, you'll first need to get a provisional licence (if you don't have a full car licence yet) and take your CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) course, which will let you gain experience on the road with L plates. When you’re ready to ditch your L plates and ride a 125cc or larger motorbike on the motorway, you’ll need an A1, A2 or A motorcycle licence by taking a combination of theory test and 2-module practicals.

Age restrictions means you must be at least 17 years old to get an A1 licence, 19 to get an A2 licence or 21 or 24 to get an A licence—you can get a full A licence as early as age 21 if you’ve progressed up through the ranks and earned your A2 licence at age 19 and then spent 2 years riding an A2 category bike. Those without 2 years’ experience on an A2 must wait until age 24 to get the full A licence.

chart showing how to get your A1, A2 and A motorcycle licences

Motorcycle Licences by Age

The type of motorcycle licence you can get changes at ages 16, 17, 19, 21 and 24.

What bike can I ride at 16 years old?

You may ride a moped or scooter of 50CC or below from your 16th birthday onwards. You just need to get a provisional licence and take Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) which you can read more about in our article on Learning to Ride a Motorbike. You cannot ride a motorcycle at age 16.

What bike can I ride at 17 or 18 years old?

From age 17, you can ride a bike of up to 125cc. You'll first need to take a CBT (at which point you can ride on L plates, but not on the motorway) followed by the theory and 2-part practicals to get your category A1 license. Once you have your A1 licence you can ride without L plates and on the motorway.

What bike can I ride at 19 years old?

Once you turn 19 you can ride a bike of up to 35kW, also known as a class A2 bike. You'll need to take a CBT followed by theory and 2-part practicals.

However in this age bracket you need to think about what kind of riding you want to do and what size motorcycle you eventually want to ride. If riding a full power motorcycle is not for you, then simply take your category A1 test and modules 1+2 on your 11KW 125cc motorcycle or scooter. But if you expect you'll want to ride a more powerful machine, then go for the A2 category now and save yourself a step.

What bike can I ride at 21 years old?

All 21 year olds can go for the A1 licence for bikes up to 125cc or the A2 licene for 35kW motorbikes. In addition, some 21 year olds can get the full A motorcycle licence for any size bike—but you can ride a full power bike if and only if you have already ridden an A2 bike for two years or more. If you're going for an A1 or A2 licence you'll need your CBT, theory and 2-module practical tests; those going for the full A test just need to take the 2-mode practical (they've already satisfied the CBT and theory requirements getting the A2 licence previously).

What bike can I ride at 24+ years old?

You can ride any bike you like from age 24 onwards. Those without an existing motorcycle licence can take a direct access 'crash' course—in that case you just need to get a CBT certificate, and then you can take your category A theory and module 1+2 categories on your full power motorcycle. Those taking the progressive route from an A2 to A licence just need to take the 2-module practical on a full-size motorcycle.

Types of Motorcycle Licence Explained

Mopeds aside, there are 3 types of motorcycle licence: A1 for motorbikes up to 125cc, A2 for machines up to 35kW and the class A for full-size motorcycles.

A1 Motorcycle Licence

Once you have passed the A1 motorcycle test (theory plus module 1 and 2 practical tests), you may then ride your 125cc without L plates and you may drive on the motorway. You can also ride with a passenger (pillion) and will not need to retake the CBT again even if you progress onto higher categories. This is what is commonly known as the Class A1 Licence.

In reality, if you are over 19 you may want to skip the A1 test and go straight to the A2 licence at this point. The question you have to ask yourself is, “will I want to ride a motorcycle over 125cc/11KW in the future”? If the answer is yes, then why not take the A2 test? It will be cheaper for you in the long run.

A2 Motorcycle Licence

Provided you are over 19, you can take a test which will allow you to ride an A2 motorcycle. The class A2 motorbikes are bikes which are up to 35KW in power.

The DVLA measure in KW instead of CC on bigger bikes, as the speed they do all comes down to the power to weight ratio. The Suzuki RGV 250 and the Suzuki LS 650 Savage, for example, are both 35KW bikes, as their weights are very different.

There are two ways to earn your A2 licence: the direct route (for those without a motorcycle licence) or the progressive route (for those who’ve had the A1 licence for at least 2 years). For the direct route you’ll need a provisional licence + CBT + theory and 2-module test, or if you already took the A1 test at least 2 years ago, the progressive route lets you just retake your module 1 and module 2 again, but on a bigger bike.

The rule of thumb is that whatever size bike you want to ride, you have to take or retake your 2-part module 1 and 2 tests, along with your theory, on a motorcycle of the appropriate size.

Category A Full Motorcycle Licence (for all bikes)

When you get to the full power, 'category A' bikes, those motorbikes which go over 35KW, the route is the same. If you are over 24 years old, you may follow the familiar path of CBT + theory + 2-module practicals, but it all has to be done on a full-power bike this time.

If you already have your A1 or A2 licence, you can skip the CBT and theory.

If you happen to be 21-23 years of age, you'll need two years' experience with an A2 before you're allowed to take your category A.

In Summary:

An A1/A2/A test all require you to pass a theory test, and a module 1+2 test on the relevant power machine. The power breaks are:

  • 11KW (17 and 18 year old riders)
  • 35KW (19 to 23 year old riders)
  • Full power motorcycles (24 year old and over or 21 through progressive route)
UK Motorcycle Licence CategoriesMotorbikes you can rideRequirementsMinimum Age
A1Light motorcycle up to 11kW (and a power-to-weight ratio not more than 0.1kWper kg) and 125 ccCBT, theory test + 2-module practical test17
A1Motor tricycles with a power output not more than 15kWCBT, theory test + 2-module practical test17
A2Standard motorcycle up to 35kW (and a power-to-weight ratio not more than 0.2kWper kg)Direct access route: CBT, theory + 2-module practical19
Progressive access route: Minimum of 2 years experience on A1 motorbike + 2-module practical test
AMotorcycles of any size/power, with or without a sidecar, and motor tricycles with a power output over 15kWDirect access route CBT, theory + 2-module practical24
Progressive access route: Minimum of 2 years experience on A2 licence + 2-module practical test21

Motorcycle Tests

To get a full UK motorbike licence, you will need to take a theory test and two practical tests, known as the module 1 off-road motorcycle test and the module 2 on-road motorcycle test. For the A1 test and when taking the direct route to A2 or A you’ll need to take the theory and 2-module practical tests. However, if you are progressing through the licence categories then you only need to take the practical tests each time you move up a category (i.e., from A1 to A2 or A2 to A)—you won’t need to take the theory each time as you already took it for the A1 test.

Let’s break down the components of the full motorcycle test.

Motorcycle theory test

The theory test is very similar to a car theory test. It is based around multiple choice questions and a computer generated environment. In the simulated ride you will click to identify hazards and issues in the road ahead. You can book your motorcycle theory test here.

Motorcycle theory test practice

Before taking your theory test, you'll want some practice. You can run simulations of a theory test online. Without passing the theory test you cannot progress.

Module 1 bike test

The module 1 test is all about bike control in off-road or slow driving situations. In order to pass you will have to do U-turns, slaloms, a figure of eight and emergency stops. If you pass, you can progress to the module 2 test.

Module 1 is really about getting you comfortable with manoeuvring a motorcycle and stopping safely in emergency situations. The hardest part of riding a motorcycle of any size is low speed manoeuvres.

Module 2 bike test

The module 2 test covers independent road riding at full speed, bike safety and hill starts. This part of the test includes the important road awareness, anticipation and life saver checks. It is here that you will learn how to anticipate other road users actions and avoid potential issues before they happen.

You can either take module 2 directly after module 1 (say in the next day or two as it usually takes around two or three days' intensive training to pass both the module 1 and 2 tests) or you can take a break between modules to add to your road experience but you must pass module 2 within 6 months of passing module 1.

How much does a motorcycle license cost?

The costs of taking your actual test will be determined by when you take your test. The theory test and module 1 cost £23 and £15.50, respectively, no matter when you take them. But the module 2 test that costs £75 during weekdays costs £88.50 on evenings, weekends and bank holidays. According to GOV.UK website, here are the costs of a motorcycle test:

Test typeWeekdaysEvenings, weekends and bank holidays
Theory test£23£23
Module 1 motorcycle test (off-road)£15.50£15.50
Module 2RID motorcycle test (on-road)£75£88.50
Total cost for theory + 2-module practical£113.50£127
Extended test for disqualified riders (on-road)£150£177

All in all, the cost of a motorcycle test is small when compared to the total costs of motorcycle ownership—of which the cost of motorcycle insurance is typically the largest recurring expense.

Motorcycle Licence and Test FAQ

How do you get your motorcycle licence?

To be legally permitted to operate a motorcycle on the road you will need to prove that you can operate the vehicle safely and responsibly. This is done by assessing your driving ability with a formal, certified test and your road safety knowledge with a written theory test. (There is also a requirement to complete a CBT or Compulsory Basic Training but you will have done this first in order to start practicing before your tests.) Once you have passed the tests you will be given a licence (A1, A2 or A) meaning that you have legal permission to drive a motorcycle up to the size limit for each category on the road, carry passengers, and ride your motorbike on motorways.

Is the motorcycle theory test the same as for a car?

There are some similarities in the written theory test for a car and motorcycle, both of the tests are multiple-choice and follow much the same format. However, the content of the tests is completely different to reflect the requirements of operating the different vehicles. There are variances in the knowledge you need to have depending on the type of vehicle you are driving and the theory tests reflect that.

How quickly can I pass my test?

In theory, you could start from scratch and take a direct access test, ironically also known as a crash course, in about a week. These block courses are very intensive and sometimes residential. You can do a block course for every size and type of licence.

Another popular route to becoming an experienced motorbike rider is to pass the A1 (35KW) test in the first instance and ride around on a 125CC motorcycle for an extended period. A 125CC bike will go up to 60 or 70 miles per hour and will allow you to build up the confidence and road awareness you need to ride a more powerful bike safely. From there you can progress to the A2 and A licences so long as you meet the age/timing requirements.

Can you get a motorcycle licence at 16 years of age?

An AM moped licence will allow you to ride a motorcycle at 16 years of age but the size of the vehicle that you are allowed to operate is restricted to a 50cc moped. If you wish to operate a large vehicle you must wait until 17 years or older to obtain the A1 category and operate up to a maximum engine size of 125cc motorcycle.

How old do you have to be to obtain a full A motorcycle licence?

Depending on whether you achieve your licencing qualifications via the ‘progressive route’ or via the ‘direct access route’ makes a difference to what age you are permitted to drive motorcycles of any size.

Direct Access Route: Riders with no previous road experience complete a series of tests and are allowed to ride a bike of any size at the age of 24 or older.

Progressive Route: A rider of 21 years or older can get their full A motorcycle licence if they earned their A2 at age 19+ and have been operating a category A2 motorcycle for at least 2 years.

When do you need a provisional motorcycle licence?

Even though you can ride a motorcycle up to 50cc from the age of 16, you will need a provisional licence or a full car licence with provisional entitlement if you want to ride. So those without a full car licence will need a provisional licence to start learning on a motorcycle (this is the same provisional licence you'd obtain for a car).

How long is a motorcycle provisional licence good for?

A provisional licence lasts for a period of 10 years. However, your CBT only lasts for 2 years. If you do not take your theory and 2-module practicals within this time you will have to retake the CBT to continue riding on L plates.

Do you need a motorcycle licence to ride a Vespa?

It depends on the size of your Vespa. You can ride anything under 50cc (e.g., the Vespa Primavera 50cc) from a minimum age of 16 on a provisional or full car licence provided you have a valid CBT (they're good for 2 years) and display L plates. Those planning to ride a 50cc Vespa for many years to come will want to take the AM moped licence to avoid having to retake the CBT every 2 years.

Those 17 years and older can drive a 125cc Vespa (e.g., the Vespa Sprint 125cc) on a provisional or full driving licence but you must display ‘L’ plates and complete the CBT before hitting the road. As above, to avoid retaking the CBT every 2 years you'll want to take your A1 motorcycle licence which lets you ride a 125cc motorcycle. Anything larger than the 125cc engine size will require an A2 or full A motorcycle licence.

Can you get a motorcycle licence without a motorcycle?

If you are new to motorcycle riding but wish to pass your test there are several accredited schools that will be happy to provide you with a suitable vehicle on which to practice and complete your test.

Can you ride a motorcycle on a car licence?

If you have a full car licence and are above the age of 17 then you are permitted to ride a motorcycle up to a 125cc engine size and while displaying ‘L’ plates. This means that you can operate a motorcycle but there are a couple of restrictions. Having ‘L’ plates means that you are not legally permitted to carry a passenger, and you cannot ride your motorcycle on the motorway or carry pillion passengers.

Can you drive a car on a motorcycle licence?

While you are able to ride certain types of motorcycles on a car licence, the opposite is not true. There is nothing that allows holders of a motorcycle licence to operate a car. If you wish to drive a car then you will be required by law to complete and pass the theory and practical tests associated with correct car licencing.

Do you need a motorcycle licence to get insurance?

Most insurance companies will require that you are in possession of a full motorcycle licence or a provisional licence before providing you with appropriate insurance coverage for your vehicle.

Can you obtain a motorcycle licence before a car license?

If you wish to only operate motorcycle and have no desire to drive a car then you can legally obtain your full motorcycle licence via the direct access route or progressive route. There is no legal requirement for you to acquire a full car driver's licence.

What Category is a Full Motorcycle Licence?

A category A motorcycle license is a full motorcycle licence that will let you ride any size motorbike. It can get very confusing since there are also A1 and A2 licences—these impose restrictions on the size of motorbike you can ride. An A1 lets you ride a machine up to 125cc; an A2 lets you ride a motorcycle up to 35kW.

Safe Riding

The majority of motorbiking in the UK takes place at weekends, for leisure. These riders are often out riding in large groups. If you plan to do this type of riding, the need to build your riding skills to a more advanced level will be more pressing. Even after having passed your test, it could well be that you lack confidence on the road. Many bikers choose to go on to take extra advanced riding courses after passing their category A for this very reason.

Learning to ride a bike safely means practising riding on your own and getting used to the road. This is true whatever bike you are riding, but is especially true of higher-powered bikes over 35KW. Allow yourself time to grow into the category of machine you ride.

A licence is not an indication of road experience. It merely means you have the basic understanding and the legal right to ride a motorcycle of a certain size. Take the time to build up your skills and experience and ALWAYS RIDE WITHIN YOUR LIMIT.

Summary

This article should provide answer most of the questions you have around taking your motorcycle test and the licencing requirements that you are expected to comply with by law. For further information, there are additional resources available at GOV.UK and the RAC websites.

Still unsure which motorcycle test you want to take?

Use an age based calculator to find out which bike test you can take today.

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