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A brief history of the law changes that have effected learning to ride a motorcycle since 1960

1960 - Learner laws introducedChanges to Motorcycle Learner Law

All new riders are limited to riding 250cc machines with L-plates

1971 - New learner age raised to 17

Anyone wishing to ride a 250cc with L-plates must be at least 17. 16 year olds can still ride mopeds (49cc).

1977 - Mopeds restricted to 30mph

Largely due to bikes like Yamaha's FS1-E 50cc moped being able to do 60mph+ mopeds are restricted to 30mph, which is a serious come down for an entire generation.

1982 - New two part test (not for the first time)

Learners wishing to get a full licence have to take a Part 1 test which involves a figure of eight in a box, a slow ride and a sort of junction and one or two other manoeuvres. This test was conducted by authorised instructors and began a process that started to tie in the Department for Transport (that was later to become the DSA) to the motorcycle training industry. Typically the Part 1 Test cost £50.00 which included half a day of training. The Part 1 test meant that motorcycle training could be run on a commercial basis. Previously most people did not do much if any training, and although groups like the RAC and Star Rider existed most training schools were run on a casual basis with volunteers.

Part 2 remained pretty much unchanged with the test being conducted by the examiner watching from the side of the road. This was a pretty hit and miss affair with as much attention being given to what was worn as how the bike was ridden.

1982 - Introduction of 1 year ban

Learners that did not get some form of full licence (car, motorcycle etc.) inside two years were faced with a one year ban from riding motorcycles with L-plates. They could still ride a moped in the ban period. This was very unpopular amongst riders and led to many people riding illegally.

1983 - Learner motorcycles are reduced to 125cc

Another rush to get a licence gets underway (something we have become more and more familiar with over the past few years) as learners lose the right to ride their 250's. This marked the steep decline in the 250cc motorcycle market for road bikes that finally hit the floor in 1997 with the introduction of the Direct Access Scheme.

1990 - Learners can no longer take a passenger

Up until 1990 a learner could take a passenger on the back of a motorcycle as long as the passenger had a full motorcycle licence.

1990 - End of the Part 1 and 2 tests

The Part 1 test is scrapped and replaced by Compulsory Basic Training (see below) and the Part 2 test is replaced with the new "pursuit" test with the examiner using a radio to give direction as they followed behind in a car or on a motorcycle. This marks the birth of modern motorcycle training and testing. Companies like CSM Rider Training use the CBT as an opportunity to massively expand to the extent that by the mid 1990's CSM represents nearly 60% of the UK's motorcycle training. Many of the UK's current motorcycle training schools are on sites that were set up by CSM.

1990 - Introduction of CBT (Compulsory Basic Training)

The format of this course has changed very little over the years with the exception of the introduction of a 2-hour road ride in 1997. This made it a little more difficult for novice riders who have no road experience. All licence holders will now have to undertake a CBT course if they want to ride up to a 125cc machine on the road. Full car licence holders were still able to ride up to a 50cc moped without L-Plates and carry a pillion passenger.

1996

Only UK licence holders are able to take a Motorcycle test.

All new CBT certificates were valid for 3 years from date of issue.

All certificates issued prior to July 1996 were valid for 3 years from this date (i.e. expired in July 1999)

Re-tests revised – Candidates must wait 10 working days before retaking a motorcycle test.

1997 - Introduction of 5 different types of Motorcycle licence.

  • Automatic: this applies to any of the licences listed below if the test is taken on an automatic machine. All the other restrictions apply, along with the rider being restricted to an automatic only machine.
  • ‘A1’ Light Motorcycle: this licence is allows a rider to ride up to 125cc with no L - plates and with a passenger. The test must be taken on a motorcycle of between 75cc and 120cc.
  • ‘A2’ Restricted Licence: this licence allows a rider to use any machine regardless of cc providing that the machine does not produce more than 33bhp as its power output. If a machine produces more than 33bhp it is possible to restrict the machine with a kit. The restriction is in place for two years, at the end of which it is lifted with no need for a further test. The test must be taken on a machine of between 121cc and 125cc with at least 12bhp. 
  • ‘A’ Direct Access Scheme: this test allows the rider to use any machine regardless of cc or power output. The rider must be over 21 and the motorcycle must exceed 46.5bhp to take the test.
  • Accelerated Access: this is the same as the Direct Access Scheme, but the rider already holds one of the other types of motorcycle licence and is upgrading. The test conditions are the same as those for the Direct Access Scheme. However, there is no need to retake the CBT or Theory Test.

CBT becomes compulsory for everyone regardless of when his or her licence was issued.

Theory Test introduced for all provisional licence holders.

CBT syllabus altered to include a compulsory 2-hour road ride section.

Candidates must produce photographic identity when taking their practical motorcycle test and Theory Test.

1999

Introduction of new photo-card licences. Both parts of the licence (the paper and the card part) must be produced for the licence to be valid for the CBTTheory Test and motorcycle test, as well as any training course at Lightning Motorcycle Training.

2001

All new motorcycle test candidates must do a Theory Test regardless of their licence.

Full car licence holders who passed their car test before February 1st 2001 will still be able to carry a pillion and do not have to display L-Plates.

All new car licence holders must complete a CBT before riding a moped. Those who take a CBT for a moped will have a certificate that lasts for the life of their driving licence.

Anyone receiving a ban on his or her licence will also lose his or her CBT certificate and Theory Test pass certificate.

All CBT certificates issued for motorcycles and scooters from the 1st February 2001 will only last for 2 years.

The old two years on, one year off restriction for provisional motorcycle licences is abolished. A new provisional motorcycle licence will last for the life of the licence.

2002

Hazard perception test introduced as part of the motorcycle Theory Test. Candidates are required to click a button as they see 'emerging' hazards during a video clip. The Theory Test is extended by 20 minutes to include this element.

2003

New questions are added to the start of the practical motorcycle test. These questions relate to basic maintenance and precautions that need to be made to your machine to ensure safe riding. There are two questions; one asks you to tell the examiner how to adjust or check a part of the machine, and the other asks you to show the examiner how you would check or adjust part of the machine. A failure to answer both correctly will result in one minor point in the overall test result.

2009.

A huge range of proposals came in to bring the motorcycle test in line with the rest of Europe. The motorcycle test was split into two parts (again) - Module 1 and Module 2.

The new test was due to be implemented in August 2008 - but was postponed until March 2009. It involves a two part process. The first part is off road, covering extended slow control exercises (including a slow ride and U-turn), a 32mph emergency stop, a 20mph corner and a 32mph swerve. This is followed by the normal road test, but without the usual emergency stop and U-turn. The length of the test and cost was dramatically increased, and the location of the test centres changed too - going from 200 test centres to less than 50 that could provide both tests.

Almost certainly more people needed more training for this, and even for those that don't the costs rose. See below for a picture of the off road test layout.

The DSA announced that the new test was to be introduced on the 28th March 2009. They organised a meeting for all the motorcycle training schools for 23rd January 2008 at the National Motorcycle Museum where they intended to explain how it will be rolled out. In the event the meeting was a disaster and much of what was promised was never delivered.

The meeting came and went without anyone being much the wiser. As the deadline drew closer most of the details were still unavailable, but what was clear was that instead of 66 test centres being ready for the new test only 37 new multi-purpose test centres (MMA) were ready. This caused a massive jam for tests with many training schools faced with not being able to either buy tests or get to a local test centre. With two weeks' notice the test was postponed by six months until 28th March 2009.

Finally the new test went ahead on the 27th April 2009, and the lord be praised the UK now complies with the rest of Europe (who have largely ignored the whole process). The test is in two parts - Module 1 (£15.50) takes 15 minutes and will be done at an MPTC, Casual site or VOSA site. It involves a series of slow and high speed manoeuvres. The Module 2 (£75.00) takes about 40 minutes and is much the same as the old motorcycle test but does not have a U-turn or emergency stop.

In the event this was an absolute disaster and that not one single motorcyclist was better prepared for modern roads. The cost to training schools and to the public was exorbitant for no tangible benefit. Moreover the Driving Standards Agency, an organisation that already struggled to meet relatively simple obligations, went ahead and introduced an ill thought and ill executed test simply to "save national embarrassment" (Rosemary Thew - DSA CEO).

2010 - The Independent Ride is introduced to the Module 2.

The Module 2 test includes a section where the student is able to ride without anything being said by the examiner. All they are asked to do is follow some directions. As long as the ride is safe then even if the student goes the wrong way it is not a fail.

2010 - Motorcycle Test Review and Learning to Ride Project

After nearly 30 years of "modern" motorcycle testing and 20 years of the DSA relations between the industry broke down to such an extent that there was even a Transport Select Committee enquiry. The new Coalition Government ordered a review of the 2009 test, particularly with regard to how far people had to travel to the test centre and how Module 1 was conducted. This bore some fruits with Module 1 having some substantial "tweaks", but relations with the DSA remained fractious to say the least.

2013 - the 3rd European Driving Licence Directive (3DLD) 

Another raft of changes came in that saw an increase in the age for those who want to take the Direct Access Scheme and additional difficulties for younger riders.

The 3rd European Licence Directive (3DLD) had the following changes:

16+ - CBT.
17+ - A1 licence allowing a full licence up to 125cc.
19+ - A2 Restricted Licence allowing a full licence up to any size motorcycle but not exceeding 35kw/46.6bhp.
24+ - A (Direct Access) licence allowing a full licence for any motorcycle.

Unlike the current situation A2 does automatically upgrade to a full licence after 2 years. Instead people have to take either a test (or training) to upgrade to the new licence after 2 years. At present the training upgrade option does not exist and people have to take both Module 1 and 2 motorcycle tests again on the next size up motorcycle.

The consultation has been and gone, the results of which affected the landscape of motorcycle training. As with all these things rather than being transparent and help, the DSA has set its face against the training industry and is set to introduce such a ridiculously complicated and burdensome system that it will a wonder than anyone will want to learn to ride a motorcycle. Read all 93 pages and weep (consultation now closed).

The original 2009 Module 1 Motorcycle Test Layout (that was changed see 2009 Motorcycle Test)

Module 1 motorcycle test layout

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