This Entry describes the requirements to pass your motorbike test in the UK. However, most of the manoeuvres and guidance listed here are applicable across the world, and besides, the rules and regulations are constantly changing, so do check what the current position is with your instructor.
You need some sort of licence even when you are learning. For brand new riders this will be a provisional licence. Those who already have a car licence will find that this entitles them to ride. In both cases, you must display red L plates, not go faster than 45 mph, and not ride a bike bigger than 125cc1.
In the UK (except NI), you must first pass Compulsory Basic Training. This covers the basics and takes you from changing gear, slow-speed riding right up to a real session riding on the road proper. It typically takes a day and costs about £100.
While you could get your mate to show you what to do, it is well worth investing in lessons from professionals. They have the experience to know what the examiner is looking for, and will also have several techniques to suggest to help you manage the various manoeuvres. In addition, if you have different instructors watching you ride, they will pick up different things that need correction (eg, keeping the back brake on too long, doing shoulder checks too soon or too late, having your arms too stiff).
The Theory Test
Before you can sit the practical test, you need to pass a theory test. This is in 2 parts: a multiple choice set of 36 questions on the Highway Code, and a Hazard Perception video test showing 15 scenarios where you have to click when you spot a developing hazard. This could be a pedestrian stepping off the footpath, a fire-engine coming from a side road, or someone emerging from behind a van. A useful self-talk when observing is 'there's the milk-float, where's the milkman?' Get familiar with these from free tests available online, or on DVDs.
The test will require you to demonstrate various specific manoeuvres, namely:
Push round - The examiner will ask you to get off the bike, and push it round so that it is facing in the opposite direction on the other side of the road. It is important to make sure that the road is clear before starting to push, and to keep your right hand over the front brake in case you need to stop.
U-turn (ride round) - Usually immediately after the push-round, the examiner will ask you to get on the bike, start it up, and ride it around so that it is facing in the opposite direction at the other side of the road. In the UK one drives on the left, so your bike will be on the left-hand-side of the road. Check the road is clear, select first gear and do left shoulder check, indicate right and do right shoulder check, and move off. Some people find it easiest to start turning straight away; others find that they need to ride a bit and get their balance before starting to turn. Try both techniques to see which you find easier, but whatever you do don't put your foot down during the turn. Keep looking over your right shoulder as you turn - find something to look at in the direction you wish to go, such as a mark in the road. Do not look at the footpath or that is where you will end up! Finish the manoeuvre by looking over left shoulder, indicating left, and pulling up by the kerb.
Angled start - The examiner will ask you to pull in behind a parked car. Do not stop too far out from the kerb or you may be asked to bring it closer! Indicate right, shoulder check, and pull out slowly, leaving enough space between yourself and the parked car without crossing the centre white line. Then get up to normal speed and position for that road.
Hill start - This is the same as pulling out normally, so use the usual gear/left check/indicate/right check routine, but keep your right foot firmly on the back brake as you release the clutch and give a hefty turn on the throttle. As the clutch 'bites' release the back brake.
Controlled stop - The examiner will chose a location that allows him/her to get off their bike, while you do a succession of left turns to bring you back round the block in a circle (OK, a square). Once you are within sight again, the examiner will raise a hand to indicate that you should stop as quickly as possible. Do this by squeezing firmly on both front and back brakes - but mostly the front brake. Make sure you are travelling in a straight line. If you lock one of the brakes, release the lever and press it again. Once you have stopped, find first gear, left shoulder check, indicate left and pull over at the side of the road.
Apart from the manoeuvres listed above, the following play an important part in the test:
Centre stand - You will have to demonstrate taking the bike on and off its centre stand. When taking it off, hold the left handlebar with your left hand, and push firmly and steadily from the rail at the back of the bike with your right hand. Once it's off the stand, put your right hand on the front brake before mounting. To put it on the stand, imagine pulling a cardboard box apart - put your right foot on the stand, and pull up on the back rail. You can use your right knee to assist the upward movement. Do not yank on the handlebars.
Riding in traffic - The examiner will spend most of the test observing you in traffic. You should obey the rules of the Highway Code at all times. Approaching traffic lights that are green, ease off slightly on the throttle so that you could stop if they turn amber. Choose neutral if you are going to be at the lights for a while, but at a pedestrian crossing you can stay in first. Get up to the speed for the type of road you are on as quickly as it is safe to do so. Exaggerate your use of mirrors and shoulder checks so that examiner can see you are doing them - check your mirrors every 15 seconds or so, as well as before and change of speed or direction. Look ahead and plan your line. Be aware of any potential hazards.
Minor and major faults - In the test itself, you are allowed up to 15 minor faults, but 1 major will fail you instantly. Minor faults are for things like late shoulder checks, hesitation at junctions, or not getting up to speed. The classic major fault is putting your foot down during the U-turn. (Try keeping your foot over the back brake to avoid this.) Other major faults include pulling out in front of other vehicles, or causing another road user to change their speed or direction. You won't fail for stalling, although repeated stalling might show that you are not in control of the vehicle.
'Show me-tell me' questions - Before and after the test your examiner will ask you a couple of questions. Before the test there will be one 'show me' and one 'tell me' question, on subjects such as tyre pressure, fluid levels, reflectors and lights, drive chain, kill-switch, or even the horn. The full range of questions can be found on the DSA website (DVTA in NI). At the end of the test you will be asked another question - this may be about carrying a pillion, or about the road surface.
In the UK (but not NI), if you are over 21 with a car driver's licence you can take an accelerated route into riding big bikes by doing a Direct Access course. This is offered by many different riding schools and bike manufacturers, and can take as little as a week. After this you are not restricted to the 33bhp, and can ride any bike you like. A useful website for deciding which route to learning is best for you is at getintobiking.com.
What if I fail?
Do not panic about failing. If you ask around your biking friends, you will doubtless find that some of the best riders did not get their test on the first attempt. Most famously and publicly was Claudio von Planta, the cameraman who accompanied Ewan and Charley2 on 'The Long Way Round'. The pass rate varies from centre to centre, but is normally somewhere around 60%. So about 1 in 3 people fail. It's not the end of the world - you can re-sit as often as you like. You will get a list of your faults, so you can concentrate on the areas that need to get better. Try not to set yourself deadlines such as 'Oh I have to get it before I go on this road trip in June!'
What if I pass?
After you've finished celebrating, you get to look at lovely pictures of shiny new bikes, and kick a few tyres in showrooms. Then remind yourself that you're likely to drop it while you hone your riding skills - might you be better off with an older, used bike? Consider the weight and height of the bike, as well as the riding position. For 2 years after you pass, you will be restricted to a power of 33bhp (25kW), although restrictors can be fitted to most bikes. In NI, you must wear R plates, and restrict your speed to 45 mph for 1 year after the test. Send off your licence and your test pass certificate to be updated. Take photocopies before you do, so that you can check that no details have been missed when you get your licence back. And remember - keep her shiny side up!