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UK Guide to Motorcycle Licences


The licensing laws for motorcycles will change on January 19th 2013. This guide is designed to help riders to understand the existing and new laws. The first section covers the law as it currently stands (August 2012) and the second section covers the new rules and guidelines which will be introduced in January 2013.



If a rider wants to ride any motorcycle or a moped, the starting point is Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). This is required for riders of any type of motorbike. Riders can take the CBT from the age of 16. This course will validate the rider’s provisional licence and allow them to ride a moped.

A moped is defined as a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 50kph or a maximum engine size of 50cc (and movement by pedals if it was first used before September 1st 1977). A moped with L plates (or D plates if the rider is in Wales) can be ridden with a provisional moped licence once a rider has completed the CBT. However, the rider will not be allowed to ride on a motorway or carry a pillion passenger.

Once a rider has reached the age of 17, a CBT that has been obtained on a moped is also valid for a motorcycle, providing the rider has the correct licence. To ride a moped on the road without displaying L plates, riders will need to pass a theory and practical driving test. The exception to having a CBT is that if a rider has obtained a driving licence before February 1st 2001 they are allowed to ride a moped without displaying L plates.


Motorcycle licences are split into two different types: a light motorcycle licence (A1) and a standard motorcycle licence (A). The light motorcycle licence test must be taken on a bike between 75cc and 125cc and the standard motorcycle test on a bike between 120cc and 125cc, which is capable of travelling at 100km/h.

CATEGORY A1 – The light motorcycle licence allows riders to ride any bike up to 125cc with a power output of below 11kW.

CATEGORY A – The standard motorcycle licence restricts riders to riding a motorbike of up to 25kW and a power to weight ratio equal to or below 0.16kW/kg for a period of two years. After this two year restrictive period a rider may ride a bike of any size.

For riders who are older than 21 it is possible to avoid the two year power restriction by one of two means: Direct Access or Accelerated Access. Riders who are 21 or over at the point of taking their Category A test may opt for Direct Access. If a rider reaches the age of 21 during the restrictive period or is over 21 but opted not to undertake the Direct Access straight away, the Accelerated Access can be taken.

Direct Access training is completed by taking the CBT, the theory test and then taking the motorcycle test on a motorcycle with a power output of at least 35kW. Some or all of the CBT may be taken on a large bike. However, practice on a bike over 25kW requires a rider to be accompanied at all times by an instructor, reflective clothing to be worn by the rider and all the other provisional licence restrictions to be implemented.

Accelerated Access is similar to Direct Access but is taken when a rider who has passed their standard motorcycle test is 21 years old or over but still has time left on their two year restricted period. Riders falling in to this category will need to take another test on a motorcycle of at least 35kW. Should they fail their new test it will not affect their existing licence.


The new driving licence rules for riders of motorcycles and mopeds will apply from JANUARY 19TH 2013. The rules will affect all riders who pass their test after this date or any riders who need to renew or replace their existing licence after this date.


If a rider is already allowed to ride a moped before the new rules are in force they will still be allowed to ride a moped after the new rules are applied. However, entitlement to ride will show differently on any licences issued after this date. The current entitlement shows as category P on a driving licence and allows a moped with an engine size of up to 50cc and with a maximum speed of 50kph to be ridden. Their new entitlement will show as:

  • Category Q – This allows riders to ride two- or three-wheeled mopeds with a maximum speed up to 25 kph (currently included in a riders existing entitlement).
  • Category AM (the European category) – This extends the above category to allow riders to ride mopeds that are designed to have a maximum speed of over 25 kph but no more than 45 kph; small three-wheelers that have an engine size equal to or less than 50cc and a power output of less than 4kW; and light quadricycles which have an unladen mass of less than 350 kg and a maximum speed of 45 kph.
  • Category P – This provides the Category AM entitlement and extends it to include the riding of two- or three-wheeled mopeds with a maximum speed of up to 50 kph.

If a rider wants to ride a moped after January 19th 2013 they will need to be aged over 16. A CBT along with a theory and practical test will have to be passed. Once the tests are passed riders will be awarded Category AM and Category Q on their licences as detailed above.

If a rider passes a car driving test first they will receive entitlement to drive a moped but will need to pass their CBT prior to being able to ride it on the road.


If a rider is already qualified to ride a motorcycle this will not change under the new rules unless the rider wants to ride a bigger motorbike than already permitted.

Under the new rules motorcycles are split into three categories:

CATEGORY A1 – This covers small motorcycles with an engine size up to 125cc; a power output up to 11kW; and a power to weight ratio up to 0.1kW per kg. It also covers small tricycles with a power output up to 15kW. This level of licence requires a rider to pass both a theory and practical test.

CATEGORY A2 – This covers medium sized bikes with or without a sidecar with an engine power output up to 35kW and a power to weight ratio of no greater than 0.2kW per kg. This is available to riders aged over 19. If the motorbike has been restricted to comply with the power output, the original version of the bike must be no more than double the power of the restricted bike. There will be two ways to obtain this licence:

  • Direct Access: Riders over 19 can take a theory and practical test.
  • Staged Access: Riders over 19 who have two years experience on an A1 motorcycle licence only need to take a further practical test.

CATEGORY A – This covers motorbikes of unlimited size and power output and tricycles with a power output of greater than 15kW. Similar to the Category A2 licence, a rider can obtain this entitlement in two different ways:

  • Direct Access: Riders over the age of 24 can take a practical and theory test. Passing these tests rewards them with a Category A licence.
  • Staged Access: If a rider is aged over 21 and has two years experience on an A2 motorcycle licence they can get the Category A entitlement by taking a further practical test.

When a rider has gained their licence, either under the old rules or the new rules, and they have bought a motorbike, their next step is to find great motorcycle insurance. We have published a guide to motorcycle insurance to help bikers to do this. Our partner Seopa has an excellent panel of over 35 specialist insurers on the motorbike insurance comparison service.

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