Motorcycle licensing in the United Kingdom is a convoluted process that requires several steps to be taken before riders qualify for riding bigger and more powerful bikes. It’s a tiered process dependent on age and riding experience that begins with the AM Mopeds (less than 50cc) stage, then to the A1 Light Motorcycle (120cc to 125cc, less than 14.8 hp) and then the A2 Motorcycle (at least 395cc and between 26.8 and 46.9 hp).

Not complicated enough for ya? Access to bikes of any size and power requires the Category A Motorcycle class, which has separate categories for riders aged 21 to 23 and for riders 24 or older. And the licensing stages are even more complex, as you can see by clicking the link below.

Steps To Motorcycle Licenses In The UK

This topic comes to light after the release of a report from a public consultation carried out by the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) and the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on nine proposed improvements to the licensing methods and standards. This report was compiled after receiving more than 2,200 responses from motorcyclists, representatives in the motorcycle industry and road safety groups. Some of the proposals will require further consultation next year.

The report, which you can see further below, also contained some interesting stats about motorcycle crashes in the UK during 2016.

  • Motorcyclists are 57 times more likely to be killed than a car occupant per passenger mile traveled.
  • Motorcyclists account for 19% of all road deaths but make up only 1% of road users.
  • 319 motorcyclists were killed, and 5,553 were seriously injured.
  • 35% of those who are killed or seriously injured on a motorcycle are aged between 16-24.
  • Moped and scooter riders amounted to around 1 in 6 motorcycle casualties.

So, despite the tiered licensing program, it looks like younger riders are more susceptible to accidents. But the validity of these stats, and pretty much all statistics, depends on several factors, some of which aren’t included here. For example, what percentage of riders make up the 16-24 age bracket, and how does their accident rate compare in per miles traveled?

What do you think of tiered licensing? Is it safer? We imagine a lot of you experienced riders would support licensing restrictions, but could such a program be implemented on American riders?

Begin Press Release

Motorcyclists Overwhelmingly Back Plans To Upgrade Licences For Existing Riders

Motorcyclists will benefit from improvements to motorcycle training, Road Safety Minister, Jesse Norman, announces today (19 December 2017). This follows a public consultation on a number of proposals to modernise motorcycle training.

Motorcyclists have given their backing to a raft of improvements, including introducing a training course that existing riders can take to upgrade their motorcycle licence, rather than having to take extra tests.

The compulsory basic training (CBT) course has largely remained unchanged since its introduction in 1990 and the changes will also see new riders having to pass a theory test before they take a course. Riders who take their CBT on an automatic motorcycle will be restricted to only riding automatics.

Road Safety Minister Jesse Norman said:

“We have one of the best road safety records in the world, but we are determined to do more to prevent deaths and serious injuries.

“Motorcyclists are among the most vulnerable road users and have the highest fatality rate of any group. That is why I am pleased to announce these changes to motorcycle training. These improvements should equip learners with a wider range of experience and better riding skills, helping to make our roads safer for everyone.”

Last year 319 motorcyclists were killed, and 5,553 were seriously injured. With around 1 in 6 motorcycle casualties being moped or scooter riders.

DVSA Head of Rider and Vocational Policy Mark Winn said:

“Our priority is to help riders through a lifetime of safe riding.

“In 2016, over a third of moped and motorcyclist casualties were aged between 16 and 24.  We want to reduce the risk they face by introducing more realistic and individually tailored training, provided by better qualified instructors.

“Making these improvements to training will help make sure motorcyclists have the skills and knowledge they need to help them stay safe on our busy, modern roads.”

A public consultation carried out by the Department for Transport (DfT) and DVSA on 9 proposed improvements received more than 2,200 responses. Those responding included motorcyclists, representatives in the motorcycle industry and road safety groups.

The results of the consultation, which have been published today, reveal that of those who responded:

  • 92% support introducing a training course that existing riders can take to upgrade their motorcycle licence, rather than having to take extra tests
  • 85% agree new riders having to pass a theory test before they take a CBT course, or as part of their course
  • 85% support revoking CBT certificates from riders who get 6 penalty points – it would stop them from riding with L plates after getting points for offences including careless or dangerous riding
  • 84% agree restricting riders who take their CBT course on an automatic motorcycle to only riding automatics
  • 85% support restructuring CBT courses to focus on the importance of equipment and safety clothing, on-site training, motorcycling theory and on-road practical riding skills

There was also overwhelming support for DVSA’s plans to improve the way motorcycle instructors are qualified and quality assured.  

  • 97% support increasing the range of checks that DVSA carries out on motorcycle training schools
  • 87% support improving the way that instructors qualify to provide motorcycle training
  • 94% support introducing a system for motorcycle training schools to be given recognition for consistently high standards

Some of the proposals require further consultation to work through the details of how the changes will work. DfT and DVSA plan to consult on these in Spring 2018.

Representatives from the rider training industry are also supportive of the changes.

Motor Schools Association of Great Britain (MSA GB) general manager John Lepine MBE said:

“It is vital that over time we update and modernise all our rider and driver training procedures in line with up to date thinking and research.

“Following on from the successful changes to the driving test we welcome these changes to rules surrounding the safe riding of motorcycles.

“In particular we welcome the improved standards for motorcycle training schools and motorcycle instructors which recognises the importance of high quality training in delivering high quality road safety outcomes.”

Driving Instructors Association (DIA) Chief Motorcycle Examiner Mark Jaffe said:

“As the largest driver and rider training association in the UK, the DIA have been working with the DVSA and the DfT to improve the standard of rider training at all levels for a number of years.

“The consultation results shows support for the changes which we believe are long overdue. The changes will increase the importance on riders getting the correct training for the machines they are riding and reduce the number of casualties through better and more focused training.”

Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) Director of Safety and Training Karen Cole said:

“We welcome the publication of responses to the consultation on modernising motorcycle training and look forward to working with the DVSA to significantly improve rider safety in the future.

“It is important that powered two wheelers remain accessible though, as they are the only affordable form of transport for many people and an increasingly important part of our transport mix as commuters seek solutions to creeping congestion.”

Further information

2016 road casualty stats show that motorcyclists are 57 times more likely to be killed than a car occupant per passenger mile travelled, and account for 19% of all road deaths but make up only 1% of road users and 35% of those who are killed or seriously injured on a motorcycle are aged between 16-24.

The full response to consultation report has been published on GOV.UK


  • HazardtoMyself

    I think if the tiered system came with quality training requirements it would be a good idea. Would have to adjust it some for American highways but could be done. How many YouTube videos out there of guys with their L plates who think they are the greatest rider ever but can’t ride for anything?

    At the same time it comes down to perspective. Today with my kids I am all for the auto license restrictions many states have implemented. At 16, I would not have liked it very much.

    In the end though the U.S is supposed to be the land of the free. If an 18yr old kid wants to buy a firebreathing supersport with zero experience and act the fool that his their decision to make.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      It’s a balance though, even in the land of the free. That 18 year old fool can take out innocents as well as himself. His freedom has to be balanced against protecting the freedom of others to keep on living. The least we can do as a society is to ensure as best we reasonably can this hypothetical 18 year old has been properly prepared. If that means tiered licensing, then fine, although as the article clearly shows, the jury is apparently out on its effectiveness. Logically it should work – why it may not be is something warranting serious study.

      • HazardtoMyself

        I think I would be ok with it if there were a training component. Saying 1st yr 125cc, 2nd 250cc and so on I don’t think cuts it.

        If your a poorly trained rider with poor decision making skills, and lack of real awareness of your skill level, delaying the jump to a H2 isnt going to help all that much. Bad habits don’t disappear with time alone.

        I think most agree the basic MSF course really isn’t enough, but in many parts of the U.S there are not a lot of other options. Then again how many riders skip it and skip the already mandatory testing? How many never practice basic skills ever again?

        Never going to keep the true idiots from being idiots, but if it helped the ignorant idiots who think they are motogp gods, then I would be for it. I would however expect a lot of push back in the U.S.

  • Matt O

    I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand a 16 year old kid straight out of the msf has no business on a liter bike. On the other hand a sporty 1200 could be a rational choice. In theory it could be a benefit, but practically it would be nearly impossible, and incredibly difficult to enforce.

    • gjw1992

      Pre-81ish in the UK, anyone over 17 could get a provisional bike license and ride a 250 with L-plates to show they were a learner. No test. Hence the popularity screaming 2-stroke GT250s and RD250s and a few KH250s with 17-yo. (16-yo could to about 87 ride 50cc bikes with similar licence – hence the 70s craze for 16er special bikes with surprising power outputs. The yam FS1E being most popular).

      Those 250s had a high accident rate – anecdotal but I knew 2 killed and one crippled for life during their bike stage. And all in urban settings. The danger as with anything is that combination of inexperience and youth (and relative high speed). Many under-21s are immortal, they believe. Curing the inexperience part is usually only half the problem. The current age categories and license steps are well meaning, but I reckon it would just be better if all under-25s wanting a bike license went on a couple weeks of full time training just to hammer in the right behavior.

      I got my licence btw in 80 having had a 250 (tho only a ts250). The test at the time – 20 minutes up and down minor roads with an examiner on some corner trying to observe.


    I started out on small machines worked my way up from standards to sport bikes over a twenty year period. The aquired maturity over time made a difference in my staying alive. I am sure of it. If reality doesn’t kill you statistics will. Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd. Smiling.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      I would expect that many of us, uh, ‘veteran’, riders started off as kids on small bikes, often on dirt, then graduated to ever bigger more powerful bikes over the years. A big factor enforcing that progression was finances. God only knows what might have happened to me if I could have afforded to jump the line straight to a superbike. In the absence of limiting financial factors, tiered licensing attempts to enforce the same progression from small to powerful. The challenge to our sensibilities from tiered licensing is mainly because that progression is being forced on adults who want what they want when they want it, and they can afford to buy it.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Chris Cope (a transplanted American from MN) over at RideApart (a online motorcycle magazine based in the UK) keeps harping about how great the tiered licensing system in the UK is and why the U.S. doesn’t implement it. First of all most Americans don’t want the government involved in their affairs any more than it already is. Second is the complexity: Imagine each of the 50 states and U.S. territories having their own interpretation and implementation of tiered licensing and then trying to reconcile it with all other states. Enforcement and transfer across state lines would be a boondoggle. Thirdly 125cc is mostly a useless motorcycle in the U.S. except on dirt. Less than 400cc is OK but not useful on the highway. It is actually not the cc but the type of motorcycle that makes a difference in rider capability. Insurance companies don’t blink an eye in giving a great rate to someone who has a Versys 1000 but stick it to the young kid who has a Ninja 1000. Same capacity, different treatment. Same thing with a Sportster 1200 vs a Hayabusa. Finally what is to be gained with tiered licensing that is not already being accomplished with our current system? People are still getting killed in the UK, especially on mopeds who have no chance of getting out of the way of a speeding car. It is as if the AM and A1 licenses are a enforced death sentence that people cannot escape by getting a proper motorcycle. Our insurance companies are doing a good job of keeping our young kids off murdercycles. Capitalism at work. No need for Socialism.

    • sotanez

      “The fatality rate in the United States is high relative to most other high-income nations.”

      It looks like “socialism” is more efficient at preventing road deaths… but of course, people may prefer a higher death toll in exchange of a less intruding government.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        If you had read the report the Wikipedia article is based on, you would have seen it says “A closer comparison with England found that the greater driving distance per licensed driver in the United States was the “main factor” in the safety disparity.”

        • Kevin Duke

          AFAIK, there is no or almost no data in the U.S. that logs miles traveled by motorcyclists, so we don’t fully understand how licensing and experience (and off-road experience) factors in to our accident numbers. The biggest threat to American riders seems to be alcohol, which, depending on which survey is cited, is a factor in nearly 50% of fatalities on the road here.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Good idea. I’m off for two weeks. Think I shall have a beer.

      • Fabian

        It has nothing to do with socialism directly. In Europe a BMW serie 3 is a luxury item and a moped is the 16 yo dream. Here in the US a Ford 150 or a Ford Mustang is the 16 yo dream. Second, I often drive with the traffic at 60 mph in the city; 4 lanes plus a U turn lane in the middle is your average blvd, at least in LA. That’s a freeway in Europe. We can drive much faster in the US so when the proverbial hits the fan, the damage is much more severe; a F150 hitting you at 50 mph, vs a BMW serie 3 or a Golf at 30 mph.

    • Campi the Bat

      How is the concept of restricted licencing “socialism”?

      • Sayyed Bashir

        More government intrusion into people’s daily lives.

        • Clutchman11

          You use the word socialism, but I don’t think you know what it means.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            More government control of everything.

          • Clutchman11

            As I said, and let me reiterate: “You use the word socialism, but I don’t think you know what it means.”

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Socialism: A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. Happy now?

          • Clutchman11


            See, community. Not government.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            “Regulated by the community” means the government. Have you ever been “regulated by the community”? The government tells you what to do. You cannot just do whatever you want to do.

          • Campi the Bat

            In what way does a graduated driving licence system re-organise society around communal ownership of the means of production?

        • Campi the Bat

          The word you’re looking for is “authoritarianism”, not “socialism”.

          • Clutchman11

            Come on Campi, don’t make harder on him.
            Although I do agree with you about authoritarianism, it should be interesting to see the link between tiered licensing and “socialism”.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            It is not authoritarianism. The people want the government to tell them what to do, to protect them from their own stupidity. The people want to impose the government upon themselves because they feel insecure.

          • Campi the Bat

            Authoritarianism is defined as “the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.” It is literally the word you’re looking for.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      And guns save lives.

      • therr850

        Jeez, I thought loud pipes save lives:} My mistake.

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          Loud pipe bikers with guns are angels of mercy!

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Yes, they do, just like nuclear arsenals bring peace.

  • StripleStrom

    I hate to see the government involved in anything, so I think it’s better to err on the side of freedom than to impose a lot of unnecessary restrictions. I believe in personal responsibility rather than a nanny state. If they were really serious about protecting people, they would do more to keep cell phones from being used in cars, and require mandatory skills testing for anyone over a certain age. Those are two things that could really save lives. At least on a motorcycle you are very unlikely to hurt anyone other than yourself.
    I do agree that a two-tiered license would be a good idea, based upon experience and age. It should be based on horsepower rating, not displacement, and it would need to be somewhat higher than in the UK. It’s a safety issue on US roads to be riding an under-powered motorcycle.
    Based on horsepower, cruisers of a larger displacement would naturally be allowed, and I think that would be a good thing.
    I personally started on a CB350 twin, and I think it was a good decision (that honestly was based on what I could afford, not any kind of wisdom about what I could handle). I never did a riders course- did it the old fashioned way by taking the tests. I’m not sure that they were available then… don’t remember it being an option. By that time (within a year) I was on a 750 Magna and had no problem handling it.
    Some people I’ve known that were MSF instructors weren’t what I would consider to be good riders at all, so I question the qualifications. The theory is great though, and definitely helpful when applied.
    The problem with all of this is that there are many types of people with different skill sets. Some will never be good riders, and some just take to it and are almost instantly competent.

    • Jason

      I don’t understand the logic that roads in the USA require more power than in the EU. Most motorways I’ve driven in the EU have a speed limit of 110 kph to 130 kph ((68 mph / 80 mph)

      • StripleStrom

        I think it has more to do with the amount of time spent on roads like that. We typically use our motorcycles to travel a significant amount on interstates, and depending on where you live you’ll get run down if you do the speed limit.

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          So, what about all of those scooters going down the A23 from London to Brighton every Bank Holiday weekend?


      • Rocky Stonepebble

        American kilometres per hour are bigger. You know, like Texas. Which, of course, is not the biggest but loud pipes save lives and guns are the best form of protection.

  • Old MOron

    I wouldn’t mind tiered licensing for everyone.
    Insurance companies have tiered premiums.
    Younger, less experienced drivers are a higher risk, so keep them in smaller, less powerful cars for a while.

    But what I’d really like is for mobile phones to be banned while driving. This is actually quite easy to do! Smartphones can sense when a person is in a moving vehicle. They should render themselves inoperable until they come to a rest. Easy.

    • gerry3273

      If phones become inoperable in moving vehicles it means that passengers will not be able to use their phones.

      • Old MOron

        Oh, I hadn’t thought of that!
        Can you imagine living without your phone for an hour?!

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        So what.

    • Harold O’Brien

      The problem with tiered licensing with motorcycles is size. Putting younger less experienced riders on smaller less powerful bikes doesn’t work when those bikes aren’t physically bike enough for the rider. Case I point, my 15 year old son is 6’2″ 185lbs, putting him on a 125-250cc motorcycle and he’d look like the bear in the circus. That doesn’t mean he’s starting off with a Goldwing or a Electra Glide but he’s likely stating off with at least a Dyna or something in the 650-800 cc range, (not sport bikes).

  • wolzybk

    I think implementing such a scheme here would be profoundly un-American, and an inappropriate violation of the rights of American riders. We do not want or need a nanny state to try to make motorcycling safe for us. Fortunately, our system of 50 separate states, each of which handles traffic issues separately, makes implementing such a mess all-but-impossible.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      That’s exactly what I said (but you said it more directly and in less words 🙂

  • Harold O’Brien

    “Motorcyclists Overwhelmingly Back Plans To Upgrade Licences For Existing Riders.” No I don’t, .. and I’m a “motorcyclist” for 40 years. I’m not against training, I’m against the compulsory part of the process. It builds in a bureaucracy that will for the most part just increase the cost of motorcycling to new and young riders. The benefits are dubious at best. In fact, I’ve a 15 year old son who has expressed an interest in motorcycling and the first thing he will do, because I said so, is take the MSF course. Not because I can’t teach him safety but I know he needs to hear it from someone other than me. He needs to hear it from an “expert”, not the same guy that’s giving him a hard time about his math grades. It will provide him with information that may well keep him out of harms way and save his ass. That being said, the biggest danger to young riders is themselves. In many cases, they simply aren’t mature enough to exercise good judgement and combined with the lack of experience they get themselves into trouble they could easily avoid. No amount of training is going to overcome the foolishness of youth. Like the old saying, ..I can explain it to you but I can’t understand for you. And, I do not suggest that I was any better at it when I was young. I did some profoundly stupid things on motorcycles in my late teens early twenties. Training should be part of a young riders tools to draw on but it will not overcome poor judgement. Similarly I don’t think one should be required to wear a helmet. You are a moron if you don’t but it shouldn’t be a law. I’m wary mandating training as it only concerns itself with the technical side of riding. It doesn’t address the judgement and responsibility side. That should be my job to stress and monitor.

  • Rod Simmons

    All of the talk and studies are directed directly toward motorcycle riders, and for the most part, rightly so. But in the rush to require more training for riders we are forgetting the automobile drivers. There is barely a mention in any of the driver training about motorcycles. Mostly it’s just a beware and watch out for them. No matter how much training we take as riders it still can’t compensate for those drivers who never see us, never pay attention to us or even care that we are sharing the road with them. Let’s focus on them and require more from them. Until the cagers are trained in watching out for us the death and injure toll will remain high, regardless of the amount of training we have. It’s up to all of us to be highly trained and aware of what’s happening around us, but without automobile drivers having adequate training to be aware of us then it’s an uneven playing field and we loose every time.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Everyone seems to agree that safety on a motorcycle depends on both training and experience, but differ on how to provide them, and how much of each should be required. I would like to see the development and widespread availability of traffic simulators for motorcycle training that could be accessible to existing riders (not just new licensees in training), as well as more hands-on pressure-free practice ranges that are also available to existing riders who want to brush up their skills. Currently there are private groups offering training and practice but it often comes at a steep enough cost that you can’t afford to do it more than once every few years. I did take a useful training once that offered greatly reduced cost for returning students but that is a rarity that needs wider adoption.

    I do believe that a combination of simulation technology and increased affordable training opportunities can make riders better and therefore safer. The internal restraint and maturity that is also a factor in safety may be another matter that only years of seat time can address.

  • h k

    Meanwhile, in Australia (my State of NSW, anyway) I got in total about 3 hrs actual riding time over 2 days during the compulsory prelearner course. Round a small oval course, not out of 2nd gear, no on-road riding at all. Passed the theory test at a local Motor Registry and I had my Ls, allegedly ready to go out and teach myself alone on the public road system. And I could have bought a Ducati Monster straight away lol