How to avoid an MOT fail

Motorcycle MOT checklist

Originally published: 01 Nov 2015

One million motorbikes undergo the MoT test each year and each year 20% fail. We do better than car owners, where the failure rate is over 40%, but we could do better.

Here’s how to avoid failure with our simple pre-MoT check routine.

Rules and Regulations

If you use a bike on the road without an MoT, you can be fined up to £1,000. In most cases, your insurance will be invalid.

The only times you can ride without an MoT is on the way to a pre-booked test or on the way to a place where the bike is booked in for repairs.

Top Causes of Failure*

  • Lights and signaling – 10.8%
  • Brakes – 5.2%
  • Steering and suspension 4.5%
  • Wheels and tyres –3.5%

*Figures supplied by the Department of Transport.

Clean it!

This should be your first step. Two reasons: 1 it gets you close to the bike so you can spot obvious problems. 2 It shows respect for the MoT tester. He’s going to react better to a clean bike than to a filthy one.

With the chain correctly adjusted, you should not be able to pull the chain back far enough to expose sprocket teeth. This almost new chain is fine.

What the Test Does Not Cover

The condition of the engine, clutch and gearbox are not tested, although related issues, like a failed gearbox shaft seal chucking oil over the back tyre, for example, could result in failure.


The tester will inspect the general condition of the frame to make sure it is free from corrosion, cracks, distortion and any other obvious damage affecting safe operation, so you need to do the same. Check that everything is securely tightened, mudguards, chain guards, footrests, handlebars, lights and so on. Also check that nothing fouls under suspension or steering movement.

There should be no play in the steering head bearings. You can do this check with the bike balanced on the side stand but get a mate to help you and be careful.

Lights and Indicators

Everything must work and be securely attached. Check that both brakes operate the brake light. Number plate lights have to work. You must have a red coloured reflector fitted to the rear of the bike. If you’ve fitted a tail tidy and lost the original reflector, buy a screw-on or stick-on one and fit it to the bottom of the number plate.

A damaged indicator lens which allows white light to show when the unit is flashing means failure. If you cannot get hold of a new lens, a piece of insulating tape over the hole will do the trick. It blocks the white light, see.


It must be loud enough to be heard by another road user. It also needs to be electric. Only motorcycles first used before August 1973 may use a bulb horn. A single, continuous note is required. Gongs, bells and multi-tone horns are not allowed.

Steering and Suspension

Make a visual check first. Forks and rear suspension units must not be leaking fluid. Fork and rear unit action should be smooth. Handlebars and grips must be tight. With the front wheel off the ground, check that steering moves smoothly from lock to lock and that there is no play in the steering head bearings. Do this by grasping the forks securely and attempting to move them backwards and forwards. If you feel movement, accompanied by a clunking noise in severe cases, the bearings need replacing or adjusting.

On full lock, there must be sufficient clearance between the handlebars and the bike so that no part your hands make contact with the bike.

With downward pressure off the swingarm, check that there is no side play, indicating worn bearings. N.B. It’s impossible to do this with the rear wheel on the ground or with a rear paddock stand in place.

Forks must be oil tight. Leaking fork oil means an automatic fail.

Wheels and Tyres

Spin each wheel to make sure it runs true. Buckled wheels are a fail as are wheels with dented rims or cracks. Check that the wheels are in alignment.

Make sure that the valves are not perished or damaged and check that your tyres are approved for road use, and have a minimum tread depth of 1mm across the entire area of the tread. Exposed cords or plies, lumps, bulges, tears and cuts longer than 25mm or 10% of the tyre section width (whichever is the greater), deep enough to reach the ply or cord mean failure. They must also be fitted correctly in terms of direction of rotation.


A braking efficiency test carried out during the MoT tells if they are up to the job. What you need to do beforehand is check the condition of hydraulic hoses and, if applicable, operating cables. Check that cables and hoses are not kinked and are not capable of being trapped by the movement of the steering or the suspension. Also check brake fluid levels.


Don’t get confused between Construction and Use regulations and MoT requirements. For the MoT, exhausts do not have to be e-marked, or carry a BS stamp. If you have a non-standard exhaust fitted, it must, in the tester’s opinion, be no louder than a standard system. That’s all. Testers will often put  note on the pass certificate warning that the exhaust is noisy to cover themselves. Silencers marked Not For Road Use, or Race Use Only, or similar, will fail.

It makes life easier if you have a centre stand or, like here, an auxiliary stand which lets you raise both wheels off the ground. If not, you can get a mate to balance the bike on the side stand to check the steering head bearings and swingarm bearings.

Fuel System

The petrol tank must be securely mounted. The tester will check the cap seal, so you should too. Check that no fuel is leaking from anywhere.

Number plates

Small number plates are an instant fail as are single line format number plates. Any type font apart from the standard one is not allowed.

Finally, make sure that the seat is not loose. That’s a failure item too.

And that’s your lot. Follow our guidelines and your bike will sail through.

If you want to know exactly what the tester has to do, you can download the 80 page manual here.

It’s worth a read but if you prefer something shorter, have a look here.

Happy testing.

How was your most recent MOT experience? Pass with flying colours?

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