The very fact you are reading this article means you have an interest in the exciting and dynamic world of two wheels. Well done, you have taken your first step and now we have you hooked so there’s no looking back! Motorcycles will change you for so many good reasons. They will change your outlook on life, you will meet new people, or they will simply reduce your commute time and make it more enjoyable. I’ve ridden bikes all my life; they are my working life and I have met some hugely interesting people – I even met my wife on a bike while riding in India.
It doesn’t matter if your interest in bikes is because you are tired of sitting in someone’s armpit on the underground or are coming back to bikes after a long layoff due to family commitments, or simply fancy a change and are completely new to bikes – don’t worry, we have got you covered. So, let this guide help you along the way with the main elements to getting started on two wheels.
The most important thing we need, even before we buy a bike, is to be legal, and this means obtaining a licence. This should be done before purchasing a bike as it gives you a taster of what is to come. After all, you wouldn’t move to a new country before going there on holiday for a visit first.
The type of licence you are eligible for depends on your age and previous experience. But I’m going to try to make it simple…
At 16… CBT (Compulsory Basic Training), valid for two years. 50cc/4kw power ceiling. No motorway, no pillion, and top speed is limited to 28mph. Maybe 31 or 32 downhill!
Then you can pass your theory test (also valid for two years), and take an actual practical test, module 1 car park, module 2 on the road. This gives you an AM licence, which means no L-plates and you can carry a pillion, still at 16.
At 17-18… CBT again. Now you can ride a 125cc with a maximum 11kw of power. You still require L-plates, while there’s no pillion and no motorway. Then, as before, you can opt for your theory test, followed by mod 1 and 2, which allows you to get your A1 licence. This means you can carry pillions, remove the L-plates, and that you are allowed on the motorway. But you are still stuck to that 11kw power limit.
At 19-23… Once again, it’s CBT and a 125 up to 11kw (as per 17-18). The same rules apply: L-plates, no pillion and no motorway. However, this time, when you pass the theory test and mod 1 and mod 2, you now have an A2 licence. Now you can ride any bike up to 35kw, throw away the L-plates, take a pillion and ride on the motorway.
Over 24… CBT again for direct access, and the same rules as for a 17-year-old: 125cc and 11kw of power, L-plates are compulsory, no pillion and no motorway. Now when you pass your theory test, plus mod 1 and 2, you will have an A licence, which allows you to ride anything you want! This can all be done in a week via a direct-access course. Riders over 21, who have held an A2 licence for a minimum of two years, can also get an A licence and need only take the practical tests.
All too often I witness new bikers blow their budget on a bike but forget about the kit. If you were going to take up skiing, you wouldn’t buy the best skis available, then ride down the slopes in jeans and a T-shirt – the same applies to bikes, even more so.
That said, the only legal requirement is a crash helmet. The type of helmet depends on the type of riding you intend to do. An open face helmet is cool in summer, great for commuting in slow city traffic, but a nightmare in winter and obviously rubbish at high speeds. Don’t worry, a helmet is not like a dog, and isn’t for life – you can change them and have different helmets for different occasions if your budget allows. Don’t forget crash helmets should be replaced every five to seven ears depending on the quality of the lid.
Budget is always an interesting issue: how much should you spend on a helmet? Here at Bennetts, we have advice from our expert John Milbank, and don’t forget our rewards package, which gives you a discount as a Bennetts customer. To put it bluntly, a crash helmet’s job is to keep your head safe in the event of an accident, so how much do you value your head?
After the legal purchase of your helmet, you need to think about safety, warmth, practicality and, finally, fashion. The old saying, ‘dress for the slide, not the ride’ is as true as ever (you wouldn’t try skydiving for the first time with a second-hand parachute you bought on eBay for £30). But this doesn’t mean you need to invest thousands in the latest air-bag leathers for your 125cc ride across London. Just like when you fall over as a kid, you will more than likely put out your hands, therefore gloves are invaluable, even on a scooter in summer. Next, you need to think about being covered, with no exposed skin and, sorry, certainly no shorts and T-shirt in summer. However, don’t worry because there are numerous lightweight garments available on the market like riding shirts with built-in body armour which looks cool.
When you chose your kit, think about where and how you ride. Does your kit need to be warm and waterproof, will you be riding long distances in winter or late at night? Do you intend to ride off-road or on a racetrack – will you need something specific? Think about the bike you are likely to buy; will it have heated grips, a heated seat, protective bodywork, or even a waterproof blanket if you’re buying a Maxi-Scooter?
Purchasing and buying motorcycle kit may appear a little daunting but isn’t. Motorcycle dealers are there to help you. Also, have a look around and see what everyone else is wearing, ask for recommendations, and don’t forget to check out resident experts. I ride all year and usually have one set of kit for winter and one for summer. Winter kit can be expensive, therefore an inexpensive way to get around this to layer up, wearing underlayers, or a windproof shell over layers on summer kit. Your kit collection, what works, and what doesn’t, will grow over time. You never get it 100% right the first time out. You soon realise what you need and what you don’t.
You have your licence and kit, but you are still not legal to ride. Just like a car, you will need insurance, which is where Bennetts comes in. Obviously, some bikes are cheaper to insure than others depending on the performance and valuation of the bike, as well as factors such as your location. There are ways to reduce your bike insurance, with advanced riding training, a limited annual mileage, and by using recognised security. Bennetts also provides specialist insurance for mopeds, scooters, modified and classic bikes. Before purchasing your first bike it is worth getting a few quotes to get an idea of what to expect. Don’t buy the bike, then the insurance. Get some quotes first to give you an idea of the budget.
Now we’re legal and have the kit it’s time to choose a bike. This is the fun bit. Whether you are buying second hand, new or on PCP set a budget and stick to it. It is sometimes hard to do this, especially when you are stood in the showroom with your pockets bulging in cash, but try. And don’t forget to factor in running costs like fuel, chain and sprockets and tyres. Some bikes like the Honda CB500X, which I’ve owned, deliver above 60mpg and are incredibly frugal on fuel. Honda’s CB125F will return over 100mpg while, at the opposite end of the scale, Honda’s Fireblade, if ridden aggressively on a racetrack, will eat tyres for breakfast and drink fuel like its happy hour.
Like choosing kit, think about what you want from a bike. Do you want a bike for a few occasional short rides in summer, something like Honda’s CMX 500 Rebel, or will this be an all-around, everyday bike used for commuting no matter what the weather, like Honda’s Africa Twin? It’s easy to be attracted to the glitz and glamour, like a moth heading for the light, but don’t be in a situation where you are trying to force a bike to do the job it was never designed to do. And don’t forget your own experience, physicality, and size. Finally, think about where the bike will be parked and its security. Do you have enough room for a Honda GoldWing in the garage? Honda dealers will have a demonstration fleet, even for new and inexperienced riders. Take advantage of this, try before you buy. Don’t rule anything out.
Now you’re riding, welcome to the community. On the whole, motorcycling is a friendly place, and – don’t worry – bikers generally do wave to each other on the road, nothing is wrong. Yes, some do appear scary, but they usually aren’t. And don’t forget there are lots of new riders out there, and we were all new riders at one stage. I remember going to my first bike meeting on my 125 at 17 and was petrified.
Bike meets are a good place to check out other machines and talk to bikers about kit and ride-outs, while picking up tips and hints. These are well documented, usually a pub or café with a large car park. Have a search online for your nearest hangout. There are loads scattered around the UK, most have a website or some social media advertising specific bike nights.
Social media is a great place to start your biking community. You can search for your area, type of bike, or age. For example, the unofficial Honda Africa Twin owner UK group has 3500 members, and it took me five seconds to find by simply typing Africa Twin into Facebook. Groups may depend on location, interest, bikes, age, sex, etc. These clubs will then arrange ride-outs, usually to local bike meetups. There are also a huge number of charity rides throughout the year. And don’t think every ride out has to be arduous, it is supposed to be fun. I’ve done a few small charity rides of just 20-30 miles to deliver Easter eggs to kids in the hospital, which was hugely rewarding and a great excuse for a ride.
Once you get a little adventurous you may want to embark on a tour. Again, there are lots of tour companies out there offering guided tours, or alternatively set out on your own. There is a huge verity of biker friendly accommodation. Again, this doesn't have to be a mammoth, painful journey – there is nothing left to prove in biking; it’s all been done before – and there are no prizes for doing the most miles. You certainly wouldn’t take up rock climbing and then take on Everest on your first trip.
Bike sport is a great excuse to ride out and a way to meet like-minded people. The list is almost endless. Obviously, you have the popular Bennetts British Superbike Championship, BSB, but in the UK you are never far away from a racetrack that may have a local bike club meeting. Then there is speedway, sand racing, motocross, trials, endure… On almost any given weekend there will be something happening near you that is a good excuse for a ride out. Once you get a little more experienced you may want to try something a little more adventurous like a trip to the Isle of Man for the TT, or into Europe to catch a World Superbike or MotoGP weekend. But again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, a classic meeting at Spa in Belgium is a great weekend away on a bike.
All too often bikers stick to a sport or habit, for example always going to Scotland in summer or always sticking to just watching MotoGP. The world of motorcycling is huge. Try a different style of bike, try some off-road riding or a track day, or even take some advanced riding lessons, visit Goodwood or a famous biker hangout like the Ace Café in London. I’ve been riding since I was a kid, and still I keep trying something new, like trials, and I’ve still never watched any live speedway.
Video/Photo by Joe Dick