Riding a motorcycle or scooter is exciting, convenient and cheap. It’s also the perfect way to social distance while commuting, and it’s often free to park, with no emissions or toll charges, saving city commuters literally £1,000s every year.
If you’ve ever considered learning to ride a moped, scooter or motorbike, this is the complete beginners guide. These are the eleven things you need to know…
Motorcycling is the best club in the world, but then we would say that. Before we get into the detail of tests, kit, security and answering other pertinent questions, let’s take a look at our 3-minute guide on how to ride a motorcycle:
Mopeds, scooters and motorcycles are a great way to commute as you won’t get stuck in traffic, you can self-isolate, and they’re simply a lot more enjoyable than sitting in a car, on bus or in a train. They can also take you a lot further than a bicycle.
Getting out on a scooter or a motorcycle up to 125cc just needs a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training), which costs around £125 for a day’s training and could be all you need to get commuting. You can find a CBT training centre near you by clicking here.
If you want to ride a bigger motorcycle you can take a Direct Access course, or you can do it in stages. This can cost a total of £750 to £1,250, but it can see you go from never touching a bike to having a full, unrestricted license. RideTo also lists training centres, but it’s worth talking to motorcycle dealers if you’re looking for a larger motorcycle as some brands offer their own training schemes that can be great value for money. BMW’s Rookie to Rider is one great example, as is Honda’s School of Motorcycling.
If you’re a city commuter using public transport, consider the fact that travelling from Haywards Heath to Victoria costs £4,216 for the rail pass alone; plus an extra £1,250 in station parking. Buying a scooter can save you money even in the first year of ownership… You can find out more about the cost comparison of a scooter and rail travel here.
You can leave a motorcycle sat in a garage for years and it won’t have an accident on its own. Things only become risky when you add people (and, mostly, other road users). You wouldn’t learn to ski or ride a horse or scuba dive without taking proper training and motorcycling is no different; the more training you have, the safer it becomes (BikeSafe is thoroughly recommended and only costs around £65).
Motorcycling is only dangerous if you leave your safety in the hands of others. Always think ‘what if’; assume other road users haven’t seen you and ride accordingly. That doesn’t mean wobbling around slowly in constant fear, it simply means covering the brakes, easing off at junctions, and being aware of your surroundings. It certainly doesn’t make riding any less enjoyable, and you’ll be joining the millions of others who’ve spent their lifetimes on two wheels.
Look at professional riders like the police; "Building up experience is key,” says ex-motorcycle police sergeant Dave Yorke. “If you can do that whilst having more training then all the better. Knowing what to look for when you’re riding and then, more importantly, doing something about it when you see it means you’ll get the best out of motorcycling.
“Even though I’d passed all of the advanced police riding courses, I still had to go and re-qualify to make sure I had retained those skills. Rather than see it as a test, I thought it was a great chance to have someone who knew what they were doing run their eye over my riding. By building up your skills, and experience, you’ll be able to enjoy the freedom we all love about motorcycling."
Still not convinced about the safety of riding a motorcycle? My daughter loves riding her electric bike, and when she’s old enough, if she wants to ride a motorbike I’ll be happy to help her choose one
One of the fantastic joys of riding a moped, motorbike or scooter is the fact that there’s such a huge variety to choose from. And they all ride differently.
If you’re going to be commuting, a scooter can be a cheap and very economical way to get to work – that’s why the 135mpg, £2,999 Honda PCX125 is one of the most popular two wheelers in the UK, while the 134mpg Suzuki Address is only £2,299 brand new.
But what about motorcycles, everything from 125cc to 1,000cc and above? Honestly, the best way to decide what you want is to visit some dealers and see what takes your fancy; motorcyclists all love different things, so see what catches your eye, make a shortlist then check out our bike reviews.
Brand new motorcycles can cost as little as £2,500 from a dealer or as much as £20,000 and up, but for an L-plate commuter expect to pay between £2,000-£4,000 and for a brand-new larger-capacity bike once you’ve passed your test, you’ll probably be looking at about £6,000 to £8,000. Or buy used for a fraction of those prices…
One note of caution: buying motorcycles can become an addictive hobby. I’ve owned 20 bikes since I started riding in 1996, the last one I bought being a second-hand Kawasaki ZX-6R that cost just £1,000 yet has a power-to-weight ratio similar to a Bugatti Veyron.
Motorcycles and scooters tend to have a steering lock and an immobiliser as standard, but these can be defeated. Fortunately, despite what social media would have you believe, using even a basic bit of extra security like a £40 disc lock can make your powered two-wheeler three times less likely to be stolen. Lock it up with a heavy duty chain, and data shows that your neighbour’s car is more likely to be stolen.
Electric scooters are becoming ever-more popular with commuters looking for a cheap, environmentally-friendly way to get to work
If you have a second-hand bike and do your own servicing, the expense can be very low. It cost me £1,000 to buy my ZX-6R, and servicing it costs me less than £100 a year in oil and other consumables.
Tyres can be pricey, but expect to pay between £100 (for a small commuter bike) and £300 (for a faster, more powerful machine) per pair for a motorcycle, and for them to last around 5,000 miles, though that will depend on what you ride and how you ride it. Good quality scooter tyres tend to cost just under £100 per pair including fitting, and should last between 5,000 and 10,000 miles.
Nick Nomikos, owner of The Two Wheel Centre in Harpenden, says the average larger-capacity motorcycle service will be about £200 to £230 per year. 125cc scooters typically cost about £66 a year to service, and yes, those prices include parts, labour and VAT.
Road tax, vehicle tax, road fund licence – call it what you will, but it’s relatively affordable on bikes and scooters:
Yearly Vehicle tax price*
Up to 150cc
* Prices are correct at time of writing. For latest prices check the GOV website
Motorcycles give you the opportunity to explore everything the UK and beyond has to offer, without being stuck inside a car. If you’ve never tried it, you honestly don’t know what you’re missing
Scooters can be hugely economical – expect 100mpg easily – though larger motorcycles will vary depending on their style and how you ride them. Expect anywhere between 40mpg for a sports bike to 75mpg for a commuter machine.
Finally, there’s insurance, and it’s impossible to say what you’re likely to pay as, just like car insurance, it depends where you live, what you ride and what experience you have. The average price paid by Bennetts customers for 125cc scooters and motorcycles is between around £140 and £250 per year, but again remember some machines will command a higher price. Larger capacity motorcycles have similar average prices, but these will also be affected by many variables. There can be wildly higher prices quoted, but speak to an experienced motorcycle insurance broker and the agents will be able to help you find the best price possible.
With more cities introducing toll charges, motorcycles can be a great alternative – Birmingham city centre for instance will soon charge for entry, but remain free for motorbikes and scooters. Commuting on two wheels means guaranteed arrival times as you don’t get caught in traffic, it means avoiding being at the mercy of train cancellations, and it means you can save a fortune too.
There’s plenty of kit available to keep you dry; rain does not need to stop play!
As far as scooters are concerned, you can get skirts that attach to the machine to protect you from the waist down, then all you need is a waterproof top and gloves.
Clothing tech has advanced hugely in the past few years, so from a simple waterproof over-suit (one from an army-surplus store is fine) to top-end GoreTex kit, riding in the rain really isn’t a problem. I actually quite enjoy it.
I ride every day, and for many years didn’t have a car. Honestly, how many times can you remember British roads being truly impassable? Sure, sheet ice is not something you want to ride on, but in the past 20 years I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been forced to beg a lift, take the car or consider public transport. A less experienced rider would be wise to leave the bike at home on the rare occasions that we do get truly bad weather, but even if you need to use the car or public transport then, you’ll still have saved a fortune over the year (and had a lot more fun).
Just like cars, a brand new motorcycle will lose a proportion of its value as soon as you leave the dealer, but used prices soon flatten out and if you’re looking at older second-hand bikes, you can often buy them one year, then sell them the next for little or no loss (sometimes you can even make a profit). It’s how I’ve owned so many bikes.
You can get fully kitted out with riding kit for as little as £300, but you can spend a lot more if you want. If you’re commuting, go for waterproof textiles and as a rough rule of thumb, the more you spend, the further you’ll be able to ride in pouring rain.
Sportsbike riders will be best off in full leathers, but many more classically-styled and street bike riders choose a leather jacket and jeans. Fully CE-approved denim jeans with an abrasion-resistant lining and armour can cost as little as £120… less than some people spend on fashion jeans, while safe boots designed for riding can look as good as Nike and Adidas high tops, yet cost a similar price.
Of course you will. Whether you’re commuting or you’ve chosen to start riding just for fun at the weekends, it’s an incredibly rewarding and exciting hobby that you can share with friends and family. My wife and I have had some great trips to the coast together, and I’ve had some incredibly memorable rides with my mates all around the UK, in Ireland and out into France and Spain.
I got into riding by going out as pillion with a mate back in 1996 and I’ve never looked back…