Planning for a bike journey

Planning for a bike journey

Before you can ride any motorbike on the road, you’ll need to have the correct licence and complete a compulsory basic training (CBT) course. The type of machine you can ride will depend on the type of licence you have.

Licence category

Minimum age

What you can ride

AM

16 years

Mopeds with a maximum design speed of over 25 km/h but not more than 45 km/h

P

16 years

Mopeds with

  • maximum design speed of over 45 km/h but not more than 50 km/h
  • engine size no more than 50 cc

Q

17 years

Mopeds with

  • engine size not more than 50 cc
  • maximum design speed of no more than 25km/h

A1

17 years

Light motorbikes with

  • engine size up to 125 cc
  • power output of up to 11 kW
  • power-to-weight ratio not more than 0.1 kW/kg

A2

19 years

Motorbikes with

  • power output up to 35 kW
  • power-to-weight ratio not more than 0.2 kW/kg

A

24 years*

Motorbikes with a power output more than 35kW or a power-to-weight ratio more than 0.2 kW/kg

* 21 years if you have two years' experience on an A2 motorbike and you pass a further practical test.

 

Before you start your journey, take a few seconds to think about whether a motorbike is the best way of travelling.

Would it be better to walk or cycle instead? Your motorbike won’t work very efficiently when it’s only ridden a short way.

Could you share a car with someone else or use a train, bus or tram? These can sometimes be cheaper than using a motorbike, especially if you buy a ticket in advance. Using public or shared transport is usually better for the environment too. It can also be safer if you’re tired or travelling a long way as you can rest on the way.

Thinking about the best way to travel will save you money and make your journey safer.

Conditions

The weather, road surface and traffic conditions have a much bigger effect on the safety of a motorbike than on a car because

  • as a rider you have little protection from the weather
  • motorbikes are less stable than cars as they only have two wheels in contact with the ground.

So it’s very important to think about the conditions you’re going to be riding in before you start your journey.

In particular, you might want to avoid riding in conditions that will make you particularly vulnerable such as

  • wet, icy, foggy or windy weather
  • very heavy traffic.

Environment

Road transport makes up around 20% of all emissions making it one of the biggest sources of air pollution, particularly in densely populated areas.

Air pollution, including the carbon dioxide and nitric oxides released when burning fuel in an engine, can

  • contribute to health problems (eg respiratory problems, heart or vascular disease)
  • damage vegetation and disrupt wildlife
  • weaken buildings
  • deplete natural resources.

Vehicles also contribute cause noise pollution. To help keep noice pollution down, try not to rev your engine. You must not use your car horn between 11.30 pm and 7.00 am unless another vehicle poses a danger to you.

Different types of fuel have a different impact on the environment.

Type of fuel used by engine

Advantages

Disadvantages

Petrol: four-stroke

  • Modern engines are becoming more efficient.
  • Catalytic converters are fitted to the exhausts of all new petrol engines to remove up to 75% of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons.
  • Catalytic converters do not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted.
  • If you ride at over 3000 rpm, the catalytic converter can’t clean up emissions completely.

Petrol: two-stroke

  • Small, light and simple engine with high power output for the engine capacity.
  • Higher emissions, particularly unburnt hydrocarbons.

Cost of riding

If you’re thinking about buying a motorbike, make sure you take into account all the different costs that come with owning it.

  • Buying the motorbike – will you buy a new or used motorbike? Will you have ongoing monthly charges or interest to pay?
  • Insurance and vehicle tax paid annually – both vary widely depending on the type of machine you choose.
  • Fuel – how efficient the engine is will affect how much you’ll spend.
  • Breakdown cover – not essential but strongly recommended.
  • Servicing – either annually or at regular intervals, depending on how far you ride.
  • MOT test – annually when the motorbike is three years old or more.
  • Repairs and maintenance – for example, tyres and brakes. It’s difficult to predict when your motorbike will need repairs, and they can be costly – how will you pay for them?
  • Parking and tolls – where will you park your motorbike during the day and in the evenings?

 

Alcohol, illegal drugs, medicines, injuries, tiredness and your mood can all affect the way you ride your motorbike. If you ever feel that you might not be able to ride safely, don’t ride. Decide the best way to deal with the situation: you may need to delay your journey or find a different way to make your journey. If it’s a longer-term problem, you may have to stop riding altogether.

Alcohol

You must not drink and ride. Alcohol will seriously affect your judgement and ability to ride safely.

In 2011, 280 people were killed in drink-drive accidents and 1290 people were seriously injured. In the same year, drivers aged between 20 and 24 failed more breath tests than any other age group. (Source: Dept for Transport/National Statistics)

The amount of alcohol (units) in different types of drink varies.You must not ride your motorbike if your breath alcohol is higher than 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres (which is the same as a blood alcohol level of 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres). Riding with alcohol in your blood is extremely dangerous and carries serious penalties if you ride or attempt to ride while over the legal limit. You can find more information on penalties in The Highway Code.

If you’re not sure whether you’re over the limit, don’t ride.

It’s safest not to drink any alcohol before you ride. For more information on drinking and driving, see GOV.UK.

Any amount of alcohol can affect your judgement of speed, distance and risk; it can also make you sleepy. It takes just over an hour for your body to process a unit of alcohol and remove it from your system so if you drink heavily in the evening, you may still be over the limit the following day.

Drugs, medicine and riding

If you’ve taken illegal drugs, it’s against the law for you to ride. See GOV.UK and The Highway Code for more information on the tests and penalties for drug driving.

The effects of illegal drugs can be even more serious than alcohol. Drugs can have unpredictable effects and you may not be aware of them affecting you. The direct effects of some drugs can last up to 72 hours.

During 2011, at least 640 accidents were caused by drug-drivers (using illegal drugs or medicines), including 49 deaths. (Source: Department of Transport).

Some medicines can make you sleepy and will affect your ability to ride. Whether you’ve bought the medicine over the counter or been given it on prescription, always read the label. If it says ‘may cause drowsiness’, it probably will make you sleepy. If you’re not sure whether it’s safe to drive while taking a medicine, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Taking a combination of prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, illegal drugs, controlled drugs or alcohol can have an unpredictable effect on you, so you shouldn’t ride a motorbike while you could be affected by them.

Tiredness

If you’re tired, you won’t be fully alert and aware of what’s going on around you, which means that you won’t be able to ride safely. Don’t begin a journey if you feel tired.

If you start to feel tired while you’re riding,

  • find somewhere safe to stop so you can rest (never on a motorway hard shoulder)
  • try having a caffeine drink and, if you can, a short nap to refresh you before you start riding again.

To help you stay alert, make sure you

  • take regular breaks on long journeys, especially at night
  • sit properly and comfortably: being uncomfortable will make you tire more quickly
  • use ear plugs to protect yourself from noise, which can be tiring if you’re exposed to it for a long time
  • wear the correct protective clothing to keep yourself warm, dry and comfortable, including gloves and boots.

Emotions

Extremes of emotions – such as anger, sadness, stress, grief or even happiness – will affect your concentration and how you judge what’s happening on the road. Many crashes are caused each year by drivers and riders being careless, thoughtless or reckless. If necessary, take some time to calm down and get into the right frame of mind.

Riding with an injury

You must make sure that you have full control of your motorbike at all times.

 Remember that

  • a twisted ankle can affect how you use the foot controls
  • a stiff neck can make it difficult to check mirrors and blind spots.

If you’ve suffered an injury, you may want to check with your doctor before you ride. Think before you ride: if you can’t control the motorbike properly and see all around, you won’t be able to ride safely.

Eyesight

To have a driving licence, you must be able to read in good daylight, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary, a vehicle number plate from a distance of 20 metres (about five car lengths). If you need glasses or contact lenses to do this, you must wear them whenever you’re riding your motorbike.

Eyesight changes over time so you must have an eyesight test at least every two years. If you ride when your eyesight doesn’t meet the standard, you’ll be riding illegally and you’ll be less safe on the road.

When the sun is bright use sunglasses to reduce glare, which can make your eyes tired and reduce the amount you can see. Make sure you take them off when you ride through a tunnel or when conditions are less bright so you can still see clearly.

You must not wear tinted glasses, visors or goggles in the dark or when there’s poor visibility.

Aging

Your mind and body go through gradual changes, especially as you get older. These changes can affect your riding – for example, your reactions may become slower, you may tire more easily or your muscles may become weaker.

As you grow older you’ll need to concentrate more carefully on your riding and take care when judging the speed of other traffic.

Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about whether you’re safe to ride.

Disabled riders

If you’re disabled, you can use a motorbike/sidecar combination for the motorcycle practical tests. Your licence will be limited to riding this combination.

There are various motorbike modifications that can help people with physical disabilities ride safely.

 

Safety helmets and eye protection are crucial for safe riding so there are legal requirements to make sure you’ve got the necessary protection.

Safety helmets

You must wear a safety helmet when you’re riding a motorbike on the road, unless you’re a member of the Sikh religion and wear a turban. The safety helmet must comply with at least one of these

  • British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI (British Standards Institution) Kitemark
  • UNECE Regulation 22.05
  • any standard accepted by a member of the European Economic Area that offers a level of safety and protection equivalent to BS 6658:1985; it must carry a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark.

Find out more about motorcycle helmets and the law on GOV.UK.

Eye protection

If you wear a visor or goggles when you ride, your visors or goggles must comply with either

  • a British Standard and display a BSI Kitemark
  • a European standard that offers a level of safety and protection at least equivalent to the British Standard; carries a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark (ECE 22-05).

 

A pillion passenger sits behind you, the rider, on a motorbike. You can only carry a pillion passenger if

  • you’ve passed your practical motorcycle test
  • you have a full motorcycle licence for the category of motorbike you’re riding.

Your motorbike will need to have rear footrests and a proper passenger seat.

Preparing your motorbike

You’ll need to make some adjustments to your motorbike before you carry a passenger: these will be explained in the motorbike handbook. They usually include

  • changing the tyre pressures
  • adjusting the preload on the rear shock absorbers
  • adjusting the headlight aim, if necessary.

Preparing your passenger

Before you start a journey with a passenger, talk to them about what they should and shouldn’t do while they’re riding with you, especially if they’ve never done it before.

They should

  • wear a safety helmet, properly fastened
  • wear suitable weatherproof protective clothing
  • sit on the motorbike facing forwards
  • keep both feet on the footrests
  • hold on to your waist, or use the passenger grab handle if your motorbike has one
  • lean with you while going around corners.

Your passenger mustn’t

  • look behind or signal for you
  • lean to the side to see ahead – this could affect your balance.

Riding with a passenger

When you move off, take some time to get used to how the motorbike handles. The extra weight will affect

  • your balance, especially at low speeds
  • your stopping distance: it’ll take longer to stop so leave a bigger gap when following another vehicle and begin braking earlier
  • your acceleration: it’ll take longer for your motorbike to accelerate so allow more time when you’re emerging at junctions. You’ll need to stay in lower gears for longer too.

While you’re carrying a passenger, you’re responsible for their safety and yours. It’s important to make sure they don’t distract you. If you need to, find a safe place to stop and ask your passenger to sit quietly so you can concentrate on riding safely. Never allow your passenger to put pressure on you to ride dangerously or show off.

Carrying loads

If you’re going to carry a load on your motorbike, you must make sure that

  • the load is secure
  • the motorbike isn’t overloaded.

Look at your motorbike handbook for information about how best to safely carry loads. You can buy specialist luggage and load-securing equipment, such as panniers, tank bags, top boxes and luggage racks, at motorbike supplies shops. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions or ask for specialist help to make sure you use the equipment correctly.

Use the same tips as when carrying passengers to prepare your bike for carrying a load and when riding with a load.

 

As a rider, you’re responsible for the roadworthiness of your motorbike – that is, that it’s safe to be ridden on the road.

On some motorbikes, many of the mechanical parts are sealed and can only be checked by a qualified mechanic but there are some checks that you must do. Look at your motorbike handbook to see which checks you can make and how to do them.

Carry out regular checks on your motorbike to keep it working efficiently and safely. The sooner you spot a problem, the easier it is to fix usually.

Checking the engine oil

Engine oil keeps the engine lubricated so it can work efficiently. You need to keep the oil at the level recommended by the motorbike manufacturer.

Check the oil level regularly but especially before a long journey. The engine should be cold and you’ll need to make sure the motorbike is on a level area and upright. Use the centre stand if your motorbike has one.

Look at your motorbike handbook to find out how to check the oil level and how to top it up if necessary. It should also tell you what type of oil to use. Using the wrong type of oil can increase fuel consumption, damage the engine and could affect the vehicle warranty.

While it’s important not to let the oil level get too low, you also need to be careful not to put too much oil in. Overfilling with engine oil can damage the engine and can cause extra emissions from your motorbike, which are bad for the environment.

Checking the engine coolant

Many motorbikes are liquid cooled using a mixture of anti-freeze and water, which stops the engine from overheating. You should check the coolant level frequently, and especially before a long journey. Look at your motorbike handbook to find out how to check the engine coolant and how to top it up if necessary. In cold weather, you’ll need to keep the strength of the anti-freeze at the correct level.

Checking your tyres

Tyres are vital to your motorbike’s safety: damaged or incorrectly inflated tyres could blow-out or lose grip on the road surface and cause an incident.

Make sure that your tyres are correctly fitted and check they’re inflated to the correct pressure weekly. Use a tyre pressure gauge when the tyres are cold to make sure the pressures match those given in the motorbike handbook.

The tread on your tyres must measure at least 1 mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, going all the way around the tyre. The groove of the original tread must be visible all around the tyre.

Most tyres have tread wear indicators, which are exposed when the tread is worn down to 1 mm. Look out for these when you’re checking the tyres.

Check your tyres for damage that could make them unsafe. You must not use a tyre that has

  • a cut longer than 25 mm or 10% of the width of the tyre (whichever is the greater), and which is deep enough to reach the ply
  • a lump, bulge or tear
  • any exposed ply or cord
  • been recut.

If you’re caught using faulty or worn tyres, you could be charged with fines of up to £2500, riding disqualification or points on your licence for each faulty tyre.

Uneven or excessive tyre wear can mean that there’s a fault with the tyres, brakes, steering, suspension or wheel alignment. Get your motorbike checked by a mechanic as soon as possible so any faults can be put right, and replace any damaged tyres.

Brakes

Check your brakes are working whenever you set out on a journey. Brake pads and shoes gradually wear so check and replace them as necessary.

Shock absorbers

Check the shock absorbers for oil leaks, which will make your motorbike difficult to control and increase your stopping distance. Leaking oil could also get on the wheel, tyre, brake disc or drum and cause an incident.

Drive chain and rear wheel alignment

Make sure the drive chain is adjusted so it has the correct amount of free play: see your motorbike handbook for more information. You’ll also need to look out for wear on the drive chain. A worn or slack drive chain can jump off the sprocket and lock the rear wheel.

When you’ve adjusted the chain tension, you’ll need to check the rear wheel alignment. Look at your motorbike handbook for details.

Battery

Make sure that the terminals on the motorbike battery are secure, clean and greased. Most modern batteries are maintenance-free and sealed for life. However, if the battery has a filler cap, you’ll need to check the fluid level to make sure that the plates in each cell are covered. Top up the battery with distilled water if necessary, but be careful not to overfill it.

Lights

Make sure the front and rear lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights (if fitted) work. You should do this each time you use the motorbike.

Keep your motorbike’s lights, indicators, reflectors and number plates clean at all times. Dirt on the lights and reflectors will stop them working effectively.

Horn

Check the horn is working properly but be careful not to do it when it might frighten or annoy other people

Disposing of oil, batteries and tyres

If you service your own motorbike, make sure you dispose of old engine oil, batteries and tyres by taking them to a local authority site or a garage. Don’t put these items in the household waste or pour oil down the drain because they can damage the environment.

Disposing of these items incorrectly is illegal: you could be fined or given a prison sentence. By taking them to a local authority site, they can be safely disposed of or recycled.

 

Before you start any journey, there are some things you should check to make sure your motorbike is ready for the trip – especially if it’s a long one.

Check

  • the tyre pressures: you might need to increase them if your journey is going to involve a lot of motorway riding or riding at the national speed limit.
  • all the lights are clean and working.
  • you have enough fuel for your journey or, if you’ll need to refuel, plan where you’ll do this to make sure you don’t run out.

You should also check your motorbike handbook to find out how you can adjust your motorbike for your needs or for carrying passengers or loads. See Carrying passengers and loads on your motorbike for more information about these topics.

Fuel for your motorbike

Make sure you know what sort of fuel your motorbike uses. Most machines use unleaded petrol but some older motorbikes may need lead replacement petrol. Check with your motorbike dealer or the manufacturer if you’re not sure.

If your motorbike has a two-stroke engine, it’ll need two-stroke oil as well as petrol when you refuel. Depending on your motorbike, you’ll either

  • add the oil directly to the petrol when refuelling: you’ll need to make sure you use the correct ratio of oil and petrol
  • add the oil to a special oil tank; the oil is then automatically mixed with the petrol as it goes into the engine.

While you’re riding, keep an eye on how much fuel you have left. Some motorbikes have fuel gauges and warning lights that show when the fuel is getting low; others may have a gauge that tells you how many miles you’ll be able to ride on the remaining fuel (called a range indicator). Don’t rely on this too closely: the distance you can ride will depend on how you’re riding and in what traffic conditions. Only use the range indicator to give you an idea of how far you’ll be able to ride, and refuel in good time.

If your motorbike doesn’t have a fuel gauge, you’ll need to remove the filler cap to see how much fuel you have.

 

Your driving licence

You must have a valid driving licence for the motorbike you’re riding: if there are any restrictions on your licence (such as only riding a motorbike and sidecar combination), you must follow them. See Motorbike and moped licence categories for more information.

The vehicle registration certificate (V5C)

Your motorbike must be registered with DVLA. The Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C) will show the details that have been registered

  • the name and address of the motorbike’s registered keeper (not necessarily the same as the legal owner)
  • information about the motorbike including its make, model and engine size
  • the date that the machine was first registered.

You must tell DVLA if you

Vehicle tax

Vehicle tax must be paid on all motor vehicles used or kept on public roads (unless the vehicle is exempt). You can pay for 6 months’ or 12 months’ tax. Use GOV.UK to pay your vehicle tax.

The registered keeper of the vehicle (the person named on the V5C – see above) is responsible for taxing the vehicle or telling DVLA if it’s off the road or has been sold, transferred, scrapped or exported.

If you’re taking a vehicle off the road and stop taxing it, you’ll need to make a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN). You can make a SORN at GOV.UK.

Motorbike insurance

It’s illegal to ride without insurance. You must have at least third-party cover before you can take a motorbike on public roads.

Make sure your insurance covers you for how you’ll use the motorbike. Some policies have restrictions on using the motorbike for business, competitions, track days or for riding more than a set number of miles each year.

When you apply for an insurance policy you must answer all the questions as honestly as you can. If you don’t, your insurance policy will be invalid and you’ll be riding uninsured – which could lead to prosecution.

The MOT test certificate

If your motorbike is more than three years old, it must have a valid MOT certificate. The certificate lasts for one year – then you’ll need to get the motorbike tested again.

The MOT test checks your motorbike is safe on the road and that it meets minimum legal standards for its effect on the environment. You’ll need the MOT test certificate to renew your vehicle excise duty (see above).

Showing your documents

You must show your driving licence, a valid insurance certificate and a current MOT certificate (if appropriate) when an authorised person, such as a police officer, asks for them. You can either produce them immediately or within seven days at a police station.

If you borrow or rent a motorbike, or if you lend someone your motorbike, it’s your responsibility to make sure that all the appropriate documents are in place. Never assume that someone else has arranged the documents or that they’re not necessary.

Other countries may have different rules about these documents so remember to check before you drive abroad. You may need to have your documents with you whenever you’re riding.

 

There are lots of tools you can use to help you plan your journey to avoid congestion and get to your destination on time. Always plan your journey before you set off and, if possible, plan alternative routes in case there’s a problem with your original route.

Try to allow some extra time for your journey in case there are delays – especially if you’ve got to be at your destination by a specific time, eg if you’re catching a plane or going to an appointment. Delays can make you frustrated and more likely to take risks to avoid being late, which could lead to an incident.

Using a sat-nav

If you’re using a satellite-navigation system (sat-nav), enter the destination before you start your journey so you’re not distracted by it while riding. A sat-nav can be very useful if you need to change your route but be careful not to rely too heavily on it: if you suspect that the route is wrong, use your common sense rather than following it blindly.

Using a map

Alternatively, use a map to plan your journey. There are route planners available online. Check motoring organisation websites for information about roadworks and areas that might be congested.

It’s a good idea to carry a map with you in case you need to change your route or if there’s a problem with your sat-nav.

Spotting problems or risks on your route

When you’re planning your route, look out for areas where there are congestion charges or tolls for using roads or bridges: you may want to change your route to avoid these.

How suitable a particular route is can depend on exactly when you travel. You’ll find very heavy traffic on some roads during rush hour or in the holiday season, so you may want to avoid these routes. If your route includes exposed roads, you might need to change your route if the weather is windy.

Remember to think about your riding skill and experience when you’re planning a route: if you’re not confident about a route, find an alternative route rather than taking risks.

Following your route

When you’ve planned your route, print it out or write it down so you can follow it easily when you’re riding. Try to use place names as well as road numbers in case any of your route isn’t well signposted.

Some tank bags have a clear pocket on the top so you can keep your route in view while you’re riding, but be careful not to look away from the road for too long: if necessary, stop to check your directions.