Training and Licensing
The United Kingdom has historically had a lower motorcyclist
fatality rate than the USA, so we might consider their model. One
of the big differences between training/licensing in the USA and
the UK is how the skills tests are administered. In the USA, a
single skills test is given at the end of the basic course, or after
the course. In the UK there are multiple tests, and they are given
only at government test centers. The tests are relatively tough,
including an in-traffic module. The UK tests really do make
an effort to ensure that the applicant has the right stuff before
issuing a license. Most importantly, the rider licensing system
in the UK limits teenage riders to small motorcycles, and only
allows progression to larger machines as the newbie gains age
Governments in the UK do not provide or subsidize motorcyclist training. Training is offered by private driving schools.
A17-year-old can take a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT)
course from a driving school, and then get a permit to ride a
125cc bike displaying an L plate (Learner). Before the CBT
certificate expires (in two years), the new rider will want to take
the Practical Motorbike Test at a government test center, to obtain
an A1 license to drive the 125 without the embarrassing L plate.
At age 19, the semi-experienced rider can apply to take the
test on a mid-sized bike, larger than 395cc but limited to 35 k W
power. Passing that test would yield an A2 license. The rider could
stick with a mid-sized machine, or at age 21 could take the test
again on a machine larger than 595cc to obtain a full A license.
The advantage of that system is that a new rider gets in years
of saddle time before stepping up to a powerful bike. That allows
mistakes to be made and lessons to be learned at more modest
speeds. And it happens to dovetail nicely with the concept of a
teenager needing a few years to develop a better attitude about
Although the training/licensing system in the USA is too
entrenched to change in the near future, we can mentor newer
riders to start conservatively. We might not be successful convincing a new rider to squander two years on a 125, but they
might consider a 250 or 300, and then after a couple more years,
move up to a 500, and a few years later to a “full sized” machine.
I suspect that most MCN subscribers are experienced motor-
cyclists. You might be wondering why I’m addressing “learn to
ride” concepts. First, you are likely to find yourself in the role
of mentor to some younger or less experienced rider. I
suggest that the UK system is a good model to follow,
regardless of the laws in your state. Second, most of us
are getting older. Sooner or later we’re going to have
to start thinking about appropriate machines for the
tail end of the ride.
The Aging Rider
I hope this is no surprise to you, but most of us are
getting about one year older every 12 months. We were
in top physical condition at about age 23, and then
it’s been downhill ever since. Most of us don’t really
plan for that, we just keep on riding year after year,
until we’re “no longer able to ride safely.” We’re not
sure what that means, but most of us will eventually
get clues about our situation. Maybe we drop the big
1800cc roadburner three times in one month. Maybe
there’s a serious crash, with embarrassing surgery bills.
Some of us just get to the point where the idea of
dancing the truck tango and breathing diesel soot is
no longer appealing.
If you are starting to experience medical problems that limit
your ability to ride long distance, or if you’re just getting burned
out from the same old same old, don’t feel guilty about quitting.
But if giving up motorcycling is untenable, consider a different
style. One tactic is to downsize. It’s the flip side of learning to
ride. You might find that a 650cc or even a 250cc does all the
things you need a motorcycle to do. More than a few oldsters
have rediscovered that mid-sized or smaller bikes are a lot of fun,
without so much drama and liability.
If you are beginning to develop physical limitations, consider
a sidecar outfit. Yes, I realize that for someone who has only
ridden two-wheelers, the idea of a three-wheeler might seem
repulsive. But maybe you can warm up to the idea if it means
you can keep on motorcycling and not have to sweat every time
your overloaded touring bike wants to lie down. There are also
trike conversions and factory three-wheelers such as the Can Am
Spyder. Be aware that driving a three-wheeler involves a different
set of skills, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun than driving
a bike. I recommend the Sidecar/Trike Education Program to
help you make the transition. ( evergreenmotorcycletraining.org)
I’ve always enjoyed going to rallies, especially if that involved
long motorcycle rides to get there. I still enjoy rallies, but I’m
less interested in the “long motorcycle rides” part. I attend a
few events, but I mostly travel in an SUV, with a 250cc bike
carried on the hitch rack. On the road I have the comfort of air
conditioning, travel food, an ice chest full of water, medications
and test equipment, and maybe a few boxes of books for sale.
When I get to the rally I offload the 250 and use it around town.
Feel free to adopt that tactic for yourself. I still think of myself
as a “motorcyclist.”
The mean age of a motorcyclist in the USA today is around
50 years old. That means a lot of MCN readers are in our 50s
and 60s and even older. Fortunately, we have Dr. John Alevizos
contributing the Medical Motorcycling column. Paying attention to his medical advice could extend your ride, whatever the
machine you choose.
ll David Hough, the original author of MCN’s Proficient Motorcycling
and Street Strategies columns, is the author of several best-selling
books, both for our former publisher, Bow Tie Books, and our current
house, i5 Publishing, including Proficient Motorcycling, Mastering the
Ride, Street Strategies, and Street Riders’ Guide.
Sidecars are a practical way to keep on motorcycling,
and they also happen to be a lot of fun.