Starting out: The theory test

Sarah Norman: taking my motorcycling theory test

I've wanted to ride since I was 16. But I could always find the excuse to say ‘Not yet’ to myself when looking into doing my bike test. Money was often the reason, but time, work and what other people think also delayed it. 

I've always been a bit of a petrolhead. After a friend of the family took me stock car racing in Wisbech, I fell in  love with motorsport and then more specifically (car) rallying when I was a teenager. I'd persuade anyone I could to take me along to watch stages of the Network Q RAC Rally (the forerunner to the current WRC Wales Rally GB), much to the dismay of my GP father. 

I soon decided I wanted to work in the industry and after a couple of freelance jobs in the marketing communications and PR world, both in rallying and F1, I got a job at Emap, the then publisher of RiDE magazine and other automotive titles such as MCN, Bike, Max Power and Car magazine. 

Bikes always fascinated me and the sport always seemed way cooler than car racing, but after a job offer from Top Gear I chose four wheels as my next step.

Fourteen years later, and back at RiDE now heading up the marketing for the motorcycling division, I've run out of excuses. It's time to take the plunge and do this properly. When opportunity comes knocking and all that...

The first step on the ladder is to get my theory test done. As I've decided to go straight for my Category A licence on a Direct Access Scheme (DAS), I'll need to have passed this before I  can start. 

The theory test is valid for two years, so even if commitments get in the way it won't be a waste. And the CBT lasts the same time, but I'm not intending on waiting that long!

Theory test prep
Everyone who wants to go further than their CBT has to pass the motorcycle theory test. You can do this anytime before your first module of the riding test, but if you do it first it helps to put you in the right frame of mind for the rest of your training. Plus if you're combining your CBT and DAS into one week long course, there won't be time to squeeze it in that week, so you'll need to have done it beforehand. There are two parts: a multiplechoice section with 50 questions, and a hazard-perception section featuring 16 video clips. They are both done on the same day and the test costs £25. You can book it online here and you take the test at your local test centre.

To prepare for the theory test, I bought all the books – The Driving Theory Test which comes with a CD-Rom, The Highway Code, Know Your Traffic Signs, The Official DSA Guide To Riding, and Pass The Bike Test by Rupert Paul and Sean Hayes. In the end, the only ones I used were the Theory test/CD-Rom combo and the Pass the Bike Test book. You can also practise the test online here.

I've been driving for just over 20 years, so I felt reasonably confident about the theory test, but thought some revision would be a good idea.The bit that was totally new to me was the hazard perception test, and there is a bit of an art to it. To be honest (and I'm not bragging), I was too quick for it. I clicked the mili-second I saw a hazard and kept scoring zero points as the hazard hadn't registered as starting. 

I'm really glad I'd bought the CD-Rom, as it meant I could practice this and by the time the test came around I'd got the hang of the timing. The multiple-choice questions were no problem either, I scored 50/50!

Now I've got that out of the way, there are three more steps to tackle.

First up is the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). This course is designed to take pupils from having never ridden before to a level of skill where they are safe enough to ride unaccompanied. It usually takes a day, but all depends on how well the pupil picks it up. Car drivers obviously are more familiar with being on the road, but 16-year-olds on scooters don’t have to worry about gears or stalling. It is a great place to lay a good foundation. It costs between £100-£200, depending on the school and often includes bike and clothing hire. At the end you’ll get a certificate that you’ll need to be allowed to book your test.

With that done,  you can now move onto the tests. First you need to decide which of the three types of bike licence you want;


CATEGORY A

This is the most popular and the licence I'm going for. You have to be at least 24 years old, and you’ll take your training and tests on a bike of at least 595cc with at least 54bhp. Once you’ve passed you can ride a motorbike of any capacity or power.

CATEGORY A2

This licence is aimed at riders aged 19 to 23 or those not wanting to ride a more powerful machine. You take your test on a bike of at least 395cc, with 27-47bhp. Once you’ve passed you will be able to ride a bike with up to 47bhp. You can restrict a more powerful bike, so long as it makes less than 94bhp originally.

CATEGORY A1

This type of licence is for riders between 17 and 19 years old or anyone that only wants to ride a scooter or utility vehicle. You’ll ride a 125cc bike with no more than 15bhp – but even if you pass, that’s what you’re limited to. 

Regardless of which category licence you want, the course is structured in the same way. The practical test is split into two parts: Module 1 and Module 2.

MODULE 1

This takes place on a private site at the test centre. The examiner will ask you to perform manoeuvres including pushing the bike, slow riding, a U-turn, slalom, braking and avoidance braking at speed. You’re allowed some small mistakes but a big one will get you a fail. 

MODULE 2

This is an assessed road ride. The examiner will follow you and watch you deal with town riding, dual carriageways and rural roads. Machine control, how you deal with hazards and other traffic will all come into the final mark. You’re allowed minor mistakes, but a big one will earn you a fail.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahnorman12 and on Instagram @sarahnorman99,  both using the hashtag #addictedtothelean