On two wheels
If you're not sure whether motorbikes are right for you, find out with a free lesson
Deciding whether or not to start riding is easy, even if you've been mulling it over for a while. It's a yes or no answer, there's no one to convince except yourself. But unless your attitude towards others is utterly cavalier, you might also have to persuade the people who care about your wellbeing that you're not borderline suicidal. You'll be facing down the fact that anything on two, motorised wheels has a bit of an image problem – one that's been carelessly cultivated for generations. For some it's part of the attraction, for everyone else, it's a bit more complicated. Once you've announced your intentions, you'll probably meet a response more appropriate to saying you felt like wearing a suit fashioned after Lady Gaga's meat dress and going for a stroll through the nearest safari park.
If you like the idea but are worried about whether you'll be able to handle it, there's an easy and free way to find out whether or not you like riding. The Get On industry campaign is offering free, hour-long introductory sessions with qualified instructors at 200 training centres across the UK (geton.co.uk). All the equipment is provided and there are no strings attached, so if you don't enjoy it, you can just walk away afterwards.
After passing compulsory basic training, you'll want to get yourself some wheels so you can practice. That doesn't mean you need to immediately go out and buy them, since many riding schools also hire out motorbikes and scooters on a lesson by lesson basis, but in the long run it's the cheapest option. It's also a good idea to take your theory test early on in your training, to get it out of the way.
For the next eight months, you'll have two practical tests to choose from. Unless you only ever want to ride a smaller vehicle, you'll want to go for the standard category A licence. You'll need to take it on a 125-class bike so that when you pass, you can ride a medium-sized motorbike – restricted to a maximum of 33bhp – for two years. After that you can ride whatever two-wheeler you want.
If you're over 21, you have the choice of taking your test on a big bike. This "direct access" option lets you avoid the two-year probation, but the test failure rates are higher. You must also be supervised by an instructor whenever you're on the road, so getting enough experience to pass can get a bit costly in tuition fees.
From 19 January 2013 the test is changing. The categories will be split into light (A1), medium (A2) and unlimited (A) classes. If you want to ride a bike in a more powerful category, you'll have to meet the age restriction and take a test on that category of motorbike – much like the current direct access route. If you pass your test before the rules change, you won't be affected by them, so you'll serve out your two-year probationary period and then be licensed to ride whichever motorbike you fancy.
If you're still not convinced that now's the time to start, maybe the Red Dwarf actor Danny John-Jules can tempt you. MotoVentures' Challenge 125 (bit.ly/ycSzPC) is looking for three people to join him on a trip from London to Misano, Italy in time for September's San Marino MotoGP, where you'll get two free paddock passes. Entrants must not yet hold a motorcycle licence. Those selected will have their training provided courtesy of the Get On campaign. You'll have just £125 to spend on the way, but the winner will have earned a free motorbike, jacket, helmet and gloves. What more encouragement do you need to start riding?
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