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The Insider's Guide to UK Motorcycle Licences

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

The intricacies of the UK's motorcycle licensing laws can often seem like a maze, especially if you're new to the world of two-wheeled adventures. Fear not, dear readers! Below, you'll find a concise guide to demystify the various licence options available. If you're eager to start your journey on two wheels, keep reading!

DL196 Certificate

Obtaining your DL196 certificate is a straightforward entry point into the world of motorcycling and happens to be my personal recommendation for those looking to dip their toes into biking without committing to a full motorcycle licence right away.

After successfully completing your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT), you'll receive the DL196 certificate, which remains valid for two years. If you're 16 years old, you can ride a moped up to 50cc with a power output of up to 4kw, displaying L plates. If you're over 16, you're entitled to ride a moped or motorcycle up to 125cc with a power output of up to 11kw, also with L plates. However, regardless of your age, motorway riding and carrying passengers are not allowed.

Before your DL196 certificate expires, you have two choices: you can either retake the CBT course and receive a new DL196 certificate (valid for another two years) or opt for additional training to undertake your theory and practical exams to obtain a full motorcycle or moped licence.

Note: CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) is mandatory before you can ride any moped, scooter, or motorcycle on the road, and you must hold a provisional Category A licence. For more details, check out my CBT blog post here.

AM Licence

The AM licence is an excellent choice for younger riders who want to ride small-capacity motorcycles or mopeds without the inconvenience of L plates.

To obtain an AM Licence, you must pass a theory test and a two-part practical test, which you can take from the age of 16, after completing your CBT. With an AM licence, you can ride mopeds with a speed range between 15.5mph and 28mph. You are not required to display L plates, and you may carry a passenger, although it might not be the most thrilling experience at a max speed of 28mph!

A1 Licence

Now, let's delve into the different 'A' category licences, which can be a tad confusing. It's worth noting that the tests for these 'A' licences are the same; the only difference lies in the capacity (or engine size) of the bike you'll be tested on, along with age and riding experience requirements.

For an A1 licence, you must be at least 17 years old and have completed your CBT and passed the motorcycle theory test. The A1 licence tests are conducted on a 120cc to 125cc motorcycle, which can reach up to 55mph or have a maximum output of 11kw. With an A1 licence, you can ride motorcycles up to 125cc without L plates, carry passengers, and travel on motorways without restrictions. After holding an A1 licence for two years, you can opt to take your practical test to obtain an A2 licence.

A2 Licence

The A2 licence offers more freedom than the A1, though it is not entirely unrestricted. This licence is ideal for those who are not yet eligible for an A licence or prefer riding smaller to medium-capacity motorcycles.

To apply for an A2 licence, you must be at least 19 years old and have held an A1 licence for two years or possess a valid DL196 certificate and have passed the motorcycle theory test. The A2 tests must be completed on a minimum 245cc motorcycle with a power output ranging from 20kw (27bhp) to 35kw (47bhp). Once you obtain an A2 licence, you can ride motorcycles of any capacity, but they must be restricted to no more than 35kw (47bhp).

One significant advantage of the A2 licence is that it expedites the process of obtaining a full, unrestricted A licence. After holding an A2 licence for two years, you can immediately go for your full Category A licence without waiting until you turn 24.

A Licence

The A licence is the ultimate achievement in motorcycle licensing in the UK. Like the A2 licence, there are two pathways to obtain an A licence, depending on your riding experience.

You can follow the 'Direct Access' route, a four-stage process that involves passing your CBT, motorcycle theory test, and Module 1 and Module 2 practical tests. To qualify for this route, you must be at least 24 years old and pass the practical tests on a motorcycle with a minimum of 40kw (54bhp) and above 595cc.

Alternatively, if you've held an A2 licence for more than two years, you can take the practical test for an A licence without retaking the theory test. This option allows 21-year-olds to hold this licence but still requires passing the practical test on a motorcycle with a minimum of 40kw (54bhp) and above 595cc.

Once you attain an A licence, you can ride motorcycles of any capacity, carry passengers, use sidecars, and access motorways.


Still feeling a bit bewildered about which licence suits you best? Let me offer some guidance.

Regardless of your age, if you're keen to enter the world of motorcycling, I highly recommend starting with the CBT course and obtaining your DL196 certificate. It's the quickest and most cost-effective way to kickstart your biking journey. Yes, it limits you to a 125cc bike, but trust me, riding one is an absolute blast! Plus, when you decide to pursue an A licence, you'll likely need fewer hours of tuition to reach test standard, having already gained road experience and familiarity with the rules.

However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't go straight for that full A licence if you believe you have what it takes. The key takeaway here is to choose the path that feels right for you. If you're between the ages of 17 and 24, explore the options outlined above and select the one that aligns with your motorcycle preferences.

Lastly, if you'd like more in-depth information about the tests involved, I've covered them extensively in four separate blog posts:

I'm always open to your comments and suggestions, so please feel free to share them below.

Stay safe and enjoy the ride!

Jennie x

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