doubt there are a good few of you who, as you sit in yet another
interminable traffic jam, wonder about taking to two wheels. Especially
as the weather is improving. Maybe you used to ride, maybe you
just hankered after it but never had a chance. Either way, there
has never been a better time to get out there and do it. Bikes
are better today than ever before, they are cheaper in real terms,
clothing is more comfortable and offers better protection and,
despite what the doomsayers will tell you, biking is safer today
than at any time in recent history.
There are lots of very good reasons why you should go biking.
Reduced journey times and reduced costs are the most obvious tangible
reasons, but the less readily quantifiable ones are equally important.
Getting to work with a grin on your face instead of a snarl is
a major bonus. Finishing the evening rush in the same way is even
better – your family get you back happy, relaxed and earlier
than they would otherwise have done. Environmentally, a bike is
a far cleaner transport choice, using less space on the road,
less space to park, less fuel and producing far less emissions.
Even town planners are now recognising this with bikes generally
being offered free parking and being exempted from congestion
charging schemes. Of course, as either a new rider or a returning
one, there are just a few things you need to take a look at before
you can take to the roads…
Getting your licence
Obvious things first of all. You need to be 16 or over to ride
a moped (50cc) and 17 or over to ride anything else.
There are a few ways of getting a full bike licence, but all of
them start in the same place. You need to do a theory test and
you must take something called the CBT – Compulsory Basic
Training. CBT takes place in a car park or other arranged off
road venue at first, ends up on a brief assessed ride around the
local roads and takes a day. There is no test, but you must satisfy
the instructor that you are safe to be allowed on the road. After
that, things change depending on your age and preference.
If you are between 17 and 21, you have no choice. You are allowed
to ride a 125cc bike as a learner. If you want to take your test
then that will also be on something no larger than a 125, and
after you have passed you will be free to ride anything at all.
Provided, that is, that it does not produce more than 33bhp. After
2 years or on your 21st birthday, whichever comes first, this
restriction will be lifted and you may ride anything you wish.
If you are over 21 you may take the restricted route above or
you may take the direct access path. This means learning on a
bike with more than 56bhp and in permanent radio contact with
an instructor. You take your test on this bike and, assuming you
pass, are entitled to ride anything you wish.
If you only want to ride a 50cc bike and have a car licence then
you may do so without further tests.
That’s the legal minimum. Common sense, self preservation
and a quick look around the marketplace make it clear that further
training is especially important to a returning rider –
bikes have moved on a long way and may well be faster, better
handling and have better brakes than you remember. I would never
advocate anyone going without advanced rider training of some
sort for the simple reason that learning from someone else’s
mistakes is so much less painful than learning from your own.
Choosing your bike
Probably the hardest decision you will make – a bike is
an incredibly personal choice, far more than a car, and so there
is no way that anyone can or should tell you what you want. But
I can give you some pointers. Decide what sort of riding you are
going to do. If you’re only going to ride in town then a
sportsbike is neither practical nor comfortable. Similarly, a
bike which may be great in traffic may be less than ideal when
you and yours decide to ride down to St Tropez for the summer.
You also need to decide on an image that suits you. James Dean
or James Haydon, urban chic, urban warrior or long-haul hero.
Or none of the above – the choice is completely yours. Finally,
think about any brand loyalty you may have. Drive a BMW and you
may well look at a bike with the propeller on the tank, for example.
But whatever you do, take your time, read some road tests and
Doing the deal
you’re buying new then you’ll be at a dealer. So the
first thing you want is a test ride, right? You’d be unlikely
to buy a car without one, so why should you take the chance with
a bike? Don’t be fobbed off with a 14 day exchange deal
either – it’s a bike, not a washing machine. If there
isn’t a demo available then make sure there’s a good
reason, and if you aren’t satisfied then go somewhere else.
Right, having got that out of the way, assuming you’re happy,
you’ll be wanting to buy it. A few things to check first.
Is it a UK machine? Is it the current model or the outgoing one?
Is the one you’re buying exactly the same as the one you’ve
seen/ridden? Only when you are completely happy should you move
on to the next stage.
If you’re buying used then it is essential that you find
out everything you possibly can about the bike before you see
it. Ideally, take someone along with you who has experience of
that type. Don’t even go see it if the seller can’t
assure you on the phone that they have all the documentation available,
and check all the numbers on the V5 (logbook) against the actual
numbers on the bike before looking at anything else. If you’re
in any doubt at all, walk away and don’t look back. Make
sure the seller has title to the bike, do a finance check and
look really carefully for signs of neglect, abuse, racing, crash
damage and so on. It’s a buyer’s market right now,
so be careful.
There are three real options open to you if you’re buying
through a dealer, two if it’s private. A dealer will offer
you finance, while you can arrange your own loan or pay cash anywhere.
Dealer finance is convenient and it may help the dealer to make
the deal seem sweeter by dropping their price. You’ll be
able to get any extras you go for included and it is the dealer’s
preferred method. The reason is simple – he gets a hefty
commission from the finance company. And of course you’re
funding that. Also remember that dealer arranged finance means
that should your circumstances change and you have to sell the
bike (perhaps to get something better, perhaps for other reasons)
you’ll have to pay off the finance immediately and you will
find it very difficult to sell privately as it will not be clear
to popular belief, the thing the dealer likes least is a customer
turning up with a briefcase full of readies. Don’t do it
– they have to pay bank charges for handling lots of cash
and it’s a real security headache. You’ll get no favours
on the deal and you get no security either. If you’ve got
the money already then a bankers draft or building society cheque
is safest for everyone and is just as real a payment as cash.
You may, of course, find that a private seller will welcome you
with open arms if you offer to pay in real money, so there could
be some advantage to be had. But be careful.
Most people don’t have a spare few grand in their pockets
these days, so it’s likely that you’ll need to borrow
the money somehow. While your bank may be easy, there are often
better sources. Alliance and Leicester, for example, are offering
loans for a lot less than most other lenders, and on very good
terms as well. A loan from them could well mean that you end up
paying less than a fiver a day for your new bike, and that’s
difficult to argue against. Plus, of course, should you want or
need to sell, you’re free and clear – the bike is
yours and whether you maintain the loan or pay it back in one
go is entirely up to you. Expect, on a £7000 loan, to pay
around £500 to £1000 less going down this route than
with traditional HP.
Like any other motor vehicle, this is a legal requirement for
a bike. Most dealers will be able to point you towards a helpful
broker. Otherwise try Taylor Price – www.directchoice.co.uk
– who are one of the market leaders.
The bare minimum you need to legally ride a motorbike on the
road is a helmet and sufficient clothing to prevent you from being
arrested. However, unless you are totally impervious to pain you
will need a few other things. Top of the list comes gloves and
boots, for the simple reason that hand and ankle injuries are
both some of the most common and some of the most disabling results
of unprotected accidents. You’ll want something weatherproof
as well. What that is depends on your intentions. If you’re
commuting then you’ll probably want an all weather suit.
If you’re planning on being a recreational rider then maybe
a light oversuit which rolls up and goes under the seat would
be enough. But whatever you go for, take a bit of time and take
whatever advice you can get.
There are a lot of choices to make and lots of alternative ways
to go. There is no right or wrong choice, just the one which suits
you best. You can get a good idea of what’s out there by
looking at www.motorbikestoday.com.