Is Motorcycle Training in the UK Good Enough? Does Motorcycle Training Need Improving?
Are you on the path to becoming a proficient motorcyclist, or are you just one of the many who think that you have your licence and that’s the end of the road?
The journey to obtaining your motorcycle licence involves training and a series of basic tests. It is a skills development process from new or novice to getting through the first hurdle.
While there have been significant changes in motorcycle training, including the introduction of Mod 1 and Mod 2 tests and theory test, the question lingers: Does the current training to test standard genuinely prepare riders for the dynamic and unpredictable challenges of real-life riding?
Evolution of Motorcycle Training – From Pre-1990
In the era before 1990, motorcycle training in the UK was rudimentary, learners were ill-equipped for the complexities of the road. In the 80’s there was star rider which entailed turning up for a number of weeks with a local volunteer group.
They’d put you through your paces but only if you wanted to. Alternatively, you could teach yourself by trial and error. Some people only made one mistake! Life was pretty much fend for yourself in those days of learning to ride as a learner.
Then came CSM, a well structured training programme that gave some methodical training. This was the start of training with purpose, however it did seem a bit like, stack it high and sell it cheap. It was like a treadmill, start off on one end and then come off at the other end with your licence.
In those days the examiner stood on the street corner to watch you ride around the block. He’d jump out in front of you to do an emergency stop. If you didn’t fall off, you usually passed the test. That’s only if the bike didn’t break down!
The Introduction of CBT
The introduction of the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) standard marked a transformative shift. It aimed to provide new riders with the skills and knowledge needed for their first solo ventures on the road.
This change was undoubtedly a substantial improvement, but even with CBT, there are lingering flaws in the journey for learner riders.
The CBT did not fix all the problems, it just helped new riders have some formal training prior to flying solo. One of the problems was the training standard from one school to another. In those days, most trainers gave a CBT certificate like it was ‘a paid for’ bag of sweets from a shop.
The standard was poor and the general consensus was, the learner is better now after a day’s training than when they came in this morning. It was a real conveyor belt and some people made a lot of money.
In many trainers’ opinions, the CBT is not fit for purpose. It is too short in time and does not allow the learner rider to become independent in a short period of time. A longer learning process is needed to give novice riders more education at this critical stage of their learning journey.
The Motorcycle Theory Test
The Theory Test is a contentious subject for many road users. Why would a car driver who has been driving for many years need to do a basic theory test designed for new and novice road users.
It was a blanket introduction and looked upon as a money making scheme.
If you have not completed and passed a theory test for the category of vehicle you wish to ride or drive, you must take and pass a theory test in that category. The theory test must be passed before you can book a practical test.
The Pass Mark
The Theory Test comprises two parts. The multiple choice questions, you must get 43 correct out of 50 questions. The Hazard Perception Test is the second part, each hazard is worth 5 points and there are 15 hazards to find in 14 video clips. You must score 44/75 to pass.
The Module 1 Test – Skill Development
The introduction of the Module 1 test brought about a significant evolution in training. It meant that trainers had to develop a different training approach for learner riders.
It focuses on enhancing machine handling skills within the confines of an off-road environment. This was always a skimmed area of training and the learner riders had a weakness in bike control, especially when it came to slow control manoeuvres and negotiating tighter spaces.
Learners are now better prepared to control their motorcycles in controlled settings. However, this shift has a trade-off, there is a reduction in the amount of actual on-road training. This means that riders are less prepared for the type of riding they will actually do when they pass their motorcycle test.
The Module 1 motorcycle test has a number of slow control and speed exercises, they include:-
Slow Control Exercises
- Manual handling
- Slalom & fig-of-8
- Slow ride
- Riding the circuit (left or right)
- Controlled stop
- Emergency stp
- Avoidance exercise
All must be successfully completed to gain a pass certificate.
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The Module 2 Test – On Road Test
The Module 2 motorcycle test has not changed much over the years, the time has been extended slightly from 40 to 57 minutes. This means the test can be slightly longer which means a better assessment can be made.
With the Emergency Stop and the U-Turn being conducted on the Module 1 motorcycle test, this means the test route is longer and more riding can be achieved during the Mod 2 test.
Pass rates are higher now than ever before. But that is not because the riding is better, it’s because the Emergency Stop and U-Turn are no longer problematic to new riders under test conditions.
In many cases, roads where the U-Turn and Emergency Stop were conducted were not good enough for test conditions. U-Turns were not consistent from test to test because of the width of roads, congestion of traffic and road surface issues.
A Better Test
In my opinion the Module 2 motorcycle test is much better now than it has ever been. It is a better test of the learner rider and in most cases allows a fairer assessment. There are exceptions to this, in main cities during rush hour a learner rider cannot go very far in the time allocated to test.
The Mod 2 motorcycle test allows an examiner to watch a learner rider in various speed limits that range for 30-70 mph. A normal test route has some urban and rural riding elements as well as a dual carriageway (where possible), along with this there are a number of turns to be made at junctions and roundabouts.
The compulsory exercises include pulling over to the side of the road. This is to demonstrate stopping at the side of the road to complete a hill start, an angled start and a normal pull away exercise.
The test typically takes anywhere between 35-45 minutes in duration. This is why it is important to turn up on time because latecomers will not have enough time to complete the test.
A Matter of Hours Isn’t Long Enough?
With an average training duration of three days, a notable portion, more than 50% is devoted to preparing riders for the Module 1 test. While this meticulous preparation is vital, it inevitably affects the time allocated for on-road rider training.
As a result, there’s a growing concern that the riding standard on the road might not be as robust as it was before the Module 1 motorcycle test was introduced.
Typical training plans are formed from historic training delivery. In the 80’s and early 90’s before the Direct Access Scheme was introduced, learners would take all their training on a 125 cc machine. After they passed, they could ride any sized motorcycle.
A Typical Training Plan Back Then
When a new rider wanted to learn to ride they were allocated a training plan based on their answers to a few questions. This was not client centred, it was a conveyor belt system that put you on a course based on what you told the training school!
- No experience – 5 day course
- Some experience – 4 day course
- Lots of experience – 3 day course
And this was to learn on a 125 cc machine and pass the single event motorcycle test.
Training Plans Haven’t Changed!
The training plans in many training establishments have not changed very much but the test has changed significantly. I feel that this is because trainers have copied training plans handed down from archaic practices and learner riders are not properly prepared for the modern era.
The CBT is much more onerous now with the amount of lessons learner riders must be taught. They must achieve a satisfactory standard, it should not be an attendance course . The introduction of Direct Access Scheme where riders have to progress to a much larger machine, then the introduction of the Module 1 and Module 2 motorcycle tests.
All these additional hurdles combined mean that trainers are working their students much harder to cover what is required for the motorcycle journey. But it is a fact, the learner riders now do not have the same practical skill level that riders had back in the 1980’s.
One of the reasons is, back then nearly every child rode a pushbike and had some practical hand to eye coordination. This is because there were no computers, ipads, mobile phones and other distractions, kids played outside and had more practical skills. The modern times mean riders are more academic and more often than not require more practical education.
Pass Rates Are Low – Learners Need More Training
This may be why the national pass rate is a little over 60%. This is a shocking pass rate for learner riders who want to ride as a hobby. They are in the hands of professional trainers who still continue to put their customers on an old broken conveyor belt with old techniques and below standard guidance.
This is why the pass rate is so low, in my opinion it should be 80% plus. This means training plans must be extended, there must be an introduction into better learner rider development. Proper training plans should be used with accurate training records made, where instructors are accountable for their training.
Learner riders would then be part of their own learning journey and development as they understand their weaknesses before they progress to the test phase.
Off the shelf, old school methods must be consigned to the scrap heap. They must become a thing of the past to move the training process forward. Modern techniques and a better understanding of trainees’ needs must formulate the new era of motorcycle training.
The Learning Environment – Training vs. Real-Life Riding
Training typically occurs in proximity to the training school and the test centre location, driven more by logistical convenience and familiarity.
While this approach has its merits, it falls short of preparing riders for the diverse challenges they’ll encounter during their leisure rides.
Localised Training – Are Learners Ready For The Open Road
Because the training is the preparation and foundations to learning to ride. A lot of time has to be spent teaching the basics, this in itself is fantastic practise but new riders do not spend long enough on their training journey with professional trainers.
The CBT is at best a rushed and inadequate preparation for novice riders. This is the start of the issue, as learners can go on the road after a very short introduction. This does not set them up well and in most cases, self-teaching has to be done as there is not enough time in a 1 day CBT to set the basic skills properly.
The next training flaw is the development of learner riders to pass the Mod 1 test. Some very basic skills are required but they are challenging for new and inexperienced riders. Some of the tests are counter intuitive, where you have to accelerate quickly towards a hazard, swerve or apply the brakes aggressively to carry out an emergency stop.
These things take time away from riding on the road, although there is a place for them and it sets basic foundational skills. But my point is, the training plans in most cases are not good enough, learners do not get to practise on the actual test centre, even though it can be used by all training schools.
Cheapest Isn’t Best for Anyone
Because training is very often cheap, trainers are overloaded with work and it is a conveyor belt system to keep the money coming in. Because it is inexpensive, training bikes are not always modern and in the best condition, training is rushed if instructors are under pressure to train more people.
Learner riders are slotted into empty test spaces that have not been filled. So consequently they go to test not ready but they are told it’s a good experience and you have a chance of passing.
So you see, the training journey is not always a good one and there is a good reason why riders who pass their motorcycle test are not ready for the riding they really want to do. In most cases, it’s a day out with their loved one, or a day out riding in the countryside with their friends.
New Riders Are Not Ready For The Road Ahead
The riding a novice is about to embark on is a tough and difficult journey, fraught with danger for inexperienced riders. They aren’t ready for that journey because the training is not long enough or thorough enough. A lot of learner riders want it as cheap as possible and done as quickly as possible.
The professional training school should set expectations and train thoroughly with a client centred learning approach (quite a lot unfortunately don’t). Learners are individuals with different learning styles, off the shelf courses are dangerous and too quick to set good proper skills.
The Need for Further Training – Advancing Riding Skills
Given the limited time novices spend on the road during training and the restricted exposure to open road experiences, these fledgling riders are often unprepared for the adventures that await them. The solution – Further training.
Dispelling Myths – The Truth About Advanced Training
Advanced riding is a phrase used by many riders to explain a way of riding. But, when you say advanced training to new riders they automatically think it is well out of their ability level and it’s a long way off from where they are right now.
To dispel those myths, advanced training is exactly that. It advances your skills from where you are now to where you want to be. If your ability is 20% and you want to advance to 35%, advanced rider tuition will get you to where you want to be.
If your ability is 60% and you want to be in the top 10% of riders in the UK, advanced rider training can take you to that position too.
Anyone can go onto advanced rider training courses and develop their skills. They can elevate their knowledge and the ability to learn better skills and become better and more competent riders.
Breaking Stereotypes – Unveiling the Reality
Advanced training often carries misconceptions. Some riders believe they’ve learned everything after obtaining their full bike licence. This couldn’t be further from the truth, it is only the first step on the ladder. The real learning doesn’t start now, it started in the basic training but riders are now on their own without any professional guidance.
Passing the test is just the beginning, subsequent guidance advances your skill level, hence the term “advanced training.” But it isn’t until a new rider has a scary moment or a realisation that they are not as good as they think they are, then they wake up to the fact that there is so much more to learn.
Advanced riding is not a hidden secret, it’s a systematic approach to understanding the road. It transforms your perception and planning, and changes the way you use the bike on the road.
It is a very worthwhile training plan to partake in, find a good training provider who understands your needs. They will transform the way you ride and elevate your skills in the matter of a few training sessions.
How far you go in the world of advancing your skills is down to you. But remember, the best riders continue to have professional development and never stop learning. That’s why they are masters of their craft. It’s about turning risk levels from high to low.
Conclusion – Riders Can Be Safer with More Training
To all aspiring motorcyclists, here’s the bottom line:
Gaining your motorcycle licence doesn’t mark the end of your journey, it’s only the beginning. Beyond the confines of the test centre lies a world of challenges and adventures waiting to be explored.
To ensure a safer and more skilled ride, you must consider advancing your riding skills by taking extra coaching and guidance. It’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity!
Keep it on the Black Stuff…