I’ve been riding a Honda CB650R for three months. I use it to commute 25 miles a day in London, and have also done multiple 200+ mile days to get to shows or visit friends and family.
I ride come rain or shine and can say without hesitation that becoming a biker has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; I save a tonne of time and money (and reliably average 60mpg), I don’t rely on public transport, and I love my newfound freedom because stand-still traffic simply isn’t a thing anymore.
This bike’s acceleration (0-62mph in 3.5 seconds) is also a huge bonus which, when backed up with sequential upshifts, makes gunning it from the lights ridiculously satisfying.
As for biker life negatives, there are a few, and they include getting cold, and being vulnerable. The costs involved in getting a motorbike might also shock you (which helps explain why the average age of a rider is mid-50s), which leads me nicely onto the question I get asked most: How much does it cost to get a licence?
So here’s everything you need to know.
How much does a 'basic' license cost?
Before you can even think about getting a proper bike, your journey will start with the CBT (Compulsory Basic Training), which will allow you to ride motorbikes or mopeds (with ‘L’ plates) up to 125cc; these typically have a top speed of around 60mph.
There’s no theory test needed for stage one, you just show up at a CBT centre, spend a day being shown the ropes (equipment, low speed manoeuvres and then road riding), after which - provided you’re successful - you’ll leave with a CBT certificate, which is valid for two years.
The cost of a CBT ranges on average between £99 and £129, and a quick Google search will reveal your nearest CBT centre.
Stepping up to Mod 1 and Mod 2
If you want to step up to a bike like the CB650R, you have to be over 24, and you need to pass Mod 1 and Mod 2. And this is where things get more expensive and a lot more involved.
Mod 1 takes place in a test centre and comprises low speed riding, obstacle avoidance, a U-Turn, an emergency brake, slalom, figure of 8 and parking.
The test typically takes around 10 minutes and will set you back £15.50.
It’s important to note that before you’re able to take your Mod 1 test, you need to pass your theory test (including hazard perception), which is priced at £23.
Once you’ve passed Mod 1 (as well as the aforementioned theory test), the final step to get you on a big bike is Mod 2.
Unlike Mod 1, this final test takes place on the public road and lasts 40 minutes. Before you head out, the examiner will ask you a few questions (for example “tell me how you would check your chain” and “show me where the brake fluid reservoir is”). On the road, the examiner will watch your every move to ensure that you’re competent.
The Mod 2 test itself costs £75 on a weekday or £88.50 on a weekend.
The very basic cost to get a full motorbike licence, then, will set you back ‘around’ £215.
BUT, the chances of you passing Mod 1 and Mod 2 without any training are slim to none. That’s why motorcycle schools offer fully inclusive programmes that will train you from zero to hero.
To give you an example, I did my training with the Honda School of Motorcycling. Including the CBT, a full licence with them will cost £899, and comprises a full day of training for Mod 1, plus the test itself, and one full day of training for Mod 2 (on public roads), including the test.
So while the actual tests themselves aren’t particularly expensive, the training is. But without it, you’ve got no chance of passing because safety, awareness and confidence on a motorbike aren’t things you’re born with; they’re things you learn.
So say you’ve passed your Mod 2 and you’re now legally allowed to ride any bike you like. Awesome, but because you’ve come this far, you’re probably sensible enough to protect yourself with good biker gear.
And because I get asked a lot about my gear, I’ll start from the top down. My Shoei NXR Stimuli TC-10 retails for £469.99. Expensive, yes, but also highly rated for crash protection and I love the design. You’ll also need a Pinlock that stops your visor steaming up. Add around £25 for one of those.
Moving down, a good Gore-Tex textile jacket (mine is from Spidi) costs roughly £260 and is a worthy investment, especially for winter riding. I also wear a Knox Armour Urbane Pro jacket (lightweight, breathable, protective) priced at £180. On top of that is my Knox leather jacket.
Gloves are important too, and I’ve found that summer gloves, while cold in winter, give far better handlebar feel to help modulate the throttle, brake and clutch. The ones I use are Knox Handroids. For a good set of gloves, budget upwards of £70.
As for trousers, there are various options: textile, leather and jeans to give a few examples. Armoured jeans are the most comfortable, but aren’t waterproof, so if you plan to ride come rain or shine, you’ll need waterproof textile trousers too. I wear Knox Richmond II jeans (£159) and have Spidi waterproof trousers (£172) for longer, colder journeys.
Waterproof motorcycle boots with proper ankle protection will set you back over £100 and are another thing you can’t scrimp on.
And finally - especially if you do lots of motorway and B-road riding - there are Airbag jackets to look into too. I’ve recently picked up a Spidi Air DPS jacket that you tether to the bike. If you’re thrown off, it inflates and can be used again by fitting a new 60cc gas cartridge. The jacket arrived yesterday, and I’ve not used it yet, but it’s light, fits over my leather jacket nicely and could save my life.
Buying a bike and insurance
You can buy a bike for a few hundred quid and have a great time, but when it comes to two wheels, I’d err on the side of caution and have a ‘daily rider’ that’s modern enough to feature ABS and LED lighting.
A new CB650R, for example, costs £7000 new, but a used one with around 3000 miles is yours for £6000. As of yesterday, I’ve swapped the CB650R out for a CB500X (£6000 new) to experience something a little different for a while.
There are other, older bikes from BMW, Ducati, Honda et al. with ABS and LEDs that are far cheaper still, so it’s worth looking at the market and choosing something that suits your needs.
The price of insuring a motorbike might make you wince. To give you an example, my friend Gareth - with whom I did my bike training and tests - recently bought himself a 2013 Triumph Daytona 675R. He also owns an M4 which he pays £450 a year to insure. The Triumph? That’ll be £550 a year. For a motorbike.
By comparison, a bike like the CB500X will likely cost half that amount to insure, so make sure you get insurance quotes before you buy the bike…unlike Gareth, because you should have seen his face when the quotes came in with the Triumph already in his garage! And if you live in London - where motorcycle theft is rife - be ready for some particularly shocking quotes.
On top of insurance, you need to factor in road tax which will set you back £88 a year for a bike over 600cc. Again, many cars are cheaper in this regard too, but you can’t put a price on deleting traffic from your daily commute.
As an aside - and on top of the basic two-year CBT - there’s also the A1 license, which is known as a ‘permanent CBT’. This is for people aged 17 and over who want to ride a scooter, moped or motorbike of up to 125cc and 14.6bhp, and allows those who pass a theory test and Mod 1 plus Mod 2 (details below) to ride on motorways, carry a passenger and remove the L plates.
On top of the above, the A2 grade license steps things up further and is open to people aged 19 and over. Passing the A2 allows people to ride bikes up to 47hp, which includes bikes like the CB500X I’m now riding and the new Triumph Street Triple S. Once you’ve held this for two years, or you’ve turned 24 (whichever comes first) you can take a test to graduate to the full, unrestricted ‘A’ license.
So is it all worth it?
If you add up all the costs of learning to ride, passing your full license, buying a good, modern bike and decent protective gear, as well as insurance and tax, you’re looking at upwards of £8000. So the real question is: is it worth it?
To best answer this, you need to ask yourself one question: ‘how much do I value my time?’
Because if the answer is ‘a lot’ then a motorbike is a no brainer. To give you an example of how much life you could win back, my first 10 days on a Honda MSX (a little 125cc bike on a CBT license) netted me a saving of £72 in commuting fares (including £7 bike fuel) and a whopping 17 hours.
So, over the course of just over two working weeks, I’d win back an entire day that would otherwise be wasted sitting on the Central Line and bus to get home.
Over the course of six months and around 3000 miles mainly in central London and motorways, I’ve not fallen off or been hit, which is testament to the training I received, as well my 35 years on this planet which helps me stay pretty calm.
So if you’re always wondering ‘what if…?’ then I’d recommend you take your CBT and see how you get on. If it’s not for you, then at least you’ve tried on the cheap. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll take to two wheels well and will reap the rewards of time saved, fun, and a whole new outlook on travel.