What's putting off young motorcyclists?
Encouraging young people into riding is essential if motorcycling is to flourish, and motorcycle organisations, manufacturers and industry bodies recognise this fact.
For those who got their introduction to motorcycling in the heady days of the 1970s and ’80s, the drop-off in numbers of young riders – those up to the age of 24 – is noticeable. In many ways it is understandable.
Nowadays many young people don’t see riding a moped or small motorcycle as a stepping stone to car ownership – saving for a house deposit or paying tuition fees may be a higher priority for many than riding a motorcycle. The complexity and expense of the modern motorcycle licence system is another barrier. Gone are the days of a single, basic motorcycle test resulting in full access to all motorcycles from the age of 17, an introduction that for many leads to a lifetime of motorcycle riding.
The introduction of Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) in 1990 was a direct response to the high level of accidents among learners and inexperienced riders. In that context it was successful, cutting down on the high level of accidents associated with allowing young riders access to motorcycles without training. The positive influence of training on reducing accident figures is well recognised, but the inevitable trade-off was a significant reduction in the number of 17 to 18-year-olds taking their motorcycle test - that figure plunged from 6,000 per year to around 500. Today, riders up to the age of 24 represent just 15% of motorcyclists – and less than 1% of total road traffic.
The pathway to accessing larger capacity motorcycles is now much more complicated than the old route of starting with a moped at 16 and then progressing through the capacity classes into big bikes. Now a young rider needs to take a series of tests and training at each stage, which is undoubtedly positive for safety but is also expensive and time consuming – significant barriers for a teenager. Consequently, for many young riders today, getting the A2 licence at 19 is the quickest and most cost-effective way of progressing to a full unrestricted motorcycle licence. However, getting into motorcycling at 19-plus rather than 16 or 17 inevitably restricts the numbers progressing to a full motorcycle licence and large-capacity motorcycle.
The government recognises the barriers young people face with getting on two wheels and some efforts are being taken to address the issue. New DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) proposals currently being considered are aimed at making access to motorcycling simpler and cheaper, hopefully getting more young people on to two wheels.
The proposed new CBT will require riders to take a full theory test and hazard perception before the CBT rather than before the full test. It will also place more focus on improved standards of training and new training instructor assessments.
Meanwhile, young people determined to get on two wheels continue to access motorcycling despite the barriers and the expense.
Luke Goffin, 20, and Anthony Woods, 18, are both fresh-faced motorcyclists, first riding the road within the last two years. Despite their different backgrounds, both have been inspired to ride by their fathers and prefer riding bikes over driving cars. Anthony and Luke explain their love of motorcycling and thoughts on the future of young riders…
What was your first impression of motorcycling?
Luke: My first day of riding was in a BMW school on a 125 Honda. It was the first thing I’d ever ridden. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was thinking ‘what do I do?’ and ‘how do the gears work on this thing?’. Even though they’d explained how it all worked, I was still trying to process it in my head. But, within 10 minutes, I felt completely comfortable. It quickly went from being brand new to feeling great.
My dad’s always had motorcycles. I used to go to motorcycle shows then started working for a BMW dealership. One day, my car broke down and it wasn’t worth the repair cost. I decided to jump on a bike and went from there. It all came full circle.
Anthony: I started when I was 16 on a little moped because my dad rode bikes. After riding for a year, I decided I’d go for my bike licence instead of a car licence. I just felt so free and connected to the bike. With a car, you just go from A to B, whereas on a bike it’s an adventure every time.
Do you ride for fun or just to commute?
Anthony: I commute and ride for fun – I love it! I tend to go on ride-outs with bigger bikes. We meet as a group at the Route 11 Kitchen on the A11. We’ll have a chat, get fish and chips, look at bikes we might want in the future – things like that. I often get to sit on other people’s bikes to see if I like them or not.
To be fair, there aren’t many people my age there. The young riders who do ride tend to stick with people their own age – mostly because their cc size means they can’t keep up with bigger bikes. I prefer being around the bigger bikes because the riders tend to behave better – they don’t act like hooligans.
Luke: It’s always scary coming into a group of new people, especially when many of them are above 30 and you’re only 16-20 years old. You worry if they’re going to accept you or whether they’ll laugh at you.
My boss and dad both own motorcycles, and so do a few of my friends. We do ride-outs together every now and then. Once the summer comes along, I intend to ride to work for the sole purpose of taking a scenic route home.
Why do you think not many young people take up motorcycling?
Luke: The big thing is insurance prices. For example, if you move from your 125 after getting your A2, your bigger bike will probably cost you a lot more money to insure. I was lucky to get into work early in life – I’m 20 with a full-sized bike and I can afford it. A lot of people at college can’t afford the massive increase in cost – you can go on your mum’s car insurance for less.
Anthony: It’s split between insurance being so costly for new riders and the difficulties of the licensing system. With a car, you’ll do one licence and that’s it. With a bike, you have to do one licence at 17 – which is around £200 – another at 19, then another one at 21 or 24. It’s expensive to do. Money is a big factor for young people – plus you need to buy all the correct gear to protect yourself.
Luke: It’s also to do with getting yourself into a contracted item. If you can’t afford to buy your vehicle outright, you have to sign a finance agreement. Someone who’s 18 and only has a part-time job may not think they can put themselves into a signed contract.
It’s disheartening for an 18-year-old to ask their parent to be a guarantor. When I signed my contract, I was proud that I had my job, that I could pay for my vehicle and pay for my insurance. You build self-esteem from it.
What could improve things for young riders?
Luke: I’d like to see a lot more brands embrace the younger generation of riders. The A2 licence is actually a big thing, bringing more young people in now. A lot of companies are releasing 300cc bikes tailored to that community.
Anthony: Yes, between manufacturers and insurance, we’ll probably get more people onto bikes. Currently, lots of people find having a car is more practical.
What are your motorcycling plans for the future?
Anthony: I’d quite like to ride to the Isle of Man for the TT races. I also plan to continue doing the licensing for my motorcycle. I’ll probably get a car just for convenience, but otherwise I’m more than happy on my bike.
Luke: At the moment, I’m in a BMW training scheme. After the two years, my plan is to get my full A licence and then move up from there. I’ll probably look at moving to a commuting vehicle – something bigger with an upright riding position. I want to be able to sit on it for hours and feel comfortable. Then, hopefully in the summer, I’ll do more ride-outs around the country, maybe even into Europe.
I like the freedom of riding. I’ll be on a road when a rider coming in the other direction will give me a nod – and I’ll nod back. It’s that sense of community that’s always drawn me to it.
An instructor’s insight
Anthony Smykowski is a very experienced motorcycle instructor, practised in teaching riders of all experiences. Here he explains his thoughts on the barriers facing younger motorcyclists.
What is preventing more people riding motorcycles?
Misinformation and cost. The benefits of powered two-wheelers are many: lower fuel costs, less congestion, free parking, less stress getting to your destination and having fun doing it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation from the ill-informed about the risks of motorcycling and the costs involved. Take it from someone with 50 years’ riding experience – it’s not all true.
Providing the novice rider receives correct training from a decent provider and sticks to what they have been taught, the dangers are minimal. The cost of starting out can put many off, but good trainers tend to keep their prices competitive to attract the novice rider and normally provide all the equipment required to get started.
Can the industry do anything to encourage new riders?
Provide easy-to-follow information about the benefits and routes to obtaining a licence. Manufacturers and dealers could offer packages that include safety equipment and training with the motorcycle to encourage sales. Low-cost finance packages for training would also help.
What are your thoughts about the future?
The future of motorcycling looks bright. The congestion on the roads is only going to get worse, so the powered two-wheeler is the way forward.