Motorcycle Licensing in Europe Explained

In the biggest area of Europe, the riding season is kind of over, with only the southern regions still allowing motorcyclists to have two-wheeled fun without the need to use their “hardcore genes.” With the winter already here, many youngsters and even non-riding adults are maybe thinking about spring and the next step they plan to take: getting a motorcycle driving license.
Starting to ride a bike in Europe has just become better-regulated. US rider training pictured. 7 photos
Starting to ride a bike in Europe has just become better-regulated. US rider training pictured.A moped50cc Honda scooterYamaha R125Suzuki GSX-1300R Hayabusa, NOT a rookie bikeKawasaki ER-6n can be restricted to A2 compliance
We mentioned the new licensing strategy the European Union adopted fairly recently, but the winter break just looked like a good occasion to refresh your memory with some detailed info on the matter.

How about 110 types of driving licenses in the EU?

It may sound like you have this with a grain of salt, but this is how things were in the past in the European Union. The member countries summed up for 110 types of driving licenses, making the authorities’ work a nightmare. This involved much more people than the police workers, as they were only confronting this at street-level, so to say. Local authorities were also in trouble when it came to setting things right for people travelling within the EU and establishing in other countries than the ones they had gotten the permits issued in.

A strong need for HARMONIZATION was felt throughout the EU and this is the main reason which led to the standardization of both categories and the methods through which they can be obtained, and the looks of the physical licenses.

A new European driving license card

Starting with 2013, the EU member states will only issue a single type of driving license card, which is a “credit card” like one, made from plastic and sporting various fraud-deterring elements. As the old paper-type driving licenses were more prone to forgery, they will no longer be issued, while the existing ones will have to be renewed.

It’s been almost two years since these rules became effective and the number of old-school driving permits is closing in to zero, with the reduced number of models in circulation easing the enforcement. Even though most of the drivers with valid driving licenses preferred to renew them as soon as the new ones became available, the EU regulating bodies specified that all the old versions must be renewed at the latest by 2033.

Now, 2033 sounds like such a distant future, I can almost bet solid money that we WILL find old (and expired) licenses then. That is because the administrative validity of the new permits is limited to 10 years, with those for trucks and buses having 5-year validity. In certain cases, states may choose to issue licenses which are valid for 15 years.

Well, long story short, that’s about all you need to know about the becoming of the EU driving licenses. Some countries may even want to include a microchip on the card, containing a duplicate of the info printed on the plastic and representing one more layer of security against forging. Stepping into the motorcycle world, here’s how things work, so you know better what you’re up against before you become fully licensed.

No more direct A-licensing

This is the first thing derived from the new legislation: one can no longer become A-licensed from the start, as it was possible until recently. The only restriction for new riders was the one referring to the power-to-weight ratio and displacement, but this one was sometimes ignored. Especially countries which became EU members recently used to ignore the recommendation, but it looks like this business was brought to a halt in 2013.

Introducing the AM category

In many countries, teenagers as young as 14 were allowed to operate small-displacement motor vehicles such as scooters and mopeds on public roads. Still, in the absence of road safety education, it turned out that they were a very vulnerable category, therefore a problem which had to be addressed.

Hence the need for a harmonized license category which was named AM. Riders can receive the AM license after passing a mandatory theory test which determines how well are they familiarized with the traffic rules. Research has found out that motorists with verified theoretical training were less prone to being involved in or causing accidents, because of the increased awareness.

If a member state wants, the AM licensing process can also include testing the skills and behavior. Either way, the AM license restricts the displacement of compliant two- and three-wheel vehicles to under 50cc. The minimum age is 15, while riders with an AM license must be over 18 if they want to carry a passenger. Vehicles must be registered and helmets are mandatory for both rider and pillion.

Even though in certain parts of the world these regulations might be regarded as too severe, especially by those opposing helmet laws, but that’s how things roll in the EU.

Hello 125ers, hello A1 permits!

If you’re not the type of scooter or moped rider and are eyeing to throw a leg over a real motorcycle, the A1 category is your first step. Riders can get the A1 license without having to go through AM, while once they get licensed, they are of course, allowed to ride 50cc mopeds and scooters.

Prior to 2013, the so-called “light motorcycles” were limited to 125cc and 11 kW, which is around 14.75 horsepower. Anyway, no power-to-weight ratio was specified, and this led to certain practices somehow aimed at rule-bending. 125cc bikes with the compliant power rating became lighter and thus provided stronger acceleration and superior top speeds, which may still cause loss of control and subsequent accidents.

A power-to-weight limit of 0.1 kW/kg (0.13 hp/kg) became effective, and all the member states were asked to introduce this category and enforce the limitation, verifying the homologations and the actual status of the bikes A1 riders operated in traffic. If the vehicle is a tricycle, the power cannot exceed 15 kW or 20.1 hp. Riders who wanted to get an A1 license had to be at least 16 and have to pass 4 exams, dealing with general theory, theory specific to the A1, practical in closed environment and practical in traffic.

A2, the new “limited” version of the full A-license

With the number of accidents caused by or involving riders with insufficient practical experience in operating powerful motorcycles being literally a high risk factor, the EU legislators opted for enforcing a better separation between the restricted and the free A categories.

Determining how much experience a rider actually has aboard a ”restricted” motorcycle was impossible in the past, so adding a special “restricted” category and a minimum of time riders must stay in that category seemed the easiest and fairest approach. And so the A2 was born.

For starters, no rider under 18 years can receive an A2 license card, and even more this age is related to the A1 minimal age a member state chooses. For example, if the minimum age for A1 is 17 years, A2 cannot be obtained before the age of 19. Two years per intermediate category are required before taking the next step.

The power limit has been raised to 35 kW, or 46.9 horsepower, while the power-to-weight ratio doubled, meaning that the A2-compliant bikes could have a 0.2kW/kg (0.27hp/kg) figure. In the case of A1-compliant motorcycles, the power-to-weight ratio was included because of the manufacturers trying to endow their bikes with better acceleration by means of reducing the weight, and as power grew, things became more serious. A new way to limit the access of still inexperienced riders to high-power machines came in the form of the “derivation” limit.

Putting things the easy way, bikes whose engines produced more than the 46.9 horsepower the A2 category allowed could receive a restrictor kit to reduce the power within the legal limits. Still, the bikes restricted this way had to produce less than double the power limit, 93.8 hp. This limited in a way the access of riders to very powerful motorcycles, which at least could reduce the number of crashes.

Getting an A2 license also involved 4 exams. The general theory one received and exemption for riders in possession of another permit for more than a year, motorcycle-specific theory, also exempted for those with an A1 permit, and practical tests in a closed and traffic environments. The exemptions are aimed at showing riders the advantages of progressive access.

Finally, the full A license

The minimal age for direct access to A licenses was raised from 21 to 24 years, while the minimum age for progressive access is 20 years. There is no limitation to the power, displacement or power-to-weight ratio for A-category permit holders.

The age and category limitations may sound a bit weird to some, but in any case they are not weirder than what happens in certain places such Ontario, Canada, where a 16-year-old kid can get his or her M1 learner’s permit without having actually ridden a bike. What’s even more preposterous is that the M1 then allows riders to choose any bike, as long as they don’t drive at night, or with a passenger, or on major highways. You can follow the link to read more on beginner riders in Canada.

All in all, I can hope this piece helped future riders get a better picture of what lies ahead of them before they can get to ride the bike of their dreams into the sunset. Or dawn, for what’s worth.
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