Passing Your Bike Test in the 1980’s

With all the recent changes in the law to get a motorcycle license, I found myself revisiting my own test misery in a recent daydream. Back in the 1980s you did a slalom around some cones to get your certificate (Or Part One as the law called it). Then you were able to apply to do the main test (Part Two), as long as you completed it within two years, or you’d lose the entitlement to potter around on your 125cc bike.

In those days, you didn’t need a CBT to get on a 50cc bike at the age of 16. And at 17, you just sent off your application and could stick on your L plates for a couple of years before even venturing near a test centre for your Part One, but you only had a couple of years to get started.

I managed to waste the thick end of a year messing around with 125s and thinking I’d do it soon. Then I realised I’d better pull my finger out and sign up for a Star Rider course. The only problem was that I didn’t actually have a functioning 125 to use come the test day. However, I did have a Yamaha YSR50 Gag Bike!

Not only was the Gag Bike tiny, but to make things worse, the local test centre was more than 40 miles away in Chelmsford. That meant scary trip up the A12 in Scania-sized ruts, but meant that the actual test wasn’t as scary as dicing with the wheels of 40-tonne trucks. The day started badly with the normal ride, but then it got worse when the examiners gathered around the YSR to declare it wasn’t suitable for the slow speed manoeuvres.

After some argument on my part, one of the testers decided to give it a go around the cones. Not only was it fine, but all the other examiners wanted a go too, which eased any tension.

Later that day I was able to whizz down the A12 with a Part One Certificate in my pocket. Despite horror stories of delays for the Part Two slot, I ended up with just 6 weeks to prepare. And thanks to a nicasil nightmare with my NS125F, I still didn’t have the right bike for the job. Trying to complete the test on a YSR50 complete with Bassini race pipe had fail written all over it.

So on the day, I arrived on a Honda H100 borrowed from my local bike shop. And to complete the Captain Sensible look, I’d also bored a wax oil Belstaff from my brother, complete with Norton badges. Combined with three-quarter-length gauntlet gloves and the swift removal of my earrings, and I was a model of sensible motorcycle riding. Having even turned up early at the Barking test centre, I’d been waiting in the office until my name was called.

At which point I almost failed before the test really began. Walking out with the examiner, he pointed out I’d actually managed to park up in a bus stop. By rights, it probably should have ended there, but the Belstaff and gauntlet combo obviously appealed to his charitable nature.  So after some laps of various Barking rat runs and the comical emergency stop on tiny drum brakes, my test was done!

I couldn’t return the H100 quickly enough. I’d already found my first big bike, was rushed to sort the insurance out and put the sleeper back in my ear. In 24 hours I was out on my Yamaha RD350F2 YPVS and I’ve never parked in a bus stop since!