CBT Musings

My colleagues and I have been discussing CBT recently. Rather a lot, actually, because we all agree on one thing; it is not fit for purpose.

CBT was brought about because there was an increase in fatalities and serious injuries among novice riders during the late eighties and early nineties. The government of the day decided that something needed to be done. CBT was something so that was what was done.

Comprising five elements, it is supposed to equip a new rider with the basics necessary to ride a machine up to 125cc unsupervised on the public highway. In the early nineties, it probably seemed like a good idea – and I tend to agree that using a motor vehicle unsupervised without any training on the shared space of the public roads is not a good idea. So, in essence, I am in agreement with the principle. The practice, however, is not only far from perfect, it is entirely unfit for purpose today.

Nothing has changed regarding the syllabus. This is sold as a one day course costing less than £200 and people expect to get a certificate and become somewhat annoyed when that is declined.

You may recall that there have been accidents occurring over the years in the outdoor activities industry. Kayaking being one that springs to mind. The HSE concluded along with the industries concerned that the risk increases during the day as people tire – hence, fatigue needs to be managed. In our industry, which so far has flown under the radar, we are carrying out the highest risk activity in the afternoon when both student and instructor are starting to tire. Sooner or later, there will be a fatality and this will end up under the microscope.

If I had my way, CBT would be radically overhauled. The price should be at least double, to cover the level of input being demanded – bear in mind that the instructor has to pay for his bike, equipment, running costs and such, making it an expensive job to do. And, perhaps significantly, it should be spread over a period of two or more days. This way, the off road machine control can be carried out at a more leisurely pace, giving the student time to develop and hone the necessary skills and the road ride would be conducted the following day when everyone is fresh and rested. However, no school is going to break ranks, hence only a change in legislation will see any significant change.

Under the current arrangements, the instructor is having to engage in strict time management to get people out onto the road and complete in a reasonable time – more so in winter when it’s getting dark at four in the afternoon. Which brings me to expectations. If you have a raw novice, the chances of them grappling with the machine control to a standard where they will be fit to go out on the road is compromised, as the instructor is having to make that decision very early on – frequently less than an hour after the student has sat on the bike. If you have another student making good progress, you have to abandon efforts on the weaker one, to concentrate on the stronger one so that he can get out on the road and complete the course. The weaker one being sent home to come back another day – or, if there are the resources available, spend all day on the pad and come back another day to complete.

This is where we get the conflict. This week, we had a student with no ability to balance or manage the machine’s controls claiming that regardless of the results, he would be getting a certificate. He was disabused of that notion and was sent home at lunchtime. Another a few weeks back, was horrified when he was told that he wouldn’t be going out on the road as he had a bike at home and needed the certificate. I pointed out that the other students were now performing figure of eights and U turns while he couldn’t pull away and stop without stalling, so no, he was not going out on the road.

If ever you want to see the Dunning-Kruger effect in action, join me for a CBT course. Really, the worst performers do think that they are fit to dance with the  traffic while they leap about with poor clutch and throttle control and cannot feel the brakes, just grabbing in panic when they realise that they are running out of road. Yesterday, I had one get out on the road, but nearly rear ended a car that was stopped at a pedestrian traffic light. He simply had not seen the lights or the car. To his credit, he did realise that he was struggling and was entirely at fault here.

Then we get to the delivery riders. They came over on the last dinghy, barely able to speak English, turning up late, wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers despite our T&Cs specifically prohibiting this and telling us that their cousin said it would be okay and they would get a certificate. Very few of these get a certificate. If they do get out on the road, their lack of roadcraft is downright terrifying. The DVSA approach, we were told recently, is that it is better we certificate these people than they go out and ride illegally. I don’t know if this is an official view or an unofficial one coming from one supervising examiner. Either way, my colleagues and I differ on this somewhat. If someone rides illegally and gets themselves or someone else killed, it’s down to them. If I’ve signed them off, it’s down to me, so the DVSA can do one on that, frankly.

All of which brings me to this story again.

Family members of two boys killed in Cardiff while riding an electric bike have said it was an early birthday present to the younger of the victims – an occasion he will never get to celebrate.

This bike is a motor vehicle. As such, it is illegal to use on the road unless it has met the relevant regulations – however, I notice one of the models is road legal. As a minimum, the rider will need VED and MoT where applicable, insurance, driving licence, L Plates, an approved safety helmet and, crucially as it is a motorcycle, a CBT certificate. What these two were doing was precisely what CBT was set up to prevent – unlicenced, inexperienced, incompetent riders playing with the traffic on a motorcycle. Yet here we are, the idiot who bought this contraption believing the the police are at fault, when it is they who are at fault. This was not a toy, it was a motorcycle being used illegally and dangerously on the public highway. I’m reminded of the case about fifteen years ago when parents bought a quad bike for a seven year old child, took her out on the road and whined when she lost control and was killed. Who is to blame here? The parents for neglecting their duty of care to the child.

If the police did anything wrong here, it was that they initially tried to cover things up. They were following and they had every right to do so. If they had pulled these two over and confiscated the bike, the boys might well still be alive.

I’m not saying that CBT is a panacea that would have prevented this accident. However given that he was turning sixteen, the boy was old enough to have a licence. They could have put him through CBT – assuming they had bought the road legal model, which might have helped. Then again… It might not.

We can only provide training, we cannot do anything about attitude and subsequent behaviour.


  1. I started motorcycling in the mid 1970s and of course there wasn’t a CBT back then. I did have years of cycling on the roads behind me and had ridden an old BSA Bantam around fields and farm tracks. I don’t recall having problems dealing with traffic, I would have been having car driving lessons at the same time. I had the odd tumble due to ice usually, for a few years my bike was my only transport so winter riding was a grim reality, but occasionally because inexperienced me overcooked a corner. Most of my contemporaries had similar experiences I think. I don’t every recall encountering the levels of ineptitude that you are describing here.

    • I did something similar. We had the benefit of there being much less traffic on the roads than today. Even relatively quiet roads for a learner can be difficult. It’s also pretty unforgiving as happened yesterday. Impatient drivers unconcerned why the rider was in difficulty just barged past regardless of the risks to me and the two students.

      As for the ineptitude, something happened in the past decade or so. It really wasn’t as bad as this then. Indeed, ten years ago, not signing off a CBT after a day was the rarity, now it’s the norm. Ten years ago, I could put a novice on a geared bike and have them using the clutch, throttle and gears in an hour or so to a level where they could cope with traffic. Today, I’m looking at them not getting out on the road in one day as the norm. There seems to be an increase in poor motor skills and balance in today’s youth.

      • I agree that there was much less traffic in the ‘60s and ‘70s but I do recall the abismal state of the roads with all the oil and grease dropped by cars and lorries. I came off a couple of times due to a combination of slick surface and hard tyres.

        • I came off on ice in the early days. I also hit a dry stone wall due to approaching a bit too fast into a bend. On a quiet country road, the only casualty was my pride. A did have a SMIDSY shortly after passing my test, but it was low speed and no lasting damage.

      • As for the ineptitude, something happened in the past decade or so.

        Is this only down to the ‘just off the dinghy’ effect, or is it more general? It would be interesting to know whether school teachers have noticed this too.

        • The poor machine control generally is the yoof. The boat people usually want an automatic and have decent machine control, but they have negligible roadcraft to the point where they are downright dangerous.

      • Interesting post, especially your comments about deteriating motor skills and limited (or no) cycling experience.
        Before the CBT there was training available through the RAC/ACU which, although voluntary, contained the elements you describe along with a lot of theory normally provided by police riders and/or road safety officers. After passing my test l went back and was trained as an instructor.
        No doubt in my mind that course was a major reason l survived without any injuries from road accidents (plenty off road though). Wouldn’t be surprised if the experience and statistics gained from running those courses was used to help create the subsequent CBT courses.
        One thing l am pleased about recently is the number of high quality riding videos on YouTube – they certainly helped my son have a more mature attitude to road safety when he started riding.

  2. Do any of your trainees / applicants have to have any experience of riding a push bike in traffic? I had to check that “push bike” still meant what it used to do.
    I have used pbs since an early age with tutoring by parents, Scouts and police officers. Yes that is how long ago it was.
    I was visiting a big farm belonging to a mate and he showed me his farm motorbike runnaround. Have a go he said. Showed me the controls and off I went along his farm tracks. Cautiously because I was taught some basic laws of physics – momentum, friction, Newton’s laws – you know.
    I was fine and first time I had ever ridden a motor bike. All because I had used a push bike from an early age.
    I think the sequence should be scooter (original type), push bike and only then, motor bike. The thought of getting on a motor bike without some experience of simpler two wheel transport horrifies me.
    Only my opinion.

    • Do any of your trainees / applicants have to have any experience of riding a push bike in traffic? I had to check that “push bike” still meant what it used to do.

      Our T&Cs require it. However, they appear to be lying and it becomes pretty obvious. Out on the road in recent months I’ve had running red lights, going through a no-entry, failing to give way on a roundabout, nearly causing a collision, going the wrong way around a mini roundabout, failing to stop at a stop junction, cutting corners nearly causing a collision… I could go on.

  3. Thinking back, apart from the aforementioned Bantam, my earliest powered two wheelers had a centrifugal clutch which made life a little easier. My Yamaha RD125 had a slighly fierce clutch combined with a narrowish power band that meant that to begin with I would often stall it when setting off. But I got the hang of it pretty quickly, you had to find the biting point and then let it out really slowly while putting on the right amount of revs.

    • We are using Z125s. They are really forgiving little bikes. I did some instructor training recently and it really took some work to stall the buggers. Yet students manage it.

    • Maybe they’re deprived because they spend all their money on cack instead of food?

    • The road legal one is five grand. You can buy a decent motorcycle for that money. Clearly they had that money to throw away, yet couldn’t afford the extra couple of hundred for training and a bit more for helmet, gloves and boots.

      There seems to be a thing in such areas where this kind of extravagance is the done thing, yet they plead poverty. Colour me unimpressed and lacking in any sympathy.

      Makes me think of this.


  4. “Interesting post, especially your comments about deteriorating motor skills and limited (or no) cycling experience.”
    I suspect kids in general have far fewer accumulated pushbike hours now
    and what they do have is likely to have been heavily helicoptered.
    I reckon from the ages of 8-15 ( this is the 70/80’s) we easily did 10 hours a week mucking about on bikes, none of it supervised. It is also the age through which you are a complete learning soak.
    I would think out of that would come a lot of coordination, feel and knowledge transferrable to motorbikes, such as balance, vulnerability, surface awareness, hand control of brakes (particularly the front), individual control of brakes , counter steer (possibly), road rules and maybe even a bit of mechanical understanding and sympathy.

    Another thing is the declining exposure to manual clutch and transmission.
    Previous generations would have spent hours of their childhood watching the constant manipulation of the accelerator / clutch / gearstick combo and have a fair understanding of what happens when even before being allowed to have a go.

  5. I agree with all the comments about cycling. I am from the era when so long as you appeared for meals no one worried or knew where you were, which was usually with your mates on bicycles, often miles from home. If you did not have a bicycle you could not be part of the “gang”. (A bicycle also gave me a supplement to my pocket money – a paper round. All year, all weathers.)

    My motorcycling went in quick succession moped, 250, pass test (twice round the block on a borrowed Honda 90) then straight onto a Japanese 750, regarded then as a superbike. By most received opinions at the time that should have been suicide but nothing has ever felt more natural than riding that bike. (I still ride a machine of similar weight and power, but now it is regarded as distinctly mid power mid weight.)

  6. We often get lyca clad chaps on serious racing bikes coming through our village. We are on the map of the Tour of Huntingdonshire laughingly called Cambridgeshire. I was watching one of these chaps pedalling furiously through the village. He turned left. But he never signalled. I had push bikes for many years. As a boy I was taught to signal and religiously did so. So what is it with the cycling crowd today? You hardly ever see a cyclist of any kind signal.

    • I was a semi serious cyclist when I was doing triathlons. Even when I was getting a shift on I never forgot about correct road positions, rear observations or signals. Always wore bright gear and had more than adequate lighting after dark.

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