I’ve been enjoying the joys of owning a vintage motorcycle over the past few years (something that’s been declared a midlife crisis by some) and, given the number of times I’ve been asked about the process of getting the bike (and me) legally on the road (in modern Ireland), I decided to document what’s involved for the benefit of others considering a similar hobby.
This is also a catalog of the things I could have done with knowing myself when embarking on the journey, which would have saved quite a bit of time (i.e. knowing that some items require others to be done first and there’s a long lead time involved).
It’s also worth noting that, in my case, I’d never had any kind of prior bike license (apart from the standard moped license that permits driving of vehicles with engine sizes up to 50cc) so I was effectively starting from scratch in my journey.
Many of the items can be done in parallel but there are also some dependencies to note. There are some long waiting times and surprising costs involved too, which you should be aware of.
Before you can get a driving license in Ireland, you need to pass a (computer-based) test that assesses your knowledge of the theory of driving. This used to be a written test but is now fully computerised and there are different tests for different types of vehicles (e.g. motorbike, car, truck).
The test itself consists of 40 multiple-choice questions on various driving-related topics (e.g. road safety, road signage) for your vehicle type and you need to answer 35 (or more) correctly to pass.
You can also purchase a CD with the same software used in the test (available in most bookstores and local libraries) to prepare yourself for the official test. I strongly recommend this because the pool of questions and user interface on the CD is identical to the official test and taking 1-2 practice tests per week in the leadup to your official test is a very effective way to prepare to pass.
The test costs €45 and you can book online at https://theorytest.ie. However, the waiting time for a test appointment could be several weeks (potentially months depending on Covid-19 restrictions).
Learner Permit (incl. Public Services Card)
In Ireland, your first driving license is called a Learner Permit (it used to be called a Provisional License). You must have passed the Driver Theory Test before you can apply for a Learner Permit.
You can apply for a Learner Permit online but to do this you will also need a Public Services Card (PSC) which many young drivers (or full-time workers) may not have. Obtaining a PSC is actually quite a manual process, requiring an in-person visit to your local Government offices, so this is something you should consider starting much earlier. There is no cost for a Public Services Card and, to be fair, once you have one the process of requesting the Learning Permit is very smooth.
There are some restrictions to driving a motorcycle on a Learner Permit, the main ones being:
- You cannot carry a pillion passenger.
- You must wear a hi-vis vest with an “L” sign on it while riding.
- Depending on your age, you may be limited to the size of bike (engine) you can ride.
You will also need to select a suitable License Category when applying for a Learner Permit. There are several motorcycle categories (all beginning with “A”), linked to your age and/or the power of your bike (e.g. engine size). I recommend choosing the highest category you can (e.g. A2), which will allow you more options for the size/type of bikes you can ride.
A Learner Permit (for a car or motorbike) costs €45 and is valid for 2 years. You can book online at https://ndls.ie. If requested online, it only takes a couple of days to arrive.
Initial Basic Training (IBT)
In Ireland, you cannot get motorcycle insurance until you have taken a 2-day basic training course called Initial Basic Training (IBT). While I understand (and agree with) the logic of this and the course itself was pretty good (one day in the classroom and one day out riding a bike), I found the cost to be extremely expensive at a whopping €495.
If you have been driving a car (on a full driving license) for some time, contrary to some beliefs, this does not give you an exemption from needing to complete the IBT.
The IBT certificate is only initially valid for 2 years but will be eligible for an extension if you had applied for (or attempted) the full driving test within that period of time.
Depending on the motorbike you plan to use, you may (or may not) need to register it. Most new or second-hand bikes will already be registered for you but, in my case, I had to re-register my bike as it had not been road legal for almost 30 years (and had long since been archived by the relevant Government transport authorities).
Re-registering a bike has a nominal cost of €12 but requires some official paperwork to be signed and stamped by a local Police department official, which can take extra time.
All motorised vehicles in Ireland are required to pay a motor tax before legally being allowed onto public roads. The cost, which recurs annually, depends on your vehicle type and engine size or emissions but is significantly cheaper for vintage vehicles (e.g. €35 per year). Apart from the bike being formally registered, there are no other prerequisites for paying the motor tax, which can be done online at https://www.motortax.ie.
The final step to being allowed onto a public road is to get your bike (and yourself) insured. Again, the cost here depends on your age, driving experience, motorcycle type/size/value etc. However, you cannot get motorcycle insurance until you have completed the Initial Basic Training above.
You should not take to the public roads unless you are wearing suitable protective clothing. As I understand it, in Ireland, the only legal requirement here is a helmet but the importance of proper bike gear was outlined in a very practical way during Day 1 of the Initial Basic Training:
If you are involved in a biking incident at 30km/h, where you come off your bike and slide to a stop on the ground, while the chances of a fatal injury are low, the chances of needing time off work to recover are very high. In that regard, the difference between wearing proper protective clothing or not could be 6 days out of work (with gear) or 6 months out of work (without gear). You decide!
The cost of proper bike gear was also something I’d not fully understood beforehand and it’s not cheap either. Here’s a summary of what I bought, along with indicative costs:
- Helmet: €80
- Jacket: €180
- Boots: €125
- Waterproof Pants: €100
- Gloves: €35
- Hi-vis Vest (with L sign): €25
The brands/styles I purchased were entry-level in most cases but I did choose to pay a little extra for the boots, jacket and (open faced) helmet as I felt they suited the era of my bike.
While your costs may vary, here is a summary of the total costs I incurred en route to my first trip:
- Driver Theory Test: €45
- Learner Permit: €35
- Initial Basic Training: €495
- Registration: €12
- Motor Tax: €35
- Insurance: €280
- Bike Gear: €550
Clearly, you need to factor in the cost of the motorcycle itself, but the additional costs on top of that, to get your bike (and yourself) legally onto the roads, could easily exceed €1,500.
Once you’ve been riding for a while, you should consider taking the full Driving Test. If successful, this would reduce your insurance costs, allow you to carry passengers and eliminate the need to wear the hi-vis “L” vest.
While you are free to take the test without any formal lessons, I would recommend you take some lessons beforehand to help eliminate any bad habits you may have picked up and to get you generally “test ready”. The lessons may also help ensure you only ever have to take the test once.