Driving tests

Seven common mistakes that make you fail your motorbike test – advice from instructors

If you’re considering taking your practical motorbike test, what are the common mistakes that will cause you to fail?

Joanne Burns, Code Zero


For CBTA assessments, the speeding criteria is for the candidate to be exceeding the limit for at least 10 seconds.  As the assessor is also not allowed to exceed the limit, it would be impossible to establish whether a candidate was 5 or 10km/h over the limit. There is no such thing as a critical error on a CBTA assessment. 

So, the assessor has to be travelling at the limit and watching the candidate pull away from them for at least 10 seconds.

While you are doing your test it’s likely that other drivers could be travelling a little of the speed limit. Resist the urge to keep up with them.

Duncan Seed, 2 Drive Safe, 0508 TODRIVE

Cutting right-hand turns.

bike cutting rht

“Whilst riding on a main road and then turning right into a side road  (giving way to oncoming traffic in the opposite lane)  they turn in early and cut across the centre line (or corner piece of the give way line) of the road they are turning into. Often they are so intently focussed on “beating” the oncoming car that they have failed to look into the side road and can miss cars approaching that are turning right out of the side road, or larger vehicles that are swinging wide turning left out of the side road.

“I have even seen riders turn so early that they are following the curb around with no chance whatsoever of seeing what could possibly be coming out from there. The fix is don’t try to ‘beat the car’, and turn through the ‘gate’ or gap in the solid centre line. Before turning look into the road for any hazards you may need to avoid, then when ready smoothly and under control make the turn – it is not a race so don’t rush it and compromise your safety.”

Using the incorrect sequence of motorcycle control

“Not using the correct sequence of motorcycle control when making a turn or moving left or right to merge or change lanes (in other words messing up the mirror signal lifesaver part). Once a change of direction has been decided upon (told to turn left or right or change lanes by the testing officer) the correct sequence should be to check mirrors to see what is behind and in the intended direction of travel (let’s say turning left) so left mirror, signal for three seconds and then just before moving take a lifesaver head check over the left shoulder to confirm that what they saw in the mirror was accurate and nothing has crept up into the space to their left before they actually move into that space.

“Motorcycles typically will be in the right hand tyre track of the vehicle they are following. So a car driver who knows where they themselves wants to go and is behind the rider (same left turn) will often speed up and creep along the inside (sometimes even accelerate into that space) as they presume that the rider is going straight.  Regular checks of your mirrors will keep you updated with traffic flow behind you so you would probably be aware that the following car has now disappeared from your mirrors. The lifesaver would then be just that – the check that saved your life before you get wiped out by an impatient car.

“The responsibility is on the rider to keep checking. I often get riders say it’s too dangerous to take their eyes off the road ahead to check mirrors and lifesavers, however when riding out with them these are often the riders who tailgate and follow so closely the vehicle in front that it probably is dangerous – they need to drop back to at least a two-second following distance, and they should then be able to read the traffic flow ahead and have enough time to respond safely if something happens, as well as have sufficient time to check mirrors, etc, before changing direction.”

Failure to move away from danger.

“Let’s say we are in the right-hand tyre track of the vehicle we are following and a safe distance (two seconds at least) behind them. We approach a left side road intersection and an oncoming car is signalling right and may cut across our path. We should check to make sure no-one is waiting to emerge from the left intersection , check the mirror and do a lifesaver if time (if we have been regularly checking our mirrors we should know who is where behind us) and then move away towards the middle or left side of our lane to protect our safety bubble.

“The movement may attract the attention of the oncoming turning car and make us more visible to them. It is also a good idea to cover your brakes and be prepared to take evasive action. If there is a car coming from the left side road, split the difference in the gap.”

Karel Pavich, Pro Rider, 0508 776 743

Not looking ahead

Not having your head and eyes looking up and ahead reduces the ability to detect situations and hazards that you may need to respond to. It increases the chance of being “surprised” which doesn’t give you time for proper planning.

When riding through a corner, looking down will reduce your ability to identify potential hazards, encourages target fixation and will not give you the bigger picture.  This can cause you to run wide on corners or brake and destabilise bike in the middle of corner.

Look where you want to go: this is the most fundamental rule of riding a motorcycle, where you look is where you will steer the bike.”

Karel’s advice mirrors that of martial arts tutors, too: we have excellent peripheral vision downwards, but not upwards. If you are looking down, you won’t see the punch coming, but you can look your opponent in the eye and still see a low kick coming. By keeping your head up you will still be able to see your bike and the tarmac, but if you are looking down at the tarmac you won’t be able to see up the road.

Karel also outlines two other common errors:

Failure to scan properly and use mirrors

“Failing to scan to the sides when entering intersections can be the cause of many collisions, as it’s one of the highest risk situations. Most riders don’t scan and check mirrors often enough to be able to respond to the situations around them. You can never assume because you have “right of way” that you are not at risk from other road users. Failing to check mirrors when slowing down, can result in being rear-ended. Maintain spatial awareness of surrounding traffic at all times.

Putting the wrong foot down when stopping

“Many riders make the mistake of not using the rear brake when coming to a complete stop. They are unsure of which foot to put down and often use the right foot, which is the rear brake foot, on the ground so they can work the gear shift. Stopping on the rear brake and putting the left foot down will always help them control the bike and put them into “slow riding” mode when slowing down, moving off or approaching give way situations; it gives them stability and readiness for hill starts if required.”

Other easy errors

Always pay attention to the signage, particularly stop signs at junctions – you must always come to a complete stop. Use the correct indication on roundabouts, too. If you’re not quite clear on roundabouts, try the Core questions here.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

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