Motorcycle Use:

1. Motorcycles, motorcycle ownership, training and roadworthiness

• Since 1995 to 2010 (quarter 1) the number of licensed motorcycles (by body type) has increased by 77 per cent. There is a considerable amount of seasonal variation within the years. Since 1994 there has been, on average, 7.6 per cent more licensed motorcycles on the 30th June than there were on the 31st March that year. This figure has fallen from about 10 per cent in the early years to 5 per cent in the later years. This could be due to the improvement in clothing and motorcycling equipment resulting in greater usage during the winter months.

• As at the 31st December 2009 there were 1.3 million licensed motorcycles (by body type) in Great Britain.
Number of licensed motorcycles by tax class and body type: Great Britain, Q4 1994 to Q3 2010

• There were 114.9 thousand new motorcycle registrations in 2009 (by body type). This is the lowest annual total since body type statistics began in 2001. By tax class, there were 111.6 thousand new registrations, the lowest annual total since 1996.

• The proportion of licensed motorcycles with engine sizes over 500 cc has increased from 45 per cent in 1999 to 75 per cent in 2009. Conversely, 11 per cent of licensed motorcycles in 2009 had an engine size of 50 cc or less, down from 14 per cent a decade earlier.

The proportion of licensed motorcycles in each Government Office Region has remained static for decade up to 2009. In 2009, about 87 per cent of licensed motorcycles were registered in England with 6 per cent in Scotland and 4 per cent in Wales. The locations of the remaining 2 per cent were unknown.

New motorcycle registrations by style: Great Britain, 2009 (Vehicles web table VEH0320)

• Of the new motorcycle registrations in 2009, over 50 per cent were scooters or sports motorcycles.

• Motorcycling test pass rates remained steady between 64 and 68 per cent from 1997/98 to 2008/09. However, the number tests undertaken each year has varied. In 2008/09 105 thousand motorcycles tests were undertaken and a pass rate of 66.4 per cent was achieved. Over 90 thousand of these tests were taken by males at a pass rate of 68 per cent. Only 15 thousands tests were taken by females at a pass rate of 55 per cent. About 47 per cent of all the tests were taken by people aged 30 or younger.

• In 2009/10, 948 thousand MOT tests were carried out on motorcycles. Including those that were retested after rectification at the testing station, 87 per cent of the tests resulted in passes. However, the initial pass rate before rectification of defective vehicles was only 79 per cent.

• The most common cause of MOT failure was from lighting and signalling problems. These components caused nearly 12 per cent of failures in 2009/10.

Traffic, speeds and travel

• In 2009, motorcycles drove about 3.2 billion vehicle miles in Great Britain. They accounted for about 1 per cent all vehicle miles driven during the year. This figure is about 0.4 billion miles higher than it was ten years earlier, though is considerably lower than the 6.2 billion vehicle miles achieved when motorcycling was at its peak in 1960.

• The use of motorcycles is highly seasonal. Between 2005 and 2009, there was roughly twice as much motorcycle usage in the summer months of June, July and August in comparison with the winter months of December, January and February.

• Roughly 50 per cent of motorcycles exceeded the speed limit on motorways, dual carriageways and 30 mph limited roads in free-flowing conditions.

Percentage of motorcycles exceeding the speed limit by road category, Great Britain: 1999 to 2009

Recent Statistical History

There are around 1.52 million motorcycles (excluding mopeds) in Great Britain7. In 2004, 2.3% of households owned a motorcycle, the majority of whom also owned one or more cars. In fact, motorcycles are more common in households that own at least one car than in households that do not own a car. The highest ownership rate was in the South West of England and the lowest in Scotland.

Around half of motorcyclists are aged between 30 and 49 years. Less than 10% of motorcyclists are aged 19 years or young, and 15% were aged 20 to 29 years. Just over one quarter are aged 50 years and over.

Transport statistics8 show that after long term fall in motorcycle use, the trend has reversed, leading to an increase in the level of motorcycling. Over the last decade, motorcycle traffic has risen significantly, with most of the increase occurring between 1998 and 2003.

This trend is echoed by the change in the number of motorcycles licensed over the same period. There were over 1.1 million licensed motorcycles in Britain in 2004, compared with only 721,000 in 1994. These figures exclude unlicensed and tax exempt motorcycles.

The largest increase has been in motorcycles with an engine size of 500 cc and above. An overview of motorcycling safety issues9 found that stocks of motorcycles over 500 cc had been rising since the late 1980s, and by 1997 accounted for 72% of licensed motorcycles in Britain. However, in more recent years about 45% of new registrations have been machines up to 150 cc and about 45% have been machines over 500 cc.

In contrast to these trends, the number of people taking the motorcycle test fell to 78,000 in 2004/05, which was the lowest number for seven years. The pass rate for the motorcycle test was 64%.

In 20047, around 5.2 billion vehicle kilometres were travelled on motorcycles, which is roughly 1% of the distance travelled by motor vehicles on Britain’s roads. This was a fall from the 5.6 billion kilometres motorcycled in 2003, a year which saw higher than average temperatures and lower than average rainfall. Motorcycle travel peaks during the summer months, and in August for example, there is over twice as much motorcycle travel as in February.

Nearly two-thirds of motorcycle trips are for work, business and education purposes (accounting for over half of motorcycle mileage). Although the number of motorcycle trips appears to have fallen by over time (from 11.2 trips per rider per week in 1985/86 to 7.8 trips per rider per week in 2004), the distance travelled has increased (from 62.9 miles per rider per week in 1985/86 to 88.9 miles per rider per week in 2004).

Riders of larger motorcycles (over 500 cc) tend to have higher average mileage than riders of smaller machines.


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