How To Get A Motorcycle License: All Your Questions Answered


If you’re thinking about getting a license to ride a motorcycle, you probably have a lot of questions. Getting a regular driver’s license is easier because driver’s education in high school usually tells us what to do. We’re on our own figuring out how to get a motorcycle license.

I’ve gotten a motorcycle license in several states in the U.S. and have been able to see the normal process it takes to obtain one. Throughout this article I can answer the basic question of how to get a motorcycle license as well as address some further questions you’ll likely have.

Disclaimer: Though a lot of states are similar in how you obtain a motorcycle license, each state does have their own rules, regulations, age requirements, and fees associated with a motorcycle license. Check with your local DMV for specifics if you’re serious about getting your license to ride a motorcycle. This article is meant to be a general introduction of the process.

Obtaining Your Learner’s Permit

Before you even begin to think about getting on a motorcycle and operating it yourself, you’ll need to first obtain your learner’s permit just like you do when you’re learning to drive a car. You should never ride a motorcycle without a permit or a license; a regular driver’s license doesn’t count and here’s why.

If you are riding a motorcycle without a permit or license and get caught and/or pulled over, you’ll likely face a hefty fine and a lot of states have rules where they can confiscate the motorcycle. You’ll be on your own finding a way home. This is especially annoying if you’re borrowing someone else’s motorcycle and you’ll likely have to pay another large fine to get the motorcycle back.

Not having a motorcycle license or permit often means you don’t have insurance either. A lot of insurance agencies will be wary of offering insurance on a person who doesn’t actually have a license to operate the motorcycle because that increases liability on their part. So in addition to the fees previously stated, you’ll likely get cited for not having insurance either.

You’re in even bigger trouble if you ride a motorcycle without a license and end up getting in some sort of accident. Besides the fact you probably don’t have insurance and are held 100% liable for damages if the accident is your fault, someone is more likely to sue you because you didn’t have a license. And there’s a possibility of the state withholding your ability to even get a license at all if this happens. Hold off on that ride until you get a permit.

To get a permit, you’ll need to go in to your local DMV with the appropriate paperwork to get the process started. You’ll need to take in some sort of proof of identity, proof of residency, and pay a fee specific to your county and state. Most states require a minimum age of 16 years old or older to start the process of getting a motorcycle license.

During this same appointment, you’ll also need to take an eye test and a written exam. The eye test is important because it proves you are visually capable of riding a motorcycle. This is a simple test that doesn’t take more than five minutes. They’ll have you read some letters printed on a board across the room and you will cover each eye and continue reading. As long as you have decent vision, you should pass just fine.

After the eye test, you’ll take the written test. It used to be a piece of paper they gave you and you needed to fill out a bubble sheet. Nowadays more and more departments will let you take the test on a computer in a testing center they have.

This test will usually consist of about 25 questions and ask you basic but vital questions you should know about operating a motorcycle. Most places require that you get 80% or better on the test in order to pass (that means you’ll need to get 20 out of the 25 correct if your test has that many questions).

Don’t feel too bad if you don’t pass the written exam the first time. Most places will let you take it as many times as you need though you’ll need to wait a certain time in between each attempt (usually a day) and pay an additional fee each time you take the test. Most states don’t have a limit on how many times you can take the test.

Once you pay the fee and pass the eye test and the written test, the DMV will issue you a motorcycle permit. Once you get that, you are free to begin legally riding a motorcycle. Most DMV’s will give you a handbook of what you should practice as well as the specific rules you should follow when riding with a permit.

Also note that it’s important you immediately get motorcycle insurance when you get your permit if you are going to practice on a motorcycle you own. If you are planning on using a family member or friend’s motorcycle to practice on, consider adding yourself on their insurance so you are covered in the case of an accident.

The Rules Of Having A Permit

Just because you have a permit to ride a motorcycle doesn’t mean you’re free to do whatever you want on one. There are still rules you’ll need to abide by if you want to get your actual motorcycle license.

In most states, a motorcycle permit generally lasts for about twelve months and can be renewed once for an additional six month. If you let your permit expire after that without obtaining a license, you’ll need to go through the process at the DMV again to obtain a new permit.

Most states do not allow those who hold a motorcycle permit to have any type of passenger on their motorcycle with them unless the passenger is a driving instructor with the appropriate license. Because you are learning how to ride a motorcycle, it’s inappropriate to have a passenger on the back of your bike since you’re at a higher risk of crashing.

Those who hold a motorcycle permit are not allowed to ride a motorcycle in between dusk and dawn, meaning you cannot ride at night. Riding at night is very different from riding during the day and it’s not appropriate for a beginner to be doing that. You will face hefty fines if you are riding at night with only a permit.

A lot of states also require that you not ride on certain roads at higher speeds. For example, in Utah you are not allowed on roads that go 60 miles per hour or faster if you only have a permit. Most states are generally in the same MPH range, but check with your local DMV to know what it is specifically for your state.

A certain amount of hours of riding before attempting to take your riding test is usually a requirement. Some states also require that you have your permit for several months (usually at least two) before you can take the riding test. The amount of hours you ride a motorcycle and practice on it is on your honor since you’re not allowed to have a passenger with you like you can with a learner’s permit for driving a car.

Places To Practice

Practicing riding a motorcycle as a beginner can be a little intimidating, especially when you think about having other drivers around you. Here are a few suggestions I have for you to help you get the practice you need without these distractions.

In the beginning of your practice routine, ride your motorcycle around any empty parking lots such as school, church, and store parking lots after hours if it’s light enough. Empty parking lots are a perfect place to learn to ride because they are flat and already have lines you can practice maneuvering around.

Once you get the hang of riding around parking lots, start working your way to residential roads where there will be some cars but not enough to make you nervous. Once you feel comfortable riding on residential roads, work your way up to busier and faster speed roads so you can get the hang of riding around with normal traffic.

Taking A Motorcycle Safety Course

Taking a basic motorcycle safety course is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with how to operate a motorcycle. And it’s in a safe and non-judgmental environment which makes the experience a lot less intimidating. There are a lot of benefits associated with taking this course.

A motorcycle safety course consist of a new rider taking a class that lasts about 1-3 days. This course offers classroom work as well as actually going out and riding a motorcycle under the supervision of the MSF-certified rider coach.

The class will be able to tell you some basic but vital knowledge about how to ride a motorcycle as well as how to handle some sticky situations you may have found yourself in. Some of the education includes general information about the motorcycle itself, starting and stopping, leaning, abrupt stops, tight turns, curves, and swerving.

All states have this course available though some may have to drive a distance to get to their location. If you’re a seasoned rider and just want a touch-up on your safety skills, they also offer an advanced course.

One of the biggest benefits of taking a motorcycle safety course is that some states will wave the riding test if you successfully pass the course. This is because you have already taken a written exam as well as a riding test during the course under the proper authority.

Completion of a course like this will likely get you some sort of discount from your insurance company. They recognize that you’ve gone the extra mile to ensure your riding safety and they reward you.

There are a handful of states that require new motorcycle riders to take a motorcycle safety course in order to get their license. Again, check with your local DMV to know for sure if this is a requirement for you in your state.

The one drawback of the motorcycle safety course is the cost. The cost of the course varies with each instructor, but the typical fees are usually between $150-$250. That’s a lot more expensive than just going the permit route and taking the test from the DMV which is usually under $50.

Taking The Riding Test

Once you have had your permit for the appropriate amount of time, ridden the required amount of hours, and feel like you have gotten the hang of riding a motorcycle, you’re ready to take your riding test.

To do this, you’ll need to contact your local DMV and schedule a time to come out and do the test. This is usually not something you can just show up for. A lot of DMVs will allow you to schedule your test through their online portal. They need to make sure they have the appropriate motorcycle instructor available for when you show up to take the test.

When you arrive, make sure you bring the appropriate documentation with you. You’ll need to have your permit, a form of identification, proof of residency, and money to pay the fee for a license.

Most DMVs will have a riding lot outside specific for taking a motorcycle riding test. Before you get started with the riding test, your examiner will ask you some general questions about certain parts of the motorcycle. Some questions will include showing them where the front and rear breaks are, the location of the left and right signals, and where the gear shifter and clutch lever are.

Once you have proven to your examiner that you are well acquainted with the motorcycle and it’s parts, you’ll begin to start your riding test. It’s always a good idea to go prepared with a helmet as well as wearing other proper riding gear. You don’t necessarily need to have the leather jacket and gloves, but it looks good to the examiner when you show up wearing long pants with boots that are covering your ankles.

A lot of states abide by a regulation called Tiered Licensing. This means whatever CC of motorcycle you test on at the DMV will reflect on what kind of motorcycle you can legally ride with your license.

For example, if you test on a motorcycle with 90 CC’s, you will be restricted to ride only motorcycles with 90 CC’s or lower. If you test on a motorcycle with 250 CC’s, you are restricted to only legally ride motorcycles with 250 CC’s or less. You are permitted to ride any kind of motorcycle if you test on a motorcycle with 650 CC’s or larger.

A motorcycle riding test generally lasts around 30 minutes. The examiner will instruct you on certain tasks you need to do and will stand off to the side with a clipboard and observe your riding skills.

Skills they will ask you to demonstrate will include stopping distance, maneuvering at low speeds, maneuvering at regular speeds, going around cones without putting your feet down, using signals while maneuvering, using different brake pedals, and quick judgement checks. The quick judgement check may include you riding directly at the examiner and they randomly point to one side at the last second to have you swerve.

You will be given other chances if you fail your riding test. Most states don’t have a limit on the amount of times you take your riding test, however most do have regulations on how often you can take them. The time between tests can range from 1-10 days in between attempts. Those who are younger than 18 will likely require a longer period of time between riding test attempts.

Once you pass your test, your examiner will go over some things with you that you could improve on but wasn’t bad enough to withhold your license. You’ll go into the DMV, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and complete the process of getting your motorcycle license!

A motorcycle license means you’ll have an endorsement on your regular license, meaning they’ll print an “M” on it. Some DMVs will be able to issue this the same day while others may have to mail it to you.

Common Questions

These are a few common questions I’ve heard people ask when they are in the process of getting their motorcycle license (and I asked myself these as well).

Do you need a driver’s license to get a motorcycle license? Most states do require that you have a regular driver’s license in order to obtain your motorcycle license. Those who are 16 must show that they are working towards getting a driver’s license and must obtain it before they get their motorcycle license.

This is mostly because a regular driver’s license teaches drivers the basic laws of the road. While learning how to ride a motorcycle will touch up on these points, it focuses more about how to specifically maneuver the motorcycle rather than understand fully road laws and what signs mean.

Do you need a motorcycle license to ride a scooter or moped? A lot of this depends on the state you live in and the size of the moped or scooter you are wanting to ride.

In general, if the scooter or moped you are riding is smaller than 50 CC’s and you have a regular driver’s license, you are permitted to ride it without obtaining a motorcycle license or endorsement. If it’s anything larger than that, you will need to proceed with the steps of getting a motorcycle license.

What if you don’t have a motorcycle to practice on or use during a riding test? Learning to ride a motorcycle is one thing, obtaining one to practice on is another. It’s a hard decision to make if you’re wanting to learn but don’t necessarily want to pay for a nice motorcycle that you might wreck.

If you take the motorcycle safety course, they have motorcycles and helmets you can rent for about $50. That’s one of the many perks of taking that course. Otherwise, you are on your own in finding a motorcycle to use. The DMV does not provide a motorcycle for you to test on. You’ll either need to buy a motorcycle or borrow one from a friend or family member.

Something I suggest is buying something small and expendable. Do all of your practice on it and get comfortable with the idea of riding a two wheeled vehicle. Once you feel comfortable enough, sell it and buy something you actually like and use that to test on.

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