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How to Get Your Motorcycle License in California

Posted by Oakland H-D Contributor on Aug 18, 2020 10:00:00 AM

So you are getting into (or back into) motorcycling and you want to do it right. You know how to ride or you have taken a class and now it's time to get your motorcycle license. Congratulations on taking this first big step! Here are the steps that you will need to take to legally and legitimately ride a motorcycle in the state of California.

"A California motorcycle driver license (DL) authorizes you to operate a two-wheeled motorcycle, motorized bicycle, moped, or any bicycle with an attached motor."

- California DMV

Sportster Riders on the Street

Types of Licenses

First thing to know is that there are two different motorcycle license classes in California. By classes the DMV means two different levels (there are more than two types of motorcycle safety classes but more on that later). 

  • Class M1: Authorizes you to operate any two-wheeled motorcycle, motorized bicycle, moped or any bicycle with an attached motor.
  • Class M2: Only authorizes you to operate a motorized bicycle, moped, or any bicycle with an attached motor. Not a two-wheeled motorcycle. 

How Do I Get a Motorcycle License?

Anyone over 21 years of age can follow this simple process (under 21? see below). You will not be stuck on the limitations of an Instruction Permit. The big step is to pass a motorcycle driving test at a DMV office OR pass an approved California Motorcyclist Safety Program training course. You will also be required to take a knowledge test at the DMV - regardless of whether or not you completed an approved training course. While a training course will certainly prepare you to ace the test, this isn't something you can get out of. Then it's the standard requirements to get any sort of ID at the DMV. Fill out an application, show the required proof of ID and residency, pay an application fee, pass a vision exam, scan your fingerprint, and have your picture taken.

Tell Me More About This Training Course

The California Highway Patrol has a department called the California Motorcyclist Safety Program which offers beginner, intermediate and advanced level motorcycle training for residents of California. Check out more details about why to take a motorcycle safety class here.

Woman Riding Roadster

What If I'm Under 21?

If you are under 21, you will need to successfully complete a motorcycle training course and obtain a DL 389 certificate. You will also need to hold a motorcycle instruction permit for at least 6 months before you can apply for a motorcycle driver's license. If you are under 18 you will also need to complete a driver education class, receive a behind-the-wheel driver training certificate and have your parent or guardian sign off.

What Are the Limits of an Instruction Permit?

It's simple. No riding with passengers. No riding on the freeway. And no riding after sunset. 

Do I Need a Motorcycle Endorsement to Ride a Three-Wheeled Motorcycle in California?

A standard Class C driver's license is all you need to operate a three-wheel motorcycle (commonly known as a Trike) in the state of California. Same goes for a motorcycle with a side car attached or a motorized scooter (think about those Bird or Lime scooters you might see around town). 

I'm Ready. Let's Get Started.

Fantastic. The California DMV website has all the information you need. You can find a list of classes, read up on all of the regulations, check out the paperwork you'll need to bring with you, and practice tests to help you study for your written test. 

Check out other resources for people that are getting in to motorcycling and let us know how we can help!

Complete Guide to Getting Into Motorcycling

Topics: Motorcycles, Riding in the Bay Area

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