How to Get a Motorcycle License

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Jun 21, 2021

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What You Should Know

  • A motorcycle license endorsement is required to drive a motorcycle1
  • Most states require you to take written and on-cycle tests
  • In many states, you must be 16 or 17 to get your motorcycle license

For some, motorcycles are exciting, liberating vehicles that let them ride down the highway in style. For others, they’re practical for running quick errands or daily commuting.

Regardless of your reasons for wanting to drive a motorcycle, you’ll need a separate license. While knowledge of road rules and safety carries over from driving a car or truck, piloting a motorbike requires a special set of skills. A motorcycle license proves to the authorities that you’ve learned those skills.

If you’ve been wondering how to get your motorcycle license, read on for all the essential details.

Is a Motorcycle Right For You?

Before you rush off to buy a new Harley-Davidson or Kawasaki, it’s worth considering whether a motorcycle fits with your lifestyle. These are some of the factors to keep in mind when deciding whether to get a motorcycle license.

Weather

Where you live in the country can influence the viability of motorcycle ownership. In dry, warm areas, motorcycles are an excellent option for daily use all year.

If you live in a wet or snowy climate, you can still enjoy riding a motorcycle for much of the year. Dry, sunny summer weather is perfect for cruising the open road and commuting to work. Just know that you likely won’t get year-round use out of a bike in colder climes, as rain and ice don’t mix well with motorcycles.

Commute

If you’re buying a motorcycle as your primary vehicle, think about the location of your home and workplace. Riding in wide-open spaces is a lot of fun; stop-and-start city driving can be less exciting. Those living and working in urban areas may find motorcycles don’t suit their lifestyle, although they can be handy for a quick trip to the store.

Of course, if you plan to use your motorcycle as a secondary vehicle for pleasure, your location and commute are less important.

Cost

Buying a new motorcycle can be a sizable investment, with low-end bikes costing at least $5,000. More expensive options can reach $30,000 or more. You also have to factor in safety gear, insurance, and maintenance.

If your motorcycle is your sole vehicle, expenses can be less than or comparable to a standard car. But if you plan to have a car or truck and a bike, know that the cost can add up quickly.

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How to Get a Motorcycle License

Acquiring a motorcycle license is a simple process, but there are several steps and requirements. In general, everything happens at your local DMV. You’ll have to visit in person or book an appointment by calling ahead or checking online. From there, you’ll have to meet all the requirements before continuing.

Motorcycle License Requirements

Motorcycle regulations vary from state to state, but they all share one common point: a motorcycle license endorsement is required to drive a motorcycle. To receive a motorcycle license, most states require the following conditions be met:

  • You meet the age requirements – Different states have different requirements, but in general, a potential motorcyclist needs to be old enough to drive a car. In many states, the age is 16 or 17, but some states (like New Mexico) allow learners to acquire a restricted motorcycle license as young as 13.2 Visit your state’s DMV website for the most accurate information.
  • You have adequate eyesight – Most states will have applicants undergo a vision screening to ensure drivers can safely discern their surroundings. Even if your state doesn’t require a vision test or vision screening, you should only drive a motor vehicle if your eyesight is sufficient and wear glasses if needed.
  • You’ve passed a written test – Applicants for a motorcycle permit will typically be asked to complete a written or electronic test at the licensing agency. The test includes questions on road safety, hand signals, basic motorcycle functions, and more. Successfully passing the test garners you a temporary or learner’s permit.
  • You’ve completed a practical skill test – An on-bike skill test is typically the next step in the process. Once you’ve passed a written test and received a learner’s permit, you can practice with an experienced rider to prepare for the practical test. A state-licensed evaluator will judge whether you can safely pilot a motorcycle on your own. Passing this step will either give you a full motorcycle license, or a novice permit, depending on where you live. If you receive a novice permit, you’ll have to return for another test after further practice.

Some states, such as Florida, Hawaii, and others, also require the completion of a state-sanctioned motorcycle education course. The need for a practical skill test may be waived if the applicant has already finished a course.

In many states, applicants must already have a standard driver’s license, while others allow learners to apply for a motorcycle license straight away. Here’s a full rundown of requirements in each state.

Preparing for the Tests

In order to pass the motorcycle learner’s permit test, preparation is required. While much of your motorcycle knowledge will come from regular riding, you can (and should) prepare for the written and on-cycle tests. Some states require a motorcycle knowledge test surrounding motorcycle skills and motorcycle laws as well as an approved motorcycle safety course. Here are a few tips for ensuring a smooth and straightforward process.

Study

Studying outside of a school environment isn’t always exciting, but it’s highly recommended for anyone planning to take a written motorcycle license test. Individuals who fail the written test often have to wait a few weeks before trying again. With that in mind, you should go over road safety and traffic laws online or with an experienced motorcyclist.

If you have access to a motorcycle, take time to familiarize yourself with the various parts. You can learn the theoretical knowledge of shifting gears and braking without riding the bike. Spending a little time with the motorcycle before your written test will help to ease any anxiety about parts of the bike.

Safety Gear

Motorcycle safety gear isn’t just a smart choice—in most cases, it’s required to take the practical test. Purchase a properly fitted helmet well before your practical test, as helmet safety is often part of the examination. Knowing how to adjust your helmet and other safety gear is a key part of driving a motorcycle to protect yourself from motorcycle injuries.

Practice

Once you’re allowed to start riding, practice the skills on which you’ll be tested. These may include:

  • Signaling
  • Parallel parking
  • Shifting gears
  • Shoulder checking
  • Braking quickly and safely
  • Entering and exiting roundabouts

As you begin to ride around your neighborhood, try finding varied scenarios to practice on. Look for school zones and yield signs. Work on left and right turns at controlled and uncontrolled intersections. Putting yourself in unfamiliar yet safe situations is the best way to prepare for the skills test. 

What You’ll Need to Succeed

When you visit the DMV for your on-bike test, you’ll need to come with the following:

  • A motorcycle – Your evaluator won’t provide you with a motorcycle for the test. Bring your own, and ensure everything is in working condition beforehand, as you may be turned away if signals or brakes aren’t functional.
  • Liability insuranceDo you need motorcycle insurance? Chances are, you do. If your state requires vehicle insurance, make sure your bike is insured before taking the test. Even if your home state doesn’t require insurance, it’s always recommended to cover the major costs of motorcycle accidents.
  • Proper gear –  Be sure to bring a helmet, long pants, a long-sleeved jacket or shirt, and low-heeled boots or shoes to avoid some common motorcycle injuries. 
  • Proof you’ve passed the written exam – When you pass the written exam at the licensing agency, you’ll be given a physical motorcycle permit or motorcycle driver’s license. Don’t forget this at home when you go to take the test.
  • Around $50 – Some tests will have a small fee for each attempt. Once you pass the test, you’ll have to pay an additional sum for the license. The amount varies state by state, but $50 should be more than enough in most cases. Check with your local DMV for up-to-date information on fees.

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After the Test

Congratulations on passing your test! All of that preparation for the motorcycle learner permit, basic rider course, and motorcycle training paid off! You are officially licensed to drive a motorcycle. Even though motorcycle licenses are awarded by individual states, a valid permit allows you to ride your bike anywhere in the country.

While it may feel like your motorcycle journey is now complete, in many ways, it’s only just begun. Here are a few details to consider after you’ve received your license.

Maintenance

Regular upkeep is the key to a long-lasting motorcycle. Learning basic motorcycle maintenance, such as oil changes and checking brake pads, is the perfect way to get to know your bike. Plus, you can save some money by doing minor maintenance yourself.

If you don’t like to get your hands dirty, be sure to take your bike by a trusted shop every few thousand miles for a checkup. A well-maintained bike runs better and keeps you safer.

Storage

If possible, store your motorcycle indoors, away from rain and humidity. When indoor storage isn’t feasible, consider purchasing a cover for your bike. A cover protects it from rust, dust, and other nuisances.

Insuring Your Motorcycle

As you start to feel comfortable on your motorcycle, you’ll likely fall in love with it. And any well-loved investment is worth protecting. There’s where insurance comes in. Motorcycle insurance comes highly recommended, as mishaps and accidents can occur, and you’ll want to be prepared.

Questions like ‘how much is motorcycle insurance’ can keep any motorcyclist up at night.  Discover the best motorcycle insurance rates around by entering your ZIP code in our comparison tool. We’ll worry about finding you the best deals so you can enjoy the open road.

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