How to Get a Motorcycle License in California

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 16, 2018
Man seat on the motorcycle on the forest road

If you are one of those "two-wheels-forever" fans, you have lots of company in California. Motorcycles are great for trekking down the winding ribbon of the gorgeous Coast Highway, but also handy for big cities like San Francisco where parking is tight. But whether your ride is a Harley, a motor-driven cycle-type scooter or a moped, you'll first need to get a license to ride.

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To get a motorcycle license in California, you must pass a written test specific to motorcycles and then either pass a driving test or else take one of the motorcycle training courses approved by the state.

Getting a Motorcycle License in California

If you think the bike you have acquired won't require a license, you may be surprised. California has two types of motorcycle licenses, M1 and M2, and, between them, they cover a lot of motorcycle territory. For motorcycles (bigger than 150cc engine size), motor-driven cycles (like a Vespa) with less than 149cc engine size, you'll need the M1 license. If your ride is a motorized bicycle or a moped capable of going no more than 30 mph, you can go for a M2 license instead. Note that neither M1 nor M2 licenses are issued to persons under 21 unless they have completed an approved motorcycle safety training program.

The first step to getting either license is to get a motorcycle permit. Make an appointment at a convenient DMV to sit for the written portion of the driving test. You can study up online or use the DMV motorcycle test preparation information.

After you pass the test (including an eye exam), you just need to show identification and pay your fees. The DMV gives you a permit that allows you to practice riding a motorcycle legally without a license. You must not take any passengers, go on freeways or ride at night. You have one year in which to pass the driving test.

Test for the Motorcycle License in California

Once you are ready, you can make an appointment at the DMV and give the driving test a try. The test is conducted in the DMV parking lot area and includes tight curves, circles and driving within lines. You get three tries, so don't give up after one.

Alternatively, you can sign up for one of the motorcycle riding training courses approved by the state. If you pass, you get a certificate that waives the driving portion of the test. All you have to do is take the certificate in and wait to get your license in the mail.

Motorcycle Laws for California

Anyone riding on a motorcycle must wear a helmet in California. This includes the driver as well as any passengers. You'll get a ticket if you drive without one.

The other law peculiar to California is the right of a motorcycle to "share lanes." This means that a motorcycle rider has the right to ride between lines of stopped cars.

Motorcycle License Suspensions in California

Nobody sets out to get their motorcycle license suspended, in California or elsewhere. California suspends your motorcycle license for the same grounds as it suspends your automobile driver's license.

Your license is suspended if you accumulate enough points from traffic tickets to result in a suspended license. The DMV can also suspend your license if you are caught driving without insurance or driving under the influence, if you refuse a chemical test when stopped for a DUI, fail to appear in court for a traffic ticket, fail to pay a traffic ticket fine, fail to keep up child support payments, or have any physical or mental condition that makes you unable to drive safely.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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