How to Get a Motorcycle License in the US?
The thrill of riding your two-wheel machine is comparable to none. It becomes even more fun and addictive when you twist the throttle on the freeway.
Just like an automobile, however, you'll need to get a valid motorcycle license for you to enjoy operating your motorcycle on the freeway and other public roads.
But if it's your first time getting a motorcycle license in the US, you might not have a clue how to go about it—where to begin, what the requirements are, and so on.
We've got your back, though!
In the following guide, we'll hold your hand through all the crucial steps you should take to get a valid motorcycle, scooter, or moped license in any state.
Table of Contents
Requirements for Getting A Motorcycle License in the US
FIRST things first…it's important to note that the motorcycle licenses in the US are issued by individual states, not the federal government.
And all the states recognize each 'other's license when dealing with non-resident age requirements.
Let's delve into more details on what you require to get a motorcycle license…
What is the legal age to ride a motorcycle? Age is crucial in determining who can ride a motorcycle across all the states. If 'you're aged 16 years and older, then you should count yourself lucky as you can ride a bike in just any state.
For young riders aged below 18 years old, you need to have a motorcycle permit to allow to operate your machine legally.
You'll need to meet these requirements to get the permit:
If 'you're 16 years and older (remember the exact age depends on state), then you qualify to get a motorcycle riding license. You'll need to take some tests and training as discussed in our training requirements section (keep tuned in).
We looked up the information for age requirements for California and found out the following…
Want to know the age requirements in your specific state? Get more info here.
Training Requirements (optional):
Before you obtain your motorcycle license, you might consider taking an approved motorcycle safety course.
This is especially true if 'you're an absolute beginner rider or if you want to sharpen your riding skills and become a better rider on the road.
This "approved motorcycle safety course" is, however, optional. It lasts for approx. 2-4 days—and involves working in-person with an instructor who teaches you EVERYTHING you need to know about to get that license. You'll learn things like motorbike anatomy, motorcycle-specific traffic laws, proper riding gear, safe riding strategies, and special defensive maneuvers, e.g., swerving.
Can you guess the key BENEFIT of taking approved motorcycle safety course?
Well, this is it—you might get a waiver and skip taking the written exam or the road test, or even both!
BUT…keep in mind that you must take a government- approved motorcycle safety course for you to enjoy these benefits.
This reliable website will help you easily and quickly find a government-approved motorcycle training course near you.
The only downside of this course is that it's a bit expensive. You might need to cough out around 200-500 depending on where you reside and how much material the course covers.
REMEMBER…on passing this course, you'll get a certificate which you can take to your motor vehicle bureau. If they accept it in place of a road test, then it could be your lucky day as you can directly apply to get your motorcycle license.
Though the test requirements might vary from state to state, they all have a typical 3-step procedure as outlined below…
Step #1. Take a written test: This test opens your doors to get a motorcycle 'learner's permit that lets you practice riding your motorcycle on public roads.
Topics covered in this test include basic motorcycle terminologies and techniques, road rules, state laws, and best safety practices.
Going through the resources at your local DMV website will provide you with all the info you need to adequately prepare for this test.
Step #2. Practice your skills on the road: After obtaining the permit in the previous step, 'you're now allowed to practice riding your motorbike on private and public roads.
During this stage, you might be restricted to practicing in daylight hours only. 'You're also restricted from carrying any passenger, and a licensed motorcyclist MUST supervise you.
Some states might require you to log a given number of supervised hours, especially if 'you're under 18. In this case, the one supervising you will be in another motorcycle within a given distance.
NOTE: Since the requirements at this stage vary by state, we suggest that you go through your local DMV website. Here, you'll get to understand what rules you need to follow when practicing your skills. You can also go through motorcycle safety foundation for more details.
Step #3. Take a skills test: The last step to getting fully licensed as a motorcyclist involves taking a road test. Here, you'll need to display your ability to maneuver (brake, accelerate, safe and quick turns, etc.) your bike on a closed course or any other secluded area.
Some states might also require you to demonstrate real-world skills—where you get out there to the streets and interact with other motorists.
Consult widely on what you need to bring during the road test. In the past, examiners have failed bikers who 'didn't bring all the required items, forcing them to reschedule.
Generally, you'll need the following:
Again, be sure to check what your examiner expects you to bring to the motorcycle road test.
How Much Should You Pay to Get Your Motorcycle License?
After passing the road test, you'll need to fill in some papers and pay some fees for the motorcycle license processing or for 'driver's license endorsement.
And this brings us to our next discussion…
How much do you need to pay for the license?
The amount you need to pay to get your motorcycle license will vary widely, depending on the state, 'rider's age, whether 'you're looking for an endorsement or license, and so on.
That said, you 'don't expect the cost to be more than $50.
Quite affordable, right?
'Here's an example of cost for getting a motorcycle license in Texas…
Motorcycle endorsement: $16
Motorcycle license: (under 18 years old): $16
Motorcycle license (18 years old or more): $18
How Long Does It Take To Get Your Motorcycle License in the US?
The process for obtaining an appropriate motorcycle license will last for several weeks.
However, keep in mind that this duration varies from driver to driver. If you complete your approved motorcycle safety course and pass your motorcycle riding exam, you might get your license faster.
The time 'it'll take to process your license might be another factor affecting how fast you'll get your license.
Young riders might take longer to obtain a license since 'they're required to have a 'learner's permit for a given period of time. A good case is California, where riders under 21 need a learner's permit for up to 6 months before they can take the road test.
Quick TIP: If you decide to take the approved motorcycle safety course, then you might be able to skip the written test or road test, or both. This simply shortens the period in which you obtain your motorcycle license.
How Hard Is It To Get a Motorcycle License in the US?
In our opinion, the process 'isn't hard as long as you adequately prepare for all the tests 'we've discussed in this guide.
If you ask riders who have gone through the whole process, they'll tell you that the only part that might feel a bit challenging is taking a road test.
But again, this part shouldn't stop you from obtaining that license if you prepare well ahead of time.
We have outlined some quick tips below to help you easily pass your driving test:
Can You Ride a Motorcycle With A Driver’s License?
No. Absolutely No! You need to have valid driver's license!
In all the 50 states, you'll need a motorcycle permit, endorsement, or license for you to freely and legally operate your motorcycle on public roads. In the case of the moped- Do You Need a Motorcycle License for a Moped? The answer is yes! In some states of the USA, you need to have a motorcycle license for a moped.
The motorcycle permits are usually meant for riders under 18 years of age in most states. The minimum age for getting a permit is around 15-16 years. Note that you'll need to complete a 'driver's education course and pass written motorcycle exam and vision tests for you to get a permit.
If you already have a 'driver's license, then you'll need a motorcycle endorsement—where an additional credential is added to your regular driving license. This will grant you the legal right to operate your motorcycle, scooter, moped, etc., on public roads.
Nearly all the states offer riders with a regular DL the option for getting a motorcycle-only license or a motorcycle endorsement.
A good example is Florida…
If you already a regular driving license and wish to drive a two or three-wheel motorbike with 50cc engine or more in this state, then you must have an endorsement on your DL or a motorcycle-specific license.The fee for motorcycle endorsement in Florida is $7.
NOTE that you can get a motorcycle license without a driver's license in the United States.
Possible Penalties for Riding a Motorcycle Without License in the US
Have you ever wondered what could happen if you decided to ride your motorcycle on public roads without a motorcycle license?
Well, as you can easily guess this would be treated as breaking the law and would attract fines and even jail time—in nearly all states.
A good example is the California state. Here, the action is punished as misdemeanor or infraction. If ruled as the former, you'll face a fine of up to $1000 plus spend up to 6 months in jail. Oh boy!
Another excellent example of what riding without a motorcycle license can land you in is Florida. The state will fine you up to $500, put you on probation for up to 6 months, and make you serve jail time of 60 days!
Needless to mention, these are just a few examples of harsh punishments for lack of valid license.
Your state could have even harsher laws, so we advise you to secure your motorbike license to save yourself from this hell.
Clear Your Motorcycle Permit Test
It is important to obtain a permit from your state’s DMV before getting a motorcycle license. This is the most critical step towards legally riding a motorcycle in the USA. Below is a complete procedure for applying for the motorcycle permit test.
Prepare for the Motorcycle Permit Test
Before getting a motorcycle permit in the US, the DMV requires all applicants to pass a permit test. The permit test can either be online or at the DMV office. But you should research and prepare adequately before submitting your application because most DMVs require a passing grade of 70%.
The motorcycle permit test may include questions about:
Rules to observe on the road.
Laws about alcohol and drug use when riding.
General motorcycle safety rules.
Safety best practices.
There are several free training materials and guides online to help prepare for the test. For more information, consider visiting your motor vehicle office, the state’s Operator’s Manual, or the DMV website.
Apply and Take the Test
You already know that passing the DMV permit test is a big leap to getting complete driving privileges in the US. Here are some tips for successfully passing the permit test.
Find online permit test study guides: Study guides are a great way to prepare for your upcoming test. They give you a good idea of what the questions on a real permit test will look like. Primarily, they help you relate the outlined subjects in your driver’s handbook.
Take an online DMV practice test: Usually, the DMV permit test derives questions from a database of hundreds of probable questions. Therefore, taking a practice test is the best way to assess how well you will perform. Besides, these tests are free; you can take as many tests as possible to help identify your weak areas. The more questions you work through, the more familiar you will be with their answers.
Study the driver’s manual: Applicants should have a copy of their state’s manual. Usually, the driver’s manual can be found online, but you can get hard copies for free at your local DMV. The manual has all the necessary information for driving. This covers sharing the road, discerning road signs, and understanding liability laws. Read through the manual and take notes of key points.
Take a Drivers’ Education class: These classes are interactive and provide flexible instructions. They cover all the necessary information in the driver’s manual but are not mandatory. If a driver’s education is inaccessible or too expensive, revising your driver’s manual is just fine.
Currently, applicants can take the written test online or at the DMV office before getting a motorcycle permit.
Applicants can submit their applications and take the test online. Here is the procedure:
Log into your state’s DMV account or create a new account if you are a new user. After that, click on the ‘Begin your permit application’ icon to get started. (It is best to use the latest versions of Firefox browsers, Safari, Edge, or Chrome)
Submit your name in the text box on the window.
Confirm the type of permit you are applying for, whether D ‘Car’ or M ‘Motorcycle.’ Click on M ‘Motorcycle’ in this case.
Identify the supporting documents and forms you will provide when getting a permit. (All online test applicants must verify their identity as a fraud prevention measure)
Upload all the required documents—ensure you submit a photo or scanned images of all your documents.
DMV keeps all the documents safe and secure.
Review and confirm the application.
An email with the permit test link is sent. Ensure you open and start the test within 15 minutes of receiving the link.
The online test is available in up to 35 languages, depending on your residence.
Most DMV permit tests may last about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your pace.
Participants may only take the test on an internet-enabled desktop computer, laptop, or table. A smartphone will display the questions incorrectly.
Most states allow participants to take the test Monday through Friday between 8 am and 4 pm.
To pass the test in most states, you must:
Answer at least 80% of the overall questions correctly.
Get a minimum of 60% of the motorcycle questions.
Answer at least 50% of the road sign questions correctly.
For applicants over the age of 16 (or, in some states, 18 or 21):
Visit a DMV office and sign the Online Permit Test Attestation for older Applicants. You must sign the form in front of a DMV representative.
For applicants under the age of 16 (or, in some states, 18 or 21):
Visit a DMV with a parent or legal guardian and sign the Online Permit Test parent or legal guardian Certification. You must sign the form in front of a DMV representative.
Your parent or legal guardian will supervise the test.
If you fail the written exam, you can try again after at least 6 hours. In other states, you can only attempt the online test twice, after which the applicant is prompted to visit a DMV office to take the test a third time. But you will have to pay another application fee.
You will receive a link in your email once you pass the test. Use the link to make a reservation to visit the DMV office.
At the DMV office, you will:
Have your photo taken.
Pay the permit fee.
Provide the original copies of the documents you uploaded.
Get a temporary permit. Most states issue the permit by mail within 14 days.
At DMV Office
You require an in-person appointment before visiting a DMV office.
Once you get there:
Provide your application forms.
Present documents proving your identity, age, and residence.
A statement of parent/guardian residence and/or identity (For applicants below 18 years).
Take the written test.
Get at least 14 out of 20 questions correct to pass the test. You must also get a minimum of 2 of the 4 road sign questions right. However, if you don’t pass the test, you can try again at no additional cost.
You will get a temporary permit if you pass the written test. Most states issue the permit by mail within 14 days.
Once the DMV issues you a learner’s permit, you can legally ride a motorcycle but with some restrictions. These restrictions vary with state and may include:
No carrying passengers.
Operate a bike during the daytime.
Blood alcohol content restrictions.
Motorcycles must have dual controls.
Riding on the limited-access highway or any state toll road.
Using a DOT-approved helmet.
Safety equipment as prescribed by law.
Pass the Motorcycle Road Test
To ride a motorcycle safely requires you to have the necessary skills and knowledge. Therefore, different states require applicants to pass road/skill tests. This test elaborates and covers all the basic riding skills to ensure you understand safe riding practices and road rules.
The road test could be conducted in a controlled environment or actual traffic, depending on your state rules.
Prepare for the Road Test
There are many online and physical materials at the DMV that you can use to revise for the road test. Usually, the tests consist of 4 basic riding skill exercises that measure your hazard response skills and control. These basic skills include:
On safety concerns, the examiner will score you on areas like:
Communicating with others.
Choosing the correct paths.
Completing routine and quick stops.
Selecting safe speeds for maneuvers.
Crash avoidance skills.
Adjusting your speed and position depending on the traffic.
For the road test, you should choose a suitable motorcycle. Cruiser model motorcycles are ideal for testing because of their low seats and low center of gravity. Ensure the bike you want to use for your testing is street-legal and has valid insurance, plates, and registration. You risk getting a ticket if your bike does not meet the legal requirements.
Furthermore, most states require you to practice riding on your motorcycle before taking a road test. Within this time, it is advisable to ride both in medium to high-traffic areas. This is to familiarize yourself with the road and to avoid panicking during your test.
Schedule and Take the Road Test
Once you are familiar with the materials for the road tests and the kind of tests issued, you are now ready to schedule and take the test. You can either schedule your test online or via a phone call.
To schedule the test, most states require you to provide the following:
A learner’s permit
A student certificate of completion
Your Zip code. You can choose where you want to take your test from your state’s DMV catalog.
For your test, bring the following:
A photo of your learner permit
Student certificate of completion.
Original pre-licensing course certificate
Contacts/glasses in case your permit shows you use corrective lenses.
On the day of your test, try to arrive early before the test to avoid rushing. Arriving late may also mean rescheduling your test.
Note: The time it takes to get your motorcycle license will depend on whether you pass the test. If you do not pass your test on the first attempt, you can always retake it.
Get Your Motorcycle License
Once you have taken the test, you will be provided with a provisional license online. You can keep this with your learner’s permit while waiting for your physical license.
Whether the road test was in an approved training course or at the motor vehicle bureau, the actual license will come from the motor vehicle bureau. Your license could come via the mail, or you can be called to pick it up physically.
The fees and paperwork involved in obtaining the license vary by state. Also, the license will remain valid until its expiry date, as stipulated by your state’s DMV.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Drive With an Out-Of-State Motorcycle License?
Yes, you can drive a motorcycle in any state in the US as long as you have a valid motorcycle license from any state within the country. Some states, though, will require you to get some endorsements if you stay for an extended period. It is advisable to confirm with the state’s DMV just to be sure.
Moreover, if you are relocating to a new state, you must obtain that state’s motorcycle driving license or a motorcycle endorsement. This might require you to pass either the road or the written test, depending on the state’s DMV rules.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Motorcycle License?
Obtaining a motorcycle license in the US can take a few weeks or months, depending on your state of residence. Most states require applicants to complete some steps, such as clearing a motorcycle permit test and passing a road test. However, some states require applicants to enroll in a Basic Rider Course (BRC) whether or not they have a driver’s license.
Can I Get the Motorcycle Road Test Waived?
Some states allow waiving the road test if you have a valid motorcycle license from another state. They can also waive it if you are qualified and have finished an approved motorcycle course.
In states like NY, the Basic Rider Course is designed for riders with some riding experience who have held a permit for one year. Completing the test qualifies you for a motorcycle road test waiver.
Can You Get Your Motorcycle License Online?
No, you cannot obtain a motorcycle license online, as the process requires the completion of several steps that have to be done in person. The steps include taking a motorcycle permit test and a motorcycle road test. Though some states can allow you to take the permit test online, you still have to take the motorcycle road test in person.
Where Can I Learn More About Motorcycle Safety?
You can learn about motorcycle safety through your state’s safety education programs or websites. Check with your local or state DMV in case they are offering any motorcycle safety classes. Another option is the MSF which provides comprehensive course offerings nationwide. There are also branches around the country offering a basic eCourse.
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Having a motorcycle license in the US means full riding privileges. Every state has its own guidelines for motorcycle license application. However, the general procedure is the same nationwide. The process requires you to take a motorcycle permit test and road test before getting the license. You must also gather the proper documentation proving your age, name, and identity. All the documents must be original or certified by the issuing US Department of State. You can find all the necessary documents and application forms on the DMV website or any local motor vehicle agency. Once you get your license, remember always to carry it when riding; otherwise, penalties may apply.
Hopefully, you now understand what it takes to get a motorcycle license in the US. After passing all the necessary training and tests, filling out some paperwork, and paying the license fee, 'you're ready to get your motorcycle riding license.
You might get a temporary license as you wait for the permanent one to be mailed to you or you can get the permanent one right away.
Remember you can use a valid state-specific license to legally ride in any other state you wish. In case you move to a new state, you might need to go through the whole process of obtaining a new license for that state.
With a valid motorcycle license, and by adhering to all the licensing requirements, you'll not only be avoiding hefty fines but also jail time.
Remember to carry your license with you every time you're riding your motorcycle.