Getting a Motorcycle License: What You Need To Know

The process of getting a motorcycle license varies per state. The general process, however, is the same nationwide. Applicants take a written exam, practice with a motorcycle, and take a road test.

Alternatively, they can also opt to take a motorcycle instruction course. It usually includes the written and road tests and lasts a weekend. This is the easiest option for many people, but the courses aren’t cheap. They can cost anywhere between $200 and $300 and are usually mandatory if you’re under 18.

Planning to get your motorcycle license soon? Then, you’re in luck because we’ll list down the steps you might face on the big day. Let’s jump right into it!

What are the Steps to Getting a Motorcycle License?

To get a motorcycle license, you typically have to undergo three steps:

Passing a Written Exam

Many states require you to pass a written exam and get a learner’s permit before you can ride a motorcycle. It consists of questions about basic motorcycle terms, techniques, and laws.

Plus, depending on where you live, you may choose between taking it at the department of motor vehicles or online.

Before taking the exam, make sure to study all the resources your state’s DMV provided. These resources contain all the information you need to pass the exam.

The written exams generally cover the following topics:

  • Basic motorcycle techniques
  • Road rules
  • Motorcycle terminologies
  • State laws
  • Best safety practices

Real-World Practice

After getting your permit, you have to practice how to ride a motorcycle. Some states even require you to log a certain number of hours with a local DMV officer. This applies especially to new riders who are below 18.

Unlike cars, a motorcycle won’t allow someone to supervise you from the passenger seat. So, you’ll be supervised by another rider within a certain distance instead while you ride. The officer may also give you restrictions about when and how you can ride your bike.

Here are the common requirements and limitations when riding with a motorcycle permit:

  • No passengers
  • Limited hours of use (for example, only during the day)
  • Should be supervised by a licensed motorcyclist (normally within a quarter of a mile)
  • 0% BAC level

These requirements change based on where you live. Therefore, you should always check your DMV to confirm the rules for practicing your skills. Lastly, don’t forget to have motorcycle insurance coverage for your bike since almost every state requires it.

Taking the Skills Test

Taking a road skills test is the final step in getting a motorcycle license. But, keep in mind that your examiner can’t supervise you from the passenger seat. So, the format will be different from the test for getting a driver’s license for cars.

Firstly, the examiner will observe how well you can maneuver your bike on a closed course or other secluded areas. You may need to show how well you can accelerate, make a safe, controlled turn, and brake.

For instance, the state of Ohio requires the following maneuvers:

  • Cone weave, normal stop
  • Turn from a stop, U-turn
  • Quick stop
  • Obstacle swerve

Furthermore, depending on your state and whether you already have a driver’s license, you need to show real-world riding skills. In this case, you have to go out on the street and show that you can interact with other vehicles.

Your examiner will also give you instructions from time to time. For on-road portions, you have to give a follow car and driver for the examiner to ride in during the exam.

When taking the road test, make sure to note everything that you need to bring to the test. Forgetting any of the requirements means you may automatically fail and have to reschedule.

Here’s a list of what you may need to bring on your road skills test in New York:

  • Learner’s permit with picture
  • Contacts or glasses, if your permit states that you need corrective lenses
  • Original copy of your MV-278 (Pre-licensing Course Certificate) or MV-285 (Student Certificate of Completion)
  • A working, registered, and inspected motorcycle
  • For riders under 18, a Certification of Supervised Driving (MV-262) signed by your parent or guardian
  • A driver 21 years old and up with a valid license to operate the test vehicle
  • A working, registered, and inspected vehicle and a driver with a valid license to drive the examiner during your road test

You’ll then receive a temporary license or endorsement after completing your skills test. You may also receive your permanent license in person at a DMV or in the mail.

Is a Skills Class Optional When Getting a Motorcycle License?

Yes. However, many states recommend and even require you to take classes when getting your motorcycle license.

These two to four-day classes normally have a live instructor. They may let you waive the written exam, the on-road skills test, or even both! You may be eligible for a discount on your motorcycle insurance as well.

The major disadvantage, however, is the price. Motorcycle skills courses cost anywhere from $200 to $500, depending on the state and the materials included. For example, in California, a class costs $258. This covers the cost of the skills test but not the written exam.

Additionally, you may spend time in a classroom with oral, video, and written instruction, and real-world experience on a motorcycle.

For instance, you can get a 16-hour beginner’s course with in-classroom and on-motorcycle instruction in California. Then, after completing the course, you’ll receive a DL389 certificate that waives the road test. But, you should still take a written knowledge exam, which you can do before or after finishing the course.

The Time and Cost of Getting a Motorcycle License

How much time and money you need depends on how you get by it and if you pass the test.

For instance, adult riders who pass a state-certified training course may easily get their motorcycle license over the weekend. Meanwhile, if you prefer learning on your own, you may need days or weeks of practice to get comfortable enough to take the test.

Most states don’t require adults to carry a permit for a minimum time. But, this is very different if you’re a minor. For instance, in California, riders below 21 should have their learner’s permit for six months before taking the road test.

Here’s a sample computation of how much and how long it takes to get a motorcycle license in New York:

MethodTaking a motorcycle safety courseLearning on your own (written and on-bike exam at a DMV)
Cost$297.50, motorcycle and training included ($275 class fee + $10 written test + $12.50 license fee)$22.50, excluding motorcycle and training ($10 written test + $12.50 road test and license fee)
Time18 hours of online and over 2 days of on-motorcycle trainingA 30-hour practice (recommended) at your own pace

Why Do Younger Riders Undergo More Steps When Getting a Motorcycle License?

Motorcycle riders below 18 (or 21 in some states) need to take more steps if getting a motorcycle license.

Ideally, you need to carry a motorcycle permit for a set period before you can take the road test. Plus, you may also need to take a motorcycle skills class, which is usually optional for older riders.

For example, in addition to the requirements of older riders, here are the license requirements of younger riders in California:

Below 18:

  • Take a California driver education class
  • Carry a motorcycle permit for six months
  • Enrol in a motorcycle rider training course

Between 18 and 21:

  • Carry a motorcycle permit for six months
  • Enroll in a motorcycle rider training course

What Do I Do After Getting a Motorcycle License?

Already passed your state’s exam? Congratulations! You can start looking for bikes if you don’t have one yet. You can also borrow a friend’s bike or never touch one ever again—it’s your choice.

Assuming that you’ll continue riding, make sure to buy the most appropriate motorcycle for your skill level. You can also always come back to this website for motorcycle tips and tricks. We try to cover everything you need including the right gear, basic maintenance, and mechanical knowledge.

Also, don’t forget to apply for motorcycle insurance. Never skip this step. This will serve as your protection in case something happens to you or your bike while on the road.

Lastly, don’t forget to take your riding to the next level. You can always follow up your basic training with more advanced riding courses from Yamaha, MSF, and more. These motorcycle schools and clubs share professional and helpful insights to further your motorcycle game.

Your motorcycle experience is now in your hands. Remember to never stop learning and practicing. It will be all worth it!


Getting a motorcycle license is the key to riding your bike anywhere you like. Check with your local DMV to learn about their requirements and keep these in mind to know what to expect.

Happy shopping and stay safe on the road!

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