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Get a California Motorcycle License (Easy Step-by-Step)

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In order to ride a motorcycle in California, you’ll need to get a Class M1 or Class M2 motorcycle endorsement.

We’ll cover the steps and requirements you’ll need to complete in order to make getting your CA motorcycle endorsement as easy as possible.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Motorcycle License in California?

The length of time it will take you to get your motorcycle license will depend on which option you choose and your age when you apply.

If you are under 21 years old, you’ll need to hold a motorcycle permit for a least 6 months before you can receive your full motorcycle license.

However, if you are 21 years old or older, you’ll be able to apply for your motorcycle license immediately.

Applicants 21 years old and up can theoretically get their motorcycle license in less than a week, assuming they’re able to complete all the application steps and testing/training requirements in that time. More on that below.

California Motorcycle License Overview & Requirements

First, check out an overview of the process. The time it will take to complete these steps will vary depending on your age.

To apply for a California motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement, you’ll need to visit the DMV and:

Visit https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv for official application information and to schedule appointments.

After you complete the requirements and pay your fees, the DMV will issue you a temporary motorcycle license to carry with you until your permanent license arrives in the mail (usually within a few weeks.)

Note that additional requirements may need to be met if you are applying for a motorcycle-only license.

California Motorcycle License Classes: M1 vs M2

  • Class M1: You are able to operate any type of motorcycle, motorized scooter, or moped.
  • Class M2: You may only operate a moped, motorized bicycle, or motorized scooter.

You can learn more about California Moped Laws here.

Note that if you hold a CA Class C driver’s license, you are also able to ride a motorcycle with a side-car, a three-wheel motorcycle, or a motorized scooter without additional training and testing. You can learn more about that topic here: Can you ride a motorcycle with a car license?

If you are interested in riding a wider range of motorcycles and two-wheel vehicles, it is better to get your M1 license.

Get a California Motorcycle Permit

If you’re under 21 years old, you’ll need to obtain a motorcycle learner’s permit and satisfy the California graduated driver’s licensing requirements, depending on your age.

All applicants under 21 years old must hold a motorcycle instruction permit for at least 6 months and complete a CHP motorcycle safety program before receiving a standard motorcycle license.

To apply for a motorcycle learner’s permit you must be at least 15 1/2 years old.

If you are under 18 years old, you’ll also need to:

  • Complete Driver’s Education and Driver’s Training.
  • Pass the driver’s license knowledge test.

With a motorcycle instruction permit you cannot:

  • Ride at night.
  • Drive on the freeway.
  • Carry passengers.

Complete a California Motorcycle Training Course (Basic Rider Course)

The easiest way to get your CA motorcycle license is by completing a CMSP training course.

Riders under 21 years old are required to complete a course.

Riders 21 and up have the option of completing the course.

Successful completion of an approved motorcycle training course will earn you a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training form (DL 389).

This form is valid for up to 12 months after you complete the course and can be submitted to the DMV to waive your motorcycle skills test requirements.

A Basic Rider Course will consist of:

  • Classroom training.
  • On-bike lessons and practice.
  • An on-bike skills evaluation.

Most programs are completed over the course of 2-3 days.

You can learn more about the California motorcycle training course here.

Motorcycle Knowledge Test

All riders are required to pass the motorcycle knowledge test at the DMV.

This test is multiple choice with questions based on information found in the California Motorcycle Operator Handbook and the CA Driver Handbook.

There are a total of 30 questions on the motorcycle knowledge test, and you’ll need to score an 80% to pass (24 correct answers).

Be sure to read through the motorcycle handbook as your prepare for your test. Questions from any section and topic within the handbook can show up.

Check out our free California motorcycle practice test to help you study.

You’ll have up to 3 tries to pass the knowledge test.

If you fail 3 times, you’ll need to reapply and start the process again.

CA Motorcycle Skills Test

If you are 21 years old or older and choose not to complete a motorcycle training course, you’ll be required to pass a motorcycle skills test at the DMV.

Again, you can skip the skills test if you pass a motorcycle training course and submit your DL 389 form.

To take the skills test, you’ll need to:

If you take the skills test at the DMV, you’ll need to pass a pre-trip inspection and a riding skills course.

The pre-trip inspection will require you to identify the different controls on your bike and demonstrate that they are operating correctly.

The skills course takes place on and off-street lot at the DMV testing location and consists of:

  • Riding within a marked path.
  • Serpentine ride.
  • Circle ride.
  • Slow ride.
  • Gear shift.

The DMV skills test is similar to the skills you’ll learn during your motorcycle training course, however the test given at the DMV tends to be more difficult.

Going outside of the lines, hitting cones, using the incorrect speed, or putting a foot down during an exercise will typically result in a fail.

You’ll have up to 3 attempts to pass.

If you fail the skills test 3 times, you’ll need to start a new application.

Motorcycle-Only License

If you do not already hold a standard California driver’s license, there are a few additional requirements you’ll need to meet.

First, you’ll need to pass the general knowledge test. This test will include topics from the CA driver’s handbook such as sharing the road, road signs, traffic laws, etc.

Additionally, you’ll be required to pass an observational skills test.

This is another on-bike skills evaluation in addition to the closed-course test described above.

For the observational skills test, the DMV examiner will ask you to follow a route outside the DMV office. They will stay in one location and watch as you ride through the route.

Transfer an Out-of-State Motorcycle License When Moving to California

If you’ve recently moved to California you can transfer your out-of-state motorcycle endorsement:

  • Visit the DMV office.
  • Fill out an application.
  • Provide your out-of-state license and proof of your identity, residency, and legal presence.
  • Pass a vision exam.
  • Pass the California motorcycle written exam.
  • Pay the required fees.

New residents are required to transfer their out-of-state license within 10 days of establishing residency in California.

Note that if you do not already hold your full out-of-state motorcycle license when you move to California, the CA DMV will not accept out-of-state motorcycle training course completion certificates.

Once you’ve received your motorcycle license, be sure to come back to MotorcycleZombies.com to learn how to register and title your bike in California.

Renew Your CA Motorcycle License

If you already have a standard driver’s license, you’ll renew your motorcycle endorsement at the same time.

Licenses in California are renewed every 5 years.

Every other renewal, you’ll typically have the option of renewing by mail or online.

Otherwise, you’ll need to visit your local DMV office in person to submit any necessary doucments, pass a vision exam, and pay your renewal fees.

Your renewed license will be mailed to you within a few weeks.

California Motorcycle License Fees

Here are some of the fees you can expect to pay when you apply for your CA motorcycle license:

  • Class M1/M2 Endorsement or License: $41.
  • Motorcycle Training Course: $250 to $400.
  • Skills Test Retest Fee: $7.

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