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Riding a motorcycle comes with a lot of freedom, but that also means it comes with a lot of responsibilities in order to stay safe and legal.
For new riders who’ve never ridden before, the process of riding a motorcycle is not as simple as going out, buying a new bike, and beginning to ride.
Even if you already have a standard driver’s license for a regular car, there are still some steps you’ll need to take before you’re ready to ride a motorcycle.
Learn all about them below.
Do you need a motorcycle license?
If you plan on riding a motorcycle on public roads, you are going to need to hold a valid motorcycle license or endorsement. A regular driver’s license is not enough.
Aside from a few situations, like participating in a rider training course, you cannot drive a motorcycle if you only have a standard driver’s license.
Just like you had to go through the process of taking a written exam and skills test for your regular driver’s license, you’ll need to go through a similar process to get your motorcycle endorsement.
At the end of the day, riding a motorcycle is very different from driving a car. It requires a totally separate set of skills and knowledge, which is why a separate license is required.
Penalties for Riding without a License
Failing to abide by your state’s licensing laws can carry some serious consequences.
If you are caught riding a motorcycle without a license, you can expect:
- To receive a traffic ticket and points on your driving record.
- To pay a fine of up to $1,000 or more.
- To have the bike you were riding impounded.
- To face insurance penalties.
- To go to jail, depending on the severity of the situation.
- To lose all of your driving privileges – including regular automobiles.
All in all, it’s really not worth the risk. Get your motorcycle license first, then you can ride.
Driving a Motorcycle vs. Driving a Car
The skills required to ride a motorcycle and operate a vehicle are completely different.
While knowledge of basic traffic laws and road safety apply to both cars and motorcycles, there are a lot of extra things motorcyclists will need to be able to do and things they should know.
Operating a motorcycle safely in traffic requires experience, practice, and skill.
The steps required to get your motorcycle license are there to help make sure that new riders have at least a basic foundation of the necessary skills and know-how.
In order to ride a motorcycle, you’ll need to better be able to identify and react to hazards. Since you’re a lot smaller and harder to see than a car, you’ll be at a greater risk of getting hit by drivers that aren’t looking for you.
On top of all this, the controls and operation of a motorcycle is very different from a car.
You’ll need to know what all the different levers do, you’ll need to know how to operate multiple controls with your hands and feet at the same time, and you’ll need to know how to operate the controls properly. It’s not as simple as pressing down on the gas and brake pedals.
The bottom line is that motorcycles and cars are very different, hence the additional licensing requirements.
Do you need a driver’s license before you get a motorcycle license?
Depending on the state you live in, you may be required to have a standard driver’s license before you’ll be eligible to add a motorcycle endorsement.
In states where a motorcycle-only license is offered, you’ll typically still need to pass the knowledge test for a standard driver’s license and a riding observation portion of the skills test.
The following states require you to hold a regular driver’s license before you can apply for a motorcycle endorsement:
- Kentucky, if the applicant is under 18 years old.
- New Hampshire, if the applicant is under 18 years old.
- New Jersey.
- North Carolina.
- Rhode Island.
- Washington DC.
Steps to Getting a Motorcycle License
The steps to getting a motorcycle license vary slightly from state to state, but a generally as follows:
- Pass the motorcycle knowledge test.
- Get a motorcycle permit.
- Pass a vision exam.
- Pass a skills test OR complete a motorcycle safety course.
If you are under 18, a motorcycle permit holding period, supervised riding requirements, and rider education requirements will typically apply.
If you are over 18 years old, you’ll generally have the option of whether or not you’ll complete rider education or hold a permit.
Check out our simple guides on how to get a motorcycle license in each state.
Do Motorcycle Endorsements Transfer from State-to-State When You Move?
If you’re moving to a new state, you may be wondering if your motorcycle endorsement will transfer over.
Luckily, the process is similar to transferring an out-of-state driver’s license.
You’ll simply need to surrender your out-of-state endorsements to your new state DMV, and then you’ll need to pass the written tests for your new state.
The only potential caveat is when you move to or from a state with a tiered motorcycle licensing system based on engine size. The general rules typically apply:
- When moving from a state with tiered licensing to another with tiered licensing, you’ll be placed into the comparable tier unless you chose to pass a skills test on the appropriate sized bike.
- When moving from a state with tiered licensing to a state with a single endorsement, you’ll receive the standard motorcycle endorsement.
- When moving from a state without tiered licensing to a state with tiered licensing, you’ll generally be placed in the highest displacement tier – though this may depend on different circumstances.
Riding a Motorcycle with a Permit
If you choose to apply for a motorcycle permit before you go for your full endorsement, you can typically legally ride a motorcycle as long as you follow your state’s permit laws.
These typically include:
- Riding only during the day.
- Avoiding freeways and highways.
- Not riding with passengers.
- Being within visual supervision of a licensed motorcyclist, depending on the state.
Exceptions: What bikes can you ride with a car license?
While you definitely need a motorcycle license to ride a motorcycle, there are some minor exceptions to the rule.
A full motorcycle license is typically not required to operate a small displacement (>49cc) scooter or moped. In most states, all you’ll need to have is a standard driver’s license.
You can learn more about scooter and moped license requirements here.
Additionally, many states will allow you to operate a trike, 3-wheel motorcycle, or autocycle with only a standard driver’s license.
Find out more about your state’s 3-wheel motorcycle license requirements here.