How To Get A Motorcycle License

Get your motorcycle license to ride in the United States with these steps.

Getting licensed to ride is the first step toward a fulfilling life with motorcycles. Motorcyclists ride on BMW motorcycle.
Getting licensed to ride is the first step toward a fulfilling life with motorcycles.BMW

So the time has come. Maybe you’ve been dreaming of rides to far off locales, pricing used bikes on Craigslist, reading review after review to find the perfect bike for you. Maybe you have some friends who ride and you’re tired of being left out. Or maybe you’ve realized life is exponentially more rich and satisfying behind the bars. Whatever your reason, it’s time to make the dream a reality. It’s time to finally get a motorcycle license.

The problem is, getting a motorcycle license isn’t glamorous and probably hasn’t factored into your two-wheel fantasies. I don’t blame you—sitting around at the DMV, waiting to hand over paperwork doesn’t raise the pulse, but it’s an important part of getting legal.

Getting a license also gives you the chance to learn some fundamental safety rules, to practice basic skills, and to decide if riding really is something you want to pursue.

That’s all to say that there’s a process to getting licensed in America. It varies slightly from state to state, but the general steps outlined below will have you on the road to riding freedom in no time

Where To Start?

The open road awaits. Motorcyclist rides on Kawasaki motorcycle.
The open road awaits.Harley-Davidson

First, you’ll want to check your state’s DMV requirements for a motorcycle permit or endorsement. Requirements vary state to state, so be sure to follow the procedure outlined by your state in order to make the process as simple as possible.

Just about any new rider looking to get licensed should expect to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse or equivalent program. Some states, like Oregon, have their own rider training programs. But the format is similar across the board. There will be two to three days of instruction, both in class and on a closed course, where you will learn the fundamentals of motorcycle operation and safety.

Triple check your state’s DMV requirements before signing up for a course however. There are lots of online courses and riding schools that promise to get you into riding shape that won’t be accepted by the DMV as proof of your riding qualifications.

When you find the right course, start at the very beginning too. Even if you’ve never swung a leg over a bike before in your life, you will have the chance to learn how to turn a bike on, how to engage the clutch, how to switch gears, and a lot more. By the end you’ll need to pass both written and riding skills tests.

In some states, successfully completing a basic rider course like this will allow you to skip an on-bike skills test when it comes time to go back to the DMV. If that’s the case, you’ll have to pay a fee, pass a motorcycle knowledge test and a vision test before getting the endorsement to ride.

And that’s about it. Getting the endorsement is pretty easy as long as you pass the prerequisite training program and knowledge test.

In some states you can bypass the weekend MSF course by taking a written and on-bike skills test at the DMV or approved location.

Permits Are Another Option

There’s no better place on earth. Riding a motorcycle on the road.
There’s no better place on earth.Kawasaki

In some states, riders as young as 14 can apply for a riding permit. With a permit, riders can be out in the daylight, riding without a passenger within eyesight of a fully endorsed rider above a certain age/experience level. You will still need to take a motorcycle knowledge test and pass a vision test in order to get the permit, but it’s a great way to get some experience if you have a bike and a mentor rider available.

Many states still require successful completion of a basic rider course or supervised skills test even if you’ve been riding with a permit. Again, be sure to know your state’s requirements thoroughly before you make any decisions.

The 10,000-Foot View

Getting licensed is straightforward and definitely worth the effort. Riding a Yamaha motorcycle under a bridge.
Getting licensed is straightforward and definitely worth the effort.Yamaha

Getting a license (endorsement) to ride a motorcycle is not confirmation of your superior riding skills. Rather, it’s the start of a potentially lifelong relationship with motorcycles that can be extremely fulfilling if you take it slow to start and nail down the fundamentals.

MSF has additional rider training courses that teach more advanced skills in a controlled environment and there are some great written assets out there from guys like Keith Code that drill down into all aspects of the mechanics of riding. Getting a license is an opportunity to develop your skills as a rider, in the real world where there are real consequences.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be completely stoked when you get that endorsement and itching to hit the road. But remember to take a breath, use your head and the skills you’ve learned, and ride within your limits. Speed and ability will come, it just takes time and practice.