How to Get a Motorcycle License: How Long it Takes, and What it Costs

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While every state sets its own rules for getting a motorcycle license, the general process is the same nationwide. Prospective riders take a written exam, practice with a motorcycle and then take a road test.

There are also motorcycle instruction courses, which often include the written test and road test. This is the quickest option for most people, but the courses aren't cheap. The price ranges from $200 to $500, and they're usually mandatory for riders under 18.

What are the steps to getting a motorcycle license?

To get a motorcycle license, you'll have to pass a written exam, practice riding a motorcycle and take a road skills test.

Step 1: Pass a written test.

Before you can actually get on a bike, most states will require you to pass a written test and receive a motorcycle learner's permit. The written test includes questions about basic motorcycle terminology, driving techniques and laws. Depending on where you live, you might have a choice between taking the test online or at a department (or division) of motor vehicles (DMV) office.

Before you take your test, study the resources provided by your state’s DMV. These materials include all the information you need to pass your exam.

Topics covered on written motorcycle exams:

  • Basic motorcycle techniques
  • Rules of the road
  • Motorcycle terminology
  • Best safety practices
  • State laws

Step 2: Get in some real-world practice.

Once you have your permit, you'll need to practice riding a motorcycle. Some states require you to log a certain number of supervised practice hours, particularly if you’re a new rider under 18.

Of course, a motorcycle doesn't allow for someone to supervise you from the passenger seat. Instead, many states require you to be supervised by another motorcycle user within a certain distance while you are learning to ride. You'll also usually have limitations on when and how you can ride your motorcycle.

Common requirements and restrictions for riding with a motorcycle permit:

  • Restricted hours of use (such as daylight only)
  • No passengers
  • Must be supervised (within a quarter mile) by a licensed motorcyclist
  • 0% blood alcohol content level

These requirements can vary by state, so check with your DMV to confirm their rules for practicing your skills. You'll also need motorcycle insurance coverage on your bike, if your state requires it — and almost every state does.

Step 3: Take the road skills test.

The final part of getting a motorcycle license is taking a road skills test. A motorcycle examiner can't supervise you from the passenger seat, so the format will differ from the test for getting a regular driver's license.

First, the examiner will observe your ability to maneuver your motorcycle on a closed course or in another secluded area. You may need to demonstrate your ability to accelerate, brake and take a safe, controlled turn.

For example, here are the maneuvers required on the Ohio motorcycle skills test:

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

Additionally, you’ll be docked if you stall your engine during the test.

Depending on your state and whether you already have a driver's license for a car, you may also be required to demonstrate riding skills on the road. If that's the case, you'll go out on the street to show you can interact with the other vehicles, receiving periodic instructions from the examiner. Usually, you'll need to provide a follow car with a driver for the examiner to ride in during the test if an on-road portion is required.

To get ready for your road test, make sure you carefully consult your state’s list of what you need to bring to the test. If you're missing any of the required items, you may automatically fail and would need to reschedule.

What you need to bring on a motorcycle road skills test in New York state:

  • Your learner's permit with photo
  • Glasses or contacts, if your permit indicates you need corrective lenses
  • Your original Pre-Licensing Course Certificate (MV-278) or Student Certificate of Completion (MV-285)
  • A properly operating, registered and inspected motorcycle
  • A properly operating, registered and inspected motor vehicle with a driver who is 21 or older and has a valid driver’s license, to transport the license examiner during your road test
  • If you are under 18, a Certification of Supervised Driving (MV-262), completed by your parent or guardian

Once you've completed your skills test, you'll be issued a temporary license or endorsement. Depending on the state, you may receive your permanent license in the mail or in person at the DMV.

Taking a motorcycle skills class is optional but recommended

Many states recommend or require that you take a motorcycle skills class before getting your motorcycle license. Generally, these two- to four-day courses include a live instructor and may allow you to skip the written motorcycle exam, the road skills test or both. You might also be eligible for a discount on your motorcycle insurance.

The main downside is the price. These motorcycle skills courses can cost $200 to $500, depending on where you live and how much material is covered. For example, in California, an adult class costs $295 to $350, which includes the cost of the skills test but not the written exam.

Depending on your state and the course, you may spend time in a classroom with video, written and oral instruction. In addition, you'll get real-world experience on a motorcycle.

For example, California offers a 15-hour course for beginners with both in-classroom and on-motorcycle instruction. After successful completion of the course, you'll be issued a DL389 certificate, which waives the road test. However, you must still take a written knowledge exam, which you can do before or after taking the course.

Getting a motorcycle license: Time and cost

The amount of time and money it takes to get your motorcycle license or endorsement depends on how you go about getting it and whether you pass your tests. For example, an adult rider who successfully completes a state-certified training course might be able to get their motorcycle license over a weekend.

But, if you choose to learn on your own, you may need days or weeks of practice (and instruction from an experienced rider) before you're comfortable enough to pass the test. Most states don't require adults to carry a permit for a minimum period of time, but they often set minimums for minors. For example, California motorcyclists under 21 must have a learner's permit for six months before they can take the road test.

Time and cost to get a motorcycle license in New York state

Time required
Written and on-bike test at the DMV, learn on your own
  • $21 to $120
  • $21 to $120 for the written test, road test, permit and license fee; motorcycle and training not included
30 hours of practice at your own pace (recommended)
Take a motorcycle safety course
  • $349 to $511
  • $21 to $120 for the written test, road test, permit and license fee + $328 to $391 class fee;
  • motorcycle and training included
18 hours of online, classroom and on-motorcycle training over 2 days

Younger riders have more steps to get their license

Motorcycle riders under age 18 (or, in some states, under 21) must take more steps before getting a motorcycle license.

Most commonly, you'll need to have your motorcycle permit for a set amount of time before you can take the road test. And you'll likely be required to take a motorcycle skills class, which is usually optional for older riders.

As an example, here are the requirements young riders have to meet to get a motorcycle license in California (in addition to the requirements for older drivers):

  • Under 18
  • Take a California driver education class (same as for driving a car) or have a class C driver's license.
  • Have a motorcycle permit for 6 months.
  • Take a motorcycle rider training course.
  • Between 18 and 21
  • Have a motorcycle permit for 6 months.
  • Take a motorcycle rider training course.

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