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

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.

Riders can also take a weekend-long motorcycle instruction course, which often includes 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 – $300, 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, techniques and laws. Depending on where you live, you might have a choice between taking the test online or at the department of motor vehicles.

Before you take your test, study the resources provided by your state 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
  • Safety best practices
  • State laws

Step 2: 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 for new riders under 18.

Of course, a motorcycle doesn't allow for someone to supervise you from the passenger seat. Instead, many states require that you're supervised by another motorcycle user within a certain distance while you are learning to ride. You'll also usually have limitations about 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% BAC level

These requirements can vary by state, so check with your DMV to confirm 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 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 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 in Ohio:

Ohio motorcycle skill test maneuvers

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

Depending on your state and whether you already have a driver's license for a car, you may also be required to demonstrate real-world riding skills. 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 and driver for the examiner to ride in during the test if an on-road portion is required.

When you're taking your road test, make sure to carefully consult 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. For example, here's what you need to bring in New York:

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 driver age 21 or older who has a license valid to operate the test vehicle
  • A properly operating, registered and inspected motor vehicle and a driver with a valid driver 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 a 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 waive the written motorcycle exam, the on-road skills test or both. You might also become eligible for a discount on your motorcycle insurance.

The main downside is the price. These motorcycle skills courses may cost between $200 and $500, depending on where you live and how much material is covered. For example, in California, an adult class costs $258, 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 16-hour beginner's course 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 test. 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 minimum limits for minors. For example, California motorcyclists under 21 must have their learner's permits for six months before they can take the road test.

Here's how long it takes and how much it costs to get a motorcycle license in New York state:

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

Method
Cost
Time required
Written and on-bike test at the DMV, learn on your own
  • $22.50
  • $10 written test + $12.50 road test and license fee
  • Motorcycle and training not included
30 hours practice at your own pace (recommended)
Take a motorcycle safety course
  • $297.50
  • $10 written test + $275 class fee + $12.50 license fee
  • Motorcycle and training included
18 hours of online and on-motorcycle training over 2 days
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Younger riders have more steps to get their license

Motorcycle riders under the age of 18 (or in some states, 21) must take more steps before getting their motorcycle licenses.

Most commonly, you'll need to have your motorcycle permit for a set period 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):

California motorcycle license requirements for young motorcyclists:

  • Under 18
  • Take California driver education class (same as for driving a car)
  • Have motorcycle permit for six months
  • Take motorcycle rider training course
  • Between 18–21
  • Have motorcycle permit for six months
  • Take motorcycle rider training course

Matt is a Technical Writer at ValuePenguin who works on distilling the complex details of insurance into accessible advice. He previously created educational content at Grovo Learning and MarketSmiths Content Strategists. Matt's consumer-focused analysis of insurance has appeared in publications like CNBC, Yahoo Finance and the Miami Herald.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.