Motorcycle info about licenses, trikes, sidecars, scooters and more!
If you’ve never had a motorcycle license, it’s not too hard to get one. To get a motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement, you’ll normally need a regular car driver’s license first. Then you can apply for a motorcycle endorsement to upgrade a car drivers license to include motorcycles.
Go to your local DMV license office and get a motorcycle license handbook to study before you try to take the written test. Some offices make the book available online, so to help you find it, you can simply download it from the state links listed below.
If you are brand new to motorcycling, we put together instructions on how to ride a motorcycle as a basic guide for beginners. Read through that to get some idea about how to start the engine, how to shift gears, how to use the brakes, and other beginner tips. It is not a substitute for formal training though.
While not mandatory everywhere, it’s a very good idea to enroll in a motorcycle course for street bike riding first. If you haven’t had a motorcycle before, then sign up for the Beginner Rider Course (BRC). Also, if you don’t have a motorcycle helmet yet, go get yourself a good one. If buying a helmet online, check the return policy before ordering in case it doesn’t fit right. A place we have ordered from that has great prices and a very good return policy is Motorcycle Superstore.
How do you know if it is a good one or not? First, when shopping for motorcycle helmets, look for the DOT label. It is also a good idea to look for the Snell approval label too. The Snell label will likely have “Snell M2005” on it. The Snell Memorial Foundation is an independent testing lab that only approves motorcycle helmets (and other types of helmets) that meet their high quality standards which include a variety of destructive tests.
This advice is true whether your planning to ride motorcycles or scooters. Some states, such as Florida, are now require you to complete a motorcycle rider safety course before you can get your motorcycle license.
Some locations do not require riders of scooters to have a motorcycle license, but many do if they go faster than 30 mph or 45 km/h. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation in the US even offers what they call “Scooter School” courses for about $75, to help train the growing ranks of scooters on the roads due to rising gasoline prices.
If you don’t own a motorcycle yet and have some fears about being able to use the clutch and shift gears, then take a look at the very cool automatic motorcycles that are on the market today. They are well worth looking into, especially if you have a disability and can’t operate a clutch lever or shifter lever but otherwise can still ride.
To find rider safety motorcycle courses, check your local community college to see if they offer any, ask at a motorcycle shop, or ask at your local motor vehicle department. You can also look at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation web site. In Canada, one to check out is the Gearing Up motorcycle safety program, or the Rider Training Institute. For example, a motorcycle riding course in Charlotte, NC is offered at CPCC and when your done, you get a waiver so you don’t have to take the road test at the DMV, just the written portion of the motorcycle license test. The college even provides a bike for the course, or you can bring your own.
I had the challenge of taking my road skills test at the MSF course and then again at the NC DMV a few years later because my license had expired (see section below). The NC “skills test” was administered to me by someone at the DMV that was not specialized in motorcycles. His initial words to me were “This is not going to be easy.” He was right. I don’t think it was easy for him either as it seemed he had not given the test in quite a while. I can’t complain though, he did his job very thoroughly and I passed.
The skills test at the DMV in Charlotte was actually given to me on a narrow truck delivery driveway located behind a shopping center where the DMV office leases their space. The driveway was in somewhat rough condition and there were no permanent markings on the pavement. There was a fair amount of loose gravel near the outer edge where I had to turn around, and there was a parked delivery truck too, so turning around at the end of the comes was very, very challenging. I don’t think it was quite fair, but it was real-world and traffic conditions are never fair to a motorcyclist. The college had a beautiful permanent course that was clean, smooth and very wide. That’s another reason why I recommend taking the safety course and skills test at a college.
Don’t forget that just getting a motorcycle license will not be enough to get your motorcycle on the road. You are going to need motorcycle insurance too. Scooters often require the same type of license endorsement and motorcycle insurance as any motorcycle would need. This is especially true with maxi scooters. Mopeds often have different requirements, so you will need to check locally to see what classifies as a moped. Read our Guide to Motorcycle Insurance Quotes to see who the main companies are in the US and what a typical policy is like.
The basic steps of getting a motorcycle license usually are:
(1) Get a motorcycle learners permit by passing a written or computer-based test at your local motor vehicle office. You may also be given a test regarding the meaning of different road signs, and an eye test, just as you did when you got your car drivers license. The motorcycle learners permit is usually good for 6 months to 18 months depending on where you live. The motorcycle learners permit may allow you to ride a motorcycle without a passenger, and sometimes just during day time, but again, it depends on the laws where you live. Take advantage of this time to get used to riding by practicing in quiet areas such as empty parking lots or rural streets that do not have much traffic. Get used to starting and stopping, finding neutral, using the clutch without wearing it out, using turn signal switch and remembering to cancel it after making the turn, and get used to using your mirrors and your head to check for vehicles around you. Practice your hand signals also. You will use your hand signals a lot when riding and when riding in groups.
(2) Next comes the motorcycle road skills test before you can get your actual motorcycle license. For this, it is a good idea to attend a motorcycle course before attempting the road skills test at the DMV. Many beginner motorcycle courses will provide you with a motorcycle for the course. In the Beginner or the Experienced motorcycle course, you can usually take a written test and a riding skills test to earn a waiver for the motorcycle license road test. Beginner courses are typically more than one day long, around 20 hours total, and cost about as much as you would pay for a decent helmet or a motorcycle jacket. Experienced courses can be just a one day event, and cost much less, but you need to bring your own bike and your proof of motorcycle insurance for that. Instructors teach beginner riders detailed motorcycle info as if they have never operated a motorcycle. These courses are worth every penny, and are potentially life-saving, especially for those that have not been on a motorcycle. For some women that might feel uncomfortable in a male dominated class, there often are motorcycle training courses offered just for women.
If you already have experience riding motorcycles, never assume that you know it all! There are specially designed motorcycle safety courses for you too. Take a motorcycle safety course intended just for experienced riders and have a fun day. An example of this is the one-day experienced rider motorcycle course at CPCC in Charlotte NC for approximately an $80 fee. For this course, you need to bring your own registered motorcycle and you’ll need your motorcycle learner’s permit and motorcycle insurance card. Upon completing either of these courses, riders are tested to earn a waiver for the NC motorcycle road skills test that is required for getting a full motorcycle license endorsement. You just bring your waiver certificate to the motor vehicle license department and pay your license fee.
If you already have a car drivers license and motorcycle license or endorsement, then you can apply for an International license also known as an IDP. You can read more about this in a separate article titled International Motorcycle License. This is often required when renting a motorcycle in a foreign country.
When you get you motorcycle learners permit, license or motorcycle endorsement, be careful not let it expire. In North Carolina for example, if you let your car driver’s license expire for more than 1 year, you must start over as if you never had a driver’s license. You’ll lose your motorcycle endorsement too. (If less than 12 months, then just a simple renewal is required). To resolve this if expired for more than 12 months, you have to take the written test (computer) and road test for your car drivers license. You’ll also need the motorcycle learners permit test again, and then the road test for your motorcycle endorsement. Believe me, it is very frustrating and time consuming to do all that over just because it expired for more than 12 months. What can you do? Check and know your license expiration date because you might not receive a renewal notice!
Important: When going to a motorcycle training course, the BRC, ERC, or any other course where you will be actually riding a motorcycle, you must make sure to wear the required gear. You will need to wear, as a minimum, a long sleeve shirt or jacket, long pants, boots or shoes that completely cover your ankles, a DOT approved helmet and eye protection, and you may also need to wear gloves. If you don’t have the correct gear on, you won’t be allowed to complete the course. The instructors are very strict about this, and rightly so.
By visiting any of the state sites listed below, you will be guided directly to that state’s motorcycle license information. Some of the states have lousy web sites that don’t provide much motorcycle info at all, so in those cases, you may only find their motorcycle license handbook: