How to Get Your California Motorcycle License

by Zutobi · Updated Mar 31, 2022

When you’re preparing to enjoy a refreshing motorcycle ride on California roads, you take on many responsibilities. You’ll need to wear proper safety gear, make sure your insurance is up-to-date, and obtain a motorcycle license.

In this guide, we’ll go through everything you need to know about how to get your motorcycle license in California, whether you’re a teen or an adult.

Types of CA Motorcycle Licenses

In most cases, motorcyclists are required to possess a valid California driver’s license. Two types of motorcycle licenses are available to CA residents:

  • M1 license – The class M1 license allows you to operate any two-wheeled motorcycle, in addition to the vehicles allowed under the M2 license.
  • M2 license – The M2 license only allows you to operate a motorized bicycle or moped.

You may apply for either an M1 or M2 license at any California DMV that provides licensing services.

How to Get a Motorcycle License in California

If you’ve completed the driver licensing process in California, and you’re at least 15 ½ years old, you’re ready to begin the process of applying for your motorcycle license.

If you’re over 21 years old, you can skip the first step.

1. Complete the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP)

The California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) is designed to help new motorcyclists learn how to ride safety. The course provides hands-on experience for riders and helps them develop habits that will keep everyone safe. Find a location near you and complete the appropriate training course.

The CMSP is required for applicants between the ages of 15 ½ and 21. Though it is not required for older and more experienced motorcyclists, they may complete the program as well.

Additionally, if you successfully pass the training course, you’ll get a waiver that will allow you to skip the DMV riding skills test.

2. Complete the DL/ID Application

When you’re ready to start the application process, fill out the California Driver License or Identification Card Application.

This application is valid for 12 months. You’ll need to reapply if you don’t pass the tests and complete the required six-month motorcycle instruction permit period.

3. Provide the Required Documentation at the DMV

You’ll need to provide the following at the CA DMV when applying for your motorcycle license:

  • Your completed application. Minors must have parental consent.
  • DL 389 form (only required if you’re under age 21). This verifies that you’ve completed the motorcycle safety program.
  • Your full legal name.
  • Your social security number.
  • California DL/ID or identification and residency documents.
  • Your thumbprint.
  • Fee.

4. Pass the Vision and Knowledge Test

A simple vision test is required for all new motorcyclists.

You’ll also be required to take and pass a written knowledge test at the DMV. The test contains 25 multiple-choice questions. To pass, you must get at least 21 questions right.

Three attempts are allowed. Minors must wait seven days to reattempt after a failure. Adults may retake the test on the same day. After three failures, you’ll need to begin the motorcycle license application process from the start.

5. Receive Your CA Motorcycle Permit

Once you’ve passed your tests, you’ll be given your California motorcycle instruction permit.

  • Motorcyclists over the age of 21 may take the motorcycle skills test immediately and obtain their motorcycle license.
  • Minors must hold a permit for a minimum of six months before completing the licensing process. During the six-month instruction permit period, minors may not:
  • Ride during the night.
  • Carry passengers.
  • Ride on the freeway.

6. Pass the Motorcycle Skills Test

All you’ll need at your CA motorcycle skills test is your motorcycle permit, proof of financial responsibility, and a testing fee. If you choose to take the motorcycle skills test with the DMV, you’ll need to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are not permitted.

You’ll be given three attempts at the skills test. If you fail once or twice, simply reschedule an appointment. After three failures, however, you’ll be required to restart the application process.

During the motorcycle skills test, you’ll complete a pre-test inspection. Your examiner will ask you to identify the following functions:

  • Brakes
  • Turn signals
  • Horn
  • Starter
  • Kill switch
  • Clutch (if applicable)
  • Throttle
  • Gear selector
  • Headlight dimmer switch

Once you’ve completed the inspection, you’ll start the actual test. You’ll be asked to demonstrate various maneuvers and skills, such as:

  • Riding within tracking paths: You’ll ride in the area between and including tracking lines.
  • Serpentine ride: You’ll weave through five traffic cones.
  • Circle ride: You’ll ride around a circle twice, keeping your front wheel between the tracking lines.
  • Slow ride: You’ll ride slowly, keeping your front wheel between two parallel lines.
  • Gear shift ride: If your motorcycle has a clutch, you’ll shift gears up and down in a straight path, complete a U-turn, and make a smooth stop.

You also have the option to take an equivalent of the motorcycle skills test during the required safety program. If you choose to go this route, you’ll receive a waiver that will allow you to skip the skills test at the DMV. You may still be required to complete an observation test.

Note: Observation tests may be required if you present a CMSP waiver or if you are applying for a motorcycle-only license. During an observation test, your examiner will give you a route that will keep you in view from a preselected vantage point.

That’s It!

That’s everything you need to know about getting a California motorcycle license! From start to finish, it can be a long process; but take one step at a time and you’ll soon be flying down CA roads. If you’d like to review test information, Zutobi is a great option to do so effectively.

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