Despite being eschewed by many traditionalists, trikes or three-wheel motorcycles are gaining popularity. It’s an easy choice for people because they are safer than conventional two-wheeled motorcycles.
Are you looking to drive one in California? You don’t need a motorcycle-specific license to ride a trike in the Golden State. Legally, a valid Class C license will do. A Class C license that the California DMV issues for driving a standard motor vehicle.
California’s motorcycle license laws
In California, you cannot drive a motorcycle without a motorcycle license.
This law applies even if you already have a standard driver’s license. So, you must get either a Class M1 or Class M2 license.
But this law does not apply to three-wheeled motorcycles. California law allows you to ride a trike with a standard driver’s license. You don’t need to get a separate motorcycle license. This is slightly different from other states, such as Colorado, where motorcycle license laws apply to trikes.
How to apply for a Class C driver’s license
To ride your trike, you need to apply for a Basic Class C driver’s license (DL). This is a standard non-commercial license that allows you to drive a personal vehicle or truck on California roadways. It also allows you to operate a motorcycle with a sidecar attached, a three-wheel bike, or a motorized scooter.
To apply for a standard Class C driver’s license, you need to be at least 15 ½ years of age. If you are under 18 years old, you must get a provisional instruction permit before applying for a DL.
Additionally, suppose you are over 18 but have never held a DL in any state or country. In that case, you can apply for an instruction permit. This is different from a provisional instruction permit.
How to apply for an instruction permit
You must be at least 18 years old to apply for an instruction permit.
Firstly, you have to complete the California Driver’s License or ID Card Application. After that, you have to schedule an appointment at the local DMV. You may also call 1-800-777-0133 during regular business hours to make an appointment.
You have to bring your California Identification Card or proof of identity and residency. Check the Federal Noncompliant and AB60 for the lists of applicable documents. Then, you have to pay the application fee. It was $41 when I last checked.
Then, you must pass a vision test and take a photo. After that, you have to take and pass the knowledge test.
The test is based on the California Driver Handbook. This handbook is available in 13 languages.
Getting a driving license
If you are over 18 years and you have never held a DL, you should get your instruction permit first (as given above). Once you get your instruction permit, you can take the driving test for the license.
Have you moved from another state?
If you have a valid DL from another state and have moved to California, you will need to apply for a California DL to ride a trike. For this, you have to complete a Driver’s License or Identification (DL/ID) card application.
Then, visit a local DMV office after making an appointment. There, you have to provide your social security number (SSN). And proof of identity and California residency. Then, pay the nonrefundable application fee (currently $41).
Then, they will scan your thumbprint and take your photo. You have to pass a vision exam. You also have to pass the knowledge test. You have three chances to pass the knowledge test using one application.
Have you moved from another country?
In this case, the procedure to apply for a regular driver’s license is the same as above. But additionally, you also have to pass a driving skills test.
You also have to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance). It should meet or exceed California insurance requirements as per state laws.
If you are under 18 years
If you are under 18 but at least 15 ½ years of age, you can apply for a Class C license to drive a trike. But it would help if you got a provisional instruction permit first. Then, you have to hold it for at least six months before you apply for a DL.
Provisional instruction permit
The procedure is similar to applying for an instruction permit. But there are a few additional requirements.
You must have a Certificate of Completion/Enrollment of Driver Education. This means at least one of the following:
- 25 hours of classroom instruction (not including breaks or time for meals), home study, or Internet training program. Or
- 6 hours of Behind-the-Wheel training. Or
- 50 hours of supervised driving practice. This should include 10 hours of driving during darkness.
You should also get a parent or guardian to sign your California Driver’s License or ID Card Application.
Once you get the provisional instruction permit, you must hold it for six months. Then you have to make an appointment at a driver’s license office to take a driving test. You also need to provide proof of insurance.
Are you opting for a motorcycle license instead?
California law defines a motorcycle as a motor vehicle with a seat or saddle for the rider and does not have more than three wheels. It should also have an engine capacity of more than 150cc (cubic centimeters). So, the definition does include trikes.
So, while you don’t need a Class M license to ride a trike, you can opt to get one if you prefer. California has two classes of motorcycle licenses. They are Class M1 and Class M2.
A Class M1 license allows you to drive any type of motorcycle. This includes motor-driven cycles, mopeds/motorized bicycles, and motorized scooters.
On the other hand, an M2 allows you to drive a motorbike with an engine capacity of less than 150cc. These include a motorized bicycle, moped, or bicycle with an attached motor.
Motorcycle riders have to be at least 15 ½ years to apply for a California motorcycle license. But those under 21 years need to hold a motorcycle instruction permit for at least six months first.
If you are under 21 years
To get a motorcycle permit, you must complete the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) training course. Then, present the successful completion certificate at the DMV along with a DL application, proof of identity, and SSN.
Then pass a vision exam and motorcycle knowledge exam. Once you get the permit, hold it for 6 months and then apply for a motorcycle license.
If you are over 21 years
You don’t need to get a permit first. You can apply for a motorcycle license directly. You have to either complete the CMSP training course or pass a DMV road test. You also need to pass a vision test and a written test.
You must also provide proof of motorcycle insurance as mandated by the state of California.
So, do you need a valid motorcycle license to drive a trike in California? No, it is not necessary. You can ride a trike using a valid standard Class C license.
But you can choose to get a motorcycle license too. This can be a good idea as it will motivate you to take a motorcycle safety course. And, in turn, lessen the chances of motorcycle accidents on public roads.