How To Get A Motorcycle Permit in California? (COMPLETE Process Explained)

Did you know that California has the largest number of registered motorcycles in the United States? As per iihs.org, as of 2021, the golden state has 952,977 registered motorcycles. 

Perhaps, this is not a surprise as California is currently the most populous US state. Moreover, the state is known for its good weather and fantastic tourist spots. With all this, I can imagine why someone would like to own a motorcycle in the state.

As in all the states, getting a motorcycle license in California involves a trip to the DMV. California law states that you need a motorcycle license to ride a motorbike in the state. Even if you already have a regular driver’s license, it needs to have a motorcycle endorsement. But you can drive a trike (three-wheel motorcycle) or a motorcycle with an attached sidecar using your standard Class C driver’s license.

But before you make your way to the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), it is a good idea to know its requirements. With many motorcyclists, the state is quite strict about avoiding motorcycle accidents.

So, getting a license here requires you to fulfill more requirements than compared to some other states, like Alabama.  

Classes of motorcycle licenses in California

Before you start your application process, all motorcycle riders should know that California has two classes of motorcycle licenses.

Known as Class M licenses, they are divided into M1 and M2. 

A Class M1 license permits you to drive any two-wheeled motorcycle, including those allowed for M2. Meanwhile, a Class M2 will enable you to drive a motorized bicycle, moped, or bicycle with an attached motor. 

It is more practical to apply for an M1 instead of an M2. The application process for both is the same.

The M1 license will allow you to drive more types of bikes, whereas an M2 is more limited. An M2 might be fine for now. But an M1 will make more bike options available to use in the future. 

But if you are under 21, you must get a learner’s permit first. M1 or M2 licenses will need to wait in that case.

How to get a California motorcycle permit for those under the age of 21

In California, you must be at least 15 ½ years of age to apply for a learner’s permit. Parents must sign the application form for anyone younger than 15 ½ years. 

You must first take and complete the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP), approved by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Once complete, you will receive a certificate DL 389, valid for 12 months from the issue date. 

If you are under 18 years, you also need a Certificate of Completion/Enrollment of Driver Education

On the day of your DMV appointment, you must submit the DL 389 certificate with a driver’s license or identification card application (Form DL 44). You must also give your Social Security Number and proof of identity and pay the application fee. 

Then you need to pass a vision exam and a knowledge test, which is a written test. You have 3 chances in 12 months to pass the exam, and then you’ll receive a permit. 

You have to retain the learner’s permit for six months. Only after that can you take the driving test.

Applying for your motorcycle license as a California resident with a driver’s license

Suppose you are above the age of 21. In that case, a learner’s permit is not necessary to apply for a California motorcycle driver’s license.

If you are under 21 and have a learner’s permit, you can follow the same process below once your six months are up.

To apply for an M1 or M2 license, you must first make an appointment at your local DMV. You will need to fill up the California Driver’s License or Identification Card Application (DL44 or DL44C) at the office.

This must be an original, not a copy. You can also do it online on the California DMV website

Then you must present your California driver’s license and Social Security Number. Suppose you don’t have a driver’s license yet. In that case, you can provide any other proof of identity, such as a US passport and proof of residency.

Next, you need to pay an application fee of $39 (the current fee per the DMV website). They will take your photo and thumbprint. You also need to pass a vision test and, a knowledge test, a written exam. 

You must also provide proof of financial responsibility that meets or exceeds California Motorcycle Insurance Requirements.

Passing the required tests to get your motorcycle license

Once you have completed the formalities, you must pass a scheduled Motorcycle Skills Test at the DMV. This road test allows the rider to demonstrate their ability to control the motorcycle through several skills.

It is a pass/fail test, and you get three tries to pass it.

An observation test is also required if you don’t have any other driver’s license and are applying for a motorcycle-only license. 

But note that if you already have a valid DL 389 certificate, you don’t have to take the skills test. As mentioned above, you can get a DL 389 certificate after passing the California Motorcyclist Safety Program. It is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.

Alternatively, you can also get a learner’s permit even if you are above the age of 21. The procedure is the same as given above. Then, after 6 months, you can upgrade your restricted driver permit to a motorcycle license. 

To get your California motorcycle license smoothly, I suggest you go through California’s Motorcycle Driver Handbook. It is available online here, or you can obtain it from your local DMV office. 

It is available in several languages and has all the necessary information to pass all required tests.

When will you receive your new motorcycle license?

Once you have completed the paperwork and passed the skills test, the DMV will issue you a temporary motorcycle driver’s license.

It is valid for 60 days.
You should receive your new permanent license within that period.

Both Class M1 and M2 licenses can be issued with some restrictions. The restrictions are – no freeway driving, no nighttime driving, and no carrying passengers.

Renewal of your California motorcycle license

In California, a driver’s license expires on the owner’s birthday 5 years after issuance.

You can renew your licenses from six months before the expiration date to two months after

You should receive a renewal notice approximately two months before your license expires. It is always a good idea for responsible motorcycle drivers to renew it before it expires. 

You have different options for renewing your license in the state of California. You can do it by mail, online (if you are younger than 70), or in person. 

For the process, you will need a completed Driver’s License application, proof of identity, and proof of legal presence. You will also need 2 documents proving that you’re a resident of California as well as a renewal fee.

The renewal fee is currently the same as a new motorcycle license fee. 

If everything is in order, it will take up to 2 weeks for your license to arrive by mail.

What if you have just moved to California and already have a motorcycle license from another state?

A new resident of California will have to get a California motorcycle license within 10 days of moving.

This is even if they already have a motorcycle driving license from their previous state.

The new resident will have to pass the motorcycle skills and knowledge tests. Additionally, they must provide documents to prove their birth date, legal status, residency, and Social Security Number.

They also need to take a written exam and road test.

Conclusion

Not trying to be an alarmist here, but riding a motorcycle is considered one of the most dangerous ways to travel in the US.

So, while California laws regarding motorcycle licenses may sound a tad complicated 😅, I can see their reasoning. 

Being a motorcyclist has brought fun, thrill and a proven method of fighting stress 👍 in my life.

But sadly there are dangerous and irresponsible operators on the roads as well!

So, ensuring that all motorcycle drivers have the required skills can go a long way towards ensuring safety for everyone.

And I, for one, am all for it. ✌️

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