Driving down a sunny California highway next to the Pacific Ocean on a motorcycle can be exhilarating. Operation of a motorcycle or other 2-wheeled motorized vehicle in California requires special considerations and a California motorcycle license.
California uses two different driver’s license classifications to legalize the operation of a 2-wheeled motorized vehicle. These are the M1 and M2 license. The requirements for each of these licenses are different, and both can be added to an existing license (e.g., Class C license). Each license endorses use of a specific type of 2-wheeled motorized vehicle. These vehicles include, as defined by California law, motor-driven cycles, mopeds, and motorized scooters.
M1 California Motorcycle License
The M1 license allows you to ride any classification of motorcycle. This includes anything with an attached motor or any scooter that has a motor.
M2 California Motorcycle License
The M2 license is more restrictive than a M1 license and limits the holder to a motorized bicycle, moped or scooter only.
Class “C” License
The class C license is what most California licensed drivers have. Some might call this the “ordinary” driver’s license. It allows you to operate cars and light trucks. Additionally, it allows a valid license holder to operate motorcycles with side-cars and 3-wheeled vehicles.
Applying for Your California Motorcycle License
21 and Over
If you are over the age of 21, obtaining your California motorcycle license is fairly straightforward. First, all applicants must pass both the written motorcycle examination and skills test. The motorcycle written test is about 50% shorter than the usual class C license test.
Once you pass the written test, you will be issued a learner’s permit. Similar to other age classes, you must hold the permit for six months before you are eligible to qualify and test to earn a full M1 or M2 license. The permit has several restrictions and allows the permit holder to operate the vehicle on public roads, but not after dark, with any passengers or on freeways. Once the six months has passed, you are eligible to complete the road skills test. If you choose, you can forgo the DMV skills test if you pass a CHP approved training course.
18- to 21-Year-Old Adults
Adults between the ages of 18-21 that wish to apply for a California motorcycle license must meet all the prior outlined requirements. Additionally, they must complete and pass an CHP approved skills training course.
The legal licensed driving age in California is 16. However, California law restricts what drivers are able to do if under the age of 18. Under the age of 18, minors can apply for either a class M1 or M2 permit at the age of 15 1/2 or older. Furthermore, the minor must prove they have passed a driver’s education course and driver’s training course. The minor must have signed by both parents or guardians, if both parents/guardians have custody.
A minor can apply for a California motorcycle license once: 1) they have maintained the M1 or M2 permit for a minimum of 6 months, 2) are 16 years of age, and 3) passed a CHP approved skills training course.
What Does the Skills Test Cover?
This test is similar to a Class C driving test, in the fact that the test taker will question you about your knowledge of the bike and how it operates. For example, you will need to know where basic components like the horn, clutch, accelerator, starter and brakes are. All of these components must be in good working condition.
Once you have identified your knowledge of the bike and how it operates, you be required to ride your motorized bicycle through a basic skills course that will test your ability to navigate through common road situations. This will include riding around cones. It can be helpful to use a motorized bicycle with which you are already familiar.
California has other legal driving requirements. First, you must hold a valid license or permit for the vehicle type you want to drive. Second, you must also maintain valid and current insurance, or other equivalent that might be allowed by law. Third, your vehicle must be a legally registered and meet the street legal requirements. Finally, you must abide by all California and federal applicable laws, rules and regulations.
If you are considering an application for a California motorcycle license you might strongly consider taking a CHP rider training course. Depending on your age, there may be no legal requirement to do so, but these courses are designed by motorcycle experts to teach and train you in many of the basic safety riding skills. The class could be life saving! You can learn more about CHP riding courses here.
If you want more information you can consult the California DMV motorcycle handbook.