How to Get Your California Motorcycle License in 2024

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

If an article about how to get a California motorcycle license catches your attention, it could mean that you decided to trade your spot riding behind the operator to take over control of your own motorcycle. The other possibilities are that you are a newbie with no motorcycling experience or someone from out of state whose motorcycle license lapsed, and you went to get back to riding.

Whatever your reason for doing it, getting a license instead of risking fines and worse by riding without one is the right way to go. It’s also safer to know that you have at least a basic knowledge of the rules of the road and safe riding by passing the written and skills tests, instead of taking unnecessary risks on the highways.

What Are the Types of Motorcycle Licenses in california

California offers two distinct classes of motorcycle licenses, each with its own privileges and limitations. There are two classes of motorcycle licenses, Class M1 and Class M2. In most cases, you’ll want to apply for an M1 only.

What is the difference between a Class M1 and Class M2 license in california

As the holder of a Class M1 license, you can operate any motorized vehicle in the M2 classification and any two-wheeled motorcycle. On the other hand, with a Class M2, you can only operate any motorized bicycle or moped or any bicycle with an attached motor.

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How to Get Your California Motorcycle Learner’s Permit

Before getting a license, you must obtain a motorcycle permit. The permit is good for six months, during which you can practice riding and get comfortable on the bike. However, you cannot ride your motorcycle on the freeway, during the nighttime, and with passengers.  While you’re on your journey to obtaining your license, remember that you can also secure your motorcycle insurance in California, even without a motorcycle license. Safety and preparation are key, and having insurance adds an extra layer of protection.

California Motorcycle Learner’s Permit Requirements

To get a California motorcycle permit, you must:

  • Be at least 15 1/2 years old.
  • Already have a CA driver’s license OR submit proof that you have completed driver’s education and training.
  • If you are under 21, you must complete a motorcycle rider training course by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Upon completion, you will receive a certificate (DL 389), which you must bring to the DMV to be issued your license.

Getting your California Motorcycle License

Requirements for M1 or M2 License

requirements for a motorcycle M1 or M2 license

According to the DMV’s California Motorcycle Handbook, these are the requirements for an M1 or M2 License.

Note: The following information has been directly quoted from the California Motorcycle Handbook provided by the DMV.

NOTE 1: Minors 15 1⁄2 years old or older, but under 17 1⁄2 years old, must submit a DL 389, bring proof of completion of both driver education and driver training, or have Class C driver license, and pass both the driver knowledge and the motorcycle driver knowledge test.

NOTE 2: Applicants 18 years old or older, but under 21 years old, must submit a DL 389, and pass both the driver knowledge and the motorcycle driver knowledge test. 

NOTE 3: While not a requirement, motorcycle license applicants 21 years old or older are encouraged to enroll in the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) training course. The DL 389 is valid for 12 months from the issue date. To locate a DMV field office that offers the motorcycle skills test and/or to schedule an appointment, visit  or call 1-800-777-0133.

How to Get Your Motorcycle License in California: Step-by-step

  1. You’ll need first to pick up a copy of the Motorcycle Driver Handbook (either online or at your local DMV). The handbook contains much of the information needed to pass the written exam.

Now, follow this step-by-step to apply for a motorcycle Class M1 or M2 permit; you will need to:

  1. Visit your local DMV office (make an appointment for faster service)
  2. Complete application form DL 44 (Copies of this form will not be accepted.)
  3. Submit your thumbprint
  4. Have your picture taken
  5. Pay the application fee.
  6. Pass a vision exam
  7. Pass a traffic laws and signs test. You have three chances to pass the test.
  8. After studying the California Driver and the Motorcycle Handbooks, call your local DMV to schedule your appointment for the test about traffic laws and signs. 
  9. After you obtain your permit, you may apply for your license. 
  10. To complete the application, you must take a weekend course given by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or the DMV driving test.

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The California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP), administered by the CHP, is the official state-approved training course for bike riders. After completing the course, you will receive a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training (Form DL 389), which you can use to earn a test waiver. The CHP course usually takes place over a weekend, and there is a fee. The DMV course requires no extra fee and takes only a few minutes. Both courses require you to complete safety and defensive riding basics, such as driving in a tight circle, weaving through cones, applying the handbrake after accelerating to come to a hard, sudden stop, etc.

If you are over 21, you may choose to complete the course by CHP and provide the certificate OR schedule an Appointment(s) at DMV to take the driving test. You have three chances to pass the test. (For information about the CHP training course, please call 1-877-743-3411 or visit

After submitting your CHP certificate or passing your driving test, you will be issued an interim license valid for 90 days until you receive your new photo license in the mail.

Getting your California Motorcycle License opens many possibilities. By following the necessary steps, from obtaining a learner’s permit to acing the tests, you can confidently take the reins of your motorcycle and explore the beautiful landscapes of the Golden State.

Safety always comes first, and completing the Motorcycle Safety Program (MSP) can be a valuable asset on your journey. Embrace the freedom and adventure that come with being part of the vibrant motorcycling community in California. Ride safe, and let the journey begin!


If I’m just visiting California, do I need to get a California motorcycle license?

If you’re over 18, you can ride a motorcycle with a valid license from your home state or country. 

I have a Motorcycle License from another state. Can I use that in California? 

Yes, you can transfer your valid out-of-state Motorcycle License to California without retaking the DMV exam. Just visit the local DMV office, hand in the required documents, pay the fees, and bam! You’ll have a California Motorcycle License.

How long does my M1 Motorcycle License last in California?

Typically, motorcycle licenses are valid for five years. The DMV usually sends complimentary renewal notices to applicants before their license expires.

Tips on preparing for the California Motorcycle License written exam? 

Sure thing! Read the California Motorcycle Handbook from the DMV. Also, you can take some online practice tests too. 

Can I use an out-of-state learner’s permit to ride in California? 

No. To ride legally in the Golden State, you must get a California Motorcycle Permit.

How can I find a California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) training course near me? 

Check out the California DMV’s website or do a quick online search for CMSP-approved training providers in your area. 

Can I ride a trike with an M1 license? 

No. A regular M1 Motorcycle License only covers two-wheeled motor vehicles. If you want to ride a trike, you’ll need to get an M3 endorsement on your license.

Do I need to own a motorcycle to get my M1 Motorcycle License? 

Not at all! You can borrow a friend’s or a family member’s motorcycle for the DMV skills test. And if you’re taking the CMSP, they usually provide you with a bike during the course.

What is the DL 389?

Once you’ve completed the motorcycle safety course, the training facility will provide you with a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training (DL 389). It allows you to skip the motorcycle skills test at the DMV; make sure to submit it to the DMV within 12 months from the date it was issued.

How many questions are on the CA motorcycle permit test?

It has 30 questions.

What’s the minimum of correct answers to pass?

24 correct answers to pass (80% passing score).

What happens if you get pulled over without a motorcycle license in California?

For instance, violating the law by operating a motorcycle in California without a valid license could result in a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Even though some states provide lenient sanctions for unlicensed drivers, driving without a proper license is never wise. 

Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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