So, you want to get a motorcycle license? In the United States, obtaining a motorcycle license is a relatively easy endeavor. In fact, it is most often referred to as an "endorsement" in the majority of states since it simply consists of a one or two-letter code added to your standard Driver's License once the examination is passed.

The process to receive a motorcycle license endorsement through the department of Motor Vehicles is fairly straight forward, however, this does not mean that passing said tests is easy or simple. You must be able to safely operate a motorcycle within a predefined course properly and without major error, and you will absolutely need to know the rules and laws governing motorcycle usage if you wish to succeed.

Accomplishing this requires some preparation on your part and the following steps will help you get you on your way to becoming a licensed motorcycle operator.

Should You Ride?

One area which many new or returning riders fail to consider is whether he or she should be riding a motorcycle out on the same roads as the general public. Riding on a closed course is a completely different experience than riding with and around 4,000+ pound guided missiles. Ask yourself the following questions before you work towards your motorcycle endorsement:

  • Am I healthy enough to ride? Is there any health condition I have which could take away from the total focus required to operate a motorcycle? Are my vision and hearing both up to the task? What about reflexes? Are there any pharmaceuticals I take regularly which will interfere with my ability to ride?
  • Will I be comfortable riding on top of a two wheels and an engine, exposed to the elements, with SUVs, tractor trailers, and zippy little imports running all around me?
  • Does it fit my lifestyle? Will being a motorcycle rider cause any issues for me in my occupation or in my family life?
  • Does my health insurance cover injuries which may result from a crash? (Important as there are several insurers which discriminate against motorcycle riders.)

These are fairly general in scope, but you should be able to answer "Yes!" to all of them before you take the first step on your way to being a legal motorcycle rider.

Why Ride?

Riding a motorcycle is a life-changing experience. Most would call it "freedom" since the rider is out in the open and not encased in the "cage" which an auto places around a driver. Others go even further and refer to it as existential and gratifying to the soul. Whatever your intentions in obtaining your motorcycle license, be assured that riding a motorcycle is like nothing else and it will bring about an emotional response that no four-wheeled vehicle ever could. Some more practical reasons to ride are easy to enumerate.

  • A motorcycle is inexpensive transportation. Most bikes cost far less to purchase an own than a car, truck, or SUV, and bikes also happen to use less fuel, in general. And, in some states with many insurance companies, taking a rider training course will make insuring your motorcycle even less costly.
  • Motorcycles are incredibly easy to control and maneuver. This can translate into an easier and far more entertaining commute, not to mention more parking opportunities.
  • The skills you pick up while riding also transfer very well to driving a car. What you will learn - things like being more attentive to your surroundings, planning escape routes, and being more aware of other vehicles and their intentions - can all be used when behind the wheel to make you an even better driver.
  • You will also find that riding a motorcycle will quickly earn you more friends and acquaintances. Nothing starts more conversations than pulling up near someone on two wheels - everyone has something to say, and that could be a start of a beautiful friendship...or more!

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Motorcycle License Handbook

Though this may seem like an obvious part to the process, it is actually surprising to learn how many new and returning riders skip this step. Your local state DMV office can help you with this. Every state provides a book - or rider training manual - which explains the requirements to obtain a motorcycle endorsement.

The book (or booklet) includes detailed information about the rules, laws and skills essential to becoming licensed to ride a motorcycle. Study carefully and pay attention to every detail as most of the examination - both written and riding portions - is based directly on this piece of literature.

Motorcycle License Requirements

The motorcycle license handbook contains the logistics of getting that endorsement which often include the following:

  • What's required before taking the test
  • Any age restrictions
  • Motorcycle type or size limitations
  • Any legal pre-requisites
  • Required training

It should also explain the process of completing the written and riding portions of the examination if they are to be done at the DMV (for a better way, please see the Motorcycle Rider Training section). There should also be a brief description on the very first step - getting a motorcycle learner's permit.

Motorcycle Learner's Permit

In many cases, the ideal path will wind through the motorcycle riding permit. This is probably the easiest step since this is merely a permission slip from your state DMV to learn to ride. All it requires is that you meet the basic legal requirements for having a learner's permit, fill out a form and, in some cases, take a photo, in order to acquire it.

The details on the limitations of a learner's permit vary by state, but most require that a permit holder be accompanied by a fully licensed motorcycle rider if and when the new or returning rider is riding on the public roads. Follow the rules closely here since being caught violating them can lead to a suspension of your standard driver's license and, potentially, a long delay in obtaining your motorcycle endorsement.

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Motorcycle Rider Training

Taking a rider training course in order to obtain your motorcycle endorsement is the absolute best way to get into or return to riding a motorcycle on the streets. A motorcycle license training class ensures you know the core competencies required to operate a motorcycle. These courses are well-crafted from decades of experience training riders and have incorporated best practices which have been studied for as long as motorcycles have been licensed transport.

Rider training is especially important for new riders because of the many aspects of proper motorcycle operation. A relative or friend is fully capable of getting you up and running, but only a course with a strong structure covering every important element of learning to ride can possibly ensure that all parts are covered thoroughly.

Returning riders should consider these classes as necessary refresher courses. Even if a rider believes that he or she has all the skills necessary to operate a motorcycle safely, the rider training course is good practice and allows any atrophied skills to be exercised and polished.

The most difficult part of a motorcycle rider training class is finding an open seat in a course. They fill up quickly thanks to high demand, so plan accordingly. Many training operations have "walk-in" capabilities which allow you to show up on the day of the course and find a slot, but these are usually only given out if someone who is scheduled to take the course misses it - and that does not happen very often.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is well-known for offering rider training classes. In fact, most states use their materials, personnel, and training locations to handle their motorcycle rider education duties. In Oregon, a well-respected outfit called Team Oregon operates all motorcycle licensing classes and handles these duties. In Idaho, the Idaho STAR Program, which is based on the Team Oregon curriculum, operates the Potato State's rider training classes.

Another benefit of taking a rider training course that, in most locales, the state mandated written and riding portions of the examination are performed within the program to graduate from the motorcycle license class. This allows a student who has passed the course to quickly go to a local DMV, supply the course completion documentation, and then walk out with their motorcycle license/endorsement. It is a major time saver and helps eliminate much of the bureaucracy one must deal with at your state's local DMV.

Motorcycle Written and Road Test

If you have completed a motorcycle training and licensing class, you'll likely be able to skip the entire DMV testing quagmire. Though, if a training course is out of the question, you must work with your DMV to schedule a test for your motorcycle endorsement.

The DMV usually allows the written and riding portions of the examination to be taken on the same day, but some will not. The motorcycle licensing booklet from your state's DMV should have a section explaining this. When in doubt, visit your state's DMV online or in person, or phone them up, and ask.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Perhaps the most overlooked facet of riding a motorcycle is that it is a never-ending learning process. Even after obtaining your motorcycle endorsement, you must continue to build on your training so that the skills you learned can be improved upon and will never fade away.

There are a number of methods for doing this.

  1. Practice Your Skills

First, find a place where you can safely practice your skills. Emergency braking, accident avoidance, and riding awareness drills can all be done in a large, empty parking lot. While you are riding, you can easily practice skills used to see and identify potential problems, keeping your bike going where you want it to go, and lane positioning, for example. Remember to practice as often as possible, but keep yourself safe at all times.

  1. Take Advanced Riding Classes

Next, the MSF and many other motorcycle-specific training operations have a plethora of available advanced riding courses. These can range from classes for riders with mere months of experience to those designated to teach all-out racing skills, and everything in between. The costs can be high, but what is learned there can be invaluable - after all, if it helps you avoid even one serious accident, any course more than pays for itself.

  1. Get out and Ride

Finally, "seat time" is perhaps the best teacher - the more you ride, the more you will learn. This is not very difficult as you probably had a strong desire to do this exact thing when you decided to pursue your motorcycle endorsement. Ride in many conditions and take as many routes as you can so that your experience is broadly based and encompasses a number of different scenarios you will regularly encounter on the highways and byways where you go.


The process of obtaining your motorcycle license is neither difficult nor extremely time consuming, at least when compared to getting an automobile driving license. It does require that you be prepared to go through the process in a set manner, but there are enough variances to allow anyone who is capable of operating a motorcycle the ability to get that important endorsement.

Follow the steps above and, provided you pass each of the tests, you too will be out riding your motorcycle and enjoying everything that comes with it!

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