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how do I get a motorcycle license?

Imagine it: you're on the highway with your shiny chrome ride, counter-steering flawlessly through turns, overtaking awestruck traffic and revving the throttle triumphantly as you hit the open road. Pretty cool, huh? Thing is, without training, all you can do is imagine. Time to take a riding course and get your motorcycle license.

Do I need a motorcycle license?

Yes. Every state (plus D.C.) requires you to have a Class M motorcycle license or endorsement before operating your machine.

Developing a certain comfort level with a vehicle is important for novice drivers of all types — but it's even more crucial for motorcyclists. Look at these statistics, per the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Motorcyclists have a fatal-crash risk 30 times higher than those in cars (per vehicle mile traveled).
  • Roughly 25 percent of all motorcycle fatalities involve a rider with an invalid license.

In essence, riding a motorcycle, while potentially fun and rewarding, is nonetheless an acquired skill and a risky hobby. Nailing down the basics and getting your license is a big piece of minimizing that danger.

Motorcycle license requirements

The process of getting a motorcycle license varies from state to state. But it generally involves the following criteria:

The permit stage

If under 18, you're usually required to first get a motorcycle permit, which you can obtain by:

  • Being at least 15–16 years old (exact age depends on state)
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  • Completing a drivers education course, including traffic laws and signs exam (often not necessary if you already have a drivers license)
  • Passing a written motorcycle exam
  • Passing a vision screening

The license stage

You can generally qualify for a motorcycle license by:

  • Being at least 16 years old
  • Passing a vision screening
  • Completing a motorcycle safety course OR
  • Passing a motorcycle road test and knowledge exam (if not already done for permit)

Again, there are exceptions. In South Dakota, for instance, riders are allowed to get their permit as early as age 14. And riders in New Hampshire aren't required to pass a written test at all if 18 or older.

Because the rules vary so widely, we recommend heading to your state's official government website for a list of specific requirements in your area.

Rider training courses

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One of the best tools to help you learn the ins and outs of your bike is a basic rider training course. In many states, completing a training course is a prerequisite to getting a permit or license.

But even if your state doesn't require it, taking a safety course will make you a better rider. Plus, in over 20 states it allows you to waive your skills test or knowledge exam (or both) when applying for your license.

Skills you learn

In a basic training course, motorcyclists will spend roughly 15 hours of combined classroom/on-bike time learning everything your state's DMV needs you to know, including:

  • What to wear
  • Anatomy of the bike
  • Safe riding strategies
  • Passing and lane-changing procedures
  • Special maneuvers — swerving, avoiding collisions, etc.

How to find a motorcycle riding course

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a terrific source for locating a class or just getting more key riding info. You can punch your ZIP Code into their training site locator to see the course options near you.

Riding classes and your motorcycle insurance

As if taking a motorcycle training course didn't already offer enough benefits, here's one more: many insurers (including us) reward your increased knowledge and safety behind the handlebars with shiny motorcycle insurance discounts. Now that's how you get your riding career off to a rip-roaring start!

Get your motorcycle insurance quote today to see more ways we can help you can save.

Related links

Motorcycle insurance basics
Here's what you need to know about motorcycle insurance coverages.

ATV insurance
Wild side still not satisfied? Esurance covers ATVs too!

Motorcycle licensing by state
See detailed requirements across the U.S. for getting a motorcycle license or permit.

This page is intended to provide you with general information about motorcycle insurance, and to help you understand the various kinds of coverage. It does not describe or refer to any specific policy or coverage. For information about your particular coverages, including limitations and exclusions, we encourage you to read your policy contract and consult your insurance representative with any questions.

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