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What Are the Different Motorcycle Licenses in California?

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Posted on January 23, 2023

California’s mild climate, 1,100 miles of picturesque coastlines, and scenic routes along rugged mountainsides make it a motorcycle-riding dream destination. The bike-friendly temperatures throughout 4 seasons also make California ideal for daily motorcycle commutes to work and school. But riding a motorcycle comes with inherent risks due to the open-air format which leaves riders vulnerable. Riding a motorcycle on California roadways requires extra care, so the state put specific licensing requirements in place.

Before you can ride safely and legally, it’s important to understand the state’s licensing laws, including the two different types of motorcycle licenses and how they might apply to you and your bike.

Motorcycle License Requirements in California

California considers a motorcycle any motorized vehicle with no more than 3 wheels with motors of at least 150 cubic centimeters. In order to apply for a motorcycle license in California, you must be at least 16 years old and have a valid California driver’s license or the following identification:

  • A state-issued ID
  • A residency document
  • Social Security number

Applicants under age 18 must also pass a vision test and a knowledge test. Applicants over 21 must provide proof of a completed training course for motorcycle operation or schedule a motorcycle driving test at their local DMV.

California first issues motorcyclists a learner’s permit — for daytime road practice only — before an applicant can get a license. A 15.5-year-old may apply for a permit and hold it for six months before applying for a license at age 16. Permit holders are not allowed to drive their motorcycles on the freeway or carry passengers. Drivers under 21 must hold the learner’s permit for at least 6 months before applying for a license. A local DMV may or may not require an observation motorcycle driving test in a closed-course location.

California’s Two Different Motorcycle License Classes

California issues motorcycle licenses in two different classes depending on the type of motorcycle you plan to ride. License types include the following:

  • A California M1 Motorcycle License: this allows license holders to drive any 2 or 3-wheeled motorcycle with 150cc engines and above or motorized bikes with engines under 150ccs, such as mopeds or scooters.
  • A California M2 License allows the license holder only to operate motorized cycles with engines under 150ccs such as a moped, motorized scooter, or motorized bike.

Important Motorcycle Laws in California

Besides special licensing requirements, California has some important laws in place for motorcycle riders including the following:

  • California’s helmet law: Wearing a motorcycle helmet greatly minimizes the chance of severe head injury and death in the event of an accident. All motorcycle riders, including passengers, must wear a helmet in the state of California.
  • California’s lane-splitting and lane-sharing laws: California is the only state currently allowing lane-splitting. Lane-splitting is when a motorcycle travels with the flow of traffic but between lanes of significantly slowed or stopped traffic. Lane-sharing is when two motorcycles ride side-by-side in the same lane. Both lane-sharing and lane-splitting are legal in California.
  • Motorcycle passenger law: There is currently no minimum age requirement in California for motorcycle passengers, but a passenger must have their own seat and footrests and their feet must be able to reach the footrests.

By following California’s licensing requirements and adhering to all traffic laws, bikers can minimize their own risks while enjoying the exhilarating rides and open roads.