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California offers motorcyclists two license choices for their motorcycles, the M1 and the M2.

The M1 license allows the recipient to operate any motorized vehicle, including motorcycles, with two wheels. It also includes trikes and is required for anyone who wants to take their bike on the state’s highways.

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The M2 license allows motorcyclists to operate motorized scooters, mopeds, and motorized bicycles.

Holding an M1 or M2 license does not allow riders to operate a trike or a motorcycle with a sidecar. California requires a Class C license, which is a commercial designation.

Steps to Take to Obtain an M1 or M2 License in CA

After visiting your local DMV office in person, you’ll be asked to complete an identification card or a driver’s license application. You must also offer proof of identity to get your M1 or M2 license.

Your current California driver’s license is the easiest way to establish that you live in the state and are the person you say you are. The CA DMV provides a list of residency and identity documents you can use as a substitute.

If you’re under 18, a parent or guardian must sign your application.

For anyone under 21, you’ll need to bring your CMSP training completion document to the DMV. It is form DL 398. Those who are still legal minors can substitute a certificate from their driver training program.

Here is a closer look at the restrictions of the M2 license.

  • The moped, bicycle, or scooter cannot exceed 30 miles per hour.
  • There could be operational pedals that accelerate the vehicle.
  • It comes equipped with an electric engine, with or without operative pedals.
  • It has an automatic transmission and motor combination that delivers less than two brakes HP.

Everyone must visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California to apply for the M1 or M2 license.

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Items to Bring to a CA DMV Appointment

Once you have all the required documents and meet the eligibility requirements, you can make an appointment at your local DMV office. You’ll need to be prepared to provide the following information.

California DMV desk

  1. All necessary certificates, documents, and identification materials.
  2. A completed application (you fill it out at the DMV).
  3. Pass the vision, written driver knowledge, and motorcycle knowledge tests.
  4. Provide a Social Security number and thumbprint.
  5. Have your photo taken for the M1 license.
  6. Pay the required fee.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll be issued a learner’s permit for your M1 license. Anyone under 21 must hold it for six months before taking their final test.

For anyone over 21, you can complete an approved motorcycle rider training course or schedule a driving test to receive the M1 license.

If you don’t hold another license, you might be asked to take other exams before being allowed to take the motorcycle skills test. After you pass all the exams, the DMV will issue your license.

Skills Test Expectations for the M1 or M2 License

When you visit your DMV to obtain the M1 or M2 license, your local office will ask you to demonstrate several skills with a motorcycle. The following items must be passed as part of the examination.

Motorcycle Skill
What to Expect with This Motorcycle Skill
Circle Ride
You'll ride in a circle twice, going clockwise while keeping the front wheel in the expected tracking path. It might be required to weave through five cones.
Gear Shift Ride
You will need to ride straight, shift the gears up and down, complete a U-turn, and repeat before making a smooth stop. This test happens when a clutch and gears are equipped for the bike.
Slow Ride
This test requires you to slowly ride between two parallel lines while staying on the tracking path. It sometimes ends with a counterclockwise circle ride that you'd perform twice.
Serpentine Ride
Starting at the first of five traffic cones, you'll be asked to complete an accurate weave.
Tracking Paths
Various tracking lines will be marked that you'll be asked to follow as part of the exam.
Observation Test
For those testing for a motorcycle-only license, an observational road exam is required. The DMV official observes you operating the bike from a vantage point of their choosing with instructions you're asked to follow.

Although obtaining the M1 or M2 license may take some time, the various certificates and documents are meant to keep riders and other drivers safe on the road.

If you have specific questions about your situation, the DMV offers an automated service advisor tool that answers most questions. You can also call (800) 777-0133.

Author

Mike Navarette has more than a decade of experience in the auto insurance industry, but that's not his true passion. He loves getting on a motorcycle to explore roads he's never traveled. You'll find Mike in the garage working on something when he isn't helping clients or leaning into curves. It's sometimes a side hustle, more often a favor, but it keeps his hands busy doing something productive. Since the first time his father strapped on his helmet and took him for a ride, Mike has loved bikes. That passion, along with a desire to help others through a deep understanding of insurance policies, led to the creation of Motorcycle Ride Coverage.

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