You don't need to own a motorcycle — or even a helmet — to earn a motorcycle license. In fact, it's better to learn to ride before buying a bike. You'll really find out if motorcycling is for you. If it is, you'll be able to choose a motorcycle based on more than looks alone.
If this website hasn't already made it clear, motorcycles are fast (or slow), hilariously fun, and economical. They're also a great way to get around every day. I learned to ride at a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course in a parking lot in Michigan more than a decade ago, RideApart staffer, Wes Siler learned to ride in England, and we're still not quite sure if Justin Bieber knows how to ride. Angelina Jolie certainly does.
Why ride? Some motorcyclists want to get out of the subway or always wanted a Vespa. Maybe you always dreamed about riding a certain type of bike. Maybe motorcycles just look like more fun than the cars on the road these days. Maybe you'd be able to ride in HOV lanes. Or perhaps you're about to go over on your lease mileage. Or maybe, you just want to ride.
In America, earning a motorcycle license isn't very hard. State governments leave most of the work and most of the proficiencies up to the rider.
Read on to find out how to get a motorcycle license, and the steps you need to take to become a safe, proficient rider.
Getting a License:
For a new rider, the best way to get a license is to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course costing anywhere from $25 - $300, depending on the state you live in. This 2-3 day class is split between the classroom and a practice range, where students learn to ride a motorcycle. Graduates earn a road test waiver to take to the DMV and exchange for a motorcycle license.
To sign up for a Basic Rider Course near you, visit MSF-USA.org and find the phone number of a local training center. Call the phone number and sign up for a class. You may need to apply for a learner's permit prior. To find out if you do, call the training center or check the requirements for your state. (Oregon, for instance, has their own course, called Basic Rider Training).
Basic Rider Courses are often booked weeks in advance. In the meantime, consider riding a bicycle. Being able to ride a bicycle is a prerequisite of the Rider Course, and being comfortable on a bike can make the course easier. It'll also help you feel comfortable around traffic while on two wheels.
Because the Basic Rider Course isn't long enough to take students on the road and to teach them more advanced maneuvers, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers additional courses like the Basic Bike-Bonding Rider Course — which helps riders become comfortable on their specific motorcycles — and the Street Rider Course 1, which is a one-day course where instructors stay in radio contact with students as they venture out on the streets. The more training you get, the better. This applies no matter how experienced you become, riding a motorcycle is a lifelong pursuit of skill.
Things To Think About On Your Way To Becoming a Proficient, Safe Rider:
Buying protective gear should be part of the budget for your first bike. Read here to see why.
Take Care of Your Vision:
Good eyesight can mean the difference between an accident and an incident. I wear contacts or clean glasses with a clean, fresh shield on my helmet. It's important to be able to see the road clearly. Clean mirrors make it easier to see what's going on behind you. Protect your eyes at all times, catching a bug or rock in the eye can cause a crash.
Pick up a copy of Proficient Motorcycling — it does a good job bridging the gap between the minimal training required to get a motorcycle license in the U.S. and the extreme amount of training required to get a license in Europe. Safe riding doesn't mean boring riding. Proficient Motorcycling explains late apexes, gear selection and body positioning, the importance of riding sober, and not giving into peer pressure while on a bike.
Head out early in the morning on the weekends — the roads will be nearly empty, and you can focus on riding technique rather than being overwhelmed with cars. Ride with a buddy who has your safety in mind, not someone who will be pushing you to ride in situations you're not ready for. Empty parking lots at giant box stores make great places to practice.
Remember That You're Invisible:
Expect oncoming cars to turn across your path. Try not to get upset when they do, just plan for it in advance and avoid them. Be vigilant with your focus and always use caution.
Expect The Unexpected:
You may get a flat tire. You may take a bird to the faceshield. You may unexpectedly run out of gas. When these things happen, keep calm, wave a hand to let others know you're in trouble, and pull over to the side of the road.
Get The Right First Bike:
To find a great first bike, look at used bikes 500cc or under, or check out RideApart's Buying Guide. Keep in mind that everybody drops their first bike. Save the expensive, fancy purchase for when you're skills are up to speed and your really ready for it.
Be safe and have fun. We look forward to sharing the road with you.
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