How To Get A Motorcycle License: A Complete Guide
We go through a lot of preparations here. Motorful is filled with people who have been there, and done that. Coming from a place of experience, it’s key that we dispel the unknown, or advise those on the cusp of doing.
Consider now, that you’ve decided you want to ride motorcycles. Maybe you’ve come into ownership of one, or finally decided to kick off that future obsession that you just never got around to starting. For me, it was one final conversation, with a rather prominent member of the motorcycle community that finally convinced me to pursue a dream, write a book, and find some time to reflect.
No matter why you’re here, being here is very awesome. This is the gate, and the information below is the key. I’ll run through all of things that you will absolutely need to know in order to get your motorcycle license. In addition, this article will also include some things that I wish I’d known prior to getting my license.
There’s no way to tell where the world of motorcycling will take you once the keys are in your pocket, because there are far too many roads out there. Let’s tuck in and go through some things that’ll see you far more prepared than your counterparts that might have skipped this little insight article.
You probably know that the adventure you’re about to embark on isn’t going to be free–unless you’re from an alternate dimension or have won a Willy Wonka style prize package that prints your ticket for everything.
You’ve, most likely, gone over some basics when it comes to your finances. Like how much it’s going to cost for your gear. Or, how much you’re willing to spend on a motorcycle–assuming you haven’t already acquired one.
*TIP* while you may be of the extremely fortunate variety that comes into ownership of a motorcycle for one of numerous circumstances, it is very important to the health of your training that you do NOT acquire one yourself until after you’ve passed your MST (Motorcycle Skills Test). Having a motorcycle at home that you cannot legally ride will do two things. One, it will invite you to ride illegally, and could have a permanent impact on your ability to obtain a motorcycle license the right way. Two; place too much pressure on your success during training and testing.
The motorcycle tests administered to potential riders are difficult enough without you going and psyching yourself out of a solid concentration. Many people known to me have failed their tests because of the added pressure they receive by having a visible reward to their passing. If you can avoid it, do not purchase, lease, or obtain a motorcycle until you can legally ride on your own without supervision.
If you have already read our Motorcycle Insurance article, then you’ve probably got a pretty solid idea regarding what insurance will cost you depending on your desired type of motorcycle.
We also recently published an article about motorcycle training courses, and whether or not you should take them. There’s more money right there.
No matter how many times you crunch the numbers, or do the math, always try to double it. If you’re looking at X amount of dollars for all of the above points of payment, try to have more available to you before you set off.
One thing not a lot of people seem to quite understand (perhaps they’re not road users already, and this is their first adventure into mechanical ownership) is that there will always be an issue that needs your money or your hard-earned time to be erased. Whether it’s a mechanical failure, or just the cost of oil and gasoline–if you’re future-savvy and have plans to buy an electric motorcycle, then you can proudly ignore that last part.
Costs creep up on you. Shop hours, replacement gear, alternative gear (cold, dry, warm), accessories, etc. There’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to what you will discover is needed once the license is in your hands, so do yourself a favor and ensure that you’re not going to sink your finances. Be ready for more than you expect to pop-up.
One thing that I didn’t know prior to getting my motorcycle license is that where I’m from (British Columbia) requires even motorcyclists to have passed the “road standard tests”. These are the computer or paper-based exams that you have to take in order to get your car learners license. The format and subject matter of the tests help prove that you know about basic road rules, and proper principles to apply whilst you’re partaking in road use.
The motorcycle learners (or Class 8L/6L here in BC) test taken on the computer is one hundred percent geared towards the way a motorcycle is to act on the roads, and doesn’t cover any of the basic road rules. Stuff like who should go first if two people come to a four-way stop at the same time.
Luckily, I had taken the learners (car) test before, and passed. But be sure to go into your local licensing office and ask for the vehicle learners handbook prior to going in for your motorcycle learners test. Failing the first (car) will mean that you cannot take your motorcycle test, and will be kept from acquiring your motorcycle learners until the time at which you can pass (most places make you wait a few days before you can retake a written test for a license).
If you have your full vehicle license, and you have a clean(ish) driving record, you will not be asked to retake the road knowledge test prior to taking your motorcycle test. This may differ slightly depending on your location, or your license history.
Motorcycle Knowledge Test
ICBC (my local licensing office) does a lot of things right, but helping you prepare for your test it does very poorly.
In fact, there isn’t a single government-issued piece of plastic that isn’t agonizing to acquire–from licenses to birth certificates, and even passports. Expect the worst when you head out to your license office, and that way you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it’s a nice or smooth experience. Somehow they’ve cultivated both atmosphere and process that weigh on your ability to act like a normal human being.
Now, with that rant over, let’s talk about what will actually be on your written test in order to obtain your motorcycle learners.
Many (if not all) license offices will have study booklets. Much like the one I mentioned earlier in regard to the vehicle learners test, the motorcycle knowledge test also has a handbook. This is your guide, your bible, your ticket to the next stage in your joyously expensive new lease on life. Study it harder than you did for that first-year math class with Mrs. Sullivan that you only just squeaked by, thankfully, though she was rather disappointed in you based on her perceived potential of yours.
This is going to sound weird, but trust us, the questions on the test are IN THE HANDBOOK. If there’s one place that license testing writers have cut corners it’s in the inventiveness of their questioning. All you have to do is remember the things in that book and you shouldn’t get a single question wrong. Some of the wrong answers might even seem like they make more sense than the answer given in the handbook, but the book answer will always be correct.
Other questions will just need a little bit of common sense, which is impossible to teach. So best of luck on that.
Luckily, ninety-five percent of the written test is just ripped straight from the pages of the handbook, so you shouldn’t have a problem.
The test will consist of forty or so multiple-choice questions, on whichever medium your license office has at hand (ICBC conducts their knowledge tests on touch-screen computer kiosks), and there is absolutely no rush to answer them. Remember, you’re allowed to take as long as you need.
It is also important to note that you’re allowed to skip questions and come back to them at a later time in the test. So don’t pressure yourself to get that one question right the first time, because you can’t go back to a question you’ve answered already. If it’s not clear, and you can’t quite figure it out yet, skip it and maybe your stash of knowledge will reveal itself next time the question appears.
Read the book. Don’t rush through the test. You’ll do great!
Once you’ve got your learners, you’ll most likely still be restricted. Passing the knowledge test only grants you the ability to get on and pilot a motorcycle, and not much else.
Generally, you’ll have to be within eye-sight of a licensed or experienced motorcycle teacher. This encourages taking lessons.
You’ll be restricted to traveling at 60 km/h (or 40ish miles per hour, if you’re in the United States), as well as only being legally allowed to ride from sun up to sun down. No night riding! This learners also means that you cannot have a passenger, and really we can’t blame them. No one should want to get on the back of any motorcycle you’re piloting anyways.
In order to lift most of these restrictions, you’ll have to take a motorcycle skills test. This riding exam will see you traverse through a small closed course where you will be judged on your handle of things. There will be slaloms. There will be a sharp U-turn. There will be emergency breaking. You will feel nervous. But don’t worry! Because you’re awesome, and smart, and you took our recommendation of getting private motorcycle riding lessons, so you’re a pro now, right?
Once you pass, you’ll have your “real” learners, and can now ride off before (not into) the sunset.
After you’ve had your learners for a year (general wait and practice time, this may vary depending on your location) you can take your next upgrade to an “N” license.
Now, if you do not already have a vehicle license, you’re in for the long haul. Most places will make you take two road tests before granting you a full motorcycle license. Your first road test (taken twelve months after you’ve passed your motorcycle skills test) will grant you a New Riders license, then, you’ll take another (nearly identical) road test, giving you the full license.
If you already have a car license, you will only need to take one road test, and upon passing you will be granted your full license.
These road tests consist of everything from traffic merging, to turning, to entering and exiting freeways, and even hazard awareness. You will be followed by an instructor in a car (I know, right? Hypocrites…) that will communicate with you via radio, giving you specific instructions on where to go and what to attempt.
Whether you pass or fail, you will have ample time after your hour(ish)-long road exam to ask questions and gain feedback/insight into both your good habits, and your bad.
It’s key to note that no matter how bad you are at the beginning, if you’re willing to put in the work (this is applicable to almost anything you do) you will gain skills, and knowledge. There is no known location around the world where a failure of any stage license test results in a permanent ban from ever taking those tests again.
Some places may have extended periods of wait time in between attempts depending on how many times you’ve failed, but you will never be restricted from ever trying again.
Yeah, it’s not great to fail. But all is not lost if that should be the case. Like I mentioned before, there’s a lot of pressure and anxiety surrounding government run license programs, and those nerves can get the better of people. I know I was shaking in my helmet prior to taking mine.
Motorcycling is one of the greatest hobbies, and most profound form of travel that humans have ever created. It’s worth the effort you need to put into it. Succeed, follow this advice, and you will be forever changed.
Ride free, and ride safe.