The California M1 (Motorcycle) License


Earlier this year, I decided to get my M1 License.

Here is what you must do to obtain a California M1 License:

  1. Pass the Written Test
  2. Pass the Riding Test

Easy, right? Well, not so fast. The tests are actually designed to be ridiculously tougher than the ones for cagers (those poor souls who choose to ride on four wheels instead of two). It’s probably because one small accident is all it takes to kill you whether it’s your fault or not. And I don’t know about you, but I kind of would not like to die? Sure, you get an official license to be a badass, but before you even attempt to start this expensive hobby, you have to understand the physical and financial risks that come with it:

Do you trust yourself to suit up every time, every ride, snow, rain or shine? One lazy mistake could put you in the coffer.

Think a bike is going to save you some money on gas and insurance? Think about that again when you receive the hospital bill for you and your bike when you go down (and you will).

Ready to buy the best gear you can afford – twice? A motorcycle helmet has a one crash policy. Check out the prices on some Dainese leathers or a Shoei helmet.

Any anger issues stemming from an unfulfilled childhood? Be ready to keep your cool when cagers runs you off the road and you almost high side onto the pavement while they speed away unaware that you just almost died.

Did I scare you away yet?

Good, you’re still here. Since that spiel is over and done with, here’s what you really need to know about the M1.

Read the motorcyclist’s handbook that they give you at the DMV. Study for the written test. You only have 3 tries to pass. You’ll have to fill out a DL4 at the DMV, pass a vision exam and get your fab photo taken.

The DMV’s riding test is HARD. The last thing they need is a hot headed hooligan that decided (on impulse) to get on a bike to show his lady friends around town. (Think that guy is also going to invest in a second set of gear for a passenger?) I’ve heard stories where out-of-state riders who have been riding for decades have failed the test. You’re much better off getting it waived by eating $250 on a DMV approved Safety Course such as the MSF Basic Rider Course or Harley Davidson’s Rider’s Edge Course. It’s damn well worth the money. It costs less if you’re under 21, but in the grand scheme of things, the cost of the course is a small price to pay. You’ll get to meet other bikers and get to talk to many instructors. I took the MSF Basic Rider Course and passed the riding exam in one weekend. (Hey, who has time during the week?)

On both days, you are in a classroom and then outside in a huge parking lot to practice. In the classroom, you’ll get to watch exciting videos from the 80’s with gaudy post processing (Holy Motorcycles, Batman!) . The material was pretty straightforward and it would’ve gotten boring had it not been for the colourful personalities that motorcycling usually attracts. The typical crew consist of the old dude who just never got around to getting a license despite riding for years, to the girlfriend that was encouraged by her boyfriend to ride, to the budding, young, testosterone filled males that are in it for the chicks,and then folks like me who just thought it would be fun.

My classroom instructor was a California Highway Patrol officer (this IS a DMV approved class after all) and boy, did he have stories: “How about that time a Porsche wanted to race me on the freeway at 3AM and then I lost control of the bike? What about all those aggravating times I sat at the stoplight because my bike couldn’t trip the signal? And what about all those fatalities on the road I’ve seen? Oh, and did I tell you a cager tried to run me off the road so I took out his side mirror with my foot? Oh and one more advice to all y’all: Don’t run from me. I will catch your punk ass. And when I do… ”

Pretty entertaining.

The riding session is a breeze. You’ll go through plenty of parking lot drills and exercises. Previous knowledge of operating a manual transmission helps a lot if you’ve never ridden before. The course instructors make the exam ridiculously easy to pass. No one in our group failed the exam. The exam consists of the same lessons you did just prior to the exam. I think the hardest skill test has to be doing the figure 8 in a tiny little box. You get points knocked off for your feet touching the ground, engine stalling, riding outside of the figure 8 or test area, etc. Dropping your bike is an automatic fail. Don’t do that. Well, even then, you get asked to come back another day for more “counseling”. (See how easy they make it to pass?) I think a really key thing to realize is that you can’t get knocked off points for doing the same thing twice. For example, if you accidentally put your foot down, you won’t get penalized for doing it again, so why not if you have to?

All in all, the riding course is money. I think almost everyone starts out with it.

Once you get your license endorsed with the “M1”, get your insurance taken care of and then you’ll be ready to ride!

Hope that was helpful.

See you on the road! Va va vroom!


64 thoughts on “The California M1 (Motorcycle) License

  1. Nancy

    A friend of mine told me after getting certified, I will have to take a written test on BOTH the VEHICLE and MOTORCYCLE test..Can you tell me if this is true or is she just trying to scare me?

  2. I_G

    Hey Nancy,

    If it has been over a year since you took the CA driving test you WILL have to take it again along with the motorcycle test.

  3. David

    Is the permit test hard? Is it like the C class where it’s all common sense? Once you get that, you’re able to ride? If you take that training course you can just get your lisences when you’re finished? That’s where I get confused, you just bypass the DMVs test?

    • You won’t be able to pass the written permit test without reading the book. You get three times to pass it on that one day, or else you have to come back and take it again at the DMV. Once you’ve passed the written AND the


      test, you get your license. The optional training class waives ONLY the riding test. Otherwise, you can take the riding test at the DMV without the training class. You can’t get out of the written permit test.

    • jim

      hi David, i just passed the written permit test at the dmv 2 weeks ago. it’s incredibly easy. i passed after studying for about 45 minutes the day before. If you’re interested i can send you the questions on the test. just like regular class C permit tests, the dmv lets you take your test home and share it with others. hit me up

    • jim

      i forgot to mention, there are only 3 forms of the dmv motorcycle permit test. if you study the questions i got, you have a 33% chance of getting the identical test

  4. Ruben

    Great article I took my written a week ago passed and the. The riding test at the DMV today if you practice a day before its pretty easy and I took it on an 1198 ducati

  5. I’ve taken the CA M1 written test twice now and not passed by a few… The written test is not easy without really studying. Every test is different or with a few variations to the questions. I didn’t have to take my do over’s in the same day; which is nice. Reading through the book is really important.

    This was a great article. My husband passed his M1 written on the first try and passed his Basic Riders Course perfectly. It does help to pass your written test, get your permit (which only allows you to ride during the day, NO passengers, and NO freeways), PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (find an empty parking lot somewhere), and then take your Basic Riders Course. Let’s face it $250 is a lot of money and and three days is a commitment. They warn you be late to any of the days and you’ll need to reschedule.

  6. Swedish GP

    For those NOT clear on California M1 requirements…

    2 ways:

    A: Go to DMV take written test which also makes you have to take half the C written test as well (LAME). Vision ect. Go home ride your bike everyday, i mean everyday too, then come back later and drive the lollipop driving test. Nearly impossible without the right bike and precise throttle control/body position.


    B: The better way. Go to DMV take said written tests. Then ride your bike everyday for a few months on your permit, then take your MSF CHP course with 250 well spent dollars going to them. Take the 15 required hours, 5 classroom, 10 driving instruction. Boom they give you a certificate you take to dmv to skip their test and boom M1. Going this route is best because in order to pass the evaluation on the last safety course day you MUST have some experience on a bike or you will fail, this class should not be taken by those who have never rode their bikes on a permit. I saw alot of green people fail just to have to waste another weekend their to pass. Trust me heed the warning.

    Source? Me riding for 5 years, full m1 class. Bike: 2005 Ninja ZX-10R

    Ride Safe…

  7. Tony

    Do I need a drivers license to be able to get M1 license? I don’t want a car, I just want to drive my motorcycle and just get a class m license not c. I don’t have any permits, do I need to take motorcycle permit test first to be able to take the safety course? My drivers permit expired 5 months ago.

  8. shakylegs

    Let’s see if I have this right.
    * Go to the DMV (not on your bike) and get the M1 operating booklet.
    * Study it at home, then go back and take the written test.
    * Hopefully pass the written test, and they will issue you a temporary permit to operate your bike. (no hi-ways, no night riding, and no passengers)
    * Take the DMV operating test OR the operating instruction class
    * Get your M1 license.

  9. adriana

    I took a msf course got certificate do I have to take any tests at dmv or just bring my certificate to get m1 added to my drivers licenses? ?

  10. paul

    While much of this info is true, this is the EASIEST written license test I’ve ever taken. Don’t let this persons opinion scare you away, I got 100% on my first try.

  11. Jordan

    I have a Washington drivers license. Does this matter for when I take the California M1 written test? Will I still have to take the car written test?

  12. Jay

    I had my license when I was 19 years old, all through the 90’s and up to 2006, then let it lapse after several years of inactivity on the road. I’ve been riding dirt bikes a lot in that time, but I’m looking at getting a road-legal enduro bike just for S&G’s. Oddly enough, I’m a little nervous about having to get my license again since I haven’t ridden in a controlled environment in years and am so used to putting my foot out when cornering in the dirt. Will I fail? Should I take the safety course?

    • Izzy

      Time on the dirt bikes should be fine for you to just take the test. The safety course will probably bore you… The only thing I’d be concerned about is learning the traffic laws… is it certain you have to get the M1 endorsement again?

  13. Hey thanks for the nice write up. Quick question,

    I am planning to take the MSF course. Do i need to bring my own motorcycle or do they provide it? If so, what kind of motorcycles do they provide? Just curious. Thanks in advance 🙂

  14. Hey thanks for the nice write up. Quick question,

    I am planning to take the MSF course. Do i need to bring my own motorcycle or do they provide it? If so, what kind of motorcycles do they provide? Just curious. Thanks in advance! 🙂

  15. Aalok Sharma

    Hi IZZY,

    At present, I don’t have any license or permit (no Class C license, no Class C permit, no Class M permit…..absolutely nothing). Can I still take MSF course without having any of these? OR do i need to get a Class M permit first, and only then I will be allowed to take MSF course?

    Also, assuming I’m allowed to take MSF course without having any license or permit, and I pass the MSF course (and get the completion certificate subsequently), and then I pass the Class M written test also, will that be sufficient enough to get a Class M license? OR will I still need to get a Class C driver license/permit first?

  16. Just to be clear

    You can get an M1 with just the written motorcycle test from the DMV (an M1 is a Motorcycle Permit); to get an M2 (AKA a full endorsement with no restrictions riding times/locations) you are required to either submit the DL389 waiver from your MSF or pass the DMV Skill/Driving test on your motorcycle…

  17. Stacey

    I took the course a while ago (2010) and finally decided to take the dmv written test. Do you know if my certification is still valid? 😆

  18. josh

    Hi All!

    First off, great post! Very informative. I still do have some questions though, I live in San Francisco and recently purchased a 1981 honda c70. Im sure some of you know this bike has a top speed of 37 mph and is actually a rad little scooter. After browsing some scooter site, they informed me that it’s best to get the M1. As I understand all of the requirements, do you guys think it would be easier to take the driving test on my scooter rather than a bike say 125CCs or higher?? I used to have a 150 dirtbike, and riding the scooter was easy..I just don’t have the 250$ to spend. Thanks for reading.


    • datasciencemaven

      Take the test on the bike as it reflects actual conditions and it will help you be more prepared. I don’t think they will let you take a M1 test on a scooter.

  19. Juan

    Hi can anybody please clarify this for me?

    I have a class B license with a hasn’t endorsement and also a tanker endorsement.

    If I wanted to get the M1 added to my license, do I have to retake all of the exams? Class C, class B, and endorsements? If anybody can help me I’m really trying to get my M1.


      • Josh

        Yes in California if it’s past the first year of license renewal or issue Date in order to obtain your permit to ride a bike you will be forced to retake all written tests again.

  20. Sudhir jin

    I have my C Class Licence and i am going to get my M1 Endorsment, At The DMV do i have to submit my C class licence?? and will they mail me a new licence card with C and M1 ?? or what do they do?

  21. Diego B

    I am little confuse, will I be allow to drive on the freeway and at night after my permit time is over and I get my M1 license ? I really confuse I looking forward to get a motorcycle for commute from college to work and home which includes freeway drive, so if could someone explain this to me it would be great.

    • ORI

      M1 license is required to ride on the freeway.
      You can take the CMSP class and then you take the endorsement to the DMV, pass the written exam and you should get your M1. If you’re under 18 then you must take the CMSP class.
      If you’re over 18 then you have a second option. You can take the DMV written test and get a permit only, practice on your own motorcycle with restrictions (no freeway, day time only, no passenger) and then take the dreaded DMV skills test to get your M1.

  22. Pancho

    I’m trying to get my m1 but I have a commercial license does it mean I have to take every test I took, all 5 again just to get the m1 endorsement.

  23. I passed the Motorcycle Safety Program and now I need to go to the DMV for the written test.

    I don’t understand if beside the motorcycle written test I will need to take other tests too. I don’t have any U.S. driver license, will I need to take the car test or the signals and regulations test? (I’m over 21)

  24. daulton

    I took the 258 dollar course and aced it, I have the dl387 paper stating that I completed the course, this was done in november of 2009. Would i be able to walk into the dmv with this paper and take the written and get my M-1. Or do I have to retake the course….?????????????

  25. ORI

    CMSP class is the easy way to get the M1 license in CA, but the endorsement does not mean that you are ready to ride. You are only ready to start learning by experiencing real road conditions. Take it slowly and try to stay alive.
    Make every trip a learning experience. When you start a ride, go at 4MPH for a few seconds and test your own skills at slow-speed control and balance. Same when you get to a stop. It’s a good skill to learn how to stop completely at a stop sign without setting feet on the ground and being ready in first gear to immediately continue, if traffic conditions allow.
    Practice high speed stops when road is free of traffic, learn to modulate your front brake on your own terms before you encounter a real emergency. You don’t learn such skills in two days in a parking lot.
    As much as I’m against the lollipop test track, it does require some balance skills that experienced drivers are better at than a newbie. Build these skills for your own sake, not just to pass a lame test. You’ll be much better at lane splitting in heavy traffic or riding in stop-and-go traffic if you have good control on your bike at low speeds. When you do, consider putting your feet down when needed. It’s one advantage a motorcyclist has, so use it when it’s called for.
    Advanced MSF classes are a whole different thing. Practicing control in slippery conditions or executing tight swerves with confidence in a controlled environment with experienced instructors is a good idea for all motorcycle enthusiasts.
    Perhaps the number one moto of any motorcyclist should be: A man gotta know his limitations… gals too…

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