You ride a motorcycle because you're a free spirit who loves the open road and resists all things safe and conventional. Still, some rules are best not to break. Otherwise, you may quickly find yourself taking the bus around town.
Driving a motorcycle without a designated license or learner's permit will get you in trouble in any American state. How much trouble precisely will depend on individual state laws. Penalties range from simple fines to bike confiscation and being barred from riding a bike for some time.
Four Wheels Move the Body, Two Move the Soul
Don't tell the Hell's Angels this, but basically a motorcycle is no different from a car, legally speaking. You need to register your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles and have permission to be on the road as a motorcyclist.
Often that permission is contingent on a biker completing a course -- the equivalent to Driver's Education. To find out what the requirements are for riding a motorcycle in your state, see your Department of Motor Vehicles website.
Helmets, Insurance, and Related Rules
States also vary widely with respect to insurance and riding requirements. Make sure that you are adequately covered -- literally and figuratively -- where you live and where you travel and that you are familiar with the safety standards of states you visit before you go.
For example, in Florida, motorcyclists are not required to wear a helmet if they're over 21 years of age and have a minimum $10,000 personal insurance policy. In California, however, all motorcycle passengers must wear helmets regardless of the extent of their insurance coverage, and they must obtain insurance with contingencies for property damages and bodily injury suffered by others.
Mitigate Risk With the Right License
Riding a motorcycle is risky and is not for people who like to play it safe. But there is no need to take a risk when it comes to obtaining permission to ride. You jeopardize your ability to ride a motorcycle long-term if you don't get a special license or a motorcycle endorsement for your driver's license -- and failure to handle traffic violations can easily turn into an administrative nightmare, eventually subjecting you to criminal charges. Follow the rules, however, and you can ride free and easy.