Advice

Small number plates on motorbikes – what’s the law?

So you have figured out that a smaller number plate on your motorbike makes your rear tyre look bigger. And bigger tyres are meaner, right?

Many bikers have thought about and many of us have done it, but what does the law say about having a smaller number plate on your bike?

Single row plates on motorbikes

For a start, single row plates are illegal, according to the Government’s own website, gov.uk, where it states:

“The characters on the number plate must be set out over two lines and must be displayed on all motorcycles registered on or after 1 January 1973.”

If your bike was registered before 1st September 2001 you may display a three-row numberplate, which does suit some bikes, like fat BMW boxers pretending to be police bikes.

For all other bikes there is a strict two-row rule and for all bikes registered after 1st September, 2001 the plate must be displayed on the rear of the bike. If your bike was registered before then, you can voluntarily have a front plate as well, but not after that date. Tricycles built from motorcycles must meet the rules for motorcycles.

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As you may have guessed, there were a few rules changes on the 1st September 2001, nowhere more so than on character sizes, which has a big effect on how small your numberplate can be.

In effect there are three different era periods, each with its own set of character sizes:

Character sizes on motorbike number plates from 1st September 2001

The sizes apply not just to bikes registered after that date but to any replacement number plate fitted after that date (i.e., now). They also apply to tricycles built from car bodies and quad bikes.

– Characters must be 79mm tall
– Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 50mm wide
– The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 14mm
– The space between characters must be 11mm
– The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm
– The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 11mm
– Vertical space between the age identifier and the random numbers must be 19mm

Character sizes on motorbike number plates before 1st September, 2001, but after 1st January 1973

– Characters must be 89mm tall
– Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 64mm wide
– The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 16mm
– The space between characters must be 13mm
– The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 38mm
– The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 13mm
– Vertical space between the age identifier and the random numbers must be 19mm

Character sizes on motorbike number plates before 1st January 1973

– Characters must be 64mm tall
– Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 44mm wide
– The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 10mm
– The space between characters must be 10mm
– The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 30mm
– The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 11mm
– Vertical space between the age identifier and the random numbers must be 13mm

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Glad we cleared that up… But wait, for ‘proper’ trikes, built from a motorcycle base, the rules are:

– Characters must be 79mm tall
– Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 57mm wide
– The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 14mm
– The space between characters must be 11mm
– The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm
– The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 11mm
– Vertical space between the age identifier and the random numbers must be 19mm

Why a potentially larger vehicle has a smaller set of characters, we’ll never understand.

What are the other rules on motorbike number plates?

While we’ve got you here, it’s worth getting up-to-speed on the other rules surrounding legal plates.

– Number plates must be lit during the evenings
– Registration marks must be readable and not covered by dirt
– Vehicles must have number plates fixed to them
– Number plates must be laid out in the correct size, colouring, font and spacing
– Owners cannot alter or rearrange numbers and lettering on their number plates
– Plates should follow the British Standard for number plates including the trademark of the plate supplier
– No other images should be used on number plates except approved images such as the Euro flag and other flags
– A non-reflective border is optional

That last one is critical for getting an extra 5mm or more off the size of your plate. And if you’re fond of a tag line, like ‘Biker’s do it in the fast lane’ (I have actually seen that…) then it’s going to make the plate not just technically illegal, but bigger, buddy.

Yellow or black number plates?

Let’s face it, any bike born before Ron Hallam started terrorising championships is always going to look better with a black back plate. But there are rules:

Vehicles made before 1 January 1973 may display traditional ’black and white’ number plates (for example, white, silver or grey characters on a black plate).

Since April 2016 vehicles manufactured before 1 January, 1976 can display the older style plates. You must:

– Have applied to DVLA, and
– Be registered within the ‘historic vehicles’ tax class.

Vehicles constructed 40 or more years ago are exempt from tax. The 40-year exemption date rolls forward automatically each year on 1 April.

Get yourself sorted:
If you’re the sort of person who wants to know exactly where a bike was first registered or want to understand the farcical year-of-registration system or indeed anything to do with number plate rules, fill your boots with this DVLA pamphlet.

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B&B Staff

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