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Number Plates: How Small Dare You Go?

Post Date - 5 June 2020

By Mark Noel

Ever since the first motorcycles appeared on the highway we have been obliged to display a registration plate and proof that tax has been paid. Recently the UK has dispensed with the requirement to display a tax disc since there are zillions of covert cameras that capture your number plate, check who you are, and assess whether duty has been paid. Unfortunately this is not yet the case on the Isle of Man where I live and tax discs must still be shown. However, since we have not yet become a police state with CCTV cameras and Taser guns at the roadside I'll be honest and admit that I often 'forget'.

DVLA regulations define standards for the font (black) and background (yellow) with rules forbidding use of italics, gothic or other weird letters that might express some individuality. Machines of a certain vintage can use white or silver letters on a black background and may include a front number plate. Mounted on the mudguard this looks pretty classy on an old machine and the pressed alloy plates are especially nice.

The regulations here follow those of the UK but I do notice that many bikes sport plates that stretch the rules somewhat, particularly with regards to lettering size. This reflects the desire to have a plate which is discrete, not distracting from the swoopy aesthetics of your new and zoomy rice rocket. The smallest I see are pinned to the back of off-road bikes where the copper would need an electron microscope to pick out the registration. Plates of reduced size are freely available from Web sellers, usually described as 'Show Plates' or 'Children Novelty Plates', presumably to avoid prosecution under Trades Description laws.

My Jawa 350 Retro looks almost identical to a 1980s model and so I decided to make up my own retro-plate from a sheet of 3mm black acrylic and letters CNC machined from 2mm aluminium (smaller than the 'standard'). I've suffered no arrest, tasering or torture so far suggesting that it looks perfectly OK.

The classic silver letters on a black background style numberplate as created by Mark
DIY Jawa Plate

My Herald 250 Classic has been reconfigured as a Suzuki TU250 and I changed the default Manx-compliant plate shown here with chunky standard letters to a more discrete 7 x 5" show plate from a vendor on ebay (second picture). I reckon it looks better, is less dominant and again has not resulted in a vacation in Jurby Jail ... at least so far.

The original and standard number plate on the Herald
The Standard Plate
The slightly smaller 7 by 5 inch plate fitted to the Herald
The 7x5 Plate

I wondered what other folks have managed to get away with under the scrutiny of the law. Perhaps we can start a thread here on the topic. Any fellow law breakers out there?


If you'd like to share your illegal activites online (?!?) then click here.

Reader's Comments

Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
The way I see it is like this. It's all OK until it's not OK. When I had my little accident some 18 years back now the police went through the bikes quite thoroughly. After a long time I received a copy of the accident report where any, I mean ANY discrepancies were noted. My tyres were apparently a couple of PSI out and the chain a bit loose. As for the other chap's bike...

Personally as you may have noticed I'm not one who's too fussed about how my bike looks. As such I see no issues with the size, colour, shape or fitment of the number plate. I've got to have one fitted, it came with one fitted, it's legal so that's that.
16/07/2020 08:41:59 UTC
Upt'North said :-
My own two'penneth is that the regs are clear and I comply with them.
If you don't, that's your choice but don't complain when you get a ticket and the plate seized.
Upt'North.
16/07/2020 09:02:11 UTC
Upt'North said :-
On the separate issue Ed is right (he always blummin is) after a serious road collision all vehicles will be subject to a preliminary vehicle examination where items that can change are recorded and then subject to more thorough examination probably at the recovery garage within approximately 24 hours.
Even if you're not at fault for the RTC you will be liable for prosecution for the defects found and insurance companies can and do apply for copy reports and they love reducing large claims.
Upt'North.
16/07/2020 09:11:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
To my frustration at the time the number of "defects" on the other party's motorcycle warranted far more points and fines than he received. Let it go Ren, let it go... and breathe. I wonder what the fines and penalties are for non-compliant number plates these days.
16/07/2020 09:28:58 UTC
Upt'North said :-
I think the last time I read about it, it was a £100.00 non endorsable ticket.
But the plate can be seized as evidence, if its a Sunday afternoon good luck getting a new one.
The DVLA can also revoke the plate, meaning you would have to re register the vehicle on a new number.
Seems like too much trouble to look "cool", which I wouldn't anyway.
Does anybody know what cool looks like? I know it wouldn't be sitting at Kates Cottage on a Sunday afternoon with no plate on your bike. Or Matlock Bath for that matter.
Police Officers refer to such infringements as "a starter for ten". Why give the Scuffers a reason to stop ya?
FWIW.
Upt'North.

16/07/2020 10:35:33 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Upt' said "Why give the Scuffers a reason to stop ya?"

I recall when I was a motorcycle instructor I was booked for a 3 day course - CBT through to test. I knew the rider had "some experience" but that was all. Upon arrival I found the biggest hairiest scruffiest bad-ass biker sat upon his big shiny loud Harley. I looked around to find his pillion who'd be doing the course, turns out it was the biker chap himself.

He'd been riding illegally for many years but upon entering the dark realm of one of the local "back patch" clubs they insisted he got taxed, insured and MOT'd, and passed his bloody bike test. It seems they did not want any unnecessary attention from Her Majesty's police force.

Lovely chap, we had a right laugh and training him was easy. He had a few minor bad habits (2 finger braking, no lifesavers) but he soon got the hang of things. He did look funny on the Suzuki GS500 though, like an adult on a kid's bicycle.
16/07/2020 10:55:05 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Yes, I've never seen the point in drawing unwelcome attention.

What's wrong with 2 finger braking anyway? Even on the Norton it's entirely adequate.
16/07/2020 11:53:45 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I will not argue with you there regarding 2 fingers Ian. I don't know the current test expectations but in the late 90s when I was training that was the required fashion of lever operation. My 125 and 500 have very "ordinary" levels of braking and to be honest 1 finger is usually sufficient, 2 at a push. I suspect it hearkens back to the days of cable drum brakes on early CG125s.
16/07/2020 12:10:56 UTC
Borsuk said :-
Never really seen the point of the small number plates. One would think that any plates that the automatics can’t read would be sent to a human to check.
Plus as you say, once the police have a legitimate reason to stop you they can fill their boots with checks of your bike.
17/07/2020 12:20:24 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
I can't say I've ever expended too much thought upon the subject. I owned a dr350 about 6 or 7 years ago and the first time I took it for an MOT, they gave me an advisory that the the number plate was too small. I got a proper legal one made and fitted it, no problem. Didn't make the bike any faster or slower as far as I can recall...
17/07/2020 08:37:30 UTC
Keith m said :-
I like a smaller plate especially on a small bike. Nothing outrageous just 7x5. On Upt’s Beast it just blends into the bulk of the thing but on something like Sharons z250 it looks like a billboard stuck on the back. I think in some European countries bikes are given smaller plates.
18/07/2020 08:54:37 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
Since writing my piece I have changed the aluminium letters on my Jawa's plate to ones made of aluminum: this American alloy has less letters in the word and so should be lighter.

I agree that having a black and yellow billboard on the back of a small bike looks a bit silly, detracts from the aesthetics and adds significant drag to the extent that the top speed on my minibike is down to walking pace. Also a big plate creates unwanted lift at the stern, reducing grip significantly at high speed and strong turbulence which swirls ladies' skirts as I pass (I know, I have looked in the mirrors).

So, there you have it. Advantages and disadvantages!
24/07/2020 09:18:25 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
If you're number plate is too big, maybe you need a bigger bike to match? Yours sincerely, Ren, 125cc rider.
24/07/2020 07:47:52 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
Yes, good idea, so I am now looking for a 126cc bike.
25/07/2020 01:27:22 UTC
Upt'North said :-
The smallest plate I can remember seizing was about 1 inch by 6 inches (2.5 x 15 cm's) .
It was home printed on paper and then laminated. It was held in place by velcro strip.
I also came across two muppets on plastic rockets and for the life of me I couldn't read the numbers. I followed for a while but although they were full size'ish I still couldn't fathom out what the number should read. Once stopped they informed me they had taken piccies for a bike mag with their respective partners in suitable attire and the plates were the girlfriends "nick names". They couldn't figure out why they were turned round with the plates removed.
Life makes you shake your head sometimes.
Upt'North.
25/07/2020 01:50:40 UTC

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