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Posted by showplatesexpress
January 16th, 2020 at 10:24 am


Number plates on motorcycles have always followed hand in glove with the regulations surrounding registration plates on cars.  So, the current form is identical to car registrations and the latest car and motorcycle plates have actually been around since 2001.  Described as ‘new style’ plates, this is their prescribed composition:-

  • The location identifier which is the first two letters of the plate often referred to as the DVLA memory tag
  • The two numbers which indicate the year of registration issued every March and September using the last two digits of the year at the March issue and the last two digits plus 50 in September hence in 2019, the plate numerals in March were 19 and this September, they were 69
  • Three random letters at the end. Dealerships are often allocated a batch of random letters and so it is possible for customers to request variants which they might prefer

Since the Motor Car Act of 1903, the laws of registration have changed to keep up with the increasing demand for motoring which really took off in the 1960s.  One of the biggest changes was the creation of the DVLA in Swansea in 1969.  There were still local offices scattered around the UK taking the increasing burden of registration away from local and borough councils who had previously been responsible.  With the advent of computers and increasing centralisation, gradually all of these local offices were closed during the later years of the 20th century.  Now, registration is digital and totally centralised with the latest change over to the new style plates taking place in 2001, a system that is expected to run until at least 2050.

The precise legalities

Just like cars, motorcycle number plates have specific requirements in terms of their appearance which are laid out in The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.  These state the following criteria:-

  • Characters of 44mm wide compared to car characters of 50mm
  • Characters should be 64mm high compared to the car registration which is set at 79mm
  • These dimensions do not apply to the letter ‘I’ or the numeral ‘1’
  • The number plate should be on two lines and there is no specific ruling on the size of the plate providing the characters within it are of the requisite size
  • The thickness of the characters which is also called the ‘stroke’ must be 10mm
  • The space between the characters must be 10mm
  • The vertical space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 13mm
  • There must be 1mm between the characters and the edge of the plate
  • Motorcycles registered on or after September 1, 2001, need only display a rear plate which must be black characters on a reflective yellow plate. Motorbikes registered prior to this date can display a front plate if they so choose which should be black characters on a white background
  • There should be no pattern to either the white or yellow background
  • The font prescribed is called ‘Charles Wright’
  • Characters can be three dimensional or two-tone
  • There is no need to have a working light to illuminate the rear plate as the plate material is reflective
  • The plate should be legible so not obscured by dirt and debris from the road and absent cracks or chips which could make the characters difficult to read. An obscured plate which cannot be read could land you with a fine of up to £1,000 and could also constitute an MOT failure
  • You can display one of four possible flags but only on the left-hand side of the number plate. The flags to choose from are the Union Flag, the Cross of St. George (England), the Cross of St. Andrew (Scotland) and the Red Dragon (Wales).  The flag must be above the identifying letters and cannot be placed on the number plate margin, it must also be no wider than 50mm
  • The identifying letters are GB or Great Britain, UK or United Kingdom, Cymru, CYM or Cym for Wales, England, ENG or Eng, Scotland, SCO or Sco and WALES or Wales. They sit below the flag and both the flag and the identifier cannot be more than 50mm
  • It is also permitted to display the Euro symbol as a reflective blue background with 12 reflecting yellow stars at the top with the identifying member state, in this case, GB but maybe not for much longer, in reflecting white or yellow. The Euro symbol must be a minimum height of 98mm with a width of between 40mm and 50mm
  • The plate must display the name of the company that printed the plate and their postcode plus the relevant British Standard code

Size matters

For many bikers, the thought of a large square yellow reflective plate just spoils the look of the rear of their bike; you are hardly going to win the title of rear of the year with a great big boxy piece of bright yellow plastic.  So, there is a distinct trend to shrink down rear number plates and they can be quite legal providing the characters remain at the designated size and spacing and all the other required information appears as well.

There is no actual legal definition of the exact size of a motorbike plate only regulations surrounding the size of the characters within.  Many websites will direct you to a ‘legal’ plate of the standard size of 9’x7’ but you could go smaller if the particular characters that make up your registration will fit.

Since 2015, motorbikes of 40 plus years in age can join the Historic Vehicle’s classification with the DVLA and become exempt from VED and an annual MOT.  Amazingly, this includes bikes from the 1970s of which there are some quite powerful models.  This categorisation also allows the bike to display historic or retro plates to suit the age of the bike and avoid the rigid specifications of the new style plates.  That might be styling to suit the 1970s or it could be a black and silver plate for a much older, vintage bike.