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MY oh MY

Kym Liebig

What model bike are you really looking at? Navigating VINs, build dates, Model Years and more.


If you don’t think that knowing the precise details of your bike’s Model Year and Compliance is important, talk so someone who’s lost money through getting it wrong. It’s all too easy to buy a bike, find out too late it’s not actually the model you thought you were buying, and lose out as a result. It’s also surprisingly common for owners to invest in spare parts, only to find out that due to a couple misplaced digits, the parts aren’t right and won’t fit. When you’re buying, selling or even insuring, the consequences of getting it wrong can run into thousands of dollars going down the drain. So let’s unpack some facts about how best to identify any bike you’re looking at.


Model Year is a calendar thing, right?

Nope. The motorcycle model year (often abbreviated as ‘MY’) ‘run’ is not January 1 to December 31. That’d be way too convenient, right? Rather, it’s about the manufacturer’s production run of a motorcycle model made to a certain specification. In fact it has no reference at all to a calendar year, because manufacturers tend not to build a model year across just one calendar year. As we’ve already mentioned, from purchasing to ordering parts or booking a service, it’s important to know exactly what MY your bike is.

Virtually all motorcycles, Scooters and ATV’s produced since the early 80’s have a 17-digit VIN number, sometimes also referred to as the ‘frame number’. It’s usually found on the steering head of the motorcycle as well as on the Compliance plate, providing the bike in question is road registerable. (If you can’t find your VIN, the Owner’s Manual usually has information about where it’s located). The Compliance plate notes the month and year of the approval of the motorcycle with Australian Design Rules – often referred to as ‘ADR’s’.

The year can sometimes be confusing to identify on road registered motorcycles, because the compliance date of the bike is not always the same as the year model of the motorcycle. To accurately identify the exact year model of the bike, you need to check the 10th character of the VIN number. It could be a number or letter that corresponds to a particular year of manufacture. For instance, the number ‘1’ might denote a 2001 build, and the sequence might then continue forward sequentially (2 = 2002, 3= 2003, etc.) until we reach 9 = 2009. From here, the sequence might change so that A=2010, B=2011 and so on, matching each letter from the alphabetical sequence in turn to each passing year.

Following the sequence above, a 2009 model Yamaha WR250R could have a VIN Number of JYADG204X9A000662.  With the 10th character of the VIN number being a number 9, it means that the bike is a 2009 Model Year. So when ordering parts or accessories for this particular bike, you’d need to order them for a 2009 model, even though the Compliance plate might state a different year again – more on that later.

It’s worth noting that models can also be referenced by their prefix. This is usually found on operator’s manuals and sales documentation. So the motorcycle discussed above would be a WR250R9, whereas the 2021 model would be a WR250RM.

Knowing this information is important when ordering parts and accessories and also when purchasing a used motorcycle, as it’s common for a seller to be confused about the year model of their motorcycle. There can often be a fairly large price difference between year models, especially if there is a major change in the model.


So what’s the VIN rule all manufacturers use?

They don’t. (Feel free to sigh). For most manufacturers, the tenth digit or character in the VIN is the Model Year. But Triumph run the 11th digit and Suzuki have another system again. Because there’s no hard and fast standard it can be confusing, so if you get stuck the best way forward is always to speak to an official dealer of your brand. Be ready to quote your VIN and get an answer direct from the people who know best. It’s time well spent and could easily be money saved, too.


Compliance plates, compliance dates

Wherever in the world your motorcycle was manufactured and whenever that might have been, it’s your Compliance Plate that states the date that your bike was approved and able to be sold here in Oz. Along with this date, the plate might include a 5-digit Type Approval Number and a string of ADR (Australian Design Rules) data regarding such matters as dimensions, weight, power and emissions. Once again, manufacturers aren’t big on unity here, some stating on the plate the month the motorcycle was built, others ‘future dating’ their plates based on when they reckon the bike will arrive in Australia, provided there are no shipping delays. (You can imagine this working well in COVID times, right?) Regardless, it’s important to understand that the date on the Compliance Plate doesn’t necessarily match the model year. It’s perfectly feasible for a MY2021 bike to have been manufactured in 2020 and also be fitted with a Compliance Plate dated 2020.


Is registration based on build date, VIN date or Compliance Plate?

In the land of cars, the rego year is based on the information on the build plate. As a rule, because most motorcycles don’t have build plates (just VINs and Compliance Plates) the rego year is taken from the Compliance Plate. So the year on your registration doesn’t necessarily refer to the Model Year of your bike, but its compliance date instead.


Finance, insurance and the importance of communication

Sometimes insurers and financiers aren’t given the necessary data by a motorcycle manufacturer, and sometimes the insurers and financiers simply don’t ask for it. What this means is that if you don’t want to wind up paying too much or possibly even winding up with an invalid policy, it’s up to you to do the detective work and make sure that before any type of transaction goes ahead, all parties have a clear understanding and accurate records of the VIN, Model Year and Compliance Plate details of the motorcycle in question. Again, take the time, find the facts and only pay your money when you’re certain that everyone has the correct info.


Can Bikebiz help with this stuff?

Yes. With over three decades of experience in motorcycles, we understand just how confusing model identification can be for punters, and we know how to interpret VINs and Compliance Plate data. We’re also official dealers for Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, BMW, Triumph, Aprilia and Kymco, so we have the direct industry links that can make all the difference in getting to the bottom of things. If you get stuck trying to identify a bike, gather together clear records of all of the relevant numbers and details that you can find and CONTACT US. We’re here with you for the whole ride, no matter what year that might be!