Motorcycle manufacturers need to generate and issue for each vehicle a special Vehicle Identification Number, commonly abbreviated to VIN. This is a unique serial number used by the automotive industry to identify individual motor vehicles. Before 1980, there was not an accepted standard for these numbers, so different manufacturers used different formats.
Modern day VINs consist of 17 characters which do not include the letters I, O or Q.
Part of the process of becoming a Federal DOT licensed motorcycle manufacturer is to submit to NHTSA's VIN coordinator your company's VIN number scheme. This is a formula to determine and decode your motorcycles' VIN numbers.
As part of my job as your consultant I will establish as simple of a VIN scheme for you that I can and I will get you the information to understand it and enable you to accurate encode your VIN numbers. I am always available for any questions though of course.
For most chopper builders -- who will produce fewer than 500 motorcycles per year -- the general structure of the VIN will be as follows:
The first three digits will be the first three digits of your VIN will be the first three digits of your World Manufacturer Identifier number (WMI) which I will get assigned to you as the first step in the process of getting you licensed and registered. These letters actually decode to denote your country of production, etc.
The fourth digit is the type of motorcycle. Simply using a "2" for two-wheeler or bike and a "3" for three-wheeler or trike is the best way to set this up.
The fifth digit is for Body Type. Generally it is best to just set this up as "M" for motorcycle rather than complicate the process with denote more specific concepts like "S" for sportster and "D" for dresser, etc.
The sixth digit is engine type; "2" for 2 cylinder, "4" for 4 cylinder works best.
The seventh and eighth digits together are for your engine's rated horsepower -- e.g. "40" for 40 horsepower, "50" for 50 horsepower, etc.
The ninth digit is a check digit for validity verification which will be calculated from a complex formula using the other digits in the VIN. Fortunately there is a website with an analog script formula which you can use to verify this value even if you just plug in a complete VIN number and progressively change the ninth digit by inserting each possible digit (1 through 9 and "X" for ten) and submit each using the "decode" button one until the ninth digit shows up as "Valid":
VIN VALIDATION WEBSITE
The tenth digit is the model year of production "8" for 2008, "9" for 2009, "A" for 2010, "B" for 2011, etc...
The eleventh digit is the plant location where the vehicle was made. For instance "B" for Bloomington, Illinois. If you have two plants and both are in towns which start with the same letter, you just pick a different letter from the other motorcycle plant location. For instance if you have a motorcycle manufacturing plant in Bloomington, Illinois and another plant in Burlington, Iowa, we will set "B" up as the Bloomington plant and "U" (the second letter in Burlington) as the indicator for the Burlington plant.
The twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth digits in the motorcycle VIN number is the second three digits in your WMI
The fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth digits of the motorcycle VIN are the sequential numbers of production for that year... your first vehicle of the year is "001", the second vehicle "002" and so forth.
Motorcycle Manufacturing Licensing Resource Page
Motorcycle Manufacturing VIN numbers
EPA information for licensed motorcycle manufacturers
Chopper builders information for becoming licensed motorcycle manufacturers
Bike builders information for licensing to become official motorcycle manufacturers