Can You Identify a Bike by Serial Number?
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After buying a new bicycle, whether it’s a new one straight off the rack, or a second-hand vintage bicycle you got from someone, one of the first things you need to do before riding off into the sunset is to find the bike serial number.
This serial number is important for two reasons: one, if you don’t know what type of bike you have, you’ll be able to find that out with a simple bicycle serial number chart. Two, in case your bicycle gets stolen, you’ll be able to track it down since anyone, including the authorities, can identify the bike by serial number.
In this article, we’ll talk about what a bike serial number is, why it’s important, how you can find your bike’s serial number, why you need to register your bicycle and how you can do it, how you can find your missing bike, and how to tell whether your bike is stolen goods.
What is a Bike Serial Number?
First things first- what is a bike serial number? Simply put, a bike serial number, also called a bike frame number, is a string of numbers with anywhere between six to ten digits. Each and every bicycle has a unique serial number assigned by its manufacturer.
What does a bicycle serial number mean, you ask? It’s a form of identification much like a fingerprint that tells you which of the thousands of the same bike is yours. It also helps the manufacturer in terms of inventory, and the repair shop in finding suitable parts that need replacement in your bicycle.
Now, how do you read a bike serial number? The answer somewhat depends on the bike brand or manufacturer, since each one has their own metrics on how to assign these identifying digits onto a bike or bike part.
That said, the first digit/s usually indicate the year when the bicycle was made, the second set of digits representing the month, and the last few digits indicating the assembly and individual ID of the bicycle. The easiest way to read the bike serial number is by using a bicycle serial number decoder for the specific brand of your bike.
Why The Bike Serial Number Is Important
As you can tell, the bike serial number is very important, even though it’s almost always overlooked by bicycle owners. You may not think that you need it, but it can help you in so many ways. For example…
- If your bicycle gets damaged and you’d like it to be covered by its warranty, you’ll need to provide the bike serial number.
- If you need to take the bike in for repairs, the mechanic will be able to better figure out what bike parts are compatible with your ride.
- Most importantly, if your bicycle gets lost or stolen, you can use this unique identifier in order to track down and locate your bike.
The third example is the most important, since describing your bike or having photos of it won’t be enough. Let’s say you own an amazing BMX bike. Unless you’ve made significant modifications to it, there are literally hundreds of the same bike with the same color and same size wheels out there.
In fact, in some ways, a heavily modified bike will be harder to track, as any thief with common sense will want to dismantle the bike as soon as possible so it’s not as identifiable and so he can sell its individual parts to different customers.
If you have the serial number, you’ll have a better chance to find your bike (or its dismembered parts) with the help of an online bike serial number search, bicycle tracking organizations, and the police. Installing device trackers for bikes is a good idea, but even if you buy the best one money can buy, it can still be removed, so knowing your serial number is a good back-up.
Where To Find The Bike Serial Number
Now that you know why the serial number is important, let’s talk about where to find a bike serial number. Now, usually, it’s under the bicycle’s bottom bracket, right in that spot where the pedal cranks meet. But if it’s not there, don’t stress. Below is a list of other spots you can check.
Where is the serial number on a bike?
- Rear stays
- Seat downtube
- On top of the crank
Once you find the serial number, you need to record it and save yourself some copies in case you ever need to do a bike identification by serial number. You can…
- Take a picture of the serial number (make sure it’s 100% readable)
- Take a picture of yourself with the bike (make sure the serial number can be seen)
- If there’s a barcode sticker on the bike near the serial number, take a picture of that too, as it might be useful for warranty claims
- Send the pictures to yourself via email or upload them to the cloud
Do E-bikes Have Bike Serial Numbers?
Yes, electric bicycles have serial numbers as well. This number identifier can be found at the same places that the serial number would appear on a traditional pedal bike, so you can start your search around these locations.
Next Step: Register Your Bike
Once you do all the steps above, the final thing you should do is to register your bike in a bicycle serial number database so you’ll have better proof that the bicycle is yours.
The process is quite easy, too. There are plenty of local and international registration services that are free of charge and easy to use, such as Bike Register, Bike Index, and 529 garages. Depending on your location, you might also be able to register your bike with your local police department. This works in New York and Chicago, to name a few cities.
You might even get an ID sticker for your bike to show that it’s been registered, which might help ward off criminals. Either way, prevention is always better than cure, and while registering your bike may not be able to prevent it from getting stolen, it does help you get it back if you are registered as its rightful owner.
What If Your Bike Doesn’t Have A Serial Number?
Most bikes today come with a serial number, but not all of them. Older, hand-made, vintage bicycles either don’t have serial numbers at all, or the bike has been severely worn by time and the number is simply not readable.
If this is the case for you, don’t worry. You can still register your bicycle.
The best way to go about it is to reach out to Project 529, a non-profit company for bicycle registration and tracking. You simply need to purchase a registration kit to establish ownership of your bicycle.
This kit comes with a tamper and weather resistant sticker and a unique identifier, similar to an actual bike serial number. Just stick it to your preferred location on the bicycle frame, and it will stay there permanently, so you can use it to track your bicycle if it ever gets stolen.
Can You Look Up A Bike Serial Number?
You’ve taken all the preventive steps to protect your bike, but what can you do if and when the worst happens and your bike goes missing? Can you look up a bike serial number? The short answer is yes.
While you can ask for the help of the local police and bike tracking organizations, as well as notify bike shops around the area and the general community so more people will be on the lookout, you can also try and find your bicycle yourself.
You can do this by using websites like Bike Register and Bike Index, as their mission is to help bicycle owners like you track down their stolen bikes. It’s also easy to use their website and do a bike serial number lookup. You just need to enter your serial number in the search bar and wait for the results to pop up.
Is It Okay To Track Down Your Bicycle Yourself?
Like we mentioned just now, it’s perfectly legal, bicycle law wise, to do a bike serial number check yourself so you can try to locate your stolen bicycle. However, while you technically can go and try to personally retrieve your bicycle, it might be dangerous, so it’s best if you inform the authorities where you found your bike and have them proceed from there.
Other Ways To Protect Your Bicycle
Aside from knowing your bike serial number which helps you track down a stolen bike, there are a few other things you can do to really safeguard your bicycle and prevent it from getting stolen in the first place. These include:
- Buying a good quality device tracker for bicycles like this one from Amazon
- Looking for a reliable bicycle storage company such as CycleSafe.com and SecureCycleStore.com
Remember, it’s just as important to invest in safekeeping your bicycle regardless of how much you spent on it, aka whether it’s a cheap hybrid bike under $500, or a new, glamorous, and expensive fat bike.
Bonus: How To Tell If Your Second Hand Bike Is Stolen Goods
When we’re buying merchandise that isn’t brand new, there’s really only so much we can do to guarantee the item’s condition, whether it works properly, or even where it actually came from in the first place. Besides, a huge reason why we’re buying second hand is to save money, and there are quite a few things we are willing to look over to save a few bucks.
But, it’s still important to make sure that what you’re buying comes from a good place, i.e, it’s not stolen. When it comes to bicycles, here’s how you can tell whether the bike is stolen goods, or it’s simply not worth purchasing for whatever reason:
- Look for the bike serial number, and search it up on the bike tracking sites we mentioned above to see whether it’s registered or has been reported missing, etc.
- If the serial number isn’t visible, like if it’s been filed out or scratched while the rest of the bicycle is in relatively good condition, chances are, the thief tried to erase the number.
- If the price of the bicycle is too low for the market rate even though it’s not showing any obvious issues or signs of damage, it’s either the owner just really wants to declutter, or the bike is stolen and the thief wants to get rid of the product asap.
- If the product advertisement is severely lacking in information and actual photos of the bicycle, it might be a scammer selling you something not worth your money or the thief doesn’t want the bike to be easily identified online.
- If the seller is unresponsive or vague in how they answer your questions about the bicycle, especially questions relating to the bike’s origins, there’s likely something wrong with the bike (or it’s stolen) and the seller doesn’t want you to know until it’s too late.
Want to know how to make the most of your second-hand bike? Read this guide on How to remove rust from bikes and How to measure bike wheels so you can replace them with the right size tires.
A majority of bicycle owners have no idea what the bike serial number is, where it’s located, how to find it, and what purpose it serves. This is unfortunate since the serial number is a very important piece of information that protects your ownership of your bicycle.
Remember, knowing (and keeping copies) of your bike serial number is a must to keep your bike safe, and to help you get it back if it gets lost or stolen. This way, individuals and institutions can help you look for and identify your bike by serial number and registration.