How do you find your bike's model year? What is a bicycle serial number and how does it even work? Well, in this article, we'll discuss what a frame number is and how you can find it. We'll also cover ways in which riders can discover the make, model and serial number of their bike, even if it’s from the '60s.
If your new bicycle develops a fault early into its purchase, it's best to contact the manufacturer for repairs (or a replacement) instead of taking it to a local mechanic. Almost all bicycles (electric and regular) come with warranty periods, however some manufacturers require that customers provide certain details about their bicycle (e.g. serial number, model name, etc) before delivering on the product's warranty.
Not having your bicycle's serial number or model name & year could prevent you from claiming the manufacturer's warranty. So, how do you get all of this information back after losing it (or not even knowing it existed in the first place)?
What Is a Bike Model Number?
A bicycle's model number or serial number is a unique code engraved onto the bike's frame by the manufacturer for identification purposes. In most cases a bike's serial number will be a string of numeric digits, however, it's not uncommon to find a bicycle with an alphanumeric code as its model number.
This model number usually indicates the bike's make year and/ month. Some bicycle manufacturers will even engrave identical elements onto different bikes of the same model. This helps distinguish one model from others designed by the same manufacturer.
How Can I Tell What Model My Bike Is?
Determining the model of your bicycle, whether regular or electric, will depend on the amount of information available to you at any given time. The process is easy if you know the manufacturer's name and the bike's serial number.
With that info, you can figure out what model your bike is, get extra guidance from a local bike shop, or just reach out to the manufacturer directly. For example, Elliptigo (a manufacturer of elliptical bicycles) users can easily identify the model of their bicycles by matching certain elements in their serial numbers with predefined model identifiers.
So, for instance, if your Elliptigo bike has the numbers 1, 4, and 8, then you probably own an 8C model. Another good example is Trek's coding system. While Trek frame numbers don't exactly help riders identify their bike's model, it does provide a little insight into what day and year the unit was manufactured.
The problem, however, is trying to identify your bike's model using just its serial number. You see, bicycle serial numbers don't work like vehicle identification numbers.
The former acts as a way of keeping record of every bicycle designed by a particular manufacturer (almost because some vintage bicycles don't come with serial numbers). They usually don't have a standard format. In fact, bicycle manufacturers have the liberty to designate whatever digits they feel should be assigned to a particular unit.
This is unlike VINs that act as a vehicle's unique fingerprint. So, if you're trying to figure out your bike's model — and all you have is the serial number — your best bet would be to post images of said bicycle along with its serial number to a bike forum.
Chances are someone who's familiar with the brand — and the model — will stumble upon your post and give you detailed information on your bicycle.
How Do I Know My Bicycle Model Year?
Finding out the production date of your bicycle can be very frustrating - especially if you own an older-generation bike. In this section, we'll discuss a few tips that riders can use to discover the true age of their bikes.
1) Reach Out to Cycling Enthusiasts
These could be cyclist friends, local bike shop employees (or owners), or even random people on the internet (on forums like Cycle Chat and Bike Forums). Just ensure that you're providing as much information about the bicycle as possible (these include frame properties, images of specific parts, etc.).
2) Identifying Specific Components on the Bike
Like every one of man's inventions, bicycles have evolved over the years. As newer innovations are introduced, older technologies fade away and eventually die out.
This law also applies to bicycle components. You can use the parts on a bike to determine or predict what year it was made.
For example, if you own a classic-looking bicycle with index shifters, chances are your two-wheeler was made after the era of friction-shifting bicycles (1985 - current day). This method might not help you identify the exact model year of your bicycle, but you should start getting a more precise estimate as you date other components on the bike.
3) Use the Date Code in the Serial Number
Some brands include the manufacture date of their bikes in the product's serial number. This information is usually encoded and will oftentimes be represented by a single letter.
We gave an example of Trek encoding the day and year of manufacture into each of their modern bikes' serial numbers. The last letter in a Trek bike's serial number represents the production year.
In the image above, the letter "C" represents the bike's production year.
Riders can decode this letter on Vintage Trek under the "MID 90s 3-PART SERIAL NUMBERS" section. Another popular bike manufacturer that does this is Schwinn.
Can You Look Up a Bike Model by Serial Number?
It is almost impossible to look up a bike's model using just its serial number. As mentioned earlier, there is no standard format for encoding bicycle serial numbers.
Basically, it's just a string of numeric and alphabetic characters that differentiate one bicycle manufactured by a particular brand from others made by the same brand. It's not like a VIN that includes the car's country of origin, manufacturer code, plant code, serial number, security code, etc.
What Does a Bike Serial Number Look Like and How Do You Read It?
A bicycle's (or electric bicycle) serial number is a string of numeric and alphabetic characters.
They can be anywhere between six and ten digits in length and would usually include important information about the bike. Things like model code, production date, line number, etc.
For example, GT BMX bicycles built during the early 2000's were often engraved with 10-character serial numbers which contained five letters (usually the first five characters).
Out of these letters, the last two were used to indicate the bike's production year and month respectively. Below are tables of the letters used and what each represented.
What Year It Denotes
What Year It Denotes
So, if your GT BMX bike's serial number is HTHRG46826, the letters "R" and "G" indicate that the bicycle was manufactured in July, 2008.
To read the information contained in a bike's frame number, you'd first need to understand what each individual character stands for. Visit your bicycle manufacturer's official website to decode your unit's serial number.
If you're unable to find any useful resource on the brand website, you can contact their support team or run a quick Google (or YouTube) search on how to decode your bicycle's serial number.
What Can a Serial Number Tell You?
In some cases, serial numbers will tell a bike's model year, the exact day of the year that it was manufactured, its batch number, etc. However, this isn't always the case as most serial numbers are just digits engraved onto the frames of bicycles for easy identification.
Is the Model Number the Same as the Serial Number?
Generally speaking, both model and serial numbers mean the same thing. The only difference is a model number might include certain elements that are exclusive to bicycles of the same model.
For example, Aventon Level serial numbers might all begin with the letter "L".
How Can I Tell if a Bike Serial Number Is Stolen?
Are you looking to purchase a second-hand bicycle but don't want to end up with stolen goods? You can tell if a bicycle is stolen by running the serial number on databases like Bike Index and Bike Register.
If the bike is registered as stolen, avoid it (maybe even inform the police). Also if you're unable to locate the bike's serial number because it has been filed or covered with a thick film of paint, it's probably stolen.