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How to Check the VIN Numbers on Your Harley, The Cops in Sturgis Will, So You Should Too

It might seem crazy, but every year, a ton of motorcycles are stolen during the Sturgis Rally. Expensive, custom and  show bikes are the most popular with thieves and on average,  a quarter of a million dollars worth of motorcycles are stolen during each year at the event.

With that in mind, here’s how to lower the risk of your bike being stolen:

  • Watch where and how you park. Avoid dark, poorly-lit areas and attention to any people standing around eyeballing your bike.
  • Don’t leave leathers, cameras, souvenirs, etc. on your bike. Your bike might be there when you get back, your cargo won’t.
  • Lock your motorcycle, and that means something more than the factory ignition switch. Those locks are easily defeated by thieves. High-quality disc locks, wheel locks, and heavy cable or chain locks will generally do the trick and thieves will look for an easier mark when they see them on your bike.

A little prevention and documentation go a long way, and if your bike has been stolen, you’ll be glad you took the time to have it on hand.

Every Harley-Davidson motorcycle (and for that matter most bikes from all manufacturers made after the  1940’s) carry a unique vehicle identification number (VIN) which insurance companies and the DMV use to identify them. A VIN is also used to track maintenance schedules, warranty claims and recalls.

For motorcycles built between the 1930s and 1969, the engine number serves as the VIN. For motorcycles built between 1970 and 1980, the numbers are located on a plate attached to the frame and the engine. The number on the frame is considered the legal VIN on bikes built after 1969.

A VIN on Harley’s made until 1980 vary in length, but from 1981 on, Harleys sport a 17-digit VIN number.

Now to check it out, because the police at Sturgis most certainly will.

Locate the VIN on the Harley and write it down on a piece of paper. Go to the Harley-Davidson VIN Decoder website and enter your 17-digit Harley VIN number. The decoder will return you a wealth of information in  a report which includes model, engine type and the year of manufacture. If your bike was built before 1981, call Harley Davidson at 414-343-4056 and a customer service representative will look up information about your bike for you.

Why is this important before you take your trip to Sturgis? Being miles from home and finding out that your bike is loaded with stolen parts or that the VIN numbers don’t match would be a true horrorshow.

Officers walk along Main Street in Sturgis looking for parts that don’t seem right for a particular model and serial numbers which may have been covered or altered. If they spot them, they immediately believe they’ve found a stolen bike.

The enforcement teams include stolen vehicle experts from other states, representatives from three insurance companies, a team of Sturgis policeman, South Dakota Highway Patrol troopers and Iowa State Police troopers.

Last year, that team recovered nine stolen bikes and nearly 50 in three years working during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“We’re not here looking for people smoking a joint or drinking a beer,” said Robert Kenney, a Connecticut State Police Sergeant who leads the team. “We’re looking for stolen motorcycles. And I know we’ve made a difference.”

If you ride a custom or high-end bike, your insurance needs are a little more complicated than those of the casual rider. We’re here to help…

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