Tag Archives: Brent Patterson

The Effect of One Number Plate

From the first time I saw one in the Jan./Feb. 1979 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine, I wanted a Bob Haro number plate. Not only did they look cool and give every rider who used one an air of  invincibility, they represented the pinnacle of  California BMX chic.  By July that year, photos in the BMX magazines showed three types of Haro plates in two shapes. There were Haro’s original hand-made plates in round and square, the interim Bob Haro’s Factory Plates, also in round and square, and the best-known Haro Pro Plates—the one with the lightning bolts. My fave, the square Factory Plate.

This was one of the first photos I ever saw of a square Factory Plate. I wanted one so badly. To this day, I've never seen one in real life.

I wanted a square Haro plate so badly, but BMX stuff like that was impossible to find in Dayton, Ohio, at the time. By the time I saw one in the July issue of BMXA, Haro had long since stopped making them and had switched to the Pro Plate graphics. Of course, I didn’t know this. I just assumed my local bike shops were too lame to order and stock them. By the time Haro plates made their way to Ohio, all you could get was the Pro Plates. (I got my only Haro ProPlate or my birthday in 1980. It was red and black.) After doing a fair amount of research (I still haven’t asked Bob Haro.), as far as I can tell, Haro made one run of the Factory Plates. Maybe he only made 100 or so. However many and for however long he made them, it wasn’t a lot and it wasn’t for long. To this day, I still haven’t seen a real Factory Plate, either round or square, in real life. I’ve only heard of one rumored to be for sale. It was round, well-used and in SE colors. The price—$800.

Three people have sent me this photo asking if I could replicate it.

When I started making my replica plates, I did so only for myself. I borrowed an old plate from a friend and used it to make a template. I used my computer to design the graphics and to make patterns I used to hand cut colored vinyl. When I tried to build my first prototype plate with my patterns, I discovered a problem. The graphics didn’t fit. I had traced a Type 2 Plate and designed Pro Plate graphics. Until then, I had no idea there was even a difference between the Pro Plate and the later Type 2. So, I set out to find an Pro Plate. As luck would have it, I found a hand-made Haro plate to trace. A hand-made plate was what I wanted to use, but I assumed I’d never see one.

As before, I made a template, cut out a couple of blanks and then decorated them with colored vinyl I cut from some old scraps I had. I also used two vintage Haro Panel Covers I had been saving for the day when I figured out how to make a decent number plate. The plates looked pretty good. I was stoked. I got some flack from the diehard anti-reproduction crowd, but that was expected. Others asked me to make a plate for them. I wasn’t ready. Then, I bought more vinyl and made a couple of plates based on the handmade plates Clint Miller and Eddy King ran in 1978. They looked great. I was ready to make a few for sale. That’s when I first saw the $800 Factory Plate.

My first Pro Plate-style prototype.

Over the past six months, three of my customers have sent me the same photo of that plate along with their requests for me to reproduce it. My first-ever customer was the first of the three. He wanted an SE-colored plate for his OM Flyer and that was the plate he had in mind. (It was him, by the way, who told me it was for sale. He had considered buying it, but couldn’t see paying more than $500 for it.) At the time, I was still building plates using a mix of  hand-cut and computer-cut vinyl. I had no way to do details like the black outline and the “Factory Plates” logo. He was cool with that. I built him a plate in brown and light blue. It was nice.

The first SE plate

Months later, another guy sent me the same pic of the same plate, asking if I could make it. By then, my skills had been honed and I was using a computer-controlled vinyl cutter and the black outline and logos were within my ability. His plate was brown and blue and had a couple of small SE logos and a black outline around the center oval like the original in the photo. I also added a number 7 and the word Expert like had had on his old race bike.

SE plate number 2.

About a week later, I got my third request for the same plate. I made him a plate similar to the one  the last guy got, but decided to try something new, too. I had been experimenting with digitally printed graphics. Printing meant I could do more complicated graphics and, I had hoped, would reduce production time and complexity. But I had reservations about the process. Sure, it was a little more convenient, but would the quality stand up?

The first printed plate I made was for a guy who wanted a Wizard plate. He sent me a photo and  two dimensions (width and height) and asked me to recreate one for his JMC 3.1 XL. I did. It turned out nice, I thought.  The buyer loved it and said he’d be buying another when his next bike build was completed. I made a similar plate in black and yellow for my Torker rider/race bike. I wanted to test the durability of the process and material. Not long afterward, a second JMC owner asked for one. Since the plate on my Torker was holding up well, I decided to make one for him. He loved it, too. I took their approval as an indication that the quality was good.

I used this photo to design and make a custom plate for a customer.

I made this plate to test the durability of printed graphics.

When the third SE-colored Factory Plate request came in, I thought I’d try making one digitally, not for the customer, but as a test. I also made a few ovals printed with the black outline and the Factory Plates logo and a bunch of two-color numbers. Everything turned out pretty cool. I made a second Factory Plates sticker, in Torker colors of course, that I have yet to mount. It also looks good.

A Factory Plate prototype based on the plate above.

I showed the “SE” plate and numbers to a couple of my best customers and their feedback was super positive. One guy wants me to use the digital process to recreate his holy-grail of number plates—an Aero Stadium Plate. “I’ve been chasing this plate since my childhood,” he said. I think it’s going to happen. Like the Wizard plate, I’ll be designing it using photographs.

So, I’ve reached a place where I must decide how far I want to go with this number plate project. What stared out as a simple question that I asked myself, “I wonder if I can figure out how to make a number plate exactly like the ones Haro made?” and the desire to put number plates on all my bikes, has turned into a tidy little business, with the emphasis on little. It’s a business that takes loads of my time, however, and one that has yet to provide me with enough of an income to quit my “day job.” (My day job, by the way, is applying for jobs.)

I now offer six different hand-cut and molded shapes—Pro Round, Original Square, 44-16 Square, 44-16 Mini/New-School Cruiser, Wizard Large and Type 2—with cut vinyl or for the Wizard plate only, digital graphics. And all are custom made-to-order. It’s a complex and slow process, but one that ensures high quality and, so far, perfect customer satisfaction. (Almost all of my customers have come back for more plates.) It was this process, however, that led me to announce last fall that I’d make 100 plates, then stop. I assumed by the time I made 80, I’d be ready to shoot myself and 100 would be my limit. But, the truth is, at just over 60 plates made, I really like making them. That said, I have yet to make any serious capital investments (I could sure use a nice vinyl cutter and a quad-core iMac.), so it’s not too late to stop at 100.

The Forty Four 16 number plate catalog has grown to include six shapes and a variety of graphics options.

For now, while I remain unemployed and with plenty of free time on my hands, I’ll keep making them “the old fashioned way.” But keep an eye on this blog for news and announcements regarding new products an changes here at Forty Four 16 Design World HQ.


The History of BMX Number Plates—The Early Days

Custom BMX Number Plate Timeline*

1972: First organized BMX races take place in Southern California. Pie plates and motorcycle motocross plates and numbers are the standard.

1977: Bob Haro, Dennis Dain and many other young racers start customizing their own plates. Haro begins selling custom-made numbers to local Southern California racers. Later, he starts making custom number plates, using his hand-cut vinyl numbers and Preston Petty number plates.

August 1978: Bicycle Motocross Action magazine features Haro’s Factory Plates in the “Products” section. The write-up says, “Each Factory Plate is unique and original. Haro hand cuts the numbers from several colors of glossy adhesive vinyl, sticks ‘em on a genuine Preston Petty unbreakable number plate, pre-drills and rivets the mounting holes and even includes four tie downs.” Price was $6, which included shipping and handling. ($6 in 1978 is equal to $20 today.)

According to Bob, many of his early plates, including the Pro Plates that would come later, were decorated with Contact paper, which he said, “didn’t stick very well and would get dirty right away and peel off.”

October 1978: Bicycle Motocross Action magazine runs a pictorial titled “Number Plates. . .an Art From.” It features a variety of customized plates. Most are standard oval and square plates with a variety of custom and homemade numbers and lost of stickers. One plate is made from clear acrylic.

December 1978: First contoured Haro plate (Pro Plate-type) appears on the cover of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. Brent Patterson is using a blue, orange and yellow hand-cut vinyl plate. Instead of darts or lightning bolts to cover the seam between the two main colors, Haro used a simple rectangle. This is one of Haro’s earliest hand-molded plates and was like made using Contact paper.

January 1979: DG pro rider Clint Miller is on the cover of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine with a custom-made Haro Pro Plate. It’s done in yellow with blue darts. The issue shows that many racers were now running Haro’s plates, among them, Jeff Bottema, Eddy King, David Clinton, Jeff Ruminer, John Crews and Brent Patterson. At this time, Haro was making the plates in his kitchen (and or bedroom).

March 1979: Haro runs his first ad in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. The ad features the Pro Plate Round and Pro Plate Square models. Both are made from hand-molded LDPE with hand-cut vinyl and have lightning bolts. Many of Haro’s lightning bolts at this time were made with chrome vinyl. Each plate had a signature and date on the back. 

A sampling of number plates made by Bob Haro in 1978.

One of Haro's first ads. It shows round and square handmade plates.

May 1979: Cover of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine shows six pro racers. Of those, five are using Haro Pro Plates. The sixth, Dennis Dain, is running one of his own custom-made plates. Mongoose racer Brain Curnell’s plate is a Pro Plate Square. Also note the DG rider with the 2072 plate. it’s the same plate hat appears in the above ad. The yellow is missing from the top. It was likely made with Contact paper and peeled off soon after the rider started using it. Many photos of riders at this time show them missing one, both or all the colored panels. Stu Thomsen raced with a plain plate for a long time. In the same issue, BMXA featured the Factory Plates in “The Hots” column. The article says Haro was in the process of moving away from making “one-off original. . .individual works of arts” to production plates. He also was discussing distribution deals. An Oakley ad shows Bobby Encinas, Stu Thomsen and Jeff Bottema with custom Haro Factory Plates. Haro also was making custom plates for DG’s new limited-edition California Pro bikes. Haro’s Factory Plate ad in the issue introduced the Werks numbers. It’s around this time that Haro begins renting space in the BMXA building.

July 1979: Another cover shot for Haro, this time on Harry Leary’s JMC. Bicycle Motocross Action-branded Haro Pro Plates are available for the first time for $9.95 (Approximately $32 when adjusted for inflation.). They are still made with hand-molded LDPE but the graphics are silk-screened on vinyl instead of hand-cut vinyl. They came in one color—yellow and blue with lightning bolts and the Bicycle Motocross Action logo. Haro Werks numbers are 6 inches tall, solid black and cost 50¢ each. The Haro Factory Plate ad shows a hand-made plate, but the accompanying Haro illustration shows the “Factory Plate” logo for the first time. Cook Brothers plates appear in the magazine for the first time.

October 1979: Thruster’s Timmy Judge gets the cover of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine with a custom-made Haro plate. Round and Square silk-screened Factory Plates appear throughout the issue, as well as numerous handmade plates. One Haro illustration shows a Pro Plate with the “Haro” logo on it. Up to this point, Haro was using the Factory Plates logo in his illustrations. The Haro ad is bigger and shows the Round Pro Plate with lightning bolts and the “Haro” logo. Available team colors included Redline, DG, Mongoose and Torker. Werks numbers are available in solid black or white. The original one-piece Haro Handle also appears for the first time. Company is now referred to as Haro Designs instead of Factory Plates. Square Pro Plates are no longer available.

November 1979: Bicycle Motocross Action magazine’s annual Buyer’s Guide features BMXA-branded Haro Pro Plates as well as Haro’s Factory Plates with the out-dated Factory Plate logo.

December 1979: JT offers JT/Haro Replica Plates in three colors and two-color JT Dirt Digit numbers. Jeff Ruminer is pictured with a solid black plastic Haro-style plate. (Manufacturer unknown.) 

March 1980: Neal Enterprise’s Proto Plates appear in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. They were available in flat, colored plastic with silk-screened graphics. The handlebar “wings” were not formed like Pro Plates. All varieties of Haro-made plates appear in various photos. 

April 1980: Haro runs half-page black and white ad in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine.

June 1980: Curiously, BMXA SE Quadangle test bike has a Proto Plate on it. Until now, all test bikes were equipped with Haro BMXA plates.

July 1980: BMXA CYC Panther test bike has a JT Plate.

August 1980: MCS Hot Plates appear in ad in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. Like Pro Plates, the Hot Plates were made from contoured LDPE. BMXA Kuwahara test bike has an MCS Hot Plate on it. 

November 1980: Haro runs full-page black and white ad. Ad features Pro Plate, two-color Werks numbers and Haro Panel Covers in green and black. BMXA Scorpion test bike has an MCS Hot Plate.

February 1981: Haro runs full-color, full-page ad in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. Zeronine advertises number plates and numbers. They are flat and have multi-colored fire-themed graphics.

April 1981: Most of Diamondback Team runs modified Haro plates. The lower color (yellow?) is removed so plates are black and “white” with lightning bolts.
 Jason Jensen’s bike has custom, one-off, black Haro plate. 

June 1981: Haro Series One and Wizard plates start showing up in magazines. Both are made from contoured LDPE. Hot Inc. drops “MCS” from Hot Plate logo. RL Osborn is running a yellow and blue Haro Pro Plate with black Haro Panel Cover and his name and BMXA logo in white.

July 1981: Uni Plates appear in Bicycle Motocross Action ad. BMXA Trick Team switches from Haro to Wizard Plates. Some pros pictured using Haro Type 2 plates.

September 1981: Type 2 and Series One plates now the norm with Pros. Both are made from contoured LDPE and have Velcro fasteners. Coincides with the trend to use wider, flatter-bend handlebars. Max starts selling Max/Haro Pro Plate-style number plates for $10.95. Pro Neck Cam (flat) and Saber (flat but folded to create aerodynamic profile) plates advertised. BMXA-branded plates available in all Haro Pro Plate color combos for $9.95. Neal Enterprises offers Werks Oval stickers and Pro Line numbers. No Haro ad in BMXA.

November 1981: Haro runs full-color, full-page ad for Type 2 plate and Haro Handle in Super BMX magazine. Vera’s unveils number plates.

December 1981: Aero introduces contoured LDPE Stadium Plates. Zeronine introduces three sizes of Airflow plates with colored Velcro. The plates are made from perforated colored plastic. Neal Enterprises replaces Proto Plate with contoured LDPE Type 2-style plate. BMXA now selling BMXA-branded Neal plates in four colors. JT now sells flat plastic plates. (Manufacturer unknown.)

January 1983: Haro advertises colored Series One and Color plates and Stadium numbers in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine. Haro Flow Panel Plates also appear in magazines. These are no longer made from LDPE, but rather injection molded plastic. Aero, JT and others introduce number plates with “open” faces for better air flow-through.

April 1983: BMXA closes out BMXA-branded Neal plates at the discount price of $8.95. They are no longer advertised by June.

May 1983: Steve Veltman pictured in Bicycle Motocross Action magazine with a black and silver Hutch plate. Robinson ad shows Haro Series One Mini plates.

Summer 1983: Haro introduces injection-molded Tech Plate and injection-molded plastic numbers. 

*All info was gathered from a variety of BMX publications between 1978 and 1983, though the collection of magazine was in no way comprehensive. Introduction dates are based on the cover dates of the magazines, which may have been three to four (maybe more) months behind the date of actual introduction. Info is regarding U.S.-based number plate market only.