Every year, the boys at Works Engineering in Williamsburg, Brooklyn host a motorcycle show. This Sunday was the 9th Annual Full Tilt Motorcycle Show. From sidecars, to 2-stroke Kawasakis and everything in between (as long as it’s old). We love this show.
Michael Circosta is the industrial designer behind the PLATEPULLER. We spent a few minutes with him chatting about what inspired him to make the Platepuller, his Frankensteiny original version, and how to keep the Platepuller itself from getting stolen.
Metzeler: We’ve seen these plate pullers everywhere in NYC. How did you come up with the idea for them?
Michael: A little over four years ago, when I started riding my motorcycle as a daily commuter, everyone was telling me about attaching your plate with Velcro to avoid theft. I started doing that and was paranoid that the plate was going to fall off, and actually had it pop off once. I started messing around with different ways of attaching it to my motorcycle. I do product development for a living and started cycling through different concepts, and came up with a really rough version of what I have now, made out of aluminum channels riveted to a flat plate. People started asking if they could buy it, and so I drew up the Platepuller’s first version. It was very close to what I have now, and I started selling them.
Metzeler: Nice! So you mocked it up out of random hardware parts?
Michael: Yeah, the U-channel aluminum you can buy at a hardware store, I put 3 sides of that on and riveted that to a piece of plastic. It looked like a Platepuller, but super Frankensteiny.
Mezeler: We just lost our own plate that was Velcroed on. We were on the highway, and now it’s gone forever.
Michael: The worst part of that is going to get a new one. You have to file the police report, and then go to the DMV. It’s such a hassle.
Metzeler: Totally! We still don’t have a new one. We went to the police station, they gave us a form, and it was the wrong one. When we went to the DMV, they sent us back to the police. The next time we went to the DMV their system was broken. We only just got the plate.
It’s also cool that there are no bolts holding the plate on. It looks really clean.
Michael: Yeah, a lot of people buy this thing not even to take the license plate out. A lot of them just like the aestetics of it. It’s a little bit cartooney in a way. I’ve seen a lot of people who just have it and don’t take the plate out.
Metzeler: It reminds us of old 90’s mountain bike parts, billet, anodized aluminum, way-overbuilt American design.
Michael: Laughs. The reason it’s aluminum… Obviously aluminum is awesome for this, but it’s way easier to make one hundred of something machining it than to spend $30,000 to make an injection mold. You end up with a crappy part you have to charge a lot for to make back your money. You will only break even if you sell thousands and thousands of them.
With the Platepuller, it’s really only a New York issue. I’ve sold some to other states–a couple people in California and Baltimore. But I’m still 99% New York customers. When I started I just wanted to do it on my own and make fifty to a hundred.
Metzeler: How many have you made?
Michael: As of right now, I’ve sold around 4000.
Metzeler: We were going to say! For this article we were looking around at bike night at The Ear, and they were on half the bikes, and on Broadway every bike seems to have one.
Michael: It’s not a real money maker for me, since I sell them mainly through motorcycle stores. The way store margins work you have to sell them to the stores much cheaper. But it’s awesome walking around the city and seeing them everywhere. Four years ago it was just this silly idea.
Metzeler: That’s really exciting. The idea of going around looking at them and thinking “I designed that, I designed that. That guy loves it.” They are really appealing. Kind cartoony, like you said. Do people ever steal the Platepullers themselves?
Michael: You know, I’ve never heard of it, but a couple people emailed me worried about that. If you’re worried about it you could put a security nut on the back. The other trick is to take a hand drill and drill out the Phillips slots on the front of the bolt. That makes it a real pain in the ass to steal. If you have to remove it you have an hour of fiddling time to permanently drill out those bolts.
Metzeler: Was it hard to set up the manufacturing here?
Michael: Not really, I have a background in it. I was a machinist in college to pay the bills, and now I do product design. It’s sort of a puzzle figuring out how to do it. The reason the Platepuller looks the way it does now is that this is the way I could do it. There are definitely tricks. Finding a machinist that is the right size. Sometimes huge companies make one thousand pieces minimum. The benefit of being in the US is that you can go visit the place. My machinist is just thirty minutes from me.
Metzeler: That makes sense. You said you are a designer. Are there any other motorcycle parts you make?
Michael: The other stuff I do is custom stuff for my own motorcycles. I’m really into modifying the bikes to suit my needs. I do a lot of one-off stuff, but haven’t done anything else that I turned into a product. The only way I can compete is on something where I don’t have a lot of competition. If I come up with a mass-market thing, there are probably a lot of other companies already doing it. I haven’t come up with another idea like this where there is a market that is empty.
Metzeler: Do you have any advice for people who also have ideas floating around in their heads?
Michael: It’s all out there now. There are people online making stuff. There is Kickstarter, there are all the Maker people, and people just messing with motorcycles. If people have ideas and are into tinkering and building things, there are a lot of companies and people who will explain how to make it into a product.
Metzeler: How do your engraved plates turn out?
Michael: They turn out nice. The laser pattern engraving is awesome. You can get 1000 dpi, photograph quality. It looks great. I started engraving because a lot of stores and motorcycle garages wanted their logo. People are proud of their logos and want them on there. It’s a lot of real-estate when you have the plate out. Some people have show bikes and ride them somewhere and when they take the plate out and have all the bike information there. I have patterns on the site. The sun and the skull are really popular.
Metzeler: Any celebrity owners?
Michael: Yeah. I don’t know personally of any celebrities, but I do know that one of the Madoffs bought one a while back.
For hours each day, Manhattan’s streets are choked with cars, bumper to bumper until the roads hit the edge of the island. Here, we propose a solution: a few changes the Department of Transportation and the MTA could make to reduce traffic without making anyone too upset.
Reducing traffic is a very different problem from lowering vehicle fatalities, encouraging bicycling, or improving the subway system. A driver’s cost of using a road is subsidized by the government and as such is artificially cheap. You wind up with people relying on cars for transport—and structuring their lives around cars—when they can’t actually afford to drive. That’s why there is a never-ending traffic jam in Manhattan. Where but the subsidized streets is there space to transport and store stuff nearly for free?
A congestion charge is not the way to solve traffic problems. It is complicated and expensive, and only makes the government rich. Additionally, it infuriates car drivers. All those car drivers are not an easy lot to convince. If you want to solve the traffic problem you have to do it in a way that is transparent or beneficial to car drivers.
The Government should care about all this traffic. It costs an awful lot: http://greeneconomics.blogspot.com/2007/08/some-arithmetic-on-cost-of-nyc-traffic.html People need to move so they can work. A taxpayer sitting in traffic isn’t much good to the tax collectors of NYC.
Who else cares? Tourists. People like to go on vacation to places like Mackinac Island, Lugano, Florence, Venice, Zermatt, Santa Barbara, and Central Park. All have walkable pedestrian districts. People LIKE being pedestrians, even if they daydream about cars.
Cars can be managed without cameras and police. In England, traffic lights are not above or behind an intersection. They are just before the intersection. This means that drivers do not have the information to creep halfway through an intersection, since they must wait in a place where the light is visible. You can use roundabouts at big intersections to flow cars better than traffic lights. In the evening, traffic lights must be turned off in little neighborhoods. The intersections turn into 4-way stops.
Most crucially, NYC must encourage motorcycling. Cars are an ineffective way to use an urban street. Many drivers don’t know how to parallel park, they block intersections, and they take up a ton of space when parked.
The answer to the world’s urban traffic congestion may be as simple as creating policies to promote motorcycle commuting.
A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.
The study, which was presented at the Association des Constructeurs Européens de Motocycles (ACEM) 2012 Conference in Brussels, found that if 10 percent of all private cars were replaced by motorcycles in the traffic flow of the test area, total time losses for all vehicles decreased by 40 percent and total emissions reduced by 6 percent (1 percent from the different traffic composition of more emission-reduced motorcycles and 5 percent from avoided traffic congestion).
Studies by Transportation Alternatives have shown that 15%-45% of drivers in Manhattan are trolling for parking, and observation suggests that a lot of those drivers pass up spots that they could fit in—just because they lack parallel parking skills.’
Sounds like the City is ripe for a shift toward more motorcycling. Right now there is no incentive to ride a motorcycle. Tolls are $11 vs $12 for a car, the class costs ~$300, and the city doesn’t offer a secure place to lock a motorcyle and it costs the same to park a car as it does a motorbike, even though motorbikes use much less street space.
In order to encourage motorcycling, NYC need not build any new infrastructure. NYC could drastically reduce traffic–thereby increasing tax revenue–by simply eliminating the rule that says motorcycles need to pay Munimeter fees, subsidizing to a greater extent the MSF safety courses, and reducing bridge and tunnel tolls to 0%-30% of that of cars. People would switch to motorcycles in droves.
Car drivers need more training on how to parallel park. NYC DOT should offer an online course that explains to car drivers how to parallel park and drive in the city. In exchange, they could get a discount on parking or an EZ-Pass credit.
People’s riding experiences are so, so varied. The majority of our rides are to work and back. In Manhattan, that means we’re dodging cars and cabs, avoiding absent-minded pedestrians, and snaking our way past potholes, diesel spills, and the slippery slime that the street sweepers spray down.
At the moment, we begin each weekday with a blast from the East Village to City Hall. That’s not the most glamorous commute, but it can take you past the Dim Sum restaurants of Chinatown and its crowded, narrow streets, or down the less fancy part of Broadway. You can look even rub shoulders with the Municipal Building or take in the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges if you choose the FDR. It may not be a long commute, but the variety to be had by choosing different paths through the grid is unparalleled. It certainly never feels repetitive.
So, let’s see your commutes. The easiest way to post yours is to go to maps.google.com, type in your starting and ending points, then drag the route to match the one you take. After that, click the link icon, select “Short URL”, and post the resulting link!
A few weeks ago, our license plate was stolen off our Ducati. We went straight to the police station to file a report, and were given an MV-78 number to give to the DMV in order to get a new plate. There the hassle began.
At the DMV, we were told that we needed not just the MV-78, but the police report. A few days later we returned with both, but now the DMV system was down and the line looked like it was hours long.
Last week, we needed to ride up to White Plains, New York, so we wrote our plate number on a piece of cardboard, kept the police report in our pocket, and rode North.
Turns out that we had received a bill—not a ticket—back in 2006 for getting a few points on our license, and it had been sent to the wrong address. We’d never been notified, so it went unpaid, and eventually our license had been suspended. It turns out that New York actually had two records for us, one that was valid and one that was suspended. Of course, we were riding with a valid inspection, registration, and insurance.
Even so, our bike was impounded, we had to pay the $100 fee to the NY DMV, $200 in late fees, and $300 in towing and impound fees.
How could this have been avoided? Well, that’s not immediately clear. We had never heard of this other driving record, but had we immediately switched our MI license to a NY license when we moved to NY, this likely never would have happened.
We always ride with a license, registration, and insurance, and fix any issues with our bikes as soon as possible. It means less hassle in the event of getting pulled over, and reduced liability in the event of a crash. Somewhat surprisingly, all Hells Angels do too. They want as little police attention as possible, so they’re meticulous about keeping their bikes in tip-top shape and carry their papers as well.