Michael Circosta on designing the Plate Puller

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Michael Circosta is the industrial designer behind the Plate Puller. We spent a few minutes with him chatting about what inspired him to make the Plate Puller, his Frankensteiny original version, and how to keep the Plate Puller itself from getting stolen.

Nick: 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. It was made out
of aluminum channels that were riveted to a flat plate. People started asking if they could
buy it, and so I drew up the Plate Puller’s first version, which is very close to what I have
now. And then I started selling them.

Nick: 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 Plate Puller, but super Frankensteiny.

Nick: We just lost our own plate that was Velcroed on, a while ago on the highway, and it was 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.

Nick: Totally! We still don’t have a new one. We went to the police station, they gave us a form, it was the wrong one, so 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.

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 aesthetics of it. It’s a little bit cartoony in a way. I’ve seen a lot of people who just have it and don’t take the plate out.

Nick: 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 Plate Puller, 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.

Nick: How many have you made?

Michael: As of right now, I’ve sold around 4,000.

Nick: 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. All up and down Broadway, every bike seems to have one.

Michael: It’s not a real moneymaker for me, since I sell them mainly through motorcycle stores. The way store margins work you have to sell them to them much cheaper. But it’s awesome walking around the city and seeing them everywhere. Four years ago it was just this silly idea.

Nick: That’s really exciting. The idea of going around looking at them and thinking “I designed that, I designed that. That guy loves it.” Plate Pullers have an appealing design. A bit cartoony, like you said. Do people ever steal the Plate Pullers 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.

Nick: 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 Plate Puller 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.

Nick: 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.

Nick: 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.

Nick: How do your engraved plates turn out?

Michael: They turn out nice. The laser pattern engraving is awesome. You can get 1000dpi, 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.

Nick: 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.

Nick’s a longtime HFL contributor and friend and runs Metzeler’s bike blog.

  • Coreyvwc

    Benefit of working in the aircraft industry, my plate is permanently attached via titanium hi-lok fasteners. #unfuckwithable

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      So how do you pull it off when you park on a sidewalk?

      • Cro

        Sorry, I’m ignorant; Why pull it off in that instance? No plate = No citation??

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          That’s the unspoken USP of this product.

          • http://www.codyk.net codyk

            Glad I read all the way down to the comments so I would understand the real point of this thing.

            /californian

            • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

              Same here, any vehicle without plate(s) will be ticketed and/or impounded.
              Also having to go to the DMV to get your plates sucks, i can order mine online or just ask my repair shop or dealership.

              /french

            • Daan

              Same here. Over here nobody steals plates and we can park wherever we damn well please.

              Also we have a system where they add a small 1 to your new plate when it got stolen. So people riding around with your old plate will instantly be pulled over when the cops check the plate.

              /Dutch

            • Dani Peral

              Parking in the sidewalk is mostly legal or permitted here, so we dont use cars’ parking space. Plus, there are plenty spaces reserved for bikes. Parking without a plate is illegal here and they will use the chassis number to identify and ticket you.

              /spanish

          • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

            Wouldn’t no plate make it technically illegal to have on the street (sidewalk)? If the council was going to be stupid about it they would just tow the bike I’m guessing…?

            Interesting point though… never considered that around here.

            Too bad if you get a parking inspector nazi who just does a stakeout on your bike!

          • JC

            I got hit by a meter maid bastard earlier this year for sidewalk parking…he took the time to ticket my VIN

          • 85gripen

            Do you have knowledge of L.A. people parking on sidewalks using this product? Wouldn’t the meter maid either note the VIN or call for a tow truck to impound the bike? Seems like it’d be potentially more expensive than a parking ticket.

      • Coreyvwc

        Strangely enough I’ve never had a need or desire to park on the sidewalk, even here in SoCal (gasp).

    • doublet

      unless you have a pair of vice grips and the proper allen key…

  • Glenngineer

    Crazy…this isn’t a problem in Boston.

    • ike6116

      I wouldn’t go that far, I’ve parked on the Greenway parking lot at bike stancheons that are NEVER used by anything other than a vespa.

      This is cool during the colder months when Im basically the only one riding but in the summer I immediately get a tag from the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy saying they’ve taken my plate number and will have me towed the next time it happens.

      I can park on the street in certain spots (you have to learn in a trial by fire what spots those are) in the Financial District but it seems towards the end of july quota time comes around and too many H-D’s who aren’t there when there’s a 10% chance of rain start clogging shit up and there’s a week or two of binge ticketing.

  • Cro

    Ahhh. Gotcha. Must be general practice in places like NYC (?)…I don’t see a lot of it in SoCal.

  • wwalkersd

    Don’t you get ticketed for not having a plate if you park on the street without one? It’s not like they can’t look you up from the VIN anyway, but most (all?) states require you to display a plate. Not a problem if your bike is covered, I guess.

    • Kevin

      Technically it’s illegal, but the meter maids don’t go to the trouble of looking up your VIN (at least here in DC) for fear of touching the bike and potentially messing something up. I usually lock the steering so you can’t actually see the VIN and have a motion sensing disc lock alarm for good measure in case they get touchy-feely. Preventing tickets and preventing thievery have a common thread- make it harder for them to do it to your bike than the one next to it. Oh and don’t park in a tow-away zones.

      • dan

        But now NYC will tow your bike as abandoned property if it doesn’t have the plate. It sends around huge truck and piles motos and scooters in a campaign. The bikes get damaged, you have to find where they towed yours to, and then when you do, pay hundreds of dollars to get it back.

        • Mike in NYC

          This happened to a friend of mine, somebody stole the plate and then they towed it, resulting in trips to the precinct, DMV, tow pound, and repair shop. And so I pay for a garage.

  • The other Joe

    It’s things like this that make me glad that I live hundreds of miles from any real city. I hate cities, you’re constantly surrounded by people that are trying to take something from you. what sort of loser just takes something that doesn’t belong to them! When I go to the store I put my gloves in my helmet and just hang the helmet on the rear footpeg. Nothing is locked up. Hell, sometimes I leave the key in the ignition and throw my gloves on top of it!

    • stefano

      for comparison- living in nyc i’ve had so many bike covers stolen that i buy them three at a time. sure enough the first of the last batch was gone about 2 weeks ago. number two is on there now and the third is lying in wait in my kitchen cabinet.

      why people why? is there really such a lucrative black market for used bike covers out there?

    • jim

      ” sometimes I leave the key in the ignition and throw my gloves on top of it!”

      I do the same thing…..we’re lucky !

  • RT Moto

    Hmmm never seen that as a problem around here. Maybe it’s a NYC thing.

  • Mr.Paynter

    I would HATE to live somewhere where bike and bike-accessory theft is so high!

    As bad as crime can be in South Africa, motorcyles seem largely off the crime agenda!

  • pplassm

    More evidence that humanity is doomed.

  • Derek

    I’m from the mid-west (MI/OH border). Who the hell steals a license plate? Moreover, why steal them only off of two-wheeled vehicles? Cars parked on the street all have plates to pick off. Why not take those? What’s the purpose of stealing a plate off of anything besides random vandalism?

  • parrell456

    This product is… dumb. Nice execution though, but little else.

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      This product is nicely executed, and serves a specific purpose within a niche market. Kudos.

      FTFY.