If the very idea of cleaning your bike gives you the spooks and you'd rather drink a bottle of spray polish than actually apply it, there's a club of quacks that would love to have you.
The trend of deliberately customizing bikes to look as if they've been left in a ditch for decades isn't hugely popular in the U.S., but overseas the Europeans love their rat bikes and spare no glimpse of sanity in accomplishing their apocalyptic visions. Though purposely making a bike look "ratty" might seem a bit contrary to the rat purists' ideals that the bikes should evolve into horrible heaps naturally, we didn't bother with such theories and gathered a selection of some of the gnarliest specimens on the road.
Many rat bikes began their (second) life as salvage crashed bikes. Although based on a similar notion as the streetfighter (though much more radical in its approach), the basic idea for this type of custom motorcycle is to build a truly individual bike. Where the rat factor comes in is that the rides are created from the leftovers of our "throw-away" society. Building a unique bike that gives the highway salute to the expectations and conventions of the consumerist mainstream is at the heart of the rat-bike culture-not just thinking it's a good time to ride shit bikes.
The build themes tend to be as black as the plague and the rodent that's blamed for spreading it. Oftentimes there are actual specimens of the Rattus Rattus on many of the machines.
Some rat rides proclaim their owner's personal beliefs; others might display small pearls of wisdom etched on engine covers or on a tire's sidewall. The main staples are always there, though: the sacred matte black, dead animals and other extreme forms of decoration that make most bike enthusiasts cringe.
Obviously, high-performance parts and a show-quality appearance aren't high on the rat-biker's agenda, but instead they use the bikes as a means to attend the events hosted for their like-minded counter culture. The largest gathering of rat bikes in Europe happens each summer in the Netherlands at the Dutch Hardly Rideables show, but earlier in the year the diehard enthusiasts would already have met for their unofficial spring break in England-the annual U.K. Rat and Survival Show in Nottingham.
Like-minded bikers from all over Europe line their elaborately decorated wrecks and grossed-out monstrosities up and down the canals for a sightseeing spectacle. Packs of bastardized GPz turbos, Yamaha XS 650s and Honda CX 500s are the most common, but there's occasionally even a few modern rats trickled into the mix.
Though it's a bizarre notion for most of us who prefer to clean the grime away with a toothbrush and elbow grease, this group of custom-bike builders must be recognized for its creativity. And if you can't find it within yourself to give them respect then just enjoy them for their utter lunacy.
Surviving The PlagueSurvival bikes may appear to be rat bikes, but they definitely are not. For many, both rat and survival bikes present an ideological alternative to the mainstream. Imagine a post-apocalyptic wasteland, nothing but sand and a Geiger counter happily crackling away. Survival is the name of the game-you use whatever parts you manage to lay your hands on.
The concept common to all survival bikes has been around long before it was popularized by the movie The Road Warrior-recycling. Whether it be road kill, tin cans or cut-to-length water pipes that function as instrument holders, they're all trophies that were picked up along the way to serve some purpose.