Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Rat Race


In these days of new bikes costing many thousands of pounds and taking forever to pay off, then losing their value dramatically as well as their appeal, I believe the rat bike has an interesting role, and this is surely reflected in the increasing numbers seen on the road. A rat bike comes in any size, has little or no chrome or bright alloy to clean, paintwork has long since lost its shine, there are no expensive fittings, and only basic instrumentation and switchgear. It will be roadworthy even if it doesn’t look it.

In the past, I’d owned new motorcycles but was always worried about them being stolen or damaged, even the first paint chip was a major disaster. After six months I was sick of it and started wondering why I’d paid out so much money in the first place. The rat bike can be changed as often as needed at little cost most of the materials can be bought from Halfords.

I would like to tell you the story of my rat bike which is a very economical, reliable and practical Honda 400cc Superdream. The starting point is to find a cheap motorcycle with lots of cosmetic decay but a sound engine and chassis. My Superdream was in fair condition, with a full MOT and had original paintwork with pitted alloy on the engine. I initially bought the bike to supplement my CD200, and my first ride was to the Kent Custom Show where I became aware of the increasing numbers of rat bikes in amongst the proper customs. I decided to rat my bike.

I thought a good way to start was to throw the round headlamp away and fit a RS250 rectangular item I had lying around in the garage; it didn’t half change the look of the front of the bike. The clocks and warning lights were modified to leave just the speedo (without plastic surround) supported by two pieces of wire twisted around the handlebars, whilst the bare ignition switch was placed nearby. I poked numerous holes in the side panels and tail piece and inserted metal studs. ~ Then the tank and side panels were plastered with satin black spray paint. The engine (and a £70 Motad 2-1) were sprayed with heat resistant black paint.

I had transformed my Superdream from red and alloy to totally black. The handlebars, shocks, front forks and mudguards were also painted black. I purchased a pair of genuine World War II ammo boxes for £2.50 each and whilst in the Army & Navy store noticed some camouflage netting... Back home, I fitted a carrier after painting it, er, black, and welded on a few brackets to which the ammo boxes were bolted. The camoflague netting was wrapped around the tank and sidepanels, transforming the appearance at very little cost. I also added some chicken wire over the headlamp just to add to the effect. Thus, I now own a typical rat bike at very little additional cost to the original two hundred notes I paid for the bike.

It is no less usable than stock, but is unique and very good fun. I get quite a few funny looks and people keep asking me what it is and what it once was, which is pretty good going for what was once one of the UK’s top selling bikes.

One of the beauties of rat bikes is that you don't have to worry about them being stolen or damaged or even cleaning the things. By the time a thief has got over his shock he’s probably decided it’s not worth nicking or is dangerous to ride. Dents actually add to its character I’m sure some rat owners actually inflict bodily harm to their machines just to add to the effect. And cleaning merely consists of touching up with the first can of black paint that comes to hand.

That’s not to say that I don’t look after my machine. It recently passed its MOT first time with no problems. I do regular oil changes, tappet and tensioner checks. I’ve had to fit one new cam chain so far, but it’s nearly ten years old, so I can’t complain over that. I add things to it as I think of them and when I become tired of it, I'll change it completely.

That is the beauty of rat bikes, you never run short of ideas for things to do to them. I really enjoy riding around on the rat and hope to see even more on the road.

Barry Maltas

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