The Way of the Rat
(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my bike.)
by Tony Marx and Bryon Crandall
Ask 10 different people to define the term “Rat Bike” and you’ll get 14 different answers, though a few criteria will certainly end up in most people’s response. First and foremost is that when something breaks it must be fixed as cheaply as possible and preferably with something that’s already lying around. Second there should be parts from some other bike attached to the original bike, though said parts need not be from a motorcycle. Lastly, nothing should shine. If it does then a flat spraycan finish must be applied somewhere to offset the shine. All five bikes shown here adhere to at least one of these rat rules. Enjoy.
This is Tex. At first I wasn’t that interested in his bike the “FZ?” as he calls it. It’s an ’86 FZ750 with an ’87 FZR1000 motor stuck inside along with the forks, triples clamps, front wheel, brakes & swingarm from an 88 FZR1000. A chunky rear wheel from a ’90 FZR1000 beefs up the rear end and rounds out the oddball array of FZ generation Yamaha parts. A few more years and YZF parts should start showing up on the bike. I didn’t get a chance to ride it, but Tex assured me it handles way better than the original and judging by the minimal chicken strips, I believe him. While swapping parts like these into another bike is admirable, it’s the way Tex maintains the bike by strictly adhering to rat rule number one. Fix it with whatever’s cheap and lying around. When the fuel pump went out he found that the stock pump cost $165 and was backordered in a big way. The complete opposite of rat rule number one. A trip to the auto parts store scored him a Purolator fuel pump that he could fit in the area between the clutch and carbs. “They gave me a lot of crap about it, and made a point to remind me that there was NO REFUND on electricals”. The original fuel pump put out 3 1/2 psi and with the Purolator being rated at 4-7 the result was a bike that surged madly at steady throttle. A quick trip back to the store for a Holly regulator and a lot of trial and error got it running beautifully. The total cost was just over $60. Another quick fix was using JB Weld to smooth out his pitted fork tubes. A little patience with the Dremmel tool and a polishing bit produced forks that no longer leaked with new seals. Tex gets good marks for actually seeing these hair-brained projects through and actually making the FZ? a better bike than it should be 15 years after it left Japan.
This bike started out as a 1982 Honda CM450E that had passed back and forth between Jason, the current owner, and his friends and family for a few years. During that time it was changed from a standard UJM to a mock cafe racer to a quasi-cruiser, to a cafe-racer again, and then back to a standard. He got it back in the original setup and promptly parked it in the yard. After sitting there for a year it was time to get this thing running again. Jay didn’t want to spend money on parts and luckily a friend of his (me) had a couple of never-to-run-again bikes rusting out back and a couple of weeks to burn. The front end had become extremely wobbly from him crashing it years ago trying to wheelie around corners to impress the ladies and a lost ignition key had long ago been lost. The front-end swap came off of a 1972 Yamaha DT250 enduro. The bottom triple clamp fit fine, but the top triple didn’t have enough stem to clamp on to, so with a little Dremmeling and some hammering, the original top triple went back on. The longer forks and 21-inch tire from the DT gave it a raked out look without altering the frame at all. Wanting to keep the low, sleek look, the exhaust headers were extended and the mufflers angled up. To finish out the back end, the fender was cut and welded straight to the frame and the springs chopped off about an inch. A solo seat was made from the original pan and some sticky-backed foam. The forward controls and shift linkage were fashioned from an EX500 Ninja, with a little Fuji ten speed frame thrown in for bracing. No rear brake on this fella. It can always be added later. Only after consulting the manual (which Jay shockingly found himself) was the ignition wiring figured out and run into a switch on the headlight. The headlight and speedo were then mounted by using the front fender rail off the DT250. Some drag bars, paint, and a new front tire finished the Honda-Yamasaki, all in about 2 weeks. The thing rides spectacularly and is an everyday bike. Jay claims that with an aggressive clutch it’ll lift the front wheel once the forks have finished extending into the next zip code. The only thing left for Jay to do is to sell it and move onto something else. Anyone interested please check out the MMM classifieds.
Nells was the first guy to respond when we put out the rat call early last spring and just days after meeting him at Bob’s to crawl all over his bike, I managed to tape an Evel Kneivel interview over our conversation. Here’s what I remember. In his original phone message Nells said he had a KZ from the late ’70’s, a 650 I think, that was a “flat black rat with some diamond plate steel bolted on.” That’s right steel. Thick, heavy diamond plate steel stiff enough to fabricate a new headlight bracket to hold the headlight from an old Katana on the front and to relocate the footpegs to within 4 inches of the passenger pegs giving it a meaner seating position when coupled with the clubman bars. I would think that having that extra weight up there would also act like a crude steering damper and mellow things out at high speeds where Nells said “It gets a little scary.” The seat has been dished out and covered with black tape, which has hardened ever so slightly into the shape of Nells’ butt. Anyone else sitting on it would find it to be ridiculously uncomfortable but hey, if you want Corbin, buy Corbin. If you want custom then cover it with black tape and ride around Minneapolis like a maniac for a month or two. Other features include the missing side covers and exposed wiring, a mangy rust and fungus rash on the left exhaust and the teddy bear/cargo net combo that not only holds the tank on but also keeps the lid closed and acts as a speedometer. “When you get past 80 the bear’s head starts to flip back until he’s staring at me and screaming for me to slow down.”
This is the Eldo-glide. A late ’70 Moto Guzzi Eldorado with bits of Harley and Indian here and there. It’s owned by Tom the Tailor (612.721.4557) who has been sticking the odd bits and pieces on it for well over 20 years to get a bike that has a splash of American iron with the fat bob tank perched on the Italian bike. Having roommates at the time with basketcase Indians, Tom was constantly seeing which of their parts would fit on the Guzzi and then going out and finding them at swap meets. The exhaust is custom bent to blend the truck mufflers in nicely with the floorboards. The massive leather bags were made to order by Tom for a customer who decided she’d asked for bags that were way too big. The front fender sports a running light off of an old truck and some stainless steel flames tack welded onto the leading edge. After replacing hundreds of Moto Guzzi throttle cables he threw a Triumph throttle on there which would only break a few dozen times. Tom’s bike is by far the nastiest bike in this group. Everywhere you look there are mismatched nuts & bolts, bits of duct tape, and there isn’t a piece on the thing that still shines except for the crazy whitewall tires, both of which are both fronts. A few years ago Tom rode the Eldo-glide to Sturgis and back with little trouble and the bike was in constant use up until this spring when it was replaced with a brand new Moto Guzzi Jackal. Lord knows what that thing will look like in 24 years.
This next bike is also a KZ. An ’82 550 LTD who’s owner (he wishes to remain anonymous) built it for “doing wheelies and jumping off curbs.” The first goal was to strip it down to the frame and put it on a diet. The footpegs were moved up and back, new mounts were made to bolt on a set of shocks from an old Magna, the rear end was chopped of and the passenger seat came forward to become the solo seat. Attempting to shave weight, the kickstand was cut, trimmed and moved, and all the pesky bracing was cut away from the headstock and replaced with a single tube welded between the two downtubes. It was later removed after he found that it interfered with the tach drive. In true rat fashion everything was “welded” using coat hangers, a propane torch, and lots of patients. These changes, coupled with the stiff rear shocks and sacked out forks that had been raised in the triple clamps, created a beast that handled so poorly that you could actually feel your hands and butt moving in different directions as the frame wound up in sweeping corners. It recently tankslapped one unsuspecting rider right to the ground at less than 40 mph after he landed a curb jump crossed up a little too much. That’s how the cover on the right side was ground through. Finishing touches include a cool little faux brace tacked to the swingarm, upturned rear brakes, clip-on handlebars, a four stroke Supertrapp / style dirt bike exhaust can, and a bunch of flat black spray paint.