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What is a Rat Bike?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

A rat bike is a motorcycle that has been maintained using kludge repairs, resulting in a bike that continues to run but looks very little like a standard motorcycle. Often, these bikes are extremely dirty and have parts that have been made using odds and ends. Whether a rat bike is safe depends on the skill of the owner who made the repairs and what kinds of repairs have been made. There is a strong culture surrounding this type of bike, as the philosophy of maintaining the bike without investing a lot of money is popular among many groups.

Many people who own motorcycles believe that the joy of riding the motorcycle is more important than how the bike looks. These people do not clean their bikes often and do not invest in parts that do little to improve the bike's ability to run. When a bike breaks down, people who hold this philosophy will often fix the bike at home using inexpensive parts and fixes that do not involve manufactured parts. Over time, this results in a bike that looks very different from the original model.

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The exact repairs that can be conducted in this way vary depending on the skill of the owner. Some people are so skilled that they can use items like soda cans and other scrap metal to fix exhaust pipes and other mechanisms. Items like bent wire may also be used to hold parts together. In principle, the kludge repair should be sturdy and safe without regard to how the repair looks on the bike. Functionality is much more important in a rat bike than aesthetics.

A close relative of the rat bike is a variety of motorcycle called a survival bike, sometimes called a fake rat. Unlike a rat bike, a survival bike is deliberately modified to achieve the appearance of having been assembled out of spare parts and trash. These bikes have been heavily influenced by the aesthetics of survival films involving motorcycles and are often painted matte black and may include decorative exhaust systems. Usually, speed is not the top priority in these bikes, but they are expected to remain functional.

In many cases, a person who owns a rat bike and recognizes the bike as representative of a particular philosophy may wish to congregate with others who hold the same ideas in order to exchange tips and tricks or simply to view other bikes. For this reason, there are often rat bike gatherings and parades in areas with a sufficient number of enthusiasts. When a gathering cannot be found, information about rat bikes can often be obtained online in forums and instructional websites.

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