Rat Bikes: Motorcycles with Rattitude

Sometimes style speaks softly...sometimes it screams. Five motorcycles that never whisper. From the June 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. Text by Jamie Elvidge.

Self-expression is a delicate intention. Social constraints often muffle the voice that would be our own, or remix it into something benignly acceptable. Sure we strive to make personal statements, but in truth, our boundaries are preset. We seek comfort in convention. Well, most of us do.

Rat bikes are a superb example of dismissed inhibition. To be dubbed such, a motorcycle must have about it an air of chaos. There are no rules (although cleaning is generally frowned upon). A rat bike does not merely reflect the singularity of its rider, though. It's a culmination of all the places it has been and the people who have donated to it. Each bike is a two-wheeled time capsule...a rolling museum.

Perhaps it's reverse snobbery, this blatant commotion. Or, a conscious choice to swim free from the pressure of trends. Certainly it's an art form -- eccentric, undulating and original. Here are a few rat bikes that stopped us in our tracks during Daytona Bike Week 1999.

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Meet Cecil Seaman of Washington, Ohio, and his plaster-of-Paris princess, "Frieda." Seaman has more than 1000 baubles glued, wired, riveted or welded to his '81 Harley Sportster and homebuilt sidecar, and he recalls the origin of every single one. "A rat bike isn't something you can make," he says. "It just happens. One day you go out and look at your bike and say, 'Man, that's a piece of st.' It just goes from there." **Photography by Dean Groover.(Click photos for larger images.)
"I try to put things on as good as I can -- especially the good stuff that I get. But I have lost some good stuff... you just hope another rat bike man picks it up."Smitty, Salt Lick, Kentucky1946 H-D Knucklehead
"It isn't the proof only for beauty, but the heart as importantly. Would you kill your wife only because she gets old?"Free Willi, Wolfegg, Germany1942 H-D WLA
"I enjoy it every bit as much as I enjoyed my shiny, chrome one. It's constantly evolving. Three months later it's a different bike than it was before."EZ Rat, St. Petersburg, Florida1970 650 Triumph Tiger
"I'm a roofer, a carpenter. Everything in my job has to be precise, straight, measured. That's why I like the GL. I don't put anything on straight."Bruce Biscorner, Marine City, Missouri1981 Honda GL500