Here’s my vote for most creative use of an alligator’s hide. Check out the gator skin air filter cover and gator skin-wrapped frame.
Emcee Randy’s bass-filled voice bellowed from the depths of an empty concrete lagoon and bounced off the adjacent parking structure as the ringmaster of the Rat’s Hole beckoned all within earshot to come and see the odd and unique at the 36th Annual Rat’s Hole World Famous Custom Show. Only in Florida have I come across a motorcycle masquerading as an alligator or seen the ultimate two-wheeled urban assault vehicle in the form of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Vietnam tribute bike, complete with bandoliers of bullets stretched around its frame and 50mm shell casings attached to its forks.
As the Dan Lawson Band layed down Stevie Ray Vaugh licks, hundreds of people navigated between the approximately 150 motorcycles entered in this year’s event. An international panel of judges filtered through the conglomeration, occasionally stopping to kneel and inspect the craftsmanship more closely while trying to decide the winners in 18 categories. With prizes, prestige, and the opportunity to represent North America in Germany in an upcoming custom contest on the line, the level of competition was heads above the standard custom show.
I don’t envy the judges. With so much talent on display, it’d be hard to pick a winner. Everything is based on aesthetics and ingenuity, since you didn’t get to hear or ride the motorcycles. It’d be cool to fire all the bikes up in a symphony of valves and pistons in an impromptu chrome concerto and have a category for most unique exhaust note. JRL Cycles was on hand with its rotary-engined motorcycle, the Radial Chopper, and I would have loved to have heard the Rotec R2800 roar in all its glory. But custom shows aren’t performance based, and the one guy that did crank his engine over was quickly asked by Ted Jr. to shut it down. Since the impromptu ‘Best Booming Pipes’ contest was nixed, picking winners would once again be relegated to a subjective process.
In what is becoming a yearly tradition, the posse of bikes in the extensive Rat’s Hole collection added its newest member, the 2008 Rat Rocket. Show promoter Ted Smith commissioned Ralph Randolph of Knockout Motorcycles to build this year’s Rat’s Hole bike. For the Rat Rocket, Randolph drew upon 1930s board tracker styling and gave it a 21st century upgrade.
“I thought to myself ‘Where would board trackers be today?’ The bike is a throwback to original design with modern hardware,” Randolph said.
“It’s awesome to be the builder picked to represent the Rat’s Hole. We came last year with the bike I built for Matthew McConaughey, but I never expected this. It’s a great opportunity,” said Knockout Motorcycles Ralph Randolph (left), standing with Adam Canni.
The custom builder from Arizona would have only 27 days to come up with an answer to his question. Luckily, he had the services of industrial designer Adam Canni of Canni Designs on his side in addition to help from Evil Engineering. The result is a bare-boned brawler of a bike with forks like sabre tooth fangs and an uninhibited backside. In keeping with the board tracker theme, the Rat Rocket has no front brakes, no fenders, and no visible rear suspension. With a low seat height and a good stretch to the handlebars, the bike is set up for an aggressive forward-leaning riding position. A thin leather strip hand-stamped with the Knockout Motorcycles logo is all that separates the rider from the unforgiving metal strip of a seat pan. The wheel design is based on the propellers of old puddle jumpers, small turbo prop airplanes with dual pontoons capable of landing on water. The finishing touch to an overall stellar build is a racer-styled number 52 faceplate, the 52 representing 1952, or the year Big Daddy Rat Karl Smith first opened his “Rat’s Hole T-Shirt Shop” in Daytona Beach. The name Rat Rocket is apropo because the bike looks like it could really fly.
I wandered awhile adrift in the creative world of the Over 1000cc Super Radical class. Sure, I concede that these bikes aren’t meant to be everyday riders, and the most miles some of them probably see is the short sprint up the ramp between the garage and trailer. But what a visual treat. From the fantasy-themed Arthur bike, complete with chain mail on a lance-shaped forward-facing intake created by Miami-based Chopper Nation to the scaled tank and fenders of the equally outrageous Dragon bike, it’s a treat to see the work of those who teeter on the border between custom bike builder and new age artist.
If raw power’s more your thing, then the behemoth Boss Hoss Trike at the show might better suit your tastes. With twin V-8’s sitting in a stretched custom frame, the all-black three-wheeler has no shortage of raw horsepower. To keep all that power in check, the back of the trike is built like a vintage roadster. I didn’t peek to see if it had a posi-traction rear end, but it undoubtedly pays homage to the glory days of when muscle cars ruled the road.
And for those of you who think that custom bikes are all show and no go, I have just the bike for you. Jay Barker and the crew at 1320 Race Fabrication brought its nitrous-fed bruiser to the show. With a carb-fed 120cc Jims Motor as its primary source of power, the black Pro Street power cruiser gets an added boost from a little squirt of a nitrous/ethanol blend. The bike’s fuel tank is housed in a chin fairing while the electronics are housed in a backbone-mounted faux tank. The frame and pipes are proprietary 1320 Race Fabrication parts, while dual Performance Machine discs up front help rein in the horses. With a short fork, tight rake, and low seat height, Barker said that it drives “like a Cadillac.” And I don’t think he was referring to the uneasy floating sensation from riding in an old land sled Coup DeVille as much as he meant a Cadillac in a world surrounded by Pintos.
I had just passed Armindo Alves ‘Arthur’ bike when I came upon this ‘Dragon.’ Ted Smith could have charged double if he could have convinced them to mount up and joust on the backs of their bikes.
The trophy presentation was highlighted by the announcement that the Rat’s Hole would be sending three contestants oversees to compete in Germany against their European counterparts. The first round of applause went up for Tempest Cycles, Inc. out of Melbourne, Florida. Tempest would be joined on stage by Jeff Castle and the I.C.E. bike, followed by Russ S. of Cowboy Custom Choppers. The Rat’s Hole used a special European judge to select bikes that he thought would fare well in comparison to trends currently popular overseas. Winners needed that little extra that set them apart from their competition, like Tempest Cycles, Inc.’s 2007 Conquest with its sideways-mounted engine and snowmobile clutch.
After 36 years in the biz, you’d think that Rat’s Hole might rest on its laurels. But who says you can’t teach an old Rat new tricks? This year, the Rat’s Fest expanded its lineup from one monster-sized show to three shows in three days. It kicked off Thursday, March 6 with the Metric Madness competition, a show solely for pimped-out imports, followed by the Rat Rods & Old School Bobbers event on Friday and culminating with the World Famous Custom Bike Show Saturday. I scoped out the World Famous and Metric Madness show, while Motorcycle USA’s Editorial Director Ken Hutchison took in the Rat Rod & Old School Bobber Show on Friday and offered this report.
The inaugural Rat Rod & Old School Bobber Show featured 60 of the sickest bobbers in one showcase of this nostalgic genre. In true Rat’s Hole fashion, the show included a live band belting out bad-ass tunes and a bit of booze served up by fine-ass bartenders. The contestants ranged from buggered-up rat bikes to full blown hand-fabricated rockabilly customs. Everything was going great for this first-ever bobber blowout until Mother Nature delivered a serious cloudburst with lightning and a reported 2.5-inches of rain per hour downpour.
Among the crowd favorites were Ron Fleming’s authentic bobber from Bulls Bobber, Jason Lindrom’s Old School Knucklehead, and Deadwood Choppers’ Shovelhead. But the Extreme Chopper award went to Brass Monkey, one clean machine built by Victor Rivera and Allen Dixon from Central Florida Choppers. The Brass Monkey has a 131 cubic inch Ultima ‘El Bruto’ engine mounted in a Midwest frame connected to a LSD five-speed tranny. A twisted Springer fork and a scrolled metal sissy bar give it some throwback flavor. The gas tank was sourced from a swap meet before Rivera worked his magic on it.
At the Rat Rod & Old School Bobber Show, timing was everything, and just after getting the trophy presentation under way the skies went black with rain. Fortunately, the contingency plan was put into effect and the die-hard crowd moved to the safety of the Lagoon patio where the festivities resumed. This collection of old-time bike builders personified the grass-roots feeling of this first-time show as the crowd of husbands, wives and children gathered to support their favorites. It was a day for the knuckle- and panheads of yesterday to once again receive accolades for their endearing engineering qualities.
There were some serious streetfighters at the Metric Madness show on Thursday at the Daytona Lagoon.
Metric Madness got the whole Rat’s Fest ball rolling with its inaugural show Thursday. For one day, the walkways of the Daytona Lagoon were invaded by imports, cleanly restored Universal Japanese Motorcycles looking showroom-floor fresh, brawny VTX1800 power cruisers with wicked paint and tons of chrome, and slammed Hayabusas with 300mm rears and air ride suspensions.
My favorite entry though was by the brothers Cody and Joey Cihak. Cody, with help from his big bro’, built a carb-fed single cylindered bike called Lil’ Dog using a 70cc Honda motor and a custom built one-off frame. The parts were supplied by Eagle Motorcycle Salvage out of St. Petersburg, Florida. Big Deal, you say? It is a big deal when the custom builders I’m talking about are 12 and 17. Cody took home a trophy in the 1-150cc class and older brother Joey took top honors in the 251-650cc class. Look for big things from these boys in the coming years. If building custom bikes is already in their blood, it’s fun to imagine what the future holds for the Cihak Bro’s.
About 50 bikes participated in a modest start to the Metric Madness event. Emcee Randy, whose voice has a resonating impact similar to James Earl Jones, encouraged everyone to tell a friend about the event and hopes to see 200 entries next year.
The Rat Fest continues to honor the standards established by Big Daddy Rat, Karl Smith. It is a true family affair, as Karl’s son Ted now carries the torch lit 36 years ago by his father. The Rat’s Hole World Famous Custom Bike Show is more than just another show. It has evolved into an institution, and for some it has become synonymous with Bike Week, and continues to be the show for many. Big Daddy Rat would be proud.
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