Custom motorcycle builders from around the globe gathered under the water slides of the Daytona Lagoon for the 37th Annual Rat’s Hole Custom Show. This year’s event was a true international affair billed as the “Italian Showdown” as three winners from the Padova Bike Expo Show in Italy were flown over to compete with their American custom building counterparts. Approximately 175 motorcycles, ranging from mini choppers built by custom builders of the future in the ‘1 to 250cc Class’ to the always entertaining ‘Over 1000cc Super Radicals,’ were on hand competing for one of the new bronzed Rat’s Hole trophies.
“It’s my 23rd year working here in Daytona and the work never ceases to amaze me,” said emcee Radical Randy.
The craftsmanship of the European contingency was superb. La Fenice di Custombike, the winner from the Italian show, is a superb streetfighter created by Jerry Chillico. The foundation of the bike is based around the Harley-Davidson Sportster, sourcing its 1203cc engine and using a heavily
La Fenice di Custombike, aka The Phoenix, is said to represent ‘the rebirth of the motorcycle as it should be.’
modified Sporty frame. La Fenice features a unique strip of metal that parallels the backbone and sits on the top of the tank. The strip lifts up to expose the hidden fuel cap and conceals the hardware of the electronic braking system on the front wheel. Other innovative features include the rear brake which sits behind the belt final drive instead of its standard placement on the rear wheel.
The motorcycle symbolizes the rebirth of the Phoenix, the mythological bird that rises from the ashes every 500 years. Chillico said that it’s based on a 13th century poem, and the blackened flames on the bike’s small front spoiler are representative of when the phoenix bursts into flame, and the golden feathers on the metal strip are analogous to the beautiful bird that rises in the aftermath.
“This is the rebirth of the motorcycle as it should be,” Chillico said.
The second bike had a boardtracker design with blinged-out gold components. Affectionately called ‘The Red Carpet’ bike by its owner because of its star-quality, the low-riding motorcycle was built by a company called Dreamachine out of Slovenia. It features a thin, stretched tank, skinny, spoked wheels and short drag bars. It also features a host of gold-plated components, from its exhaust and engine covers to its rods and carb all the way down to its foot controls. Even the Springer fork got the gold treatment.
The winning bike in the Italian Showdown is a one-piece billet bike made by VAV-Tuning out of Czechoslovakia.
The final competitor was a one-piece billet bike made by VAV –Tuning out of Czechoslovakia. Owner Vaclav Vavra started with a 100kg piece of billet aluminum and kept CNC machining for 12 hours a day for 14 days straight until he had the foundation for the motorcycle’s frameless construction. The crankcase serves as a bearing support and includes an integrated oil tank and serves as support for the rear suspension. The carbon fiber Springer front end holds a VAV wheel that uses drum-like disc brakes with a central disc rotor and four-piston calipers. The handlebars, foot controls and exhaust are all stainless steel and were made in-house.
“My idea was to build a bike that was frameless and to use the engine as a source of reinforcement,” said Vavra.
His efforts would be recognized later by people attending the Rat’s Hole Show as the best of the three motorcycles from Europe. Vavra had the distinction of being the first of the day’s winners to hoist the new Rat’s Hole trophy over his head.
As good as the Euro customs were, their counterparts from the states were equally up to the task. The Rocket Ship, with its oversized tubular frame, stood out in the ‘Over 1000cc Radical Class’ not only for its bright orange paint but for its innovative design. Built by World Class Customs,the Rocket Ship does away with the conventional backbone mounted tank, opting to house the fuel in the upper frame rails while oil is stored in the frame’s downtube. Wrapped up in the unique framework is a beefy Merch 120 engine which enables the Rocket Ship to blast off the line. But this low-slung cruiser is definitely made more for styling down the boulevard than screamin’ down a drag strip.
On the other end of the spectrum were the rat bikes. It amazes me that
I see dead people! Something tells me the creator of this bike might have seen Dawn of the Dead one too many times
somewhere beneath the menagerie lies a functional motorcycle. Looking past the deer horns on the bike in front of me, I marvel at how the odd assortment of Mardi Gras beads, trophies, buttons, key chains and bells from past rallies stay on when I know these motorcycles are daily riders. I wonder how they continue to ride on a seat pan that’s stripped down to bare, rusting metal with only a few tufts of foam clinging on. This rat bikes’ chief competition has an old school, tin Evel Knievel lunch box fixed to its side, so I gotta give it my nod for creativity.
Speaking of creativity, one of my favorites was a green mini chopper in the 1 to 250cc class made by a young man called Brandon Lunderman. I’d wager that the up-and-coming custom bike builder out of Palm Bay, Florida couldn’t be more than ten-years-old, but he’s already displaying a love and dedication for the trade that rivals big-time custom builders. His chopper has a ‘70s retro-vibe, decked out with mini apes up front and a tall sissy bar on the back. A 49cc single cylinder engine powers wide mini-bike tires on this cool little scoot. My favorite part was the collage of pictures that showed Brandon working on the build, especially the one with him sleeping with the bike’s green fenders like most kids sleep with their teddy bear.
f Brandon continues to pursue custom motorcycle building with the same zeal, maybe his talents will evolve to the level of my favorite bike of the show which I ran across it in the Extreme Bobber Class. The custom motorcycle is built by Charly Gregoire from Red Baron Choppers in Belgium. Its thick, tubular backbone has been drilled out, as has the fork, frame, heat shields on the exhaust, the metal seat pan and even the foot controls. All of the motorcycles’ drives are chain, Gregoire uses a Springer fork up front, runs all the wiring on the homemade handlebars internally, and keeps it old school with a kick starter to go along with its flathead engine. The most amazing feature is the homemade brake system built into the hubs of the front and rear wheels. Incredible work. And while most show bikes live and die by their high-dollar paint, the Belgian bobber leaves the metal in its unfinished state and uses the natural patinas of metal for paintwork.
With so much talent in one show, the competition is fierce but friendly. To put matters in perspective, custom builder Jerry Graves of Graves Custom Cycles was honored at the event. Graves was a friend to many at the Rat’s Hole, known not only for his work but for his outspoken personality. Unfortunately, Graves passed away a few weeks ago, and even though he has passed, the last build that he was working on was there to bear the torch for Graves Custom Cycles. And while a moment of silence is
Start with a one-piece billet bike from Europe, add a Playboy Playmate, and you’ve got Miss Rat’s Hole Bike Week 2009.
usually held as a way for people to pay their last respects, these are bikers, and in a sendoff more in vein of a Viking burial, a raucous cry of “Hell yeah, Jerry” filled the Lagoon in his honor. With Jerry’s building partner, John, on hand in his stead and Jerry’s father, Pops, and other friends in attendance, having the last motorcycle that Graves worked on at the Rat’s Hole meant he was there in spirit as well.
“This is his family right here, and you guys are his family,” said Graves’ father during the tribute.
So what do you get when you start with world class custom motorcycles, add celebrities, throw in a bunch of trigger-happy photographers and maybe a Playboy Playmate or two as Ratmates, and hold the event under clear, hot Florida skies all within the colorful confines of the Daytona Lagoon? You have another successful Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show. 37 years running. Here’s to 37 more.