While bike shows blew up Sturgis this year, one seemingly around every corner, there’s something to be said about heritage and family tradition. Most of those shows are flash-in-the-pan, a footnote in the Sturgis ledger, here today and gone tomorrow. Not the Rat’s Hole.
What started out as a small sideshow in the parking lot of the Daytona Beach A&P 42 years ago has grown into one of the most reputable custom bike shows around. It started with the antics of Karl “Big Daddy Rat” Smith, a larger-than-life character who gave bikers an outlet to showcase their work. It continues with his son Ted who picked up the reins after Big Daddy Rat’s passing in 2002. The entire Smith family chips in, from wife Pam to their children, Cynthia and Jason. The coveted trophies are unique collectibles crafted by Ted who set his signature rat on top of Devil’s Tower for this year’s edition. And its corps of judges have served together for years.
Over 70 custom motorcycles competed in the 26th annual Sturgis Rat’s Hole Custom Chopper Show. This year’s show hosted the Black Hills Bagger Showdown and the inclusion of a few Biker Battleground Phoenix baggers ramped up the level of competition. Bikes in the show ranged from a tilting three-wheeled Street Glide to a groovy ‘70s Honda CB750 chopper with a coffin tank and king and queen saddle.
While there were many winners on the day, nobody triumphed more than Brian Jenkins and the crew of Hatred Customs out of Phoenix, Arizona. Jenkins captured 1st and 3rd in the Extreme Bagger division, while Shane’s three-wheeler took 1st in the Trike competition. But it was their green bike that caused the biggest uproar, winning over the judges who singled it out as “Best of Show.”
Jenkins creation is a showcase of seamless fabrication, from the flair of the front fairing to the swoop of the tank to the ridged lines below the bags. There’s great flow to the bodywork balanced between the monster front hoop and the louvered taillights of the art deco-styled back end. The look behind the bars is equally clean and classy, a four-speaker audio system tucked into the front fairing while a speedometer has been built, slightly offset, into the bars. It has just enough chrome to compliment the Lucky Luciano paint job, from the diamond-cut heads of the engine to the fork to the chrome calipers on the mondo front wheel. Jenkins takes pride in crafting his builds by hand and lets his work do the talking. The winning bike speaks volumes about an extremely talented craftsman.
In addition to the first place trophy, Jenkins’ bagger will be featured on the cover of the Rat’s Hole 2015 Calendar, the one for Sturgis’ 75th anniversary celebration. The bike will also get plenty of exposure from being printed on thousands of the Rat’s Hole draft beer mugs, a popular attraction at the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground.
Another show-stopper at this year’s Sturgis Rat’s Hole was “The Oz,” a beautifully crafted machine by Rods and Rides. T.D. Ward’s bike features a ‘74 Panhead engine in a compact frame with drilled-out downtubes and fender stays. Its backbone splits the highly polished tank, while a leaf spring fork, rigid rear and jockey shifter lend to its vintage feel. Hand-tooled leather covers a small seat pan while tall, thin, equal-sized wheels balance the low-slung ride that won first place in the Over 1000 Radical class.
A vehicle that had more than its fair share of curious onlookers was a 2010 Street Glide with two tilting wheels up front. We’ve seen the arrangement before on machines like Piaggio’s MP3, but seeing a functional system on a full-sized bagger is another thing. It is the creation of Bob Mighell, the CEO of Tilting Motor Works, who claims the system can “steer, lean and handle like a regular motorcycle.” Mighell has spent the last 10 years dialing it in, and what started as a hobby grew into a passion. It is speed controlled, utilizing a circuit board with a hydrometer and is capable of leaning over 45 degrees. When riders come
to a stop, it is self-leveling and will lock-up rigid as it rights itself thanks to two hydraulic cylinders, meaning riders don’t have to put their feet down. It is a bolt-on conversion so installation primarily involves removing the front fork and wheel. Mighell heralds it for providing the “fun of a motorcycle around corners but stability of a trike at a stop” and holds two patents on the design.
There was plenty more good stuff to see at this year’s 2014 Sturgis Rat’s Hole Show including a 1990 Yamaha YSR50, a splendid miniature 50cc, two-stroke sportbike whose bodywork was almost mint. There was the retro-cool CB750 Chopper we mentioned to go along with a couple of unrestored Knuckles that struck our fancy, as did a 1976 Ironhead Sportster bobber with an open belt primary, leaf spring fork and clean, uncluttered lines.
You never know what you’re going to see at the Rat’s Hole. Can’t wait to witness what the 75th will bring.