It’s a slow build, but that gives you time to think – what exactly is a survival bike?

Survival Bikes.

Rat Bikes.

Both of these categories started out as stylistic or practical movements, and have morphed into the present day styles. Which is kind of unfortunate, especially with the Rat Bikes.

You see, originally, a rat bike was a motorcycle that didn’t have much in the way of cosmetics. It might be held together with bailing wire and bubble gum, but it was ridden every day to work, or at the least to just have fun and ride around on. Mechanically it was functional (usually…then again, this might depend on what the owner’s concept of “function” meant), but cosmetics….nope.

Chrome does not make vehicles go faster. I don’t care what any of you say.

So as time went on and the bike was ridden, dropped, repaired, dropped again – the scars from a lifetime of hard use start showing. At that point, those scars are what makes the bike interesting. A career on the road or track is shown by the scratches, dents, missing paint, rust, shitty welds, rattle can overhauls, parts from different bikes, etc.

There’s a current trend to take bikes of whatever age, hack the rear fender off, ditch some of the fairings and other pieces, and rattle can a coat of black paint onto them – and then call them a Rat Bike. I don’t have any issues with bikes that have this done to them, but they’re sure as hell not a Rat Bike. They haven’t earned it.


Kubota diesel rat bike, photo by Andy Dingley

Then again, no one listens to me. That’s probably a good thing.

While we’re talking about Rats, might as well hit on Survival Bikes.

The whole “Survival Bike” thing started out as an homage to Mad Max, is what I’m thinking. Stylistically you’ll see many similarities between the Mad Max style bike, and modern Survival Bikes. The more extreme versions have gone quite a ways past the movie ideal, and can be fascinating examples of design. I don’t know if I’d care to ride many of them though – in that matter, they’re similiar to cafe racers. Something that’s designed for very short runs between pubs, and semi-track use. Go fast..but not go comfortable.

Survival bike, photo by

The bike design elements that I’m thinking of when I plan on doing a Survival Bike build are multiple and practical.

  • High reliability
  • Low cost
  • Commonly available (you’ll see why this is important later on)
  • Easy to maintain
  • Comfortable to ride
  • Long range (either good fuel economy, or good fuel capacity)
  • Capable of carrying heavy loads, if necessary
  • Capable of carrying two riders, if necessary
  • Capable of towing a trailer, if necessary
  • Easy to conceal
  • Blends in well to various environments
  • Theft resistant
  • Quiet
  • Capable of charging, lighting, or powering accesories, both on and off bike.

Versus the standard “Survival Bike” that is out there which is primarily:

  • Style
  • Style
  • Style

Of course, as with anything, there are a few exceptions to the rule. I’ll hopefully gain permission from some of the owners to do a bit of a write up on their machines, some of which are fascinating from both a technical, and stylistic viewpoint.

In any case, there’s the direction I’m going with this build.

A practical survival bike, held to the parameters that I listed above. Something like the Honda GL1100 is a decent candidate for the build. Plenty of power, very inexpensive to purchase, very high reliability if properly maintained, comfortable for long distance rides, capable of handling and towing heavy loads, etc.  It’s going to be fun figuring out how to optimize it for this purpose, while keeping it low budget.

Anyway, as of now, carbs being off, I’m pulling jets tomorrow and cleaning everything. The bowls were pretty crusty, so it’s basically a complete tear down to be able to blow out all the passages. Luckily most of the parts inside look good, just having a heavy varnish coating on them. Which will come off with time and a bit of elbow grease. PineSol helps too!

Hope you enjoy the build, if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear them!




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