[Flat Lick, KY] — To some people, a Rat Bike may look like a two-wheeled, rolling junk pile, an ancient motorcycle with random, added-on bits and pieces in various stages of hanging — or falling — off.

But as the cliche goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For Rat riders — a very small, very devoted biker subculture — every added-on piece, every tchotchke, every Rube Goldberg-like device has special significance.

“Most of the parts that’s on it, most of the small stuff, is from people I’ve met and places I’ve been,” says Conrad “Smitty” Smith of his ’46 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead rat. “It’s got items — souvenirs — on there from basically around the world.”

I met Smitty for the first time at Daytona Bike Week earlier this year, but I’d first seen him there with his bike, Rat-1, several years earlier. The 62-year old long-time biker from Flat Lick, Kentucky has missed only one of the annual events since he bought his machine in 1976.

“The guy I got it from, his name was Uncle Bucky,” Smitty told me. “It was a rat when I got it, so I just kept that theme. It was dirty, hadn’t been washed and just looked rat.” Since then, Smitty has adorned his beloved Rat-1 with all sorts of personal touches, everything from a vintage Evel Kneivel lunchbox — signed by the man himself — to one of the dozens of trophies he and the Rat have won.  “I figure I’ve won, in different shows all these years, between ten and eleven dozen trophies.”

And with trophies has come a certain amount of fame for Smitty. “The Rat Bike’s been in about every American [motorcycle] magazine, and most foreign magazines. And a few interviews on TV and in newspapers,” he says proudly.

There are probably fewer than a dozen authentic Rat Bikes in the US. Others have tried to copy the look, spray-painting an old motorcycle flat black and adding trinkets all at once, but that’s not what being Rat is about. A real Rat evolves over the passing of time.

Make no mistake about it: a Rat Bike is a work of rolling art. By definition, no two can ever be alike, since each is personalized by its owner with adornments that have personal meaning. And Smitty is a philosopher, as well as an artist. “I figure a little bit of Rat is in everybody,” he proclaims. “It’s just some of ’em keeps it — kinda like a disease — keeps it warded off, by washin’, cleanin’, you know, this and that. I don’t have to shine it; I use no chemicals on it, so I’m kinda environmentally ‘green.'”

You can’t argue with that. Some parting words of wisdom: “You look at it — and a lot of people have commented — it’s art,” he says. “You know, I can look at it too and say, yes, this is my work canvas, my painting canvas, this is my art. You turn rat — the word rat, R-A-T — inside out and what have you got? A-R-T!”

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RAT BIKES:

I’ve been fortunate in my travels to meet a couple of the top Rat riders in the country. Andy Anderson of DeLeon Springs, Florida, who I met at the 2009 Daytona Bike Week, has an amazing ’62 Harley Panhead rat. You can read about him in a post from last year, “King Rat, the Evolution of a Man and his Motorcycle.”

 

 

From current issue of HOG magazine (#013), my “Enthusiast” profile on Smitty

Smitty with a few of the trophies he has won

 

Signed Evel Kneivel lunchbox adorns RAT-1

 

 

I get to pose with Smitty

 

About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is regular contributor to Harley-Davidson's HOG Magazine, and his travel features appear regularly in motorcycle magazines and other publications.

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7 Comments
  1. don

    August 5, 2016

    Keep her rollin!

  2. Bethanngreen

    March 24, 2014

    I met him he is a awsome person

  3. R.Cabrera

    June 20, 2012

    I think your the same Smitty I saw around 1976 in publication of CYCLE WORLD. You were wearing suspendered Levi and sporting a German Helmet. A comment by the story writer that stayed with me was ” and the seat takes care of itself .” It looks like it still does ! I had that magazine around for years, I remember there being pines cones on the front fender. I believe it was a two page photo of you astride your ride. Though the mag itself is long gone the memory stayed. I’ll be a 62 yr.old myself in about 3 months and its nice to know your still around if you are that same guy. Thank You for Listening Bob 6/20/12.

    • Travelin' Gringo

      June 20, 2012

      Bob, this is Glen, I wrote the post on Smitty. He has a Facebook page and you can probably contact him through that: http://www.facebook.com/SmittyRat
      Good luck – Glen

    • Glen Abbott

      December 5, 2013

      Hey Bob, Smitty just saw your comment and sent me an email:

      hey glen i just read the comment on bob from june 2012 asking if the article was me i send you a letter for him thst was me with the german helment been going to daytona since 1971 would like to have see3n the article in cycle world magazine

  4. elaine.amburgey@yahoo.com

    February 25, 2012

    its cool to see someone,like you ,you stopped at,my home one day talked to freddiecole,dewitt.are john cant rembe.r.its great to be able todo what we love.god be with you in your travels.i love your page its cute.im not able to ride no more bad legs knees.i used to love it ,i rode with bobby wiggins .we went to big smokeys he won.a tropy,his bike.had a geat weekend.ow im glad to be able to go to church,towwn shopping.keep going goodbddy.uelaine

  5. David @ Malaysia Asia

    December 11, 2011

    Very interesting character and I love his bike! Though you will never find this in Malaysia, but I’ve seen a few cars with hundreds of miniature toys stuck on to it here.
    David @ Malaysia Asia recently posted..Johor Premium Outlets (JPO)

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