Photograph by Noah Scalinon Flickr.
Survival bikes look similar to, but are different in purpose from rat bikes--they are modified Cyclo-cross bicycle for stylistic reasons. The concept of keeping a motorcycle in at least minimally operational condition without consideration for appearance has probably characterized motorcycle ownership Rat bike since its earliest days. These two kinds of customized motorcycles may appear similar but are a vastly different species. More recently, there has been a trend of deliberately customising bikes into rats, but this defies the organic growth into a rat bike that characterized them originally and led to Rat bike their uniqueness.
Matte black paint requires no polishing, unlike cruisers with lavish amounts of chrome and custom paint jobs. However, since the general upturn in economic conditions of the late 1960s, trends seemed to favor replacement of well-worn bikes with newer models, or with maintenance that conserved the Rat bike appearance of a like-new condition.
Similarly, the guiding principle of functionality and practicality make usable power in all road situations more important than speeds that can only be attained on a racetrack. Whereas many take pride in, or are impressed by, the latest/biggest/fastest/most expensive motorcycle, the ratbiker is impressed Rat bike by ingenuity and frugality. The essence of a true rat bike is keeping a motorbike on the road for the maximum amount of time while spending as little as possible on it.
Bikes deliberately distressed to look like a rat bike are sometimes derisively referred to as fake rats. A decades-old bike that has been kept on the road by whatever is at hand or a resurrected wreck is more prized than a shiny, right-off-the-show-room-floor, new motorcycle. .
They are influenced by the Mad Max films. For many, both rat and survival bikes present an ideological alternative to the consumerist mainstream. The endless quest for speed of the modern sportsbike or the large areas of chrome on cruisers or factory-produced, custom -style bikes is subverted by the alternative approach of the rat bike enthusiast.
Rat bikes are motorcycles that, over time, have fallen apart but been kept on the road and maintained for next to nothing. Currently the rat style is also gaining popularity in car customizing circles, though again in a somewhat misunderstood manner where vehicles are carefully decorated or modified to look worn with age.
Credit for the term rat bike was attributed to custom motorbike magazines and retrospectively applied. Rat bikes do not have to be matte black, however the vast majority of rats seem to be so these days in what may be a cross over from survival bikes.