Black Cycles Australia builds a “Steampunk Rat Bike”…
The rat bike has a long and storied tradition in the motorcycle world. Rat bikes are generally hard-ridden, uncleaned machines with plenty of rust, patina, road grime, and a deathtrap style and attitude. Often they’ve been maintained to the bare minimum — or at least appear that way, with “kludge” repairs and a general air of chaos.
“Perhaps it’s reverse snobbery, this blatant commotion. Or, a conscious choice to swim free from the pressure of trends. Certainly it’s an art form — eccentric, undulating and original.” —Cruiser
Recently, we heard from our friend Noel Muller of Black Cycles Australia — a builder who’s work has created quite a sensation on our pages this year, with builds ranging from his turbocharged Ducati 916 to his 1950 Triumph bobber to his resto-modded XT500 — just to name a few! While Noel has displayed more range in 2022 alone than most builders do in their whole career, this Virago 1000 is a departure even for him.
The owner, Craig, has started the build himself before taking it to another custom workshop, where it sat nearly untouched for 1.5 years. Then he sought out Noel:
“I could see potential in what he had started and he’d collected a mountain of parts, so I said, ‘Let’s get it done!'”
Noel says the direction was “steampunk patina ratbike,” and the work was extensive. He added a new tank with knee indents, rebuilt the subframe, and tidied up and mounted a fiberglass tail and chin spoiler that Craig himself had roughed out.
The bike is covered with brass, copper, and copper-plated parts, including a brass fuel cap, brass spoke inserts, and brass eyelets in the saddle that Adam from Carmans Auto Trimmers made up for the bike. Justin from Popbang Classics rewired the bike to work with some Motogadget goodies, and Noel did the multilayered “rub through patina” paint scheme in-house.
While the steampunk / rat rod aesthetic might not be everyone’s cup of tea, this bike nails the style:
“Rat rod motorcycles are popular for the same reason as rat rods themselves; the raw, bare-bones, DIY look of an authentic garage-built custom machine.” —Hot Cars
Below, we talk to Noel for the full story on the build.
Virago 1000 Rat Bike: Builder Interview
• Why was this bike built?
Late 2021 I was contacted by Craig who asked me if I could finish a Yamaha XV1000 that was at another bike builders workshop. After talking with him further, I found out that Craig himself had actually started the build himself approximately 3.5 years ago and after two years found he needed some help to really get it done, so he booked it into a Brisbane custom workshop where sadly it basically sat untouched for 18 months. I could see potential in what he had started and he’d collected a mountain of parts, so I said, “Let’s get it done!”
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
So the style direction was “steampunk patina ratbike” cafe racer…
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The bike still had the original tank in use, so we ditched that one for a more suitably shaped tank and added the knee indents and a cool brass fuel cap.
The subframe was rebuilt, as I wasn’t happy with what was built previously, and a fibreglass tail (and chin spoiler) that Craig had roughed out himself was modified, smoothed, and attached to the bike.
The motor itself had an oil flow problem, which was later found to be the oil filter was in backwards, which apparently is a common mistake with these bikes, and one that completely cuts oil flow!
Original wheels were already fitted with some knobby tyres, and we proceeded to add some 1mm brass inserts into the spokes.
A 316 stainless steel exhaust was built using a couple of tapered stainless mufflers.
A Motogadget vintage mini speedo, buttons, and m-unit were wired in by Justin (@popbangclassics) along with practically a full rewire. Justin also looked after the carburetors rebuild as well.
Craig’s original plan for paint was a “Jack Daniel’s” black, white, and gold theme, but we decided it didn’t particularly suit the Yamaha, so we proceeded to do a multilayered “rub through patina” paint scheme in-house.
There was A LOT of brass and copper parts supplied and fitted, and some copper-plated parts also. We also added the copper accents over the tank and tail.
We built the seat which was then trimmed (including brass eyelets) by Adam (@carmans_auto_trimmers).
There’s a lot going on with this beast, and I’ve probably missed quite a few details!
• Does the bike have a nickname?
No real name for this one, I just refer to it as the “XV1000 ratbike.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride?
The bike rides surprisingly well (after the clunky forks were rebuilt) and has great power delivery too! The bike has been sold since then and I believe is currently in Melbourne.