Lance A. Lewsader: Who is Ratfighter? No really who is he?
Ratfighter (Ben): I would like to think I’m like any other motorcycle rider, but I tend to find myself in extraordinary situations as a rider and a builder. Whether it be riding frozen lakes on (fightered) sport bikes, building dual shock setups on bikes that originated as a single shock unit, or offering abstract and often little known information on smaller displacement machines like the 70’s standard Honda CB360T. Born and raised in the Wisconsin “bluffs” (foot hills with exposed rock) 200 miles from Milwaukee I’ve always had motorcycles in my life. Couldn’t imagine a day without it.
I do enjoy anything about motorcycles from writing, riding, and building, to talking about them, diagnosis of failing equipment, and even the design phases of them. Who is Ratty? A motorcycle fanatic. There are literally parts all over my house. Fellow forum members have always been impressed at what I can dig out of boxes and off shelves.
LAL: I know you as that guy who can put into words what many builders can only stutter or put in pictures. You have told me you aren’t good with speaking. So how do you come up with it?
Ben: In my mind everything is dead calm like a still lake. Thought processes perfectly and it never skips a beat. I really enjoy thinking and writing those thoughts down. I guess it started when I was a little kid, telling stories of riding BMX to my friends sort of honed the skills needed to begin writing things like this down.
Speaking in person, well, I’ve got an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to speak in public the way I do when I write. It has got in the way of everyday life at times, but, when I write I have the ability to stop for that moment or so and collect my thoughts, or rephrase something. It’s really like having a pause and rewind button.
LAL: You ride up in that frozen tundra they call Wisconsin. Have you ridden any of the southern states? How would you say they compare with your riding style?
Ben: I have not been able to venture much further than north Iowa on a bike, but back when I was involved with cars I got to drive quite a few different states and I’ve gotta say I prefer the winding back roads in the hills of Wisconsin most of all. Trees are close to the road, severe drops, dirt and gravel, they are a huge challenge, but well maintained, no potholes! My riding style is a little out there… with the lack of “enforcement” out in the hills I can get away with quite a bit out here as long as I behave myself around the public. We can leave it at, “It’s possible to really, really enjoy your machine.”
LAL: You have had a fair share of bikes in your time. What has been your favorite to this point? What one bike would you like to have?
Ben: I go through bikes like some people go through clothing styles. It’s kind of out of control. Not even mentioning all the bikes I’ve ridden that were not mine, from liter bikes to one-off Streetfighters, I have a lot of compare and contrast to sift through. In the end, for me, it is the 96-97 Suzuki Bandit 1200. The one I had for a few years was well built and felt stout. Nothing quite like the amount of power down low coupled with the four cylinder howl of that 1157. It was insane for a “cheap” street bike.
Not really sure why the Suzuki was so fun either, as it was horrendously over powered and got me into trouble more than once. But, looking around that hulking gas tank on a (censored) mph sit-down wheelie, looking into a sunset casting a reflection on the sheen of rubber coated back road ahead, knowing my city was still warm from the day and the street lights would guide me home… I was at peace. Nothing has ever been more right in the world than when I was up on one at speed on that Bandit.
LAL: I know you like the oddball bikes and designs. Is there one you want the CF nation to know about that they may not? Something obscure or unique?
Ben: Old school, street legal smokers. Two stroke single cylinder trail bikes. Searching for 1970’s dirt bikes you can find a bunch of fully road legal two strokes that usually can not be killed unless you leave the engine open out in the elements for 20 years. Even then, you can usually run a hone through the jug and clean some things up. I can’t believe with all the supermoto and flat tracker (not to mention cafes!) craze going on nobody is scooping up these overpowered road legal light switches and going crazy with all the modern technology available.
They look ugly to begin with, but the frames are easily modified and the parts are readily available. Vintage “trail bikes”, what we now call a “dual sport” are plentiful and respond very well to modification. They usually run well under $500 (usd) for a nice rider with a title too! Vintage supermoto’s would be a really cool trend, and a way for us Wisconsin guys to get away with titling a dirt bike legally. Hint. Hint.
LAL: Why CF? What keeps you coming back?
Ben: I would love to say the camaraderie, or the family type atmosphere, or something cheesy like that, but I’ll expand on those obvious facts and say it’s the bikes and the personality conveyed by each and every build, forum member, action, and reaction of the site. The constant evolution of the Streetfighter scene and the constant adaptation of today’s technology to even the most dinosaur like motorcycles. It’s a very fast paced and active segment of the motorcycle industry. And I can be me, purely me, no scolding or running me off for my views. I honestly don’t feel all too abrasive with my standpoint on beginners with big bikes, gear usage, or building techniques when I am on CF.
I keep coming back because CF is the only place on the whole Internet that allows us all to be us. Every person I’ve met from the forum is exactly the same person I have been talking to on the forum. I’m sure there are a few exceptions to that experience, but so far things have been like an episode of “Cheers!” every time I sign in.
LAL: What got you into motorcycles and especially Streetfighters?
Ben: Like I mentioned before, I grew up pretty close to Milwaukee and American Iron is always part of life here in Wisconsin. I remember Buell’s and other big V twin machines roaming the local area and my old man had a Triumph Bonneville or two over the years. Then in my teens my adoptive father introduced me to the world of German and Japanese sport bikes and standards at the up close and peg dragging level. I was hooked from the moment I have memory.
Streetfighters were more or less an evolution of sorts. From day one I liked the ratty Harleys with straight bars and fat tires. As the years went on, I think I was almost ten years old at the time, CycleWorld had built a yellow CBR900RR for charity and it was emblazoned on the cover of the magazine “STREETFIGHTER”. That hulking aluminum frame, round headlight, dirt bike bars, and upswept exhaust. I think every single bike I’ve built since then, cruiser, standard, or dirt bike, has a twinge of that original idea behind it. Minimal and FAST.
When I built my first fighter, it was a rat to the core. A XS650 engine in a VF500F frame (yup, Honda chassis with a Yamaha engine). My dad called it a “RatFighter”. The name stuck apparently.
LAL: For now I am going to wrap it up. But is there anything you would like to add?
Ben: Just one thing. I started building bikes with very basic hand tools and not much has changed. Anyone can reach the dreams of builder status they desire, it just takes some hard work and dedication. Never give up. Never settle for stock. Stay fighting.