If you’ve ever thrown out a broken bicycle or its spare parts in Chicago, there’s a chance the local bike club Rat Patrol recycled that trash into art on wheels.
Custom bikes, also known as freak bikes, can look like Frankenstein in bicycle form. Builders like those in the Rat Patrol salvage discarded bikes and weld them together to create unusual, eye-grabbing creations.
On a “tall bike,” for instance, a rider pedals 6 or 7 feet off the ground on a frame composed of two bikes stacked atop each other. A “chopper bike” has the low-rider and stretched-out appearance of motorcycles bearing the same name.
Rat Patrol member Cris Catellan’s day job as a welder is useful when he’s brainstorming new creations in his Logan Square garage.
“Custom bikes, to me, are just a representation of yourself,” Castellan said. “The clothes you wear represent you, the things you do, so the bike you ride can also represent you and I guess some of us are just weirder than others, I guess.”
In Castellan’s backyard sits what he calls a “grill bike” – a bike which pushes a charcoal grill bolted onto a large moving cart.
“The inspiration behind the grill bike is we like to eat and party and we wanted to take that wherever we go,” Castellan said. “So we said, ‘Let’s build something where we can take the grill to the park or to the beach.’”
At a June 11 meetup organized by Rat Patrol, custom bike rider and enthusiast Juan Lucero, whose family mariachi band Cielito Lindo was profiled in 2016 by WTTW’s Jay Shefsky, said riding the unusual bikes has provided an outlet for exercise and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a very family oriented thing,” Lucero said. “For me, specifically because we all need exercise, we need to get out, the pandemic’s happening, so that’s where I really got into it a lot, even the kids, saying, ’Let’s go out, we gotta go out a couple days of week and go ride some more.’”
Rat Patrol organizes regular meetups at Logan Square Park and other locations for builders, riders and spectators to check out custom bikes and even give them a spin. Check their website or Facebook page for more information.
Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia