On one of the most run down streets in Oakland, CA where a good year is when only a couple of hundred people get murdered the pavement is aflame. Crowds of people gather expectedly, beer cans and bottles in hand, as a rider prepares to race his Suzuki DRZ down the sidewalk, hit a homemade ramp emblazoned with the face of ‘Hello Kitty’ and jump a sea of fire.
But there’s a problem. The man in charge of the fire who’s been liberally spraying the stuff from a 5-gallon jerry can has managed to set it ablaze
The man in charge of the fire who’s been liberally spraying the stuff from a 5-gallon jerry can has managed to set it ablaze
and is now desperately trying to snuff it out. But the rider, impatient to get on with goes anyway. Hitting the ramp he wobbles a little in the air, narrowly missing a sign jutting from the building emblazoned with the ironic ‘Bear Safety Center’ and lands squat in the flames and speeds through the rider raising an arm in triumph. The crowd chants ‘Again, again, again’
You join us with The East Bay Rat’s Motorcycle Club HQ in West Oakland, California. Born nearly 20 years ago the Club grew out of ‘Rat Bike’ culture, a two-fingered salute to the shiny Harley Davidson and Sport bike culture that dominates the San Francisco Bay area. Heavily influenced by movies like ‘Mad Max’ or ‘The Road Warrior’ as it was known in the US, Rat Bikes are cheap, dirty, flat black machines, often cobbled together over many years, which look like they’ve been dragged down 15 miles of bad road by a vengeful god. Rides on display outside the clubhouse range from GSXRs to retro Yamaha Scramblers.
Leader of the Club, ‘El Prez’ or Trevor to his friends describes the ‘Rats as “Working class guys who know how to read a book, fix a bike and can handle themselves in a fight"
Working class guys who know how to read a book, fix a bike and can handle themselves in a fight
They’ve got a reputation in the Bay Area of holding the wildest parties, the biggest Fight-Clubs and have, in the past, been known to go out and hold an “Anti-Car Club’-totaling a random vehicle after a club member or friend has had an accident.
Another member, Jeff, who’s been with the Rats for years and now works at Google joins us and tells of how he came to be in the club. “I’d see them at house parties around the Bay” He says, “I fucking hated them. They’d turn up en masse, drink all the drink in the place, cause a ruckus then leave with all the prettiest girls on the back of these fucked up looking bikes. I thought, ‘what a bunch of assholes’. Then it dawned on me that I should be joining them as they were having so much fun’. I did” He smiles, “And now I’m an asshole”
Jeff’s sentiments are echoed by Ted, a Rat celebrating his 50th birthday tonight. He says, “Being in the club is like that moment when you’re in class at school and you push the chair way from the desk. You get it to the mid point where you can either fall over or stay balance. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s the East Bay Rats-all you know is that it’s going to be chaos and I can’t live without that feeling.
the East Bay Rats-all you know is that it’s going to be chaos and I can’t live without that feeling
None of us can”
By now the Clubhouse is packed, the crowd a mixture of bikers from other Bay Area clubs, hipsters looking for an edgy place to get their party on and friends and family of the Rats. An air of expectation is palpable, as shortly the fight club is about to start. But before it can, a Rat shouts, “It’s early. Let’s have another burn”, grabs a Jerrycan and begins hosing the pavement with gasoline. It’s going to be a long night, and it’s going to be full of fire.