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‘79 BMW R65 – Shadow Motor Paris

Posted on January 8, 2016 by Andrew in Rat. 30 comments


The real charm of a Rat bike is to pick up something cheap, get it up and going on the smell of an oily rag and retain all of that true mechanical character without a care in the world for high-end paints jobs and overpriced components. Sadly the concept has become a style and when anything becomes fashionable, large sums of money enter the mix with people spending big dollars to create the “Rat Bike” look. Point well and truly missed! Luckily for us there are builders out there like Parisian Arnaud Morel who has built himself this uber cool 1979 BMW R65 Ratty and done it all for just 500 Euros; an incredible achievement and completely in the true spirit of the rat concept.


Arnaud was first drawn to the looks of the BMW thanks to the unique airhead engine and rode the bike around for a year before the idea to modify the Bavarian entered his mind. Having seen the R series BMW take off in the custom scene he could appreciate the scramblers and cafe racers but nothing really quite did it for him. So with a limited budget, a bike needing some repairing to keep it going and a love of old school American culture it is fair to say the Rat style chose Arnaud more than the other way around. The first step was to redo the ageing wiring that was starting to cause problems and anything that wasn’t needed was simply tossed in the bin. That’s part of the Rat bike ethos, why buy or repair a part you really don’t need…, well accept because they’re required by the “law”. So the instrument cluster along with its idiot lights, the big switch blocks and all the wiring on the bike that didn’t absolutely have to be there was thrown away.


With the dustbin still open there was some more binning to be done, stock fenders – gone, BMW tank – not today, side covers – on a ratty? even the seat, tail section and handlebars were shown the door; talk about bare bones! To build it back up Arnaud first tried a pair of 50-year-old Peugeot tanks before settling on this old Yamaha unit. The BMW logos were salvaged from the original tank and join some haphazardly placed vintage stickers to cover any imperfections. The seat is gone but the factory subframe remains to show off more of the metal frame with seating now for one thanks to a vintage solo seat. The fenders also help to date the bike with squared off bobber style rear and wheel wrapping styling at the front they’re both left paint free and as raw as the rest of the build. While the main frame remains untouched, hey it still functions right, it does retain the patina of years spent on French roads for that kind of beauty only age can provide.


All of the work to date would fall flat on its face if the BMW had retained its stock ride height and pogo-stick like rear suspension. If a concession is made in the Rat bike culture on cost, it’s to facilitate a meaner road presence but even this didn’t cost Arnaud more than a few Euros with the front end simply relieved of 8cm of travel. The rear end is a spare parts find that made the perfect fit and added a little American muscle with Harley 11-inch rear shocks getting the Bavarian down on the bitumen. The standard multi-spoke BMW alloy wheels are not what you would ever picture on a bike of such styling, but left wearing the brake dust and grim from the road they blend into the overall theme and cost not an extra cent. Wanting to ride the bike hard the one area the wallet was really opened for was good rubber and the Metzeler tyres maintain the understated look of the rolling stock while performing as well as anything on the road.


There are a number of aspects that make the BMW airhead engine perfect for a Rat bike build, not least of which is the fact that the engine dates back nearly 100 years but was still available only two decades ago. Meaning you can have both the vintage look with its classic post war ratty styling, mixed with relatively modern design improvements and BMW’s legendary reliability. The other aspect is the ease with which a new builder like Arnaud can work on an airhead’s exposed and easily accessible top end, carbs, exhaust and then show these mechanical elements off for increased industrial chic. Which is exactly what he has done with the 650cc boxer block left in its raw metal casing look, with just the Scotch-Brite marks left showing only the most subtle hint of cleaning up. The functionality of the engine, often hidden, is also on full display with wiring, cables and even the regulator rectifier in full view. But to make sure the BMW is heard coming and to give a far tougher appearance the “nice” stock chrome mufflers have been swapped out for reverse cone shorties in a raw finish.


Then there are the little touches that were important to Arnaud and make for great talking points when hanging with your riding friends. The seriously vintage speedo with brass bezel held to the bike with industrial clamps. The flat bars that were agonised over until the right set was found that have then been treated to hand wrapped leather grips. The riser bolts that look like they’ve been nicked from a building site and the relocated starter button that all cost nothing but one man’s imagination and a desire to create a bike for his tastes alone. And that’s the point of these Rat bike builds, whether the rest of us like their aesthetics or not is of no concern, they’re about taking an old bike and making it work with whatever materials you have around.



Arnaud learnt so much on this build that now along with his friend runs Shadow Motors Paris building and repairing bikes for their mates. There is a another BMW in the works but what you can count on is purely purposeful machines that are built on a weeks wages and yet still make you sit up and take notice. Leave it to the French to hand craft from old scrap a 70’s beater with so little money and yet end up with something so très cool.

  • Alasdair Sykes

    So much time for this, very refreshing to see the rat style done well. So often that genre seems to be used as an excuse for corners cut. Reminds me a little of Blitz’s work (is it a Parisian thing?) but the lines on this just flow, something Blitz only seem to get right occasionally.

    One question – how were the front forks dropped? Just a simple spring cut or…?

  • Dingus chopper

    LMAO rat bike …..Ive been riding junk for 37 years ,I guess I’m a trend setter LOL I do like the bike .

  • Fantome_NR

    True rat bike bikes aren’t born of a “concept”, they are the result of years of abuse and neglect, and revived by broke owners out of necessity. Just sayin’. This is a great build but it ain’t a rat bike.

    • brownroundtown

      But aren’t even rat bikes born of a certain stylised statement? I mean, the one you posted below – what’s that fuel tank all about? The owner has obviously chosen to weld up an oddball tank in a certain way rather than just replace it with one from a scrap yard – which probably would have been cheaper. I’ve ridden and neglected several bikes over the years and kept them going when i was broke, but none of them ‘looked’ like a rat bike. And does that mean we’ll never see a real rat bike on pipeburn?

      • Fantome_NR

        if we are going to speculate, that fuel tank was likely made from junk for free. free is cheaper than what an be found at the scrapyard, and which would probably have needed repair anyway.

    • Alasdair Sykes

      Did you read the article? It was a beat-up bike in need of repair/reconditioning and the builder had a pretty tight budget. Just cos it isn’t rattle-can black and covered in cargo netting doesn’t mean it’s not a rat. I guess we’re nit-picking though, since we both agree it’s a sweet build 😉

      • Fantome_NR

        yes, it’s too nice and well thought out to be called a rat in my opinion.

    • Rubens Florentino

      Are you putting rules in the “rat’ movement? That BMW is indeed a Rat Bike, only difference it was built by an artist instead a butcher.

      • Fantome_NR

        You don’t know what a rat bike is. Rat bikes don’t have a “movement.” A real rat bike isn’t built intentionally, a real rat bike just happens over time. Otherwise it’s a just bike built in the rat bike style, which is to say, another hipster fantasy. Again, this is a nice low budget vintage build, rough around the edges but well done, elegant, and smart. Not a rat bike. Sorry.

        • Rubens Florentino

          I think I have been a lot more around Rat Rods than bikes. A Rat Ros is a purpose buit car, as a hobby. People build then as cheap as possible and then enjoy it. We have been doing this since 1940’s. Some are kinda trashy and some are drop dead gorgeous, but never a beatten up, neglected car. I thought the same idea could apply here.

          • Fantome_NR

            Yes, I can see how there could be some confusion in terms there. Rat bikes aren’t the two wheel equivalent of rat rods. Which are awesome. Rat bikes are just pieces of junk, sometimes spectaculalry so.

  • Jonathan Wos

    C’est bon ça!

  • Fantome_NR

    This is what a rat bike looks like. Rat bikes also usually have lots of weird crap glued to them, and saddle bags and cargo netting everywhere. The bike above has a rough vibe but it’s more steampunk in its deliberate self concious styling than it is rat. No duct tape, rusty hose clamps, and altogether too pretty and safe.

  • Fantome_NR

    a couple more. the one in SF was a hayabusa!

  • brownroundtown

    This is brilliant! The BMW airhead customs are getting SO tired…who’d have thought you could blow them all away with 500 Euros! That tank sets it off beautifully – along with the dropped ride height it just looks spot-on. Great work. I’ll give you 550 Euros for it.

  • guvnor67

    Not sure what 500 Euros is in Aussie Dollars or even British Pounds but am guessing not much ?! I like the look of this, and the way it sits. Makes it look a lot older than it is, like am early to mid 60s model.

    • 780.00AUD or 375.00GBP

      • guvnor67

        Thanx! Maaaaaaan, now that’s what I call a budget build!

  • bjparker

    Cool bike and great job for the money. Having just recently had an ’80 R100 that I wanted to turn into something beautiful and functional and a very small budget, I can really appreciate what is done here. Bravo!

  • PATtheHUFF

    Great use of 500 beans. Well done!

  • Jim Stuart

    The juxtaposition between true rat and faux rat is something that will left to the scholars to debate ad nauseam. To quote the author, ” it does retain the patina of years spent on French roads for that kind of beauty only age can provide.” Are we to understand that to capture the true rat spirit we will be relegated to faux rat status if we don’t utilize French road patina? Can this stuff be bottled and sold as an aerosol product? Better yet a convenient gallon can that would facilitate a brush-on application? Then there was the comment about the pogo stick effects of the stock German made shocks found on the bike and the need to replace them with shorter muscular Harley Davidson units. Where does less travel and inferior damping supercede comfort and control?

    I admit I’m a lost babe in the woods when it comes this modern cycle mentality but I am honestly trying my best to understand…

    • badbmw

      As they say…..if we have to explain it to you….you wouldnt understand.

  • ratter or not it is good to see a low budget build, bike of the year for me

  • jlgace

    I think in order to appreciate this bike, we need to accurately determine what category of custom motorcycle it fits into and what trends it represents – first and foremost to accurately define what is truly a rat bike. What are the origins of the rat bike and who holds ownership of the name? What was the first rat bike and what specifically identified it as such? I think we should get this sorted before we can all comment on it.
    I kid. I love what this person has done with the bike. If they want to call it a rat bike or a mouse bike, I c*nt give a sh*t.

    • raymo

      This bike will undoubtedly bug those narrow minded bike enthusiasts who only can see the world from their perspective. This bike has fenders, decent tires, dual front discs, new master cylinder, more modern voltage regulator, etc. It’s not a race bike, it’s not going to compete with any dual sport adventure bike, it’s not going to compete in a supercross, but it obviously meets the objective of the builder. Looks great to commute, run around town, or take for weekend cruises. I personally love it. As far as too many BMW airhead customs go, I rarely see one in person (other than my own). The internet would lead you to believe that every other bike on the road is a CB750, XS650, W650, or BMW airhead…..but in real life they are rare to see.

    • Fantome_NR

      That’s kind of the point. Before the navel gazing internet era made everything into a “thing”, a rat bike was just another way to describe a beater, a pile of junk that somehow still managed to stay on the road. That’s all. No one “built” them as such intentionally, they just happened over time, as the result of broke/neglectful/incompetent/irresponsible (but mostly just broke and maybe also fearless) owners. Which this bike clearly isn’t. Again, that’s the whole point: a real rat bike isn’t a genre. It’s a bike that refuses to die even though it looks likenit should have died a long time ago.

  • Bultaco Metralla

    This has all the marks of a true rat bike. Bin everything that you don’t need and just do enough to keep it running.

  • BoxerFanatic

    I am, as my screen name suggests, a fan of most boxer engine powered vehicles, BMW motorcycles near the top of my list. I was actually getting a bit bored of most of the painted and stripped-down airhead examples being shown recently.

    Until now. This is fantastic. Classic for classic’s sake. old school, and not trying to be sportier than it is. A 1979 model looking more like it started as something like a 1959 that has been fettled and updated with cast wheels, dual front disc brakes, and replacement parts, rather than the back-dating that it actually has received. The long and low look, with fenders and old school fittings really make the effect.

    I am not a huge fan of rat-vehicles, but I really, really like this one. In the same spirit of having good modern tubeless radials on stable cast alloy wheels, I would apply a MotoGadget simplified wiring harness, light lithium battery, LED lighting replacements in vintage fixtures, a round LED reflex headlight, and RFID keyless ignition interlock, with a vintage pushbutton starter. Vintage look, with stone-reliable modern updated, and low-electrical-demand guts… a bike like this looks like it has been run to great lengths in the past, and yet underneath is robust enough to more than double that mileage in the future.

  • Deej

    Really like this. Definitely one of my favourites.

  • MichaelG

    Does anyone of you have the contact information from Shadow Motors Paris?