La Rata

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Jeff Stephenson
June 1 2013
La Rata

As I enter through the front door of Julio Mena’s shop, I realize just how resourceful and self-sufficient this artist is. A milling machine is on my left, and a large steel bench resides in the middle of the shop, with a handmade English wheel attached to one corner. A long workbench, lathe and welder adorn the back wall. The balance of the shop is lined with racks that reach to the ceiling, filled with various parts and a row of future project bikes tucked neatly underneath.

I was at Mena’s shop to see La Rata, a ground-up custom that I had first set eyes on at a motorcycle show a couple years back. At the time, it was in very raw form and not much more than a basic rolling chassis, but even in that state, I was drawn to it. Not just because of its style, but because the few mechanical bits mounted on the frame had me intrigued.

There is a certain unparalleled passion that exudes from anything handmade. While La Rata might not be everyone’s style of bike, it is easy to appreciate the detail of all the mechanical parts and how they are integrated.

Custom seat coverMena is not a mechanical engineer, nor has he been schooled in the finer points of artistic or mechanical creation. He is self-taught on the lathe, milling machine, TIG welder, metal forming and painting, and knowing this, it’s easy to appreciate his talent.

Everything on La Rata is mechanical simplicity; it’s all visible and efficient in operation. The seat is suspended by a leaf spring, and the unique front fork assembly also employs a leaf spring. Mena’s detailed, 3D, shaded drawings of the fork’s components are still pinned to the wall above the lathe, where they acted as references while he machined the various parts.

The right-side footboard rotates to activate the rear brake, as does the left footboard to operate the hydraulic foot clutch. Sometimes, using a foot clutch in traffic can be tricky, so Mena has tied in a clutch lever on the left handlebar to take over the clutching tasks when needed. The other end of the hydraulic clutch is a custom-made slave cylinder.

Even the finely cut mechanical gear that operates the throttle linkage was designed and made by Mena, who hand-cut the teeth precisely with a file.

La RataThe lifeblood of the engine lives in La Rata’s frame. The copper pipes run up the front of the bike to aid in cooling the oil, but most of the cooling comes from the fuel tanks that Mena designed to direct oncoming air to swirl around the upper frame tube. Inside, the rear of the left tank is sealed off to hold some of the bike’s electrics.

The right-side engine detail deserves special attention. It is astounding when you consider this is Mena’s first attempt at metal engraving. The drawings of motorcycles and parts on the walls in his shop are a testament to his artistic side, as are the many leather seats he has carved over the years, but carving leather is far different than metal engraving.

When I first noticed the air breather, I thought it was a good way to repurpose a belt drive pulley, but it has a lot more meaning than just repurposing used parts. Mena was in an accident a few years ago, and it was this pulley that took his left foot. He mounted the pulley as a reminder of the life-changing event. Adding to his many talents, he was fed up with short-lived, over-priced, specialist-supplied prostheses that didn’t fit correctly, so he now makes his own out of fibreglass. Soon, he hopes to progress to carbon fibre.

There are far too many minutely detailed handmade parts to fully describe here. If you see La Rata rolling down the road or on display at a show, be sure to spare some time to fully appreciate its uniqueness.

Owner: Julio Mena
Builder: Mena Custom Cycle
Time: Three years
Name of Bike: La Rata
Year: 2011
Builder: S&S
Displacement: 96 cu. in.
Cases: S&S
Heads: S&S
Lower End: S&S
Carburetor: S&S
Air Cleaner: Mena Custom Cycle
Ignition: S&S
Exhaust: Mena Custom Cycle
Year: 2011
Builder: Baker
Type: 6-into-4
Case: Baker
Primary Drive: Chain
Year: 2010
Builder: Maxline/Mena Custom Cycle
Type: Rigid
Modifications: Mena Custom Cycle
Front End  
Builder: Mena Custom Cycle
Type: Leaf Spring
Painting: Mena Custom Cycle
Front Size: 21-inch
Tire make: Avon Speedmaster MKII
Rear Size: 16-inch
Tire make: Continental
Gas Tank: Mena Custom Cycle
Oil Tank: Mena Custom Cycle
Fenders: Mena Custom Cycle
Seat: Mena Custom Cycle
Handlebars: Mena Custom Cycle
Headlight: Mena Custom Cycle

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