Motorcycle Design: The State We’re In

Motorcycle design: the industry heavy hitters explore the state we're in for the Bike EXIF Panel

This week we’re kicking off a new occasional series: The Bike EXIF Panel. With each edition, we’ll pitch five questions to leading personalities in the custom scene and motorcycling industry at large.

Today we’re asking our panelists to weigh in on the state of the new wave custom scene and motorcycle design in general. We’re also looking at the areas where custom and OEM collide, and what that means for the industry.

On the side of the manufacturers are three leading lights from European marques. We have Miguel Galluzzi, Head of the Piaggio Group Advanced Design Centre, father of the Ducati Monster, and designer of the new V7 and California for Moto Guzzi. Then Ola Stenegärd, BMW Motorrad’s Head of Vehicle Design and the man behind the smash hit R nineT. And Diego Sgorbati, the Director of Motorcycle Related Products at Ducati and the man responsible for parts, accessories and brand partnerships.

In the custom corner we have heavy hitters Roland Sands, Pedro García and Efraon Triana of Café Racer Dreams, and John Ryland of Classified Moto.

So, the questions:

Has modern motorcycle design hit a rut? Or do you think that the strict regulations enforced on manufacturers limits their freedom?

Stenegärd: I don’t think so, at least not for us: we just launched the Concept Roadster (below), which took a lot of people by surprise. Just go to EICMA or Intermot and see all the exciting stuff that keeps rolling out from the industry. Creative designers and engineers will always find a way to work with rules and regulations.

BMW Concept Roadster motorcycle, 2014.
Galluzzi: It’s clear that we are at the end of an era—think for a moment, all the other times that motorcycles suffered a radical transformation were after big wars. Only then, motorcycles changed and moved forward. Motorcycles were intended to be simple machines, not a crazy bunch of electronic devices to control something that nobody really needs. So, we are heading in a direction in which the motorcycle is going to be revolutionized.

Ryland: I’ve only been paying attention to motorcycles for the last seven years or so (I was a very late bloomer), so I still see a lot of cool design aspects on newer bikes. I’m a big fan of nice textures and exposed mechanicals, and I feel like there are plenty of those elements that are alive and well. I know it must be a drag for the big manufacturers to have to put giant mufflers and emissions systems on their products, and the designs definitely suffer.

Sands: Regulations will always be there, but I have friends who are OEM designers and their attitude points towards exciting new bikes. Manufacturers outside of Harley-Davidson are starting to see the importance of customizability, which really points towards simplification. When you couple that with modern performance, then you really have something I look forward to riding and working with.

Café Racer Dreams: We sincerely believe that most brands are unaware of what people are looking for in motorcycles. They are very late in terms of tastes and trends, and almost all new formulas that are used are wrong.

Sgorbati: There’s still a lot of room to push the limits of bike design, just think of the way our Panigale (below) stormed the sports-bike design scene. However, the shrinking motorcycle market possibly had the effect of “try to reach a bigger slice of the cake” instead of “explore the ultra-niche because there’s room for everybody.” I think this will come to an end soon and manufacturers will build, within the frame of regulations, many exciting and ‘emotionally radical’ street bikes.

Motorcycle design highlights: the Ducati Panigale R.
What’s your perception of the custom scene at the moment? Do you think ‘new wave’ customs are in it for the long haul?

Stenegärd: Yes I do. And it’s so inspiring to see how this creative-motorcycle-mindset is bringing a new young generation into riding bikes. I’ve been into bikes my entire life … but never seen something like this: it is the Easy Rider or On Any Sunday of our time!

Sands: New wave—meaning chopped and simplified flat track, beach-style, café racer, bobber scramblers with shitty fabrication—will be around as long as there are old shitty bikes to chop up and new builders honing their skills. The key change is that people are putting far more effort into non-Harley-Davidson based bikes, and we are seeing high-quality, fresh takes on nearly every style and make of bike. The challenge now seems to be how shitty of a bike can you start with and how bitchin’ can you make it, and I love that.

Ryland: I think there are tons of great ideas out there at the moment. It’s really fun to watch the guys who are true garage builders, who have been influenced by the ‘for-profit’ guys but don’t have to make money on their projects—lots of intricate detail work that would cost a bajillion dollars if they were getting paid by the hour. It’s very pure. I don’t think there are any signs that what’s happening now is slowing down, and certainly no signs that there will be a resurgence of the prevailing styles of mid-2000s reality TV.

Classified Moto's 'Doomsdaytona' and CRD's BMW '#49'.
Café Racer Dreams: There are different perspectives on the current custom scene. There are those that have taken the baton passed on from the chopper scene and build tasteful, honest, good quality bikes—this will move the scene forward. But there are also those who build rare and pointless bikes just to sell clothing, or earn reputations as ‘builders’ just by being cool,’ when they don’t actually have the skills. To make a living selling bikes, you must be working every day—inventing new things and being the first to get them out.

Galluzzi: ‘New wave’ customs!? The need to get our hands dirty has never changed, and never will: We are just getting more dirty than ever because of what’s available in the showrooms. It was no different in the 1920s-1940s, or the 1950s-1970s. And today we are in need of substance, once again!

Sgorbati: Everyone dreams of having a custom (at least one), but in most EU countries these creations can only live in living rooms and garages because of the aforementioned strict controls. This could prevent large-scale diffusion in Europe. And then, let me ask you a question: do customs attract and fit the needs of millennials, or are they just more toys for 40- to 50-year-old petrolheads like us?

More and more manufacturers are taking note of (and getting involved in) the custom scene. Do you think this will influence the way manufacturers approach motorcycle design?

Sgorbati: Sure, but a lot depends on execution. The key is making bikes that inspire and leave room (technically and aesthetically) for customization. That means bikes with very simple technical elements and ‘roomy’ layouts that allow for easy modification and transformation.

Stenegärd: For us it did. It was one of the main objectives while developing the R nineT (below). We in the team all live in this scene, and we all have a pretty good idea how we would like a customizable bike to be set up as a platform. But we also appreciate how important it is to acknowledge and listen to the scene and its builders to get cool ideas and creative input as well.

Motorcycle design: the BMW  R nineT.
Café Racer Dreams: Correct! After a few years in the shadows it seems some brands are watching this scene, even trying to release new models to quench the thirsts of customers with these tastes. Mostly too late though, but that’s normal—to develop a bike takes years. At the same time we find it very interesting, and we think that some customers are happy to see that brands are now catering for them.

Galluzzi: Yes, yes and YES!! No matter what, the simplicity of certain custom designs is something that inspires everybody. In my case, the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer is one example of how a manufacturer tries to understand the change. The need for simplicity to enjoy the ride with something that anybody could have built in their garage is a concept that doesn’t suffer the passage of time.

Motorcycle design: 2014 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer by Miguel Galluzzi.
Ryland: I feel like I can see glimpses of big manufacturers taking notice of the modern custom scene. Several are actively encouraging customization—like Yamaha’s Star Bolt Build-Off, where builders got to chop on a brand new bike and put their spin on it. [Roland Sands' design shown below.] I guess the trick will be seeing if the manufacturers can make it profitable on a large scale. It seems possible, but they might have to ditch some of the molded plastic—all that plastic just fights with the design of some otherwise sweet bikes.

Yamaha Star Bolt customized by Roland Sands Design.
Sands: Most new bikes are so heavily designed from tip to tail that it’s very difficult to edit the aesthetic without major modifications. The OEMs that understand customization from the ground up and build bikes accordingly will see customers who do more with their bikes than just own them. Owners will make the bike a part of their lifestyle and culture, and that has unparalleled long-term marketing power. Just ask Harley-Davidson.

With the reveal of Harley-Davidson’s Project LiveWire, all eyes are on electric motorcycles again. What do you think we’ll see in the next five years?

Galluzzi: The LiveWire is another example of manufacturers trying hard to understand what’s next. Harley electric? Sounds new, which again is a good thing—different crowd, different needs, new business!

Café Racer Dreams: There’s certainly a part of the market that will accept electric motorcycles. We ourselves have been taking time out to develop an electric-powered project, so we definitely believe in the idea.

Sands: The LiveWire is pretty slick and HD has gone way off the reservation, which is a good thing. With an electric bike winning overall at Pikes Peak, a lot has been proven in a short time and HD is striking at the right moment. The future might be a lot more electric than we think, but it’s still up to the OEMs to deliver that motorcycle experience without the ‘motor.’

Harley-Davidson Livewire electric motorcycle concept.
Stenegärd: I think we will see a lot more electric and hybrid two-wheelers. Especially in the commuter area. We attacked this question with the C Evolution which is our answer to how such a two wheeler can be both sustainable and green, and yet typically BMW Motorrad dynamic.

Ryland: I saw my first fast electric bike in action at The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb a few years ago and wondered when you’d see them in numbers on the street. As much as I love a good exhaust note, I think it’s pretty obvious that the planet could use some internal combustion alternatives. I predict in the next five years we will have gone through several rounds of battery technology trial and error before there’s a standard that checks off all the environmental, economical and public opinion boxes. At which point I’ll probably buy a 2015 Harley LiveWire for cheap and Classify it.

Sgorbati: I still do not understand why people should ride electric bikes, unless forced by regulations or bans. Bikes are, generally speaking, not household appliances such as cars or scooters, where electric makes a lot of sense. However, electric is still far better than no bike at all.

You have $25,000 burning a hole in your pocket and it’s time for a new ride. What builders (other than yourself) would be on your shortlist?

Stenegärd: Dude! Since I build all my bikes myself I would get a new TIG welder, new lathe and a Eckold KF planishing hammer! Or I would do what we actually just did: turn to one of our ‘First Nine’ Soulfuel customizers—probably with Roland Sands coming out in the lead on points, since he always makes sure you can ride his bikes hard as hell! And I do dig that!

Sands: Harris Performance in the UK. I need a good track day bike and you can get a good MOTO2 bike for $25K.

Ryland: There’s so much great stuff out there right now, practical and otherwise. I’d probably look at something from El Solitario [Petardo shown below], See See or DP Customs—I love all their bikes and there is a fun vibe to all of them that comes through in different ways. I’d rather put my money on something that puts a smile on my face than something that fills me with technological awe.

Motorcycle design: Ducati 900ss custom by El Solitario.
Galluzzi: Give it to me, Shinya Kimura is my man! Guzzi 850 engine? Tonti frame? Then … let the man create!

Café Racer Dreams: We like the way the Wrenchmonkees work, and some of Deus Ex Machina’s bikes.

Sgorbati: Ideally, I’d take one month’s vacation and $5,000 of parts to build a bike on my own – the donor bike is already in the garage waiting for me. If there’s no chance of getting a holiday signed-off, I’d go to Radical Ducati in Spain and order a bike to get them back into business.

With thanks: Moto Guzzi | BMW Motorrad | Ducati | Roland Sands | Cafe Racer Dreams | Classified Moto