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How customization trends affect motorcycle design

Motorcycle historian Paul d’Orléans delves into the not-so-easy but essentially fruitful relationship between the modern-day custom scene and the design teams at major manufacturers.

In ancient times In the 1990s, custom motorcycles were hugely popular, but the baroque excesses made them unsuitable for the motoring industry. The death of the fat tire custom in 2009 hardly caused any ripples in the OEM world, but it was really the first time that custom didn’t lead the way in motorcycle design, and people forgot about the unrecognized exchange between repairmen. makes great bikes — and the industry is taking notes.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled Fasthouse special edition

Back in time, trackers, choppers, cafe racers, bob-jobs, Promenade Percys, and cuts all influenced the factory design, but no one talked about it until Bike EXIF become a monster. The site’s 2008 launch event coincided with a growing wave of excitement surrounding a new custom motorcycle scene, and Chris Hunter captured the tiger by the tail. And with no intentions of that, Bike EXIF ​​and the neo-custom scene pulled the motorcycle industry out of its worst doldrums since 1957.

In short, customs saved the (motorcycle) world.

Concept sketch of Ducati Scrambler

In a 2011 New York Times editorial, “Have the motorcycles run out?” Writer Frederick Seidel asked if modern motorcycles are “the kind of car” and realized that new bicycles are no longer sexy or a necessary accessory for trendy kids who like their iPhones. OEM bicycles have become heavy, complex, and tall, leaving the very people the industry needs to survive: young people. As a result, the average age of a new driver in the US increased from 30 to 47 between 1990 and 2014, and the 2008 financial crisis halved worldwide motorcycle sales. .

But a whole new landscape is being built – unnoticed at first – fueled by the very toxins that are killing the OEM industry: the poor economy, boring bikes, and iPhones.

Honda CB750 Gorilla Punch by Wrenchmonkees

Custom introduction ‘CB’, shorthand for inexpensive sponsor bikes, can be made great with little to no effort — or a lot of effort, if you’re determined and skilled. Let’s be frank: the average Custom CB with a pipe wrap and Firestones didn’t change the motorcycle industry, but the energy that made them popular did. Young people vote with their feet, and blinding everyone to the broad trends of 2009 that revealed what racers really want: racing car, cafe racer, street, car bobber.

The motorcycle industry used to offer most of these styling as OEM models, such as the Honda CL72, BSA Gold Star and Triumph Hurricane, and bobbers have been around since the 1920s. The motorcycle scene has evolved. strong in the 1970s with independent stores stocking all of these styles, from the Trackmaster and Rickman to the hundreds of custom parts suppliers on Easyriders’ sites. What happened 20 years later that almost killed the OEM industry? Complacency, intimacy, and a business culture are fueled by anxiety.

BMW R nineT 'Highway Fighter' by Cherry's Company

How has Bike EXIF, as the most ubiquitous and visible manifestation of the global customization scene, directly impacted the industry? Ola Stenegärd, chief designer of India and formerly of BMW, said, “I always built my own helicopters, which confused the management in the early 2000s. [Fellow BMW designer] Roland Stocker and I see that custom is growing, with the Bike EXIF ​​being the first true expression of the new custom. ”

“We saw what was going on and built the prototype R nineT in 2005. Hendrik von Kuenheim, as head of BMW Motorrad, needed Hendrik von Kuenheim’s help to show that bike at EICMA in 2008, and we struggled for many years. years with the Board to produce it; it just didn’t match their predictions. Everything is about numbers, there is no room for sales failure today and it is difficult to put the numbers in our favor.”

Concept sketch of BMW R nineT

“Only two bikes could compare: the Triumph Bonneville and the Kawasaki W650, neither of which sold the volume we needed: 7,500 just to break even. But one statistic that I could find in our favor is tire sales! Sales of exotic, second hand, 18 and 19 inch tires are skyrocketing and that number is 100% due to the new custom scene. We were finally able to bring the R nineT to market after eight years and it sold out of two years of production in just a few months.”Zero FSX by Huge Moto

Recently, Zero Motorcycles released an all-electric model, the FXE, which is a stripped-down look at a state-of-the-art superbike that debuted at the One Moto Show in 2019, built by the Huge shop Moto is based in San Francisco. Zero commissioned Huge to do a custom build on an existing FXS without any intention of putting the resulting bike into production, but when The Creation of Giant Moto debuted to such rave reviews, and with Zero’s long-standing background in need of an overhaul, the stars align.

Custom motorcycle builder Dave Mucci is currently a lead designer at Zero Motorcycles and when asked if he would ever consider building a custom bike that could become a production motorcycle, he said: “It is. never crossed my mind. Custom bikes come from people looking for something that doesn’t exist in a showroom, so we went out and built it, and what has facilitated so much of that is all the information. news you can get online right now. “

Zero FXE electric motorcycle

“Before YouTube and blogs, people thought that because they didn’t know how to do something, they couldn’t do it. But now, video tutorials are constantly appearing in front of you, and you’ll gain the knowledge you need to build something on your own that has never existed in the world before. Now, a lot of people have done that, which pushes the industry to change its classification of models and go in different directions than before. “

Discussions with designers at other OEMs confirmed identical scenarios: the designers’ desire to experiment and follow trends created by young motorcyclists , hampered by an anxious corporate culture. But in the end, the evidence was overwhelming on all sides: the kids wanted cool bikes, and the factories needed kids to survive.

BMW R nineT 'Impester' by El Solitario

Bike EXIF, the herald and representative of a new landscape, has greatly changed the motorcycle industry, as its designers admit. Collaboration of OEM factories with small custom shops like Blitz, Brat Style and El Solitario only emphasizes the great need of factories for new ideas and new energy. And the bikes that are most clearly influenced by the neo-custom scene — BMW R nineT, Ducati Scrambler, Triumph Scrambleret al — tend to be the most popular in their lineup.

The game is far from over. We’re watching the growing electrical customization scene, with its usual mix of breathtaking and humorous designs coming from studios around the globe.

Concept sketch of Ducati Scrambler

Talented customizers are now recognized by the OEM industry as design trend-setters, and we’re seeing their immediate impact on the all-new electric vehicle industry — not like the others. saviors of the hour, but the creators of the future of motorcycling.

Wear your custom cape. It’s time to save the world again.

Illustrated by Justin Trang | The article was originally featured in issue 45 of Iron & Air Journal. Watch it online thisor sign up this.

Ducati Scrambler cafe racer by deBolex Engineering

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