Interview with Ola Stenegard, Head of Vehicle Design, BMW MotorradIn early 2014, BMW Motorrad in association with BMW Motorrad Japan announced the start of a special project that would involve four leading Japanese custom houses. Each of the specialist bike builders were challenged to customise the innovative R nineT from the German company’s Roadster platform. Under the working title of Project R9T Japan, the completed machines were stunning and received massive world-wide acclaim. One man who was definitely moved by the bikes’ brilliance was chief designer of the R nineT, Ola Stenegard. In a frank interview, Head of Vehicle Design, BMW Motorrad and confirmed custom-fan and special-bike builder, lets loose his thoughts on why the four bikes of Project R nineT Japan stand out as possibly the best urban custom creations to be conceived.Q: In conjunction with several European custom houses, BMW Motorrad had already showed what was possible in customizing the R nineT. So why move further afield to Japan?Ola Stenegard: Japan has a very old and very respected customizing tradition. Groundbreaking trendsetters like Shinya Kimura (then Zero Eng. now Chabott Eng.) and Go Takamines (Bratstyle) all came out of Japan. The Japanese scene was always a great source of inspiration for us, and bikes like Shiro Nakajima’s (then Ritmo Sereno, now 46 Works) R 80 and R 100 race replicas, were on our wall when we did the Concept Ninety. The appreciation for handmade parts, high craftsmanship and a amazing eye for details are always held high and at great shows like the Yokohamas Mooneyes Show or in vivid magazines like Vibe, Choppers Journal and Lightning you can see evidence of this super creative mindset. For us to go to Japan was a no-brainer! We just could not wait to ask four of the top customizers if they would like to perform their magic on our nineT. BMW Japan did a fantastic job to get them all together. And they all said yes. It was a dream come true!Q: You are a designer for BMW Motorrad but also, in your own time, build custom bikes. From these two viewpoints, are there any specific qualities of the bikes that stand out?Ola Stenegard: All four bikes are exceptionally well-built and beautiful. As a designer, usually you look at a vehicle from three different perspectives. First it is the proportion, and then, when you get closer to the bike, it is the surfacing; how the sheet metal and panels are formed. The last perspective comes when you get really close to the bike: it’s the details. What is so amazing with all four bikes is that on every level they are exquisite. No, they are perfect. They each nailed perfect proportions. The surfacing of the tanks and the fairings are beautiful because the applied craftsmanship is beyond amazing. When you crawl into the bikes to see the details – the jewels – the level of detailing hits you. They are some of the best I have ever seen. Every part of the bikes reflects the Japanese spirit of leaving nothing to chance, like everything is handmade and just so well-crafted. It is really amazing. What was also really cool about the bikes, before I even knew which bike belonged to whom, I could spot it right away. You know, “this is Kai-san’s bike… that is Hideya-san’s… this is Shiro’s… and that’s Go-san’s.” Each bike perfectly reflected the character of the builder. There is no winner among these bikes; each bike is so unique and so beautiful. Like I said, they just exceeded way, way beyond my wildest expectations. Just beautiful.Q: What was going through your mind when you looked at each bike in detail?Ola Stenegard: When I first saw the Brat Style bike, Cyclone, what really impressed me was the proportions, because it is very low and very compact; it looked so small and so easy to handle. When I got a bit closer, it was the tank shape. It is just beautiful and works really nicely with the tail. The Ceriani front fork set up and drum brake is such a contrast to the powerful motor, but super cool.When looking at the details is was obvious they were so typical of Brat Style and Go Takamine – everything from the crankcase vent, the old squashed oil canister that is just taped to the frame, and the exhaust pipes. The fact they put the exhaust pipes on the right-hand side is a wondrous thing in itself. It is where the swingarm is and is not so easy to achieve because you have a lot of technical things that have to work together. But it also leaves an open view of the rear wheel on the left-hand side, which is incredible. The wheel rim sizes [19in front, 18in rear] are very, very special by being very classic in style. Also, a lot of the little details that they added – from the tank cap, to the seat and beyond – further the individuality. I love the Brat Style tail lamp. Altogether it makes me want to jump on this bike and ride it, and start doing power slides just like Go-san does all the time… just light up the rear tire and ride like a hooligan!Q: What about Hideya Togashi of HIDE Motorcycle and his machine ‘Boxer’?Ola Stenegard: Hideya has built some of my favorite Harley customs, so I had high expectations. I love the fact that he decided to do a full fairing. I think this is really difficult around this bike, and it is a real challenge. He pulled it off, though, with a hand-down beautiful result. I love the stance of the bike; it looks really racy enough to take it on a race track. The craftsmanship is also beautiful. I mean, he left the tank – the surfacing of the tank – and the tail super finished pure aluminium. I really like that he left all the aluminum just brushed. You would easily see any imperfections if there were any. But there is nothing; it is just perfect.I love the sand-cast cylinder head valve covers; a detail that is just beautiful and super clean like the ribbed covers for the ignition coil. Typical “Hideya-san” details are all over like the oil reservoirs for the clutch and the brake. But you have to look two, three, five times until you actually see them because they are so discreet. A lot of work is involved to get such things done like this. The exhaust is cooler than cool; the exhaust sits under the motor in MotoGP-style with a kind of elliptical outlet. And then there are the various component functions within the build. Hidemo showed me how you get to the battery by flipping up the tail, it doesn’t go up with a “clonk”, and when you drop it down it goes down gracefully with a “pshhhhhh...” ‘Boxer’ is just so well-built on every level. Unbelievable!Q: Shiro Nakajima of 46Works took a different approach in the building of ‘Clubman Racer’ by taking performance riding into account. Was this a surprise?Ola Stenegard: When I saw the 46Works bike, I thought, “This bike can only be built by Shiro-san.” It reflects his very unique personality. When he starts building a bike, it is primarily designed to be ridden fast as hell around a racetrack. That is what he is thinking – to be the fastest around the racetrack.But what makes Shiro so special is that he cannot do this without making it beautiful; it has to look good as well. Sometimes I think that even he doesn’t realise this because he is so focused on making the bike fast. And that is what I love with this bike. Everything points at speed with style: the super narrow but very ergonomic tank; the seat that sits a bit higher so it gets the right race ergonomics; the foot pegs are also a bit higher and so very, very short; and very compact beautifully crafted titanium pipes. Of course you have Öhlins suspension in the front and back, forged wheels, clip-ons and a super small Motogadget dash display. A lot of machined parts – the foot pegs, triple tree etc – are very, very high performance-oriented. Again, it just totally reflects Shiro-san’s spirit: it is made to go fast, but he just cannot make it look bad. Very, very unique, Shiro-san.Q: Finally, we come to Cherry’s Company and ‘Highway Fighter’ by Kaichiroh Kurosu…Ola Stenegard: When I saw the bike I was thinking, “Oh my God, this is like a future vision, but from the past.” It is something that could have been dreamed up in the race department in the 1930s, or like a speed record bike for Ernst Henne. But it has all these modern bits like powerful brakes, modern motor and then some very unique Cherry’s Company favourite flavors, like the wheels. The solid spun wheels. Also the spun brake disc carrier, the whole bodywork… The level of craftsmanship just blows me away. It does on all the bikes, but this in particular. You look at the surfacing and the tank and the whole bodywork, how it wraps around the motor, and every little flange and flair that is so carefully shaped in the metal. It is just so many hours; it is just mind-boggling. Then you have these crazy details like the tail lamp and the head lamp. You really do not see them at all until he lights them up. Then it comes to life: whoa! You cannot believe it. Also the exhaust: I instantly called it a “cherry bomb” because this is so crazy-short, but he managed to integrate everything into that exhaust. It has the catalyser and the butterfly valve; everything is still there and it is quite amazing how they managed to do this. Again, the detailing gets me, but then so does how the whole bike is built. The only way I can describe it is that it is like a future vision from the past. It is crazy. I have never seen anything like it. It is mesmerising… and just blows me away.Ola Stenegard, thank you.For more information on Project R9T Japan, including a superb video about the build history of the four project bikes, please visit:
November 2014 | © BMW Motorrad
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