Friday, January 23, 2009

Xenophya Design: In conversation with Mark Wells and Ian Wride


Mark Wells and Ian Wride of Xenophya Design ponder the mysteries of motorcycle tailpiece design

Set up by Mark Wells and Ian Wride back in 2001, Xenophya Design is a UK-based motorcycle design consultancy – one of the very few such outfits in Europe. Xenophya recently moved into a new office that’s located in the Northumberland countryside, in the North East of England. Situated in a relatively inconspicuous building, the facility includes a design office, a clay-modelling studio and a workshop with painting facilities.

Mark and Ian have, apparently, built up a significant portfolio of motorcycle design projects over the year, though they can’t talk about much of their work because most of their clients insist on complete confidentiality. ‘Some of our most impressive, innovative work is confidential and not meant for public, much less competitor consumption,’ says Ian. ‘On occasion we have to stay completely anonymous. Some contracts state that we can't even mention that we worked for the client let alone be allowed to use anything in our portfolio. That’s just the way the industry works,’ adds Mark.

Now, since motorcycle design is one subject we’re deeply passionate about here at Faster and Faster, we asked Mark and Ian to speak about their work and their thoughts on motorcycle design. Here are some excerpts from what they had to say:

On why they chose to go with the name Xenophya

The word Xenophya is derived from Greek and means ‘strange in shape or nature.’ It seemed to suit what we were doing when first started up…

On how they got started with motorcycle design

It’s been a lifelong ambition – we can’t imagine doing anything else. After graduating from Northumbria University’s Transportation Design course in 2000, we wanted to be involved in bike design, by whatever means possible. Mark’s final year project was to redesign the Ducati 900SS, giving it a completely different image based on the standard chassis. This would broaden Ducati’s product line with minimal investment, or could be sold as a kit.

It showed potential as a product, so we set about designing an aftermarket kit for the Kawasaki ZX-9R, which could be simply bolted on in place of the original plastics. Once that was finished in clay, we got a bit of publicity which resulted in an accessories manufacturer asking us to design some parts for their range. To help pay the bills, the aftermarket kits got put on hold and the consulting has grown ever since.

On their favourite bikes, from the design perspective

This is a never ending theme of discussion in the studio and the answers tend to change from day to day. The problem is from a design point of view it’s all about context. For example, the Ducati 1098 is more evocative than say a Kawasaki Versys, but it can be argued that the Versys is a better piece of design. With the Versys, the designers at Kawasaki had to re-invent an existing product and make it appeal to an entirely new market – not an easy task. All the Ducati design team had to do was evolve a classic design - easy? Well, perhaps not, but you get the point.

It’s also tempting to ignore the obvious answers such as the 916 and instead tell you all about how important the Scott Flying Squirrel was, in order to demonstrate our in-depth and esoteric knowledge, but that would be a bit pretentious. So, without stating the obvious and listing the same models that appear in every top 10 bikes ever supplement, these are some of the bikes that are etched in our subconscious:

We both ride bikes and have a bit of a two-stroke habit, especially the early-90s Japanese race reps. The little RGV and NSR250s have great proportions and are two of the best looking bikes ever. They are anti-socially noisy and smokey. They demand focus. They handle better than almost anything and have enough power to put a big grin on your face without being caught out doing 180mph before you know it. That’s why it’s where our money went and that’s what we own. Mark has a NSR250 MC21 SP and I have an RGV250 VJ23. The world needs bikes like these again!

Going back a little further, the RD350LC (RZ to the rest of the world) was from the same school. I’ve always wanted one and at some stage, if I ever get a spare moment, I will find a seized one and restore it.

For Mark, as a kid, the posters he had on his bedroom wall were of the Norton F1 rotary, in JPS colours – the racer not the road bike. His dad even took him to see Trevor Nation and Steve Spray race the F1s in the British super bikes at Brands hatch…

We are both fans of and very influenced by 50s British racing singles like the Manx Norton, the AJS 7R and the Matchless G50. Each of these bikes is beautifully proportioned, with a dramatic horizontal line separating the organic forms of the tank/seat from the rest of the bike. Late 60s GP bikes like the Honda RC166 are also fantastic, not just to look at, but you’ve not lived until you’ve heard a six-cylinder 250. We first saw one being ridden in the flesh at the Goodwood Festival of Speed a couple of years ago.


A 250cc concept bike designed for a bike manufacturer based in India...

On how Xenophya works with bike manufacturers

We tend to work together with our customers to create the design brief. In an ideal world, we will take their marketing material and conduct our own research into the target consumer, resulting in a report which outlines the goals for the product. This is then used to inform the brief and the direction of the product.

What they want and what we want are irrelevant in a way. The product should be about what the target consumer wants. If we decide to make a bike red, it should be because that what will sell, not because it’s the CEO’s favourite colour.

It is also true that many of the large manufacturers have their own in-house design studios. Most of them however still commission external designers to work on projects. That could be to input some fresh ideas at the early concept generation stage, or to act as an overflow where their own staff are engaged on a project and something else needs doing. Some OEMs such as KTM and Yamaha have exclusive tie-ups with external studios such as Kiska and GK design. Certain parts of the process are regularly outsourced – for instance it’s not uncommon for OEMs to outsource clay modelling to a third party.

On the more interesting projects they’ve worked on

Working on the Fischer MRX650 was our first experience on a full bike. We were contacted in 2003 by Glynn Kerr, who needed help in building the clay model and subsequent model for the Indianapolis show. The design was done entirely by Glynn but working with him and the chaps at Gemini Racing in Milwaukee taught us a lot.

More recently the Royal Enfield Bullet Classic was great fun. Being British, it was a real opportunity for us to work on an old British brand which is one of the longest in continuous production. Royal Enfield really recognise the value in their brand and have made a real effort to embrace it and retain the heritage which I think shows in the product. It also meant we got to travel to India and were introduced to their domestic market which is now a key part of our business.

On working with bike manufacturers based in Asia

We have worked with Royal Enfield and a number of others. Bikes in Asia are still predominantly about transport, in Europe and the US they are a lifestyle product. This is changing in Asia and bikes like the Yamaha R15 are leading way in introducing new market segments. We were at the Delhi Auto Expo in January last year and the atmosphere on the Yamaha stand was truly electric – it reminded me of the excitement I felt the first time I visited a motorcycle show as a school boy. That’s not to say Europeans don’t get excited about bikes, but somehow it seemed more visceral, rawer in India.

The biggest physical difference in the products is the scale. On average, Asian populations are anthropometrically smaller, so bikes are designed with appropriate ergonomic triangles. In Europe we’re used to bigger bikes. Apart from a recent resurgence in 125s and scooters, most bikes are over 500cc. In Asia, it’s all about affordable, practical transport so priorities are completely different. Bikes are mostly under 200cc and need to be versatile. In markets like India, there are also specialist requirements such as sari guards which need to be taken into account when designing a new motorcycle.

The biggest difference however is in the volumes that are manufactured and sold. The whole of Europe and Japan combined manufactured around 3.5 million units in 2006 compared to seven million in India and a mind blowing 20 million units (nearly half of all global production) in China. These vast quantities affect how you go about designing a motorcycle. In Europe, the number of bikes that a manufacturer predicts it can sell will greatly influence the method of manufacturing – tooling cost is a crucial consideration when deciding whether a design is feasible or not. In Asia, however, the numbers of units manufactured is so vast that tooling costs become less significant. Instead, raw material/part prices are a higher priority.

On Japanese vs European motorcycle design

The Japanese are technically superb, practical, reliable and governed by strict brand guidelines. Their design is equally well governed and subsequently competent – you rarely see a genuinely ugly Japanese bike (although someone at Kawasaki must have misplaced the manual when they designed the ZZR1400). The Yamaha R-series is a great example of good design evolution over time. The current R1 can be easily traced back 10 years – the current model is clearly related to the 1998 model, but still looks modern. The 2002 model is actually one of the prettiest bikes in recent years and had it been painted red with the D word written on it, it might have attracted more attention. Can I add that to my list?

European design is self-proclaimed as being more passionate and creative, however the truth is the Japanese are every bit as enthusiastic, passionate and creative. The Italians are particularly good at shouting about ‘Italian Style.’ They aren’t so keen on telling everyone that the designers in these companies responsible for some of the memorable models are often not Italian. In truth, most design studios are very multinational environments with teams of engineers and designers from all over the world contributing to the final product. At Xenophya, we regularly employ a network of design professionals from all over the world.

On how they expect motorcycle design to evolve in the future

In pure styling terms, we’ve seen motorcycles, sportsbikes particularly, becoming increasingly complex. The Yamaha R6 is probably the most extreme example, with a high panel count and complex surfaces. I think this has peaked and will start to move back to simpler forms – the new R1 already shows signs of that.

One aspect which we have seen grow recently is the role of the importers and their relationships with Asian factories. The influx of low cost models from Asia has prompted smaller manufacturers and even larger importers to take a scooter, for example, and make it their own by replacing the body. This presents new opportunities for outsourced design companies to work with a greater range of clients wanting to differentiate their products.

Although still extremely popular, there has, in Western European markets, recently been a shift away from the hyper-sports category of motorcycles. We suspect (and hope) that a new selection of mid-sized experience oriented products will enter the market to cater for people who want to be thrilled, and involved without necessarily doing 200mph.

It seems almost inevitable that we will see an ever greater number of electric and alternative fuelled motorcycles on the market. The challenge here will be to create products which are as exciting and involving as current motorcycles are.

We thank Mark and Ian for taking the time to answer all our questions. And we wish them all the best – hope Xenophya gets to work on many exciting motorcycle design projects in the future...!

Also see:
In conversation with Gerald Kiska, of Kiska Design...
Pierre Terblanche moves on from Ducati...
Massimo Tamburini retires from MV Agusta...
Derbi: Carlos Carrasco’s GPR Concept...
Nitin Design: The Dacoit roams free...!
Ecosse ES1 engineer wins design award...
CIV: The Lotus-designed snow scooter from hell...

Elsewhere today:
Yeah, well, but we'd still be happy to ride anybody's 2009 Yamaha R1...
The Wesll Quad: Lean into it...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

1975 Kawasaki Z900-based dirt-tracker special


A Kaw Z900-based dirt-tracker? Why not!
Pics: Ottonero

Built by Gitielle Moto, the Kawasaki dirt-tracker-style machine you see here is based on a 1975 Z900. Of course, apart from the engine, fuel tank and side panels, very little remains of the original machine.

The chassis has been modified extensively, the front fork has been taken from a Kawasaki GPZ900R, the adjustable rear shock absorbers are Bitubo units, the aluminium swingarm is a custom-built one-off item, the brakes (300mm disc at the front, 240mm disc at the back) are from Beringer and the bike’s 17-inch wheels are shod with Pirelli rubber – 120/70 at the front, 160/60 at the back.

Other changes include a hydraulic clutch, a custom-built seat covered with special slip-resistant upholstery and the wild green paintjob that you’ll either love or hate...!

Also see:
Big CC Racing's Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo...
The fearsome 1975 Yamaha TZ750 dirt-tracker...
Down memory lane: Board-track racing in the US...
1992 Kawasaki ZX-7R special...
Riding impression: Moriwaki MD250H...
In conversation with Kevin Schwantz...
The quickest Kawasaki ZX-12R in the world...

Elsewhere today:
One-off: The Triumph Quadrent...
A battery-powered Vespa...?
Red-hot Honda Fireblade...

Christini Technologies unveils AWD SuperMoto


The Christini AWD SuperMoto. Is AWD the next step forward in sportbike technology?
Pic: Motorcycle-USA

All-wheel-drive on motorcycles? Steve Christini has been at it for more than 10 years. The man really believes in the AWD concept and his company – Christini Technologies – has, over the years, been working tirelessly towards an AWD motorcycle that really works. And if the recently unveiled Christini SuperMoto is anything to go by, AWD motorcycles might just be getting ready to go mainstream.

The Christini SuperMoto prototype is actually a KTM 450 SX-F, with various aftermarket bits and the Christini AWD system. The Christini AWD is actually a kit that can be added to some Honda and KTM dirtbikes. It comprises of a purely mechanical (as opposed to hydraulic) system that transfers power to the front wheel. We’ll admit we don’t understand the system too well, but you can visit the Christini website here to read more about the mechanics of the AWD system.

We are more interested in what the AWD system does – it’s supposed to provide extra traction and stability, especially on dirtbikes and dual-purpose machines. Christni have also been working to fine-tune the system for streetbikes – in the few tests they’ve done so far, AWD is said to improve cornering speeds and stability during exiting fast bends.

We think AWD on bikes is pretty damn cool. Who knows what a Fireblade, GSX-R1000, R1 or 1198S will do with AWD? Heck, it may even allow ordinary riders to corner like Rossi & Co. Or maybe not. But whatever, this technology is one to watch out for in the future…!

Also see:
Cool concept: The Yamaha Air Tricker...
Ecosse ES1: Reinventing the sportsbike...
Riding impression: The supercharged, 180bhp Roehr 1250SC
Blast from the past: Kawasaki ZX-10 Turbo!
Motorcycle Speedway: Just how tough are you?
Memorable: The mid-1980s Honda VF1000R...

Elsewhere today:
KTM test 2WD bikes...
Here's something for those who want to ride in the snow...

2009 MotoGP: Ilmor to work on privateer Kawasaki ZX-RRs?


While Kawasaki will not provide any parts or assistance to Bartholemy's proposed privateer MotoGP outfit, Ilmor might step in with their expertise...

Kawasaki’s immediate future in MotoGP is still uncertain. Team Green’s MotoGP team boss, Michael Bartholemy is reportedly in Japan right now, trying to figure out whether Kawasaki can still participate in the 2009 MotoGP world championship. With Dorna threatening to hit Kawasaki with a fine of around US$28 million if they pull out of MotoGP (Kawasaki had earlier committed to staying in MotoGP till 2011 at least…), the beleaguered bike manufacturer may also be looking for a middle path that gives them a way out of this mess.

The ‘middle path’ that may get the required minimum of 19 bikes on the 2009 MotoGP grid could be that Bartholemy runs a private team with two Kawasaki ZX-RRs, which would be ridden by Marco Melandri and John Hopkins. However, Kawasaki will not provide any support, and parts, development and everything else will be handled by Bartholemy.

Kawasaki test rider, Olivier Jacque has already been testing the 2009 prototype ZX-RR. And with regard to the requirement of parts and development, it’s now being said that British engineering firm – Ilmor – could step in with their expertise.

Based in Northamptonshire in the UK, Ilmor came to MotoGP for a brief period in 2006 and 2007, with their own racebike. However, due to a lack of funds, the company shut down its MotoGP operations in March 2007. Now, with Kawasaki ZX-RR machines up for grabs, Ilmor could possibly be back in MotoGP, supplying technical backup to Bartholemy’s privateer outfit. An Ilmor was the very first 800cc MotoGP machine to come to MotoGP, when Garry McCoy rode against 990cc machines towards the end of the 2006 season. We don’t know if a Kawasaki-Ilmor privateer team would have any success against factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati bikes, but it’ll at least keep Kawasaki in MotoGP.

Kawasaki’s final decision is expected later this week, so stay tuned for more on this…

Also see:
Massive collection of 2008 MotoGP wallpaper...
Fast past: Gary Nixon rides the Kawasaki ZX-RR...
Face-off: 2009 Yamaha R1 vs 1990s Yamaha YZR500...!
Classic: The 200mph NSU 500 Kompressor...
Memorable: The Laverda 750 Formula S
Marco 'Crazy Horse' Lucchinelli, 1981 500cc motorcycle GP racing world champ...
Team Nescafe replica Yamaha YZF750SP...

Elsewhere today:
M├ętisse will build Steve McQueen’s bike for you...
V8-powered motorcycles from Sweden...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Yamaha R1 riding impressions


The 2009 Yamaha R1. The ride of your life...

With its MotoGP-derived technologies, the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is supposed to be the hottest ticket to superbike nirvana this year. Some of the world’s motorcycle press have had the opportunity to ride The One, and here are some interesting excerpts from what they have to say:

‘All you need to know is, the new engine has transformed the R1 into one of the best sportsbikes I’ve ever ridden, and that’s praise indeed when you consider just how good the current Honda Fireblade is,’ says Michael Neeves at MCN. ‘Revving the engine for the first time, it’s hard to comprehend just how quickly the rev needle dances around the dial; it spins more like a two-stroke 500cc GP machine than a litre-sized road bike,’ he adds.

‘The way the R1 leaps out of corners is incredible. As soon as you’re ready to accelerate, the Yamaha surges forward like it’s powered by an industrial-strength electric motor – it’s just seamless, instant torque and power, and impossibly easy to control,’ says Neeves. ‘Honestly the R1 accelerates like it has a racing engine; it has V-twin levels of torque down low and screaming four-cylinder power up top. The howl from the engine at full throttle is exactly the same as Rossi’s M1; it’s like your very own MotoGP bike for the road,’ he adds.

About the new R1’s handling, Neeves says, ‘A new chassis helps the R1 feel much lighter than the old one, and it steers much quicker and more accurately. As always for Yamaha, the handling is nice and neutral, although probably not as ‘pointy’ or fast steering as the Fireblade. In one stroke, it makes every other sports bike out there seem a bit old and wheezy. Impressed isn’t the word.’
 
The 2009 Yamaha R1 on test...
At Motorcycle-USA, Steve Atlas is no less impressed with the R1. ‘The throttle response is unlike anything I have ever felt. So instantaneous and so precise, it caught me off guard during our first session at the 12-turn Eastern Creek Raceway. On more than one occasion I twisted the grip a bit too far while still at high levels of lean, spinning the street-spec rear tire and popping my butt a few inches off the seat when it hooked up. Wake up time! It's spot-on, in-your-face good,’ says Atlas. ‘Overall, the feeling of the engine truly is hard to describe as is the distinct sound. You still get the sense it’s an inline-four once the revs build high, but in the low rpm it feels almost like a well-tuned V-twin race bike, and in a way, sounds like one as well. Vibration is far from what you are used to as well, feeling somewhat like a traditional V8 car. The most amount of disturbance is right off idle low in the rpm, smoothing out as revs increase and becoming almost nonexistent at top-end – completely opposite of any inline-four we have ever ridden. Strange initially, but one quickly gets used to it,’ says Atlas. Regarding the handling, Atlas says, ‘Front-end confidence is greatly improved from last year due to the updated weight distribution, giving the rider far more confidence to push deeper and flick harder as the fork gives ample feedback. Once on its side, the R1 continually feels as if you can lean it further and further, quickly approaching elbow-dragging territory.’ However, Atlas discovers that the R1 is not without its shortcomings. ‘Brakes are still the weak point of the R-Uno. Despite the changes up front the lever feels a bit wooden throughout its pull, lacking the outright power of some of the competition. Where in this day and age using anything more than two fingers to stop is almost unheard of, on more than one occasion I was in deep enough to require the use of my entire hand, even running off the track into the grass once, something I haven’t done since… well, the last time I rode an R1. That being said, they are slightly better than the previous model,’ he says. Hmmm… apart from the brakes, it all sounds pretty impressive. We don’t know yet how the 2009 R1 will stack up against this year’s GSX-R1000, but we suppose it’ll be close. Let the 2009 superbike dogfights begin…

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gordon Murray: “The MV Agusta F4 is so slow!”


Gordon Murray, the man who designed the McLaren F1, says the Ducati 916SP was much better to ride than the MV Agusta 750 F4...

John Cantlie of TWO magazine had the opportunity to talk to Gordon Murray, the man who designed the McLaren F1, perhaps the greatest, ‘purest’ street-legal supercar of all time. With its top speed of 386.7km/h, the McLaren F1 is still the world’s fastest production car with a normally-aspirated engine.

What some people may not know is that Gordon ‘Mr McLaren F1’ Murray is also an ardent motorcycle enthusiast. Speaking to Cantlie, here’s some of what Murray had to say about his bikes:

On the Ducati 916 vs MV Agusta F4

I own a 916SP and I love it. The only bike I like better, which was made by the same team, is the MV Agusta F4. I bought the 750 just because the styling and the engineering is so good. I love all the forgings and casting and just thought it was a fantastic motorbike. But I only kept it for two years.

Unfortunately I hadn't had a small engined bike for many years and that thing just didn't go, it was aggravating to ride and you had to get over 9,500rpm before it did anything. I should have hung it on the wall, that's what I bought it for. The F4 is so slow! The Ducati is a much better bike to ride.

On how he got into motorcycling

The bike thing started when I lived in South Africa. When you were 16 you could ride little 50cc bikes that we called 'buzz bikes.' For £10 I got a second-hand Maserati 50 and used to ride that around. In fact just this month I've bought another one to hang on my workshop wall at home to remind me of those early days. Unlike my dad I never raced bikes. Well, not formally anyway. The only bike racing I did was when we used to break into the circuit and race our 50cc bikes around, ha ha!

On his Honda VF1000R

In 1981, when I was technical director of Brabham, Nelson Piquet [who won the F1 world championship that year] was driving, and he gave me a Joey Dunlop Isle of Man replica VF1000R as a thank you. I had that for quite a few years and then I started getting into Ducatis…

On his Ducatis

Well I had a 750 F1, which I went down to the factory to order, then an 888 SP1 and now I have a 916 SP4. I sold the VF because it got to the point where I simply had too many bikes. I had loads of dirt bikes because I used to do trail riding. I wasn't riding them all, so I thinned down to one touring bike and one race bike.

Apart from all the dirt bikes, I still have them all over the place. Now I just have a 1300 Pan European for long distance and the Ducati for fun. I hate collecting. If I don't ride or drive something in 12 months I sell it, or hang it up.

On his best biking memories

Any one of the years at the TT, I love it. From the point of view of me riding? The first time I got on the 916. In those days the SPS used to arrive in a box and you had to assemble them yourself. I still enjoy getting my hands dirty...

See the full interview on Visordown here

Also see:
Does your bike need hubless wheels...?
Carl Fogarty isn't very popular after all...
Back to the 1980s...
SUB G1: One racy trike...
The best two-stroke sportsbikes in the world...
Muzzy Kawasaki Raptor 850. Holy Kaw!
HUGE collection of 2008 MotoGP wallpaper...
When Lamborghini made a motorcycle...
At least the Ferrari motorcycle looks better...

Elsewhere today:
Gordon Murray speaks about his T.25 city car project...
Verona Motor Bike Expo 2009: Picture gallery...

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