Saturday, November 16, 2013

Edgar Heinrich: “Emotion and looks are very important factors for buying or rejecting a bike!”

Edgar Heinrich, who currently heads design at BMW Motorrad, first started working with the German company in 1986!

Born in Freising, near Munich, Edgar Heinrich took over as Head of BMW Motorrad Design last year and currently heads and manages design for all BMW motorcycles and rider accessories. A passionate motorcyclist himself, Edgar started riding bikes when he was 17 and his first motorcycle was a Suzuki T250.

After getting a degree in industrial design, Edgar started working with BMW in 1986 and, apart from the period of 2009-2012 (during which he worked for Bajaj Auto, based in Pune, India…), he’s always been with the German company. The list of BMW motorcycles designed under Edgar’s supervision includes the R1100S sports boxer, the K1200R supernaked and the R1200GS adventure-tourer.

The BMW designer enjoys riding various enduros, scramblers, trial bikes, rally bikes and adventure touring bikes and even has his own collection of customised, rebuilt and restored motorcycles. We recently caught up with Edgar for a quick chat about motorcycle design and here are some excerpts from what he had to say to Faster and Faster:

On working with BMW Motorrad and how things have changed there over the last three decades

I started working with BMW Motorrad design in 1986. In those days, there was no systematic process of motorbike design – it was a very small division attached to motorbike R&D. Consequently, design had no real power – it was more of an extension of engineering. Function and utility came before aesthetics, and were given priority accordingly. These things are different now, since customers expect that function, quality and performance are a given when buying a BMW. Emotion and looks are very important factors for buying or rejecting a bike.

On riding bikes and his favourite motorcycles

These days, it is tough to find time for private riding – most of the riding is during official events, such as launches etc. But I enjoy that a lot as well. And the nice thing is, I get opportunities to ride a lot of different bikes, different ways (on/off-road, track, etc.), in many countries. Very often, in the evening, I just hop on one of my bikes in my garage and do a quick run, which is always relaxing after a day in the office.

It’s hard to say what my all-time favourites are. Quite a lot of BMWs, like the R5, or the R54, R 51/3. With non-BMWs classics, I remember the heroes of my youth, like the Honda CBs, mostly the 500F, which featured marvellous proportions. Or the Kawasaki Z900, the old Honda CL twins, the SFC Laverda, the Honda RC 166 etc. There are so many! My favourite bikes always have been naked bikes and everything with knobby tires. I love my HP2 enduro – it is like a big trials bike, and there is no terrain on which you are not competitive with it.

On the BMW bikes that came between the 1980s K1 and the current S1000RR, which are significant from the design perspective

The R1100S and the K1200R were in a way key points in design for BMW Motorrad, because they were bikes that represented a new way of thinking in the company – sacrificing function for looks. In that way, these bikes were the harbingers for today's design philosophy. Also, the HP projects were important, since ideas, execution and process were extremely passionate. They were kind of halo bikes that showed the potential of these machines.

On his thoughts on retro-styled bikes and increasing segmentation in the motorcycle market

We do not like the ‘retro’ expression, because we believe we don’t do retro design, but rather use concepts, ideas, proportions from our history and interpret them in a contemporary way. Many things have been done before, but there is no limit to what you can do re-combining or verifying the puzzle pieces. Our Concept Ninety or the R nineT follows this philosophy, and the public reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

We believe in the concept of segmentation. The segment defines the mindset. There will always be bikers who want the fastest, or most comfortable, or biggest, or most competitive bike. But there are people who reject this escalation of performance, they neglect all the electronics and sophistication within the bike culture. These may be people who are ‘non-bikers’ in a standard sense, but for whom bikes are part of or an accessory of a certain lifestyle. And not just these, but also young people who appreciate honest mechanics, because they grew up in a digital world, and this is simply a given, nothing to get excited about.

On his opinion of developments in large Asian motorcycle markets like India and China

The Indian, Chinese, etc. markets do not have a need to build motorcycles as Europeans or Japanese do, they simply do not have the customers for it. In India, they build 10 million motorbikes per year, yet all under 250cc, most under 150 cc. It is a need for mass mobility, it is not about riding a bike, or lifestyle, or something like that. As soon as people reach a certain wealth standard, they buy a small car. Infrastructure and safety are very different from what we know, and a bike as a luxury item is not a concept as of now. This may develop along with economy, and you can be sure that these economies will be very able to react to that fact. There are companies who already develop modern bikes with electronic injection, ABS, DOHC liquid-cooled engines etc. These bikes are still small sized, but the basics are already there.

On how he thinks motorcycles will evolve over the next 10 years

The segmentation will extend, we will see sub-segments within the standard segments. For example, there will be performance roadsters, standard roadsters, and classic roadsters within the Roadster segment. Electric commuting will be on the rise, since the need for ‘green’ and ‘safety’ will always grow. Carbon footprint and parking space are issues in urban areas and will be addressed with appropriate vehicles. The design of these vehicles will follow different strategies, and the designers might use a different toolbox, since the packages are also way off from what we were used to. But there is no reason why these electric bikes should not be emotionally designed. An electric scooter does not need to look like coffee maker design, just because it speaks utility.

On the other hand, the ‘classic’ motorbike as a device for certain lifestyles will stay, be it in performance bikes, or in concepts where look and feel is more important than performance. All these options are valid and quite likely, as the motorbike will play a role in this highly regulated world, be it as a mode of escape, as a device to express your individuality, as being part of a certain group, or just enjoying an hour taming a beast.

We thank Edgar Heinrich for speaking to Faster and Faster and wish him all the best for his future work with BMW Motorrad!

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