Function AND Form - BMW Motorrad Head of Design Ola Stenegard Exclusive Interview

The idea of having a serious talk with one of BMW Motorrad's top designers sounded very cool. I was thrilled to discover an easy-going fellow with bright eyes and a merry state of mind, open and equally happy to talk to autoevolution.
2016 BMW R nineT Scrambler 1 photo
Photo: Florin Tibu
Needless to say, he was not allowed to spill the beans as to what lies ahead for BMW Motorrad, even if I saw it in his eyes that he knew so much more than he could (would) tell. Even so, meeting Ola Stenegard was an awesome part of EICMA 2015. Enjoy the interview below!

autoevolution: Hi Ola, since you are a motorcycle designer, the first thing I want to ask you is what bike has captured your attention at EICMA. It can even be one of yours, it doesn't matter!
Ola Stenegard: Hahaha, oh, that's so hard! I haven't been to the custom motorcycle area so far, so there are still bikes to be seen.

I've run around a little bit, but from what I've seen up to now, the ones that blew me away were the ones outside this room, the Japanese custom K1600 models. I know I am really boring to say that, but I only saw them in photos until now and I was so thrilled knowing that they were going to be here.

That was one of my highlights today, you know, we unveiled the new Scrambler and the G310R, but seeing these two custom bikes live was amazing. I got to see them in detail, meet their creators, talk to them, and it was actually really exciting.

ae: How is Ola Stenegard outside the office? Is he about form or function?
OS: I guess it's a bit like in the office, a combination of both. One has to find the right balance, and this goes for both BMW and me as a person. For some bikes, function is more important.

For example, if I go to the race track, that bike has got to perform. It has to look good, but mainly it has to perform, and one side can't compromise the other. If you hop on the Adventure, it must be the right tool for the setting, but when you get on the nineT, things are different.

Performance is no longer the first thing I think about. You want to feel good on the bike, you got to feel relaxed, you maybe want to individualize it and put your own parts on it and customize it.

Frankly, I feel a bit different depending on what bike I am on, and this may reflect the mindset I have at BMW, too. It goes with the territory, I guess.

ae: Roland Sands is becoming an increasingly stronger presence in the European motorcycle industry. He is getting involved with BMW, Ducati and more and is making inroads in this part of the world. How is he influencing BMW Motorrad?
OS: I have known Roland for quite a lot of years now, and the first project we ever worked on together was the Concept nineT. Why we ended up doing that bike with Roland? I think it was that his mindset matches ours.

Like I said before, his bike looks good, and they always perform well. You can take any of his bikes and take it to the race track and ride it hard, and they really work. I know that most custom bikes are made to please the eye, but his machines can perform.

We have been talking about doing a project together for a couple of years. By the time we did the Concept nineT, I had already known Roland for around five years, and when we got together to see what the bike could look like, we gelled together instantaneously.

His way of thinking matched our way of thinking, and it was like nitroglycerin - it exploded into something very cool.

[QUOTE]Roland Sands delivers both good looks and great on-road performance, that's why he is becoming so popular[/QUOTE]

He is turning his eyes more and more to Europe and his presence on the European scene is triggered because more and more brands see what he can do. And what he does matches the way we ride in Europe: we want to look good, and we want performance.

Furthermore, it's also good that he is working with other brands. We never claimed that he was working solely with us; he is a customizer, and he should be able to work with anyone he wants. The difference is that we have been working with Roland Sands for a long time, maybe longer than anyone else.

ae: Who contacted who in the first place? Was it Roland who said "Hey guys, I'd like to work with you," or was it BMW asking him "brother, help us do this and that?"
OS: No, it was only him and me knowing each other for so many years. We both come from the custom bike scene, we just met and started talking, and then, along the road came the idea. "Maybe you should try your hands on a BMW," I told Roland.

First he was like "Whaaaat?" Of course, back then he only knew the bikes that were in production at that time, so we took a prototype of the nineT to him and told him, "See, this is what we're working on now. What do you think about this?"

The moment he saw the bike he was all in. Then we did the Concept nineT, and he was also influential on the production R nineT. He became a part of the soul of the bike and the whole new movement, AND a very close friend of the company.

What's also important is that he REALLY likes motorcycles. He lives the BMW's slogan, "Make life a ride," it's his whole life.

ae: Now then, the G310R, the first small-displacement bike BMW ever manufactured, what does it mean for you?
OS: I think that for me and my team, the G310R represents a whole new era. We have been toying around with the idea of going below 500cc for so long... It's a huge, huge market: Brazil and Asia push a lot of motorcycles, and a smaller bike was an exciting idea.

Getting into those markets, reaching out to new, younger customers from other cultures and places where we are not present yet as a brand. When we started doing the first sketches, way before this even became a project, we were thinking about the 250-300cc range, and everyone was really excited.

Then Stephan Schaller (BMW Motorrad CEO, red.) came and told us that he really wanted to go serious in that direction, and my team was on fire. Designing that bike was, and I know it sounds bad when you say it, easy, but in a way, it was easy. By the time the whole thing kicked off, we had already done a lot of thinking about it and were ready for almost anything coming from that direction.

ae: Some say that the G310R has quite a strong resemblance to the S1000R, looking like a downscaled version of the big-bore naked machine...
OS: Yes... and no. Definitely, that was the hero bike, but we just didn't want to 1-to-1 the S1000R. It had to have the same genes and vibe as the S1000R, but copying it would have been too easy. The G310R is a VERY important bike for BMW, and it needs to have its own world, in its own way.

They must be siblings and not copies. You see a lot of things that are very closely styled, such as the air outlet the left-hand side, the face and the mask. They have similar lines, but they still have their own character. Also, the aggressive, sporty stance was inherited from the genes of the S1000R and adapted to the new machine.

[QUOTE]I can't give you details, but there will absolutely be a 310-based platform of BMW bikes[/QUOTE]

ae: I presume you're not allowed to speak about such a subject, but I just have to ask: what's next? The G platform?
OS: (After a good laugh) alright, I can't have a say in this. But without revealing any details, we would be crazy to deliver a new bike that is not a platform for more models. The 310 is a family, just as the Scrambler is a part of the nineT family, and, of course, we will see more bikes in the future.

ae: I have been talking to younger guys who are either new in motorcycling or thinking about getting licensed, and they were thrilled to learn about this bike. Some of them cheer its launch and are openly expecting the small-displacement GS.
OS: I'm not going to comment, but I'm really excited about what I hear. I think this is cool feedback, and the fact that people are looking forward to such a motorcycle is great. I'll just take that feedback with me to the studio.

ae: Joseph Machler told me right here, last year, that there was not going to be a supersport class BMW machine, say something like an S600R-ish beast, because the segment is not faring too well internationally. What's your take on this?
OS: The whole 600cc class took a hit, and it is a pity because these bikes are quite a lot of fun on the track. Nowadays, from a business case standpoint, you will find almost the exact parts inside 600cc and 1000cc bikes.

Still, the smaller displacement machine sells for a fraction of the price, despite the fact that if you examine the parts list, you will find them to be very similar. The costs of manufacturing the two are almost the same because the smaller cylinder or piston is only a minute variation of money spent.

From a businessman's point of view, (BMW Motorrad, red.) building a 600cc bike now and seeing it become a commercial success is impossible. And I think that the rest of the industry sees things more or less in the same light, unfortunately. When strong sales are not there, this sensitive case makes no sense at all.
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