"Think in black and white," motorcycle designer Glynn Kerr urges. "Look where the light spills through and where the dark matter collects. It’s all about lines and silhouettes." As engineering feats began hurtling the motorcycle towards increased speed, precision and power-style followed suit and soon surpassed it. The evolution of today’s motorcycle has as much to do with the aesthetics of motion as it does with actual speed.
The award winning Kerr recently gave a fascinating nuts and bolts design talk and walk-through of motorcycle design history at the California Auto Museum’s Born to Ride exhibit. The exhibit is still on, and runs until March 12th, 2010.
Walking through the individual design triumphs of the past century, Kerr points out the shift forward, the focusing of lines into motion. Engines lean towards the front wheel and tails become lighter. Fairings enter with sharp, driving lines. Today that racing look is crucial. Conversely, modern cruisers lean way back while the forks are long and light. "Get that line or form wrong," Kerr emphasizes, ‘and you’ve got an ugly bike."
From Indians to modern Ducatis at the exhibit, you could easily see how motion overtook design. The upswept fins on the motor of the first Honda 750s forced all the other lines on the bike to angle with them, and the whole motorcycle lunges forward like an animal ready to run.
"Styling has gone from being considered unnecessary decoration," Kerr underscores, connecting past and present, "to being the single most important factor in a customer’s choice of motorcycle."
British-born Glynn Kerr has specialized in motorcycle design for over twenty years. Best known as a regular contributor of articles and illustrations to motorcycle magazines worldwide, he is now Creative Director of Motovisions, California and runs a network of designers offering a variety of motorcycle-based design services.