When Edgar Heinrich came back to Munich to lead the BMW Motorrad Design team after a spell in India, it was a welcome return for the motorcycle enthusiast who began his career with BMW back in 1986. M
any BMW bikes have been created under his direction, including the Paris-Dakar works rally machines, the K 1200 S and R, the HP2 Enduro, the R 1150 GS and R 1200 GS and, more recently, the S 1000 RR.
Before taking on his post with Indian manufacturer Bajaj Auto, he was involved in the early design development of the K 1600 GT and GTL luxury touring range and the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT maxi-scooter line-up, all of which have successfully launched and gone on to push the boundaries in established market segments and bring many new customers to the brand. In an exclusive interview with BMW Motorrad, Heinrich reveals his passions for design, riding, collecting and even restoring all kinds of motorcycles.
BMW Motorrad: You had the pleasure to help unveil the new R 1200 GS, which actually began life before you left Germany for India and was completed just in time as you returned. Were you pleased at how well it was received?
EH: Yes, very pleased but not surprised. I was really happy at the reaction of all the journalists to the GS when we presented it at Intermot. All the initial press was positive, with not one negative comment, so the fact that they all seemed to really like the bike was a great ‘new’ beginning for me.
BMW Motorrad: Do you ever get used to working so far ahead of the ‘real’ world and having to predict and even establish what future trends may be?
EH: In design, you pass through this ‘time warp’ and move into a different world – a future world – but then you stay in this world. Because you are working so many years ahead, it seems such a long time before a ‘new’ bike comes out, but when ‘your baby’ gets introduced into the market, and you see people riding it on the road it’s the best thing in the world! I guess it is a bit like living a parallel life. The other thing about designers is that they don’t stay satisfied for long. They create something, but once it’s done, they always already have thoughts about how to enhance the following model!
BMW Motorrad: So, with a bike like the GS, how difficult was it to push the design forward, without upsetting the ‘traditionalists’?
EH: To keep evolving is a balancing act. You don’t want to alienate existing GS owners, but you’re a designer – you always want to do something new. On the one hand, everybody’s scared because you have such a successful model, but we have to – and want to – refresh it, so how far do you go? How much do you dare to do? The good thing is that many in the team – myself included – are GS riders and are already living the lifestyle, so they know what they want in a bike like this! This worked out perfectly with the new R 1200 GS. It was very important for us, to make a real typical GS out of it. A GS that remains true to all its genes, the typical GS gesture and architecture, but with a very new and dynamic interpretation.
BMW Motorrad: And what about new segments, like Urban Mobility?
EH: It’s refreshing to be part of this segment now. What’s particularly appealing is that we have been able to bring our own interpretation to this segment. It’s been great to make some design statements like we’ve done with the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT. And also for me, it was amazing to present the C evolution electric scooter to journalists and VIPs last summer. I was in London when the prototypes were unveiled and tested, and as expected, they performed fantastically well, both technical and design-wise.
BMW Motorrad: What BMW bikes have you particularly enjoyed working on over the years?
EH: Every BMW is special and is fun to create. I really loved working on the factory Dakar bikes, probably because off-road riding and racing was a personal passion of mine, and they were also the essence of what ‘GS’ meant to me. However, a very interesting bike for me to do was the K 1200 R. The bike was not a logical or obvious choice to do – and certainly not a ‘typical’ BMW of the time – but we were able to do it, even though it was a bit crazy – and I liked that…
BMW Motorrad: Away from the ‘office’, motorcycles still occupy a large part of your leisure time. Do you find it relaxing to mess around with old bikes?
EH: Yes, definitely. I love to restore bikes and ‘chop’ them – even old BMWs! This isn’t a popular thing to do in Germany, because most people believe that old bikes should remain standard, but I’ve chopped all of my old BMWs. A bike I own that I kept completely original is a Honda CB500, which was an iconic machine from my youth so I restored this to completely original standard. I have a BMW 51/3 from 1954 that is chopped – it was kind of the inspiration for the Lo-Rider Concept. To find your own bike and chop it and bring your own interpretation to it – like some custom builders are doing – is extremely cool, I like this. And the thing is that even with my 58-year-old BMW, I used to ride it as an everyday bike, and these things are reliable, I can tell you.
BMW Motorrad: So what have you got in your garage at the moment?
EH: Right now there are 16 bikes in my garage, including some restored vintage machines. Can a guy ever have enough bikes! I have an HP2, an R 51/3, an R 24, an R 100 GS Paris-Dakar version, some Ducatis, an old Matchless and an Enfield from my time in India, which has been scrambler-ized. I also found a ’61 Vespa there which is very cool and completely original. I even have a Gas Gas that I used to ride trials on. As well as the CB500 that I mentioned earlier, I also have a CB550, as well as a Honda Dominator, as I like big singles.
BMW Motorrad: Has your engineering knowledge helped you in your design career?
EH: From my point of view, when I was a boy I used to fiddle around and do all the things to my bike because I just couldn’t afford to have it done by somebody else. It was the best way to learn though. I just always enjoyed messing around with bikes so I would say it’s definitely helped me, because you can talk with the engineers and if they see you have an understanding then you can make informed decisions together, respecting each other’s expert opinion. Bikes have a high technical complexity. Almost all technical parts are visible on the outside. Due to that, our designers have to be able to understand and create the product technic-wise. They have to know and understand the function of every technical detail and how all these details work together as a whole.
BMW Motorrad: What do you think that the biggest challenges are for the brand in the near future?
EH: There are lots of bikes out there now, which is a sign of the times, but it’s a true global market so you need to stand out. What we need are strong, emotional bikes that perform perfect and always give you something extra. There are many challenges facing us, especially with things like new homologation rules, and the requirement for more ‘green’ eco-friendly modes of transport. Two-wheelers can play a big role in this of course, and we, as BMW Motorrad, want to be very much part of the solution.