This is a story of expecting the unexpected. The Bandit9 L•Concept is designed by Daryl Villanueva, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon.The custom motorcycle is based on a Honda Supersport 125. It has been shown in museums around the world and is available for sale at a price that suggests something you would find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace—$11,950.You aren’t likely to see another one on a ride—yes, it is operational—as only nine examples of L•Concept were produced by Bandit9.
We’re going to step aside and let Villanueva tell his story, and the story of Bandit9 and L•Concept, in his own words from our exclusive interview.Ultimate Motorcycling: What do you find inspirational about motorcycles?Daryl Villanueva: Motorcycles entice all your senses. The way it looks. The rumble when you twist the throttle. The growl. That feeling of freedom and focus when you ride. It’s all very visceral on the outside and introspectively; it’s a meditative experience. Whenever you get out on the road, it makes you feel like you’re a part of something much larger. There’s peace.UM: When did you first become aware of motorcycles?DV: Ever since I was a kid, I always loved the look of motorcycles and the way they just zip between cars. There was just something pure about them. But I’m a late bloomer; I started riding when I was 25. I had been bouncing around the world, and Saigon was the kind of place where the motorcycle was a way of life. It’s part of the culture and what energizes the city. If you get a chance to come here, go on top of a high rise and you’ll see how motorcycles flow through the streets like cells in veins.UM: What was your first motorcycle?DV: A wonderful 50cc Honda Cub. I’ve owned a number of Harleys, Ducatis, Suzukis, Yamahas, etc. The Cub is still my favorite motorcycle. It’s so simple, elegant, and reliable. Some are 60, 70 years old; I still see them around town lugging fridges in the back. Now, that’s performance.UM: What was the first motorcycle you customized? What modifications did you make?DV: I started with a Honda Cub with very modest modifications—paint, seats—and restorations to give it new life. I fell in love, and I guess that was the seed blossomed into Bandit9. At the time, I was just too chicken to leave my day job.UM: How did a guy named Daryl Villanueva end up in Saigon?DV: My father was an expat, and my family was fortunate enough to live in quite a few places. I grew up in Hong Kong, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, and eventually went to art school in Los Angeles. I knew I wanted to keep that up and, fortunately, my career allowed me to do that. I ended up working in Los Angeles, Dubai, Saigon, and Beijing.After I left the ad industry and finally mustered the balls to start my own business, I didn’t know where to go. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. I went back to Saigon for a freelance job to keep me afloat while I did some soul searching. I had no intention of returning, but I was reminded of the kindness of the Vietnamese people. And the wonderful thing is they’re genuine. They’re not kind of out of politeness. They’re just simply kind and without agenda.This is a rarity. This was a sign from God. I listened.UM: How did your career as an advertising art director influence your later builds at Bandit9?DV: Advertising is a wonderful career for a young man. I worked with incredibly talented photographers, directors, and designers in all sorts of fields. I ended up acquiring a number of useful skills—design, writing, keeping ideas simple, developing an aptitude to learn, and crack insurmountable obstacles, and it gave me a six-pack to handle rejection. It’s something you deal with constantly in creative fields. As much as I hated my later years in advertising, Bandit9 would not exist without it. Anything I do with regards to craft, communication, style, philosophy…everything stems from my days in the ad industry.UM: What training have you had that helps you build custom motorcycles?DV: I’m not an engineer, mechanic, or even a 3D artist. My background is in graphic design. And because of that, I have a tendency to keep the form of our motorcycles as simple as possible. With the Eve and the L•Concept, the forms are so easy to draw that a child can do it. My days in ad land have also trained me to constantly search for inspiration in places that are not necessarily connected to your field.UM: Where does the name Bandit9 come from?DV: The 9 comes from 2009, when I first started out with that Honda Cub. I chose the bandit as the symbol because we’re in the East. We don’t have access to awesome parts, even talent. It’s very limited here, and we do what we can with what we have. Pirates, outlaws, and bandits do the same. They make do with what they have and are incredibly creative individuals who innovate to get themselves out of trouble. They do the unexpected, get away with it, and do it with style. That’s our business model.UM: What is it about the Jet Age that inspires your custom motorcycles?DV: I can talk about this for hours, but I’ll keep this as short as possible. For some reason, today, we tend to ask “Why?” a lot. In the Jet Age, we choose the moon, put jet engines in cars, and invented supersonic travel. We didn’t ask why. We did it because we wanted to push mankind to its limits. We did it because we can. And I love that. There’s no reason, except to be better.And progress is always met with resistance. And it’s always the naysayers who don’t give much thought to their criticism that are the loudest. And look at what it’s come to.If you look at today’s automotive world, it’s quite sad. There’s only a handful of companies that are really pushing it. Believe me, I understand the difficulty of developing new models, how expensive it can get, and finding a way to keep your company afloat. But there’s a serious lack of imagination, and I blame bureaucracy and loud conservatives. I think cars looked way more futuristic back in the Jet Age. They symbolized optimism and progress. Cars today are tools that get you from point A to B.The point of Bandit9 is not to sell millions of motorcycles. If that were the case, we wouldn’t put a nine-unit cap on each piece. We’re not stupid. The idea was to inspire others who are better than us to go and make change, whether it’s getting out of a 9-to-5 job and pursuing a dream, or to show them that things don’t have to be the way they are, and we use motorcycles as a vehicle to get that message out—no pun intended there. So, yes, I look to the past to pave the way for the future.UM: What other builders have inspired you? What other influences do you have when building Bandit9 motorcycles?DV: I’ve spoken to numerous builders, motorcycle journalists, and curators, and they’ve all got fantastic stories to share, and it’s inspiring to see these guys pursuing their dream, creating things in their own terms, and achieving success against all odds. I model different things from different people—design, business model, communication, etc. It’s hard to single out people, but gun to my head, it’d be guys like Shinya Kimura, Max Hazan, Adrian Sellers of Royal Enfield, Andrew and Scott from Pipeburn, Bobby Haas of the Haas Moto Museum.Inspiration that manifests into the bikes themselves mostly comes from outside the industry. I love plucking ideas from Zaha Hadid, Raymond Loewy, Marc Newson, the aviation industry, sci-fi films like Blade Runner, or Star Trek and Star Wars, graphic novels, and comics.UM: Where did you get the original idea for the L•Concept?DV: I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and I wanted to create a sci-fi bike—something that doesn’t look possible in today’s streets. The form itself borrows from the USS Enterprise, the riding position and bars from a Star Wars Speeder.UM: How did you choose the Honda 125 motor to power it?DV: This isn’t much of a choice but, as I said, we have to do what we can with what we have available to us here in Vietnam. The great thing about it is the Honda Supersport frame is incredibly unique, and not many out there use it as a platform. It’s got a natural pistol shape, which I think is a wonderful place to start.UM: Why did you decide to hide the motor?DV: For me, it’s not about hiding or exposing motors. My priority is the overall design of the bike. I make decisions to serve that primary goal.UM: What inspired the cowling over the Honda 125 engine?DV: It was the USS Enterprise from Star Trek.UM: What is the story behind the laid-down twin-shock design?DV: My goal here was to keep the silhouette as neat as possible. You can basically create the perimeter of the bike in one stroke without lifting your pen.UM: Is the swingarm solid, or does it have its own suspension action?DV: The swingarm is solid, and attached to the suspensions on either side and the frame using a series of brackets.UM: Does the L•Concept have a monocoque/pressed-steel frame, or is the bodywork camouflaging a different frame design?DV: The core of the frame is visible, which is what connects the tank to the turbine cowl, but the spine is hidden underneath the unibody tank.UM: What were the most difficult moments in building the L•Concept?DV: It was extremely challenging to develop the L•Concept, from the design itself, to actually manufacturing the bike. I held onto the design for two years before I decided to go ahead with production because I felt like we weren’t ready to take on such a task. The bike is entirely handmade, and we needed experience dealing with steel to conform to the crazy shapes of the bike. And, if you know me, I always want to take action, so it took a lot of restraint to hold onto the design.As for the production itself, the turbine was a serious challenge. We had to find a way to enclose the engine, while leaving room for the functional parts—chain, gear shifter, brakes, carburetor, starter. The exhaust is tucked neatly underneath. It’s really tough to simplify and hide things, otherwise you’d see a bunch of cables, brackets, wires, and gears running all over the place, which I can’t stand.UM: What single thing about the L•Concept are you most proud of?DV: I think I’m just proud of my guys being able to grow and develop such a complex piece that is a fully functional motorcycle that defies a lot of convention and motorcycle wisdom. It takes a lot of courage to even attempt something like the L•Concept, and we pulled it off. It was even on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum for their Custom Revolution exhibit.UM: Who took the photos?DV: Jeremy Wong of Nemesis Pictures, Singapore. I’ve known him since my days in the ad industry, and he understands my wackiness and vision. We come from an era where we try to achieve clean and pristine product photography, and I brought that to Bandit9, but it had the reverse effect.I don’t know how many times we’ve been accused of our pieces being CGI. People are so used to that Instagram look that it has become a standard. Perfect photos have somehow become “unreal.” It drives me nuts. I’ve had to succumb to this reality a few times, and I die a little inside every time.UM: Now that the L•Concept is finished, is there anything you would have done differently?DV: Probably everything. Ha! It’s a curse. I have this need to continuously improve things, make changes. But Bandit9 would probably die if we didn’t ship anything out. It’s the same reason I can’t get a tattoo.UM: What is it like to ride the L•Concept?DV: It’s hard to compare. It’s not unlike riding a chopper, but it’s more like handling the reins in horseback riding. It’s the feeling that’s hard to describe because I look at the entire experience of riding. The L•Concept is so unusual, so instead of riding a bike, what’s really happening is you’re straddling a piece of sci-fi machinery on the road. It’s like a movie prop that works. Imagine shooting a stun gun that actually works.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.