BMW Motorrad— On the Road

November 2019

Edgar Heinrich, head of BMW Motorrad, is a passionate designer, motorcycle enthusiast and a total motorcycle nerd. No wonder then that he was only around 12 years old when he got the bug. The moment he reflects on being the ark for his interest was when his older brother and his cool friends allowed him to ride as a passenger on the back of their motorbikes. From then on, every aspect of the motorcycle had interested Heinrich – types and styles of motorcycles, technical aspects of bikes, and of course, studying to get a licence. (Naturally, not having a licence didn’t stop him from riding without one in the countryside.)

When Edgar Heinrich was a fascinated boy, the bikes his brother and friends rode were old and largely unreliable. As that fascination grew, his interest got itchy and Heinrich started tinkering, fixing, customising. At school, he wasn’t exceptionally gifted at mathematics or physics, but always remembers being a skilled draughtsman and enjoying drawing and doodling. After finishing school, with little to no idea how to progress but with a skill in his hands and a capacity to imagine the world of 3D, he decided to ep into architecture and moved quickly in favour of the human-scale and transitioned into product design.

Edgar Heinrich on BMW Motorrad Concept R18 prototype

Heinrich was, and continues to be, a gifted model-maker and for his thesis project – keeping in mind that his interest in motorcycles hadn’t waned – decided to create a 1:1 motorcycle. He thought it would be fairly straight- forward; he’d use components from existing motorcycles and maybe even find a company that would support him by providing parts. Needless to say, it was more complicated than he had initially expected, although a company did come forward to help supply parts. That company was BMW Motorrad.

Today, this sounds like a story straight out of a design student’s fairy tale. Heinrich says that it didn’t exactly feel that way at the time. ‘In the 1980s BMW Motorrad was a very technologically and quality-driven brand. It was innovative, but it wasn’t cool. The design was quite clumsy and it didn’t have the image of the dynamic brand that it is today.’ Heinrich tells me that the perception of design wasn’t very strong then, and primarily engineering drove the brand. It had to run well, be reliable and sound right; the way it looked was always somehow secondary. These days, the perception of the brand has shifted dramatically. ‘Today, BMW Motorrad still carries the aspects of innovation and engineering that it has always been known for, but the quality of the bike is no longer the only unique selling point. It is about motion and aesthetics. A motorbike is the biggest accessory that you can wear. It has so much to do with your identity.’

BMW Motorrad workshop

As a result of this new-found emphasis on aesthetics and image, the workflow of the various design teams that Heinrich oversees has also changed. ‘The workflow is very simultaneous; when we set up a new project everyone is on board from day one. The core team includes people who deal with the engine, the chassis, the electrical engineering elements, the body works, the designers, the communications team and the finance person – they’re all in the same room.’ Just as Heinrich had done during his studies, the team still makes models. Initially they’re virtual models, but physical ones are essential in understanding the animal that they create. ‘You need to sit on it, touch it, walk around it – otherwise you can’t feel the proportions of it.’

Each project is worlds apart from the other – different rider, different context, different feel; but like a red thread throughout each one is the unmistakable DNA of BMW that Heinrich suggests has existed since the fir motorcycle ever produced by BMW Motorrad in 1923. He tells me about the semantics of these ingredients, most of which I’ll admit are lost on me, given that the most I know about motorbikes is that my dad has one. (It’s a BMW, by the way.) I’m sure that if you’re into motorbikes as much as Heinrich, which might in itself be a challenge, you’ll know that it has partly to do with the horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder boxer engine configuration and visible cooling fins.

The BMW Motorrad brand is the broadest that it’s ever been. You name it, they do it: super sports bikes, roadsters, scooters, electric scooters, off-road, touring, dual-purpose... The interesting challenge facing Heinrich and the team is translating this afore- mentioned spirit of BMW Motorrad and implementing it into the newest models. In some cases, like the Concept R 18, in which the team really tried to capture the nostalgic roots of the cruiser, it’s easier. More complicated is the task to design an electric motorbike. Given that the motor is the centrepiece of any motorcycle, visually and metaphorically (it’s even in the name), and as I’ve mentioned the two-cylinder boxer engine has been a key element for the identity of BMW Motorrad, the question arose: what does a BMW motorcycle look like when it’s electrically powered? On the opposite side of the spectrum to the Concept R 18 there’s the newly released Vision DC Roadster, which is the manifestation of the electrical awakening of the boxer engine.

BMW Motorrad workshop

With each bike that’s different from the other, the team has started thinking more in terms of characters or profiles. ‘Our basic determination is that when it comes to the design, segmentation is critical. Bikes are such a big part of your identity, so it has to show. If you’re an adventurer, you want to be riding something that looks like you could ride through a desert on – you want it to show your personality. A luxury cruising bike applies to totally different rules – plush seat, more storage – than the café racer bikes.’ Zooming out a little from the specifics of the design of the bike, Heinrich told me that he imagines motorbikes being a strong part of future mobility, particularly in increasingly congested cities in which mobility is more mission-driven. Heinrich is also someone who raises an eyebrow when people talk about autonomous driving; not because he doesn’t believe in it, just because he’s someone – and designs motorbikes for people – for whom driving is an emotional escape; dare I say enjoyment.

‘Riding a bike is one of the most analogue things you can do. People are going back to film photography, vinyl, and riding a motorbike fits with those quite well.’ Heinrich’s escape, aside from riding into the sunset on his motorbike, is going into his workshop where he has some bikes and bike parts, and creating something which doesn’t need to compromise with the law or other regulations, just like he did as a teenager.

By Emma Lucek

BMW Motorrad Concept R18 detail render

BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster prototype development
BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster test ride
BMW Motorrad Concept R18 engine detail
BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster concept development
BMW Motorrad workshop
BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster rendering
BMW Motorrad R18 lamp detail
BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster rendering
BMW Motorrad workshop
This article appeared in DAM74. Order your personal copy.