By: Andrew Serbinski, IDSA
Andrew Serbinski is Principal of MACHINEART in Hoboken, NJ.

Sometimes, you just have to take matters into your own hands!

When manufacturers do not offer products suitable for choosy consumers like me,it's necessary to design what you want, then talk to the companies later.

Such was the case with motorcycles. The object of my fancy for years, they appeal to many emotions, none related to the need for transportation. Much more so than cars, motorcycles reveal mechanical forms and details reminiscent of our early industrial history. Todays motorcycles have much more in common visually with early examples built at the turn of the century than automobiles do, and in that mechanical nakedness lies much of their appeal.

cowling detail Motorcycles also represent a link to the large animal world, which humans had to once rely upon for getting around. Their animal-like scale imbues them with certain animal qualities, like stump pulling power, swiftness or aggression with which their riders identify. The promise of experience and a reflection of self image lies at the core of the emotions that stir a motorcyclist's soul to covetousness.

Buying a motorcycles is an emotional act and appearance plays a very important role in inflating our expectations of experience. What automotive/motorcycle writer Peter Egan calls " garage factor" -- the experience, after the thrill of a ride, back in the garage, admiring the shapes, the surfaces, proportions, materials, and mechanical details, the visual experience -- continues to provide pleasure at rest.

clay model

Italian Ducatis, German BMWs, British BSAs, American Harleys all have "garage factor". They do so because they have either evolved an aesthetic built on years of tradition, or they reflect the vision of a single designer. Most Japanese motorcycles, despite their brilliant engineering and manufacturing quality, lack the requisite allure. As Egan wrote, referring to one of the "best of class" Japanese sport bikes, "once you've stopped, the show is over".

For me, this phenomenon is purely a design problem, one MACHINEART could solve. Selecting a Kawasaki as a base, we set out to design and build the definitive Sport GT, otherwise known as a "Gentleman's Express", a motorcycle appealing to a more sophisticated and experienced enthusiast. Typically at least 30 years old with an income of $40,000-plus, this rider desires the style and "emotional" kick of exotic, high performance machines, as well as the comfort of a wide seat, relaxed riding position,room to carry a small amount of gear, and greater safety. High priced European makers dominate the market, so there is an opportunity for wider market penetration with less costly products.

We set three goals:

  • Demonstrate that it is possible to design emotion and allure into a mass market Japanese product by emphasizing the beauty of machinery -- the cornerstone of motorcycle enthusiasts' pleasure --while being true to the formal principles of 3-D design.
  • Solve functional and rider comfort problems common in many motorcycles.
  • Propose to Kawasaki a design that would help to raise interest in and increase the sales of its competent but slow selling GPz1100.

Defining the basic gesture of the design was fundamental to the success of all that followed. Starting from my first sketch of a rising arc, like a spray of water thrown back by a spinning front wheel, the form evolved true to the intent of implying pent-up energy and the muscular stretch of an animal at speed. My team of three, including designers Jörg Schlieffers, a gifted sculptor, and Bruce Scardilli, a magician with plastic and sheet metal, went through the usual process of making a clay model, plaster and rubber molds, fiberglass body parts, stainless steel and aluminum hardware. design team

While the MK9 did start out as a concept prototype, it was determined that no concessions would be made that would limit the bike to being a design exercise. Unlike most design concepts, the MACHINEART Kawasaki is a fully functional, ridable, machine. It had to have rear view mirrors, it had to have turn signals, and they had to look good. Rather than placing the rear view mirrors in their traditional position above the handle bars, themirrors of the MK9 are low and forward on the same plane as the instrument panel. This not only makes good ergonomic sense by reducing the amount of time it takes for the eyes to focus from one place to another, but provides a rear view past the rider's waist uninterrupted by forearms. light detail The mirror serve double duty by functioning as turn signals, supported by airy stainless steel struts to reduce mass and present a sleeker profile. Rear turn signals combine with the tail lamp in one simple part.

The MK9 design also reduces the time needed to remove body panels for servicing, while locating most fasteners off the exterior for a cleaner appearance. The large side panels and top cap are one piece moldings thatare removable with just four bolts each.

The comfortable seat is upholstered in a water, soil, and stain repellent 100% Cordura® Nylon for breathability on hot summer rides. The seat wraps around the gas tank area to keep a rider's knees from damaging painted surfaces and to provide grip as the rider shifts position in turns. The "metal" fabric color mimics the finish of the unpainted metal parts.

instrumentation Many parts of the MK9, such as foot pegs and side stand are machined from aluminum or fabricated from stainless steel. The large, oval section stainless steel exhaust collector shouts "power", while engine castings and aluminum parts are sand blasted and clear coated, rather than painted, to display the beauty of metal. Matte finish natural metal contrasts with the deep, high gloss Sunrise pearl polyurethane paint.

I believe we have proven that a visually exciting, ergonomically successful package can be produced within the parameters of existing engine and chassis tooling and that "high concept" doesn't necessarily mean high price. If mass produced, the MK9 would be projected to sell for below $10,000, competing very favorably with the finest European products.

MK9 on the road While the machine certainly has "garage factor", it also has something that only a ride could reveal: the sense that it is more than the sum of its parts. The high timbre throb of its oval exhaust, the sculpting of its glossy yellow orange body, the natural detailing of the metal hardware all combine to give it an exotic character that takes it beyond the common running gear that lies beneath it. It stirs the emotions and provides pleasure. Design made the difference.

Designed by Andrew Serbinski, IDSA, Jörg Schlieffers and Bruce Scardilli of MACHINEART, Hoboken, NJ.