YOU’RE BEST KNOWN FOR YOUR SPROCKET CARTOONS – BUT WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO?
Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing stuff for Ducati North America and KTM – design work and illustrations – as well as the usual Sprocket Christmas cards for corporate clients and individuals like Toby Moody. I closed my design workshop down when I left Triumph. Since then I’ve been concentrating on illustration work.
BUT WAY BACK IN TIME YOU GOT THE JOB OF DESIGNING THE LIVERY FOR TEAM ROBERTS...
Yes, I’d been working for Yamaha Amsterdam doing general design work; stuff that ranged from full-sized concept models through to helmet stickers and mad stuff like life-casts of Kenny Roberts. On the back of that I got the job designing the livery for the factory team, including the riders’ leathers. I remember flying to Amsterdam just to arrange the sponsors patches on Agostini’s suit. Then came the Marlboro team. I’d met Kenny at Ascot Park some years earlier and when he was in the process of putting together his sponsorship proposal I got the job doing the livery.
AND WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THAT JOB?
Yamaha let me loose in the wind tunnel developing a fairing for the XS1100. It was intended as an R&D exercise but ended up reached the market as the Martini Yamaha. It was ugly but it worked. With an open-face helmet you could smoke at 100mph if you wanted to, and most of us did. When Kenny ran the Lucky Strike bikes I was able to try out some ideas I’d been knocking about. We could mock them up and test them on the likes of Rainey, Lawson, Kocinski, Mamola and Magee. When the team took over as Yamaha’s number one squad, all the experimental stuff stopped. Our last brief was to re-jig the Kocinski 250 fairing to fit the 500. The factory took the first prototype back to Japan and it went 7mph quicker out of the box. Kenny gave me the sack.
ROUGH JUSTICE! YOU WERE HEAVILY INVOLVED IN THE RE-LAUNCH OF TRIUMPH, WEREN’T YOU...
Yes, the entire Triumph experience was pretty satisfying. We started with a team of just 13. Watching John Bloor’s sheer force of will propel the whole enterprise through to the success it has become was an experience I’ll never regret.
AND DIDN’T YOU HELP DESIGN THE HESKETH?
The Japanese encouraged Dave Bean, Yamaha’s chief road tester at the time, and I to get involved in the Hesketh project. Unfortunately we didn’t have any of their engineers, which was a problem, but more importantly we were really lacking in finance as well. That said I did learn an awful lot about production, which undoubtedly helped with my subsequent projects, a small car for Suzuki and then my first work for Triumph.
ONE OF THE HAIRY BIKERS WAS RECENTLY GIVEN SOME ARTWORK OF HIMSELF FROM ONE OF YOUR CARTOONS FOR HIS 50TH BIRTHDAY. ANY OTHER CELEBRITY FANS?
The Hairies are very much what you-see-is-what-you-get. They’re wonderful blokes who might ring you up from the Atlas mountains to say something like, “Hello, we’re off to watch the Dakar”. Ross Noble likes my stuff but I know Ewan McGregor doesn’t. I don’t meet many celebrities.
ON THE FLIPSIDE, HAVE YOU PISSED ANYONE OFF?
Oh yes, most definitely...
YOUR WORK AT TRIUMPH PLAYED A HUGE PART IN YOUR CAREER. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR FINEST HOUR?
My wife and I attending the launch of the Daytona 595 at Cologne, closely followed by getting the Bonneville done and the whole Speed Triple project [John designed the iconic first iteration of Hinckley’s hugely popular factory streetfighter].
WE HEAR YOU DESIGNED LEATHERS FOR BARRY SHEENE HIMSELF. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH THE MAN?
The first time I worked with him I was invited to stay for Christmas. I had to explain that I was married and that I really had to get back. He and I had both travelled as part of the GP circus but that’s a book. He was a true gent.
WHAT KIND OF OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE TODAY FOR BIKE DESIGNERS WANTING EARN A LIVING?
Who knows? There are a lot of felt-tip fairies claiming to be bike designers, just as there are plenty of parts fitters claiming to be race engineers. If you want to be a bike designer do an
engineering degree and then buy yourself some coloured pencils.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION FROM?
Usually from the client – after all they’re theoretically paying you and it’s their vision you have to subscribe to, then develop and perhaps subvert a little. There’s that old cliché about inspiration and the virtue of perspiration, but without maintaining inspiration, buckets of sweat won’t help.
FROM A BIKE DESIGNER’S POINT OF VIEW, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MODERN SPORTS BIKES? DO YOU THINK THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME, AND IF SO IS THAT BECAUSE THEY’VE EVOLVED INTO AN OPTIMUM SHAPE?
They might all look the same because marketing departments think that’s what’s going to sell. Whenever you talk to salesmen they always tell you the best looking bike they’ve ever seen is that rival machine that’s outselling everything. Similarly, although I think they’re interesting in that they force designers to actually listen to the public, focus groups only tell you about yesterday, never tomorrow. Asking non-professionals what they think a future model should look like is just academic research. I’m glad to say I don’t think there is an optimum shape, and often beneath all that cosmetic shit you’ll find the real motorbike.