Top ten: Motorcycle designers

The people behind the motorcycles that inspired the rest

THIS one is bound to be controversial. It tends to hold true that many of the strongest designs are, almost by definition, polarizing.

A style that’s inoffensive to all is unlikely to go down in history, and yet bolder bikes are often reviled as much as they’re loved, so we’re pretty sure you’ll disagree with some of our choices when it comes to this list of the world’s top ten bike designers.

There were plenty who nearly made the cut. David Robb, formerly of BMW, was a near miss for transforming the firm’s image over several years, while Gerald Kiska, credited with many of KTM’s designs over the last decade or so, could have been chosen for introducing the sharp-edged look that many other firms are now cribbing. Then there are the hosts of great-looking Japanese bikes that have somehow avoided ever being tied to one particular designer. Hans Muth, who designed the Suzuki Katana and various BMWs, should also get a mention. And what about JT Nesbitt, the man behind those crazy-looking, crazy-priced Confederates?

If you think we’ve got it wrong, or missed anyone out, do let us know...

Ola Stenegard

10: Ola Stenegard

THE lopsided looks of BMW’s S1000RR might split opinions but there’s no question that in creating its first real superbike of the modern generation the German firm managed to hit the mark without following the herd too closely. Ola Stenegard, the Swede who styled the S1000RR and the HP2 Sport that preceded it, is clearly BMW’s go-to guy when it comes to sports bikes. He could have gone conservative with the looks; aping a Japanese bike, or even trying to capture the curvaceous beauty of an Italian machine, but instead he’s created a style that’s become instantly definitive as a BMW superbike.

Craig Vetter

9: Craig Vetter

WHILE some designers have a portfolio of dozens of production machines behind them, Craig Vetter has only a couple on the books despite decades of working with bikes. But one bike alone, the Triumph X-75 Hurricane, makes him worthy of inclusion here. Melding the tank into the sidepanels, it was a step ahead that others would take years to follow (note to Triumph: where’s the modern-generation Hurricane?)

His Windjammer aftermarket fairings were also a step ahead of the major manufacturers’ work.

Willie G Davidson

8: Willie G Davidson

OK, we’re ready for the comments. Yes, Harleys don’t exactly push the boundaries when it comes to styling. But Willie G Davidson, as well as providing modern riders with a direct link to the family that started H-D 110 years ago, was responsible for looking after the firm’s heritage for years. Even if you don’t ‘get’ Harleys, it’s hard to deny that in terms of proportions there’s something intrinsically right about the shape of their bikes, and up-close the detail doesn’t disappoint either. Criticising Willie G for failing to innovate is like saying of Jonathan Ive’s Apple designs “It’s just a rectangle, isn’t it?”

7: Shunji Tanaka

7: Shunji Tanaka

THE man who’s guided Kawasaki’s design department through the last decade or so, Tanaka has been responsible for every generation of ZX-10R, the ZZR1400, the GTR1400 and even has a hand in the company’s motocross machines. Drafted in at a time when Kawasaki’s designs could be accused of being bland, he’s reinvented the firm’s ‘look’ on more than one occasion. OK, so some of the machines made under his command haven’t been total successes (think second-generation ZX-10R, with the piggy-eyed front and wheelbarrow-handle exhausts, for instance), but there’s no question that bland has been banned.

Pierre Terblanche

6: Pierre Terblanche

STEPPING into the shoes of Massimo Tamburini must be both fabulous and terrifying for a bike designer. Like being the replacement frontman in a famous band – think Paul Rodgers in Queen – you’re certain to be criticised whatever you do either for trying to ape your forebear or for straying too far from the earlier style.

Pierre Terblanche, a mainstay in Ducati’s styling department even when Tamburini was still there, took the brave option; after years of dilly-dallying over the replacement for the 916-998, Ducati revealed the 999. Only now, more than a decade later, is it just starting to be reassessed, with an increasing number starting to candidly admit that, yes, they actually quite like it...

The Ducati gig was a no-win situation, but Terblanche’s work shouldn’t be underplayed. The Supermono was fabulous-looking, as was the 900SS that aped it, and the MH900e showed how retro could be done with a modern twist. Now he’s designing Confederates, where he’s sure to be let off the leash, so it will be interesting to see what the South African comes up with next.

Adrian Morton

5: Adrian Morton

ANOTHER man to come from the Tamburini fold, and to follow in his footsteps, is British designer Adrian Morton, who’s been responsible for the current generation of MVAgustas including the delectable F3, B3 and Rivale. Fortunately, he was also deeply involved in the development of the original MV Agusta F4 back in the mid-1990s, helping sculpt Tamburini’s original 916-esque design. He went on to take responsibility for the shape of the Benelli Tornado (an awesome looking bike, whatever its flaws elsewhere) and TNT before returning to MV Agusta to take over from his former boss.

Miguel Angel Galluzzi

4: Miguel Angel Galluzzi

A contemporary of both Tamburini and Terblanche at Ducati, Miguel Galluzzi can probably take even more credit for getting that firm back on its feet in the 1990s than either of them. Why? Because he designed the Ducati Monster. Back in 1992, it was arguably even more radical than the 916 that would appear a year later, and more importantly it was attainably-priced where the 916 was in dream bike territory. You only need to look at the number of machines that mimicked the Monster’s trellis frame and hunchbacked tank in the years since its appearance, as well as the fact that today’s Monsters, more than two decades on, still share a very similar shape, to see how influential Galluzzi’s design was. He followed Tamburini to MV Agusta, styling the Cagiva Raptor, and later moved to Aprilia/Piaggio where he oversaw the RSV4. Most recently he’s done the 1400cc Guzzi California reboot.

Gianandrea Fabbro

3: Gianandrea Fabbro

THE 999 might have been a racing success for Ducati but its styling never caught on like the original 916. It was Gianandrea Fabbro who swung favour back in Ducati’s direction in the design stakes, penning the 1098. That bike took cues from Tamburini’s masterpiece, almost as though it was writing the 999 out of the company’s history. It might have been stunning, but even it has been put in the shade since by Fabbro’s masterpiece, the Panigale. Integrating mechanical components and styling more seamlessly than virtually any bike before, it alone would earn Fabbro a top-three spot. We wait with baited breath to see what he can come up with next.

Mitsuyoshi Kohama

2: Mitsuyoshi Kohama

YOU might have noticed that throughout this feature the name Massimo Tamburini has cropped up several times. Usually it’s because he’s influenced another stylist, but on this occasion it’s because he drew inspiration from our number two choice, Mitsuyoshi Kohama.

Who? He’s Honda’s motorcycle design chief, and as such has had a hand in dozens of bikes. But one that he’s particularly linked with is the NR750. Now that bike might be largely remembered for its crazy oval-pistoned engine and insane £37k price tag, but it should also go down in history as the inspiration for Tamburini’s Ducati 916 styling. While not as sleek, it previewed the twin, slot-shaped headlights, the under-seat exhaust, the single-sided swingarm… Even looking at it today – bearing in mind its styling was signed-off back in 1989 – it looks remarkably modern in terms of its nose-down stance, with only the rather bulky seat markedly dating the design.

Other Kohama-styled Hondas include the original Fireblade, the VFR750, the NS400R and, notably, the RC211V GP machine, which itself inspired the appearance of a whole decade’s worth of Honda sports bikes.

Massimo Tamburini

1: Massimo Tamburini



Well, who did you think was going to be number 1? It might be a cliché to name Tamburini as the all-time greatest bike designer, particularly given his relatively limited output, but the Ducati 916 alone would make him a contender for the number-one slot. Add the MV Agusta F4 that’s also on his CV and it’s hard to make an argument for anyone else. And that’s before you bring up the fact he was a founder of Bimota; just check out an SB2 in the context of its contemporaries, or the unique HDB1, to see that even in the early days Tamburini had something special.

Related article: Ducati 916 - the bike, the legend