Posted On 27 Apr 2024
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This entry is part 14 of 29 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#28


What is skill in design? Where does it come from? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are design geniuses in the world. Maybe more…

In some cases you could be forgiven for thinking that it is genetic. Take Soichiro Honda: his mother, a weaver, designed her own loom so she could produce intricately woven cloth. It is not unreasonable to think that he might have inherited his inventiveness from her, just as his blacksmith father, who fixed bicycles, could have passed on a love of efficient machinery.

Sadly, design talents do not always transfer well – even from one industry to another. And it doesn’t necessarily help if the design comes from a well known and indeed famous design house. The red Lamborghini motorcycle is pretty ordinary – like a badly-stirred mixture of a Ducati Paso and a Honda VFR800. The dog’s bone Ferrari is better – it might be impractical but it is at least interesting. The Lotus motorcycle (Google it), looks like a collision between an ice cream container and a plastic toy. Did the designers even attempt to imagine what a rider would look like on this thing?

One designer who at least made an interesting attempt to create a bike is Philippe Starck, he of the utterly impractical but exceptionally beautiful citrus squeezer. He was commissioned by Aprilia to give the firm’s 650 a makeover. “When I design, I don’t consider the technical or commercial parameters so much as the desire for a dream that humans have attempted to project onto an object, ” Starck said, and that may explain why there are more Starck Moto’ Aprilia 6.5s in museums than in riders’ garages.

On the other hand, there was a designer whose work is both in museums and garages, as well as restaurant and kitchen tables all over the world. Kenji Ekuan designed the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, back in the early ‘60s. That bottle alone would have guaranteed him a place in the pantheon of industrial designers.

It was the beginning of the age of “democratization of material things and beauty,” as he called it. After three years and more than 100 prototypes he found what he considered to be the ideal soy sauce bottle for Kikkoman, he told the New York Times. The paper noted that “it helped timeless Japanese design values — elegance, simplicity and supreme functionality — infiltrate kitchens around the world.”

How true, how true. Note the emphasis on functionality… Ekuan san designed things that work. And not the least of his creations – which include trains, logos and all sorts of other things – were both of the Yamaha VMAX models. The current one is shown here.

Keiji Ekuan graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1955, and two years later was one of the designers who established GK Industrial Design Associates, the company he stayed with all his working life. When he died recently of a heart condition at the age of 85, all I could think apart from my regret at the passing of another human being was, “Now he won’t have a chance to design a third version of the VMAX…” PT


Stopping at one of Route 66’s iconic sights.

Talk about jobs you would love to have! How ABOUT being a motorcycle tour group leader? Daniel Azzopardi can tell you because he leads tours across the USA for Aussie tour operator, Route 66. About as far away from 9 to 5 as you can get. Daniel gets to ride The Mother Road from Chicago to Santa Monica three times a year (April, July and October), plus the annual pilgrimage to Sturgis, which takes in the fabulous Dakotas.

It’s a hell of a tour and Daniel says he really enjoys showing people the attractions along the way and introducing them to the local “mom and pop” businesses on the forgotten sections of the quiet and winding Route 66 now made obsolete by the high speed Interstates.

One of Daniel’s favourite sections is Missouri. “Riding through the rolling hills and the Ozark mountains is great – that whole region is spectacular,” he says. “But a lot of my groups say Arizona is the best bit – the Canyon, obviously, Wolf Creek Crater – there is lots to see all the way from our tour of Chicago, St Louis, Springfield, we skirt Oklahoma go through Texas, then through New Mexico to Arizona and then on to California. We say our farewells in Las Vegas! It’s a great tour.”

Daniel has a long motorcycle background, starting at an early age and culminating with a Honda Firestorm.

Then a crash caused by a learner driver put him in hospital, and when he was fit again he bought a Mustang 66 Coupe and didn’t ride for another five years.

He missed it so much he eventually sold the car and bought a 100th Anniversary Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce in gorgeous black and silver. Long distance riding was on!

Tour guiding – not a bad job, eh Daniel?

“Of course, I had heard about The Road and always wanted to ride it myself.

Then I met Kristi [Kristi-Anne Butel] from Route 66 Tours in a convertible Mustang, and we had plenty to talk about. After a bit of research I decided to go on their tour, but in one of their cars, because Dale did not have bikes back then – that was 2009. Anyway, we got talking on the tour about bikes – because Dale is a bike rider as well. When I got back we did a bit of research about hiring bikes and then in 2010 we ran the first combined bike and car tour and we have been running four tours a year ever since.”

One of Route 66 Tours’ ace cards is that partners and friends can ride pillion, or they can take the tour in one of the hot cars. The groups travel separately, partly because the bike tour caters to motorcycle riders, with the Harley-Davidson Museum and other bike attractions – but everyone stays in the same comfortable hotels each night. Different requests are catered for: a phone-call to Route 66 will answer all your questions. “We are pretty accommodating – we try to make everyone happy,” says Daniel.

It’s a smooth operation and there is a guide in a car, usually a large SUV. “It’s not a back-up vehicle – it’s comfortable”, says Daniel.

Safety is paramount, of course, and there’s a briefing each morning about where and how they are going to ride.

Everyone rides at a speed they are comfortable with and they don’t have leaders because, “It’s hard to get lost on Route 66!” And they don’t have to follow behind the leaders either, “So long as they tell us!” says Daniel. “We then all meet at the next hotel. We don’t want to limit it to them following us. We want them to really enjoy the ride.”

Daniel says Route 66 Tours has more guides than any other tour operator, and says unlike some other tours, “We lead on bikes, not from cars”.

Daniel says you can choose from the entire Harley range, and Triumphs, Hondas and BMWs are also available.

“Riding Route 66 is my passion,” says Daniel, with a smile from ear to ear.

About the Author
Australian Motorcyclist Magazine is Australia's leading motorcycle travel magazine.
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