I first came across Bandit9 Motorcycles and the work of Daryl Villanueva back in 2012. I don’t know much about motorcycles or the culture but I know good industrial design when I see it. The work that Daryl is doing is pretty phenomenal so I spoke with him about his start in the business, his newest concept Bishop, and if he’s found his true calling.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into making custom motorcycles. How did Bandit9 get started?
I’m Daryl Villanueva. I was born in the Philippines, raised in Hong Kong, Australia and Malaysia, studied graphic design in the States, worked as an Art Director/Creative Director in Los Angeles, Dubai, Vietnam and Beijing. Now I am the creator and chief designer of Bandit9 Motorcycle Design. I’m back in Saigon to start our new Southeast Asian operation.
I started messing with bikes in Saigon in 2009, hence the 9 in Bandit9. My very first motorcycle was a 50cc Honda Cub. My first ride on the Cub was like achieving nirvana. I used to go out for these midnight rides with my girlfriend – the streets were empty, nothing but stars above you, a quiet lake on one side and a jungle on the other. It was completely quiet except for the buzzing of the 50cc engine. There was something really poetic about the experience. Something clicked inside; I fell in love with motorcycles.
A few years later, I was in Beijing and I was starting to get sick of my advertising gig so I planned my escape. I didn’t have that “fearless” entrepreneur spirit so I had to juggle both jobs for a while. I wanted to test whether or not people would be interested in my designs. It started real slow but after 3 years of building a brand and learning about the motorcycle industry, I finally freed myself from my advertising chains.
You’re working on a new bike called Bishop (seen above), which to me feels quite different from other bikes I see. What’s the story behind it?
Bandit9 Saigon is focused on designing high-end motorcycles at affordable prices.
What we try to do with every release, Bishop included, is to create some sort of controversy. The response we got to Bishop was quite polarizing. People either really loved it or really hated it. And that tells me a few things:
• it’s a sign that Bishop is something unfamiliar
• it conjures up an emotion, which is what I want whenever we design bikes
• love it or hate it, people give a damn about it.
Besides the design challenge, ensuring that the bike is affordable is quite difficult. It easy to dream big but dreaming big on a budget is hard. It takes a lot of research and negotiation with suppliers. And if it goes over what I think is affordable, I’d have to go back to the drawing board. $6400 is not a small amount of money but if you look around, it’s hard to get something with the same craftsmanship and design aesthetic as Bishop for less than $15,000.
You’ve made a lot of beautiful custom bikes in the past, what do you think sets the Bishop apart?
I think Bishop is the only bike that allows the purity of its materials to do the work. It has no paint, it has no finish, it has no tricks, no bells, no whistles. It’s simply a mixture of elements – wood and high-grade metal. That’s definitely my favorite thing about the bike. It’s quite an honest design.
What do you think of the motorcycle market in general? Is there a growing desire for more handmade bikes?
To be honest, why people still go for stock bikes completely baffles me. Buying a motorcycle, at least for me, is more of an emotional response to a piece of art-machinery. I must be missing something but I don’t see the artistry in today’s stock bikes with all the decals, bumpy lines, and odd proportions.
Yes, the market for handmade bikes is growing but I’d love to see it grow at a faster rate.
Other than yourself, who do you feel is making truly beautiful bikes?
I’m a huge fan of Shinya Kimura. I think his designs are a testament of what a bike can be. Shinya’s designs aren’t just incrementally better than the other builders, he leapfrogs them. The most incredible thing about Shinya is not his motorcycles but Shinya himself. This sounds like a man crush but I love what the man’s about – his philosophy, his character, his wisdom, everything! The man is a living legend in my opinion.
Do you feel like building motorcycles is your one true calling? At this point can you see yourself doing anything else?
Ha! Today it is. Can I see myself doing anything else? God, I hope so. I don’t think I can stick to one thing. I’m interested in so many things. I want to design video games, I want to be a street photographer, I want to create furniture, I want to do more work with charity, I want to travel more, I want to go back to school. The list is absolutely endless and I do hope I get to all of it before I’m in the ground. One thing’s for sure, I can’t imagine doing only one thing for the rest of my life.