‘Creating motorcycles that don’t yet exist’ is the Bandit9 code – and it couldn’t be more appropriate. You just need to look at these two-wheeled machines, developed under the creative guidance of Daryl Villanueva. Born in the Philippines, raised in Hong Kong, Australia and Malaysia, Villanueva studied graphic design in the US, starting his career here in advertising, at TBWA Chiat Day, before stints at leading agencies in Dubai, Vietnam, and Beijing as creative director. Despite his profile having little to do with the world of motorcycles, after a decade in advertising, Villanueva was getting sick of his chosen profession, and jumped ship to launch Bandit9. Having begun this project in 2011, while still working at BBDO Proximity China, Bandit9 actually started to take shape in Vietnam. “I fell in love with motorcycles riding through the streets of Vietnam on a simple Honda Cub. I believe that was the start of the domino effect that led to the creation of Bandit9,” Villanueva recalls.
His passion may have materialised astride a modest machine, yet his creations are anything but simple. Cross-referencing vintage bikes from the mid 20th century with the bold lines of an imaginary future, the two-wheel wonders from Bandit9 could easily have come out of a classic Steve McQueen movie or out of a cyberpunk story. Unsatisfied with the uninspired design of most of today’s vehicles, Villanueva embarked on an adventure to bring back what past generations dared to dream. “Bandit9 is all about looking to the future. I think a lot of what we see on the roads today isn’t very inspiring. We are in the 21st century, a very exciting time to be alive, but I feel that we have lost the imaginative and pioneering spirit that we had back in the 1950s and 1960s, when we felt that anything was possible,” Villanueva explains, adding that the aim of the brand “is to bring us up to speed with our imagination. I think rules are what hinder progress. You can argue that they’re there for our safety, but if we’re going to make real progress, we have to be able take risks. That’s why the brand is called Bandit9 – it’s about invention and innovation, by consciously going against the grain.”
This defiant attitude can be seen in Bandit9’s motorcycles. Their design is genuine art on two wheels; perfect vehicles to inspire you and make you feel connected to your surroundings, to make you dream. Using models such as the Triumph Bonneville T100, the Chang Jiang 750, or the Honda SS, as a base for its creations, Bandit9 reconstructs the motorcycles almost entirely, by hand, thanks to Villanueva’s imagination and how hard it is to get hold of parts in Vietnam.
“We focus a lot of our energy on the styling of the bike. The form of the bike is what is going to inspire people to push their own designs, whether they are an architect, a fashion designer, or industrial designer, it doesn’t matter. However, this is just the start. Once Bandit9 matures, I would like to push the engineering, so we can do some really imaginative pieces – a hovering motorcycle, perhaps! That’s the kind of future I want to live in.”
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Bandit9 has a small workshop, in which its founder transfers his ideas from paper to metal, adding a powerful dose of experimentalism, to produce editions of nine units per model. “I try not to force designs onto a piece of paper. There isn’t a lot of trial and error when it comes to the overall concept design, since I have a very concrete vision. Then I create the profile, so that I can share the design with the guys at the garage. Then we get straight to the build. The toughest part is probably creating unibody tank, since it is produced from large sheets of metal. It is hard to get the proportions right and the shapes we design are pretty difficult themselves. Getting the metal to flow like that is tough. There is a lot of experimentation involved in this stage and even more so when we get down to the details.”
Avoiding looking for inspiration in other motorcycles, Villanueva lets his mind wander through the world of the science fiction, and the streets of Japan, to find references for his next projects. “I travel quite frequently to Japan. I go to Kyoto to understand and learn what I call quiet design. I don’t know any other city in the world, where there is so much discipline in the design of, well, everything – chopsticks, architecture, gardens, road signs, everything! After Kyoto, I’ll head to Tokyo, where I absorb the wackier side of design. There is something fearless in the designs I see in Tokyo and I love that; that’s the kind of culture I want Bandit9 to adopt - fearless.”
And fearless is truly the perfect adjective to describe the creations of Bandit9. From the Eve model, with its body shaped like a chrome bullet, and the obscure Nero MKII, with its angular design in matt black, to the Triumph Bonneville T100, transformed into a motorcycle of the future, Bandit9 exemplarily expresses freedom. “While planes symbolise mankind’s progress, I think the motorcycle is a symbol of the adventurous nature of humans. I feel that riding a motorbike is never about purpose. Even though you do your groceries, or to work on it, it’s more about getting high from this sense of freedom on a motorcycle. It isn’t just about going from point A to B,” Villanueva concludes.
Originally published in Doze magazine.