Manchmal muss man die Leute einfach nur fragen. Sylvain Berneron ist Designer bei BMW Motorrad und erstellt in seiner Freizeit unter seinem Alias „Holographic Hammer“ tolle und aufregende Motorrad-Designstudien. Irgendwann habe ich Sylvain angeschrieben, ob er nicht Lust auf ein Benzingespräch hätte. Und siehe da, er hatte. Und da Sylvains Deutsch so schlecht ist wie mein Französisch, haben wir das Gespräch auf Englisch geführt.
Sylvain, before we get started on bikes, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you grow up, how did you get into design?
I grew up riding and racing Motocross, I started when I was a kid and it has been the key of all my motivation to learn since then. I have always been drawing during the week and riding on the weekends so when the time to choose a direction for my future came, drawing bikes was the one and only answer!
Your diploma project was pretty impressive. What did you have in mind while designing it? And what did your parents say when you occupied their living room for six weeks building the model in clay?
My diploma project was a design study trying to define what could be the motorcycle architecture when the petrol will be gone. So instead of just drawing a „normal“ bike but with an electric engine inside, the idea here was to use the full potential of an alternative energy in the package itself. Powering a bike with electricity offers a lot of new possibilities like having two powered wheels that could turn using electric brakes and engines in the hubs. The seat was moving as well, helping the pilot to lean on the sides, improving the weight transfer while cornering. It was using the Michelin Tweel concept, combining suspensions in the tyre walls and increasing the grip surface in every situation due to a softer tyre band.
It is a complete different approach to what we do now, explaining the potential of that architecture in a few lines is impossible but hopefully the sketches will help understanding it better.
My school didn´t want to let me build a full size model saying I had no clue what I was doing, so I convinced my dad to turn half of his living room into a modeling studio, it took 8 weeks working day and night but at the end it paid off. It smelled clay in the whole house and we had to live tight during that time but my dad and brother supported me and it was a great experience for sure, the model is now seating in the BMW design studio in Munich, right in front of my desk!
How did you get to BMW Motorrad? What are you woking on there (if you can tell us)? How is it working together with guys like Ola Stenegard?
I started at BMW Motorrad in 2009 as an intern, I learned most of my skills there as I was surrounded with extremely talented people from engineers, modelers to designers. I unfortunately can´t tell you what I am working on even if I would love to share it with all the motorcycles enthusiasts simply because I am so passionate about what I am doing.
I feel blessed everyday working for Ola and with the colleagues I have, we are all true motorcycle freaks and working all together sharing and developing ideas is a very strong process as each concept is emphasized by everyone´s input.
What was your introduction to motorcycles? When did you start riding and what was your first bike?
I started riding when I was 8 years old and my first bike was an old blue PW 80, long and low, 3 gears, no clutch and sketchy brakes. With one full tank I could ride all the afternoon, it was the perfect bike to get addicted to riding. The first strong memories of my childhood that I have are actually on it !
Your current bike „Tsar“ was featured on a lot of websites (e.g. on Inazuma Caferacers). Is it the only bike in your garage? What other bike / builds do you dream of?
The Tzar is something I wanted to build for a long time, I like powerful, simple and reliable bikes so it was the perfect match for me ! But I am a motocross guy first so my second ride is a KTM 250 SX. There is one bike I have been dreaming to build, even before I did the Tzar, I have it in my head for 5 or 6 years now and if everything goes well it should see the light of day in a year. It is a big project as it requires specific tools, a lot of time and a good bag of cash, it is a Honda but this is all I can say at the moment 😉
You also ride motocross with Piers from Derestricted. What do you enjoy more, onroad or offroad? What is the bigger fascination?
On an everyday base I ride 70% MX and 30% on the road, so I spent a lot more time on my 250 SX. I am a big 2 stroke fan, modern 2T engines are simply amazing and I hope to see them back on the road one day.
Let’s talk about last years Glemseck 101. How was it to ride the Sprintbeemer? How short-noticed was the call from Sebastién? What is your relation with the Lucky Cat Garage?
Glemseck 2013, what a story ! Sebastian and I both work for BMW Motorrad, so that´s how we met and we became very good friends on the side as well. He was building his sprintbeemer for the sprint race and I helped him for the paint and the graphics, I also did the Lucky Cat Garage logo. I didn´t plan to go there as I wanted to go down south to the beach with my girlfriend. He called me 3 days before the race saying he broke his leg and had to clue how to bring the bike there and participate to the race, so Lucie and I shortened the holidays and drove back home to help him out, true story! We quickly packed everything and I drove Seb and Daniel Beres (our talented photograph friend) to Glemseck, we arrived at 4 o’clock in the morning after an 7h drive and at 9h I was on the drag strip for the first practice !
The sprintbeemer is an hell of a machine, the combination of the Square rear tyre, 15 degrees steering angle, no suspensions at all, the super low seat position and the inverted gear box make it very special to ride, but special in the epic sense of it !
We ended winning our class with 7 victories in a row and on top of that Seb got the BEST OF SHOW award, it was an unbelievable weekend !
It sounds awkward to call „Holographic Hammer“ your hobby. In your spare time you produce some really stunning designs and concepts. What is your motivation?
Building a custom bike takes a lot of time and money, as a designer I realized that the first idea is rarely the best, good things come with exploring different options and trying unusual combinations. All my friends ride or work in the custom motorcycle business and I was always around them to quickly photoshop their garage builds or make them some logos.
That is the all meaning of Holographic Hammer, a digital tool helping and simplifying the manual labour.
I am convinced that doing a sketch before building helps to get the global proportion right and stay on track during the process, because you can easily get lost redoing the same part again and again until it works.
My motivation comes from the satisfaction of being involved in exciting projects with cool people, it is hard as it is extremely time consuming and sometimes frustrating, but when it finally comes together and the final bike is made, there is nothing better.
I noticed you doing a lot of designs for CRD, is there any special relation?
Pedro from CRD is a friend and we have a good creative relationship, that´s why we work together quite often, CRD is one of the major Custom companies in Europe and it is always a pleasure to sketch for them because I know the sketches are gonna be well judged and built.
I loved the CRD #42, based on an BMW R1100 GS – not the prettiest bike for sure – also because of the fact that it doesn’t use the standard base bike like a Kawa W or Triumph to make a stunning custom bike. What was your motivation to use this bike for the design?
This concept is quite different, the idea was to keep all the agreements of a modern bike like comfort, fuel capacity, reliability, power and luggages but with the visual simplicity and the authenticity of the old ones. So of course the proportion is unusual but it got very well received as the main idea is still visible.
It has been designed as a technical TOOL bike with a list of things to have no matter what, and then balanced with a touch of elegance in matching textures and colors.
As a last – and personal – question: any thoughts about an 2002 BMW F650 GS?
Being a BMW Motorrad designer, I try not to sketch on modern or actual production bikes as I really don´t want my work and HH to collide with each other. Those are 2 different industries with 2 different mentalities and sometimes they meet of course like when we developed the BMW Ninety for example, but if it happens then it has to come from my BMW work and not from HH, the opposite would be wrong.
But to answer your question I did try on the Scarver version, it was an idea we had with John and Nico from 4h10, but the perimetric frame is really hard to deal with and it requires a complete new tank which makes the price go up a lot, so at the end I stopped because the progress was not satisfying enough and the bike would have cost a fortune to build.
Sylvain, thanks a lot for the interview!
Wenn ihr nun auf den Geschmack gekommen seid, was Sylvains Designs angeht: bei Society6 könnt ihr seine Grafiken bestellen.
Schönes Interview! Machst du das per Mail oder interaktiv? Die CRD #42 fand ich auf den ersten Blick strange, aber wenn man sie etwas länger anschaut, sieht man die vielen netten Details. Und das Ding ist halt mal alltags- und reisetauglich — sehr gelungen!
Die erste paar Interviews (Urban Motor, Kaffeemaschine, Arthur Heisler) habe ich persönlich interviewed. Bei den weiter entfernteren habe ich das dann per E-Mail angefangen. Funktioniert bei den meisten ganz gut, wie man hier ja auch sehen kann. Schön, daß es Dir gefällt.