Automotive design is a highly debated topic. Enthusiasts seem to sit on two distinct sides – a vehicle either looks good, or it doesn’t.
There are many elements that play a vital role in design, but unless you’re sitting with a designer that can point them out – someone like Benoit Tallec – then you’ll likely be missing out on some fascinating details.
I’ve always had a strong interest in design, and try to apply the little knowledge I have when building various things for Project Rough. At the other end of the spectrum, Benoit’s 1984 BMW R100RS – which he affectionately calls L’Intrépide (The Intrepid) – is a masterclass in design.
If you’re like me and not exactly familiar with what a 1976 1984 BMW R100RS looks like in stock form, go ahead and open up another tab and search for it before continuing with this post.
We all good now? OK…
The factory-spec R100RS is what you would call a gentleman’s bike. It’s a comfortable ride with huge fairings and plenty of storage – all the things you need for traversing the country on the open road.
L’Intrépide is somewhat the polar opposite of this, as the vision that Benoit had when he began sketching was a fusion between classic, retro and futuristic styling.
Although Benoit knew that heavily modifying a pristine R100RS wouldn’t win him many points with the purist community, the bulletproof reliability and classic styling of BMW 247 air-cooled flat-twin (or ‘airhead’) motor made for a pretty obvious choice.
We’ll come back to the engine in a minute, as it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room with L’Intrépide – that single-piece composite fairing.
Benoit grew up in Lyon, France with a strong interest in aerospace. This was mostly thanks to the Montgolfièr brothers, who are credited with launching the first piloted ascent flight in a massive hot air balloon.
Drawing on aircraft inspiration, Benoit designed a fuselage that was clear of the normal clutter. The futuristic fuselage also had to flow as a singular piece, and not have the lines from where segments (for example the fuel tank and seat) meet.
An absurd – borderline obsessive – amount of time was spent in the modeling and mold making of L’Intrépide. The way that light is captured, curved and reflected back was all planned out and checked over countless times with lights in the design studio.
If any sharp drop-offs in the reflection were spotted, material would be either added or removed to regain flow. A difference in thickness of a just few millimeters can cause these unwanted results, so you can begin to imagine how much time was spent perfecting the form.
Another important design element that Benoit wanted in the fuselage was visual balance, whether you look at L’Intrépide from directly in front or behind. Normally when you do this, the main sections (windshield, gas tank, seat) all clash with each other due to their differences in size.
This becomes trickier when considering the side profile design. Most motorcycle design concentrates on the side profile; how the bike appears head on or from behind is secondary. This was not going to cut it for L’Intrépide.
A central LED headlight really gives L’Intrépide its futuristic looks. Benoit originally planned to locate the radiator beneath the headlight for better airflow, but like most projects, simply ran out of time and budget.Form With (Some) Function
The passion project didn’t stop with the fuselage. Another aspect of this project was to simplify and clean up everything underneath the rider. Mechanical components were either relocated, upgraded, or deleted in the sake of simplicity.
One of the obvious changes was the relocation of the battery. Benoit upgraded it to a smaller, more powerful unit and placed it in a hidden compartment behind the seat. While doing this did free up a lot of space, it came with a somewhat annoying drawback that half the bike needs to be disassembled to get to it.
Clearing up even more space, the BMW’s stock rear springs and dampers have been done away with altogether. In their place is single Öhlins adjustable coilover.
Up front, the original telescopic fork has also been replaced with a Honda CBR900RR unit. To make it work, the triple tree had to be custom CNC-milled and the Motogadget unit integrated within to replace all the stock analog gauges.
The 247 motor is stock with the exception of an older, more rounded BMW valve cover.
The custom exhaust tips make up the biggest change in the exhaust system as Benoit didn’t want to stray too far from the retro styling. The wheels are one-off items featuring design cues from the original multi-spoke units.
With the aerospace industry playing an essential role in inspiration, it made perfect sense to turn to the aviation company Beringer to whip up a solution for the brakes. Benoit admits that it’s complete and total overkill, but the fact that they produce lightweight, high-quality brakes for airplanes, and that BMW has a rich aircraft history, made it the perfect match. Plus a little French pride doesn’t hurt either.
Make no mistake, L’Intrépide is not a motorcycle that you’d use to attack the mountains or hit the Wangan. Although you could, you probably wouldn’t want to travel great distances on this bike either.
This is an an example of what a passionate designer can achieve when their are no limitations. L’Intrépide is an artwork on two wheels that strikes up conversations and puts a smile on everyone’s face who happens to see Benoit riding it around the streets of Tokyo. In my mind, that makes it pretty much perfect.