The world of technology moves at such a rapid pace that at times it feels like no matter how hard you try to keep up, you’re always two steps behind. You only have to look at the mobile phone in your hand and compare it to the one you once held 20 years ago to realise just how quickly things change. The world of manufacturing is no different and as new ways of creating come online, the custom bike builder can choose to continue with the old school methods and there is nothing at all wrong with that, or try out what’s new and explore the possibilities it presents. For China’s Mandrill Garage, artistic experimentation with 3D printing let their imagination run wild and resulted in this bad to the bone bomber BMW R18, called Dark Phoenix.

Immediately I can see that there will be a love or hate response to a bike that defies convention in such a full-frontal manner. But if all anyone wants is one cookie-cutter bike after another, then they’ve kind of missed the point of the custom scene in the first place. Self-expression by its very nature means builders will do things you don’t like, and that’s ok! But what makes this BMW so important for Mandrill Garage and as an exercise in general, is to play with printing full-scale 3D plastic models before commencing production and utilising the growing ability to 3D print metal parts.

And who said new technology had to be presented in the form of a futuristic bike with a modern aesthetic! “The overall concept is the feeling of a bomber, heavy and for cruising,” head honcho Luo Hao explains. The whole process started with the making of a 3D model and allowed the team at Mandrill to experiment with themes and ideas that resulted in an instant change, rather than building onto the bike and seeing if the modification worked or not. “In terms of appearance, I hoped to add some elements of old BMW motorcycles and elements of current cars, such as wings.”

With the team happy with the way the 3D model appeared and confident they could replicate it all in the real world, a full 1:1 3D model was printed in plastic. Now each member could get down to doing what they do best, and the metalwork guys had a full-size replica from which to work. The first part this allowed them to build was the fuel tank, with aluminium hand-beaten and rolled and then offered up to the plastic model to see where changes needed to be made. The finished product is a beefy piece with very distinct lines that tuck in tight around the knees at the centre post.

The tail section and fender were next, and inspiration was drawn from old BMWs with a full wrap-around look. But without an old twin shock rear to interfere with the lines, they could make this piece in two unique sections. The seating area and tail hover with an aggressive style that moves to a sharp and tidy finish at its rear. While the full rear fender encloses half of the wheel and links back to a time when the more metal you could add the merrier. This period is further represented by the choice and style of the taillight to finish out the theme.

But rather than go hunting for an old Chevy part, it’s all handmade and allows the traditional skills of the fabricator to complement the modern design technology used to create its concept. For the front-end, things would get much more technologically advanced. With a front fairing as part of the look, a mount would have to be made and here most would rely on round metal bar. Instead, the drawn design from the model was transferred into a seriously cool bit of kit and the piece was 3D printed from metal. The part bolts to the top of the fairing and runs down to the tank, where it’s joined by a 3D printed fuel cap surround.

The genius of the 3D printed part is that complex shapes and designs can be incorporated, along with fully functional items like the gauge mount that hosts the factory BMW instrument. The front fairing itself blends designs of old and new, with an industrial looking bomber style joined by GP-inspired winglets on the sides. There is still room for the slick headlight to shine through an opening that acts as a visor. Before it rises up to the windshield above that houses a yellow Perspex screen that is held in place with a 3D printed frame to give a look like we’ve never seen before.

The hand-shaped front fender keeps the theme running across the length of the bike and the small light on top is once again an example of a machine turning powdered metal into a finished product. To really tie it all together, classic BMW black was used to coat the entire motorcycle, with bold white pinstriping to highlight the lines. A set of flat bars give the bike a more aggressive look and riding style, with the pilot sitting proud on a brilliantly upholstered seat on old, destressed leather.

Whether you love or hate the final product will be down to you, but in stepping out of the current groove, Mandrill has created one incredible machine and mastered new techniques and technologies that will help them bring to life a host of brilliant bikes for years to come.

Mandrill Garage ]