Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name’s Daryl Villanueva, Chief of Design at Bandit9 out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I’m originally from the Philippines but grew up, studied and worked all over the world – Hong Kong, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles, Dubai, Vietnam, Beijing and back in Vietnam.
How did this project come about?
This is our second collaboration with the fine folks at Royal Enfield and our third bike altogether. This time they approached us to create a body kit for their Continental GT 650. I actually really like the GT 650 myself so I was afraid to touch an already good-looking machine, plus I had to work within the confines of a frame that could not be cut/altered. This is my go-to move to transform a motorcycle so I knew this was going to be tricky. But fear is a good thing. It tells me I’m on the right track and if anything, I’ll learn something from the experience & that’s always a win.
Where did the name ‘Jaeger’ come from?
It came to me as we were shooting the film. We went all over Vietnam to shoot and in a pandemic that can easily make you feel claustrophobic, nothing is more important than going outdoors. We were out in extreme temperatures – from a mountain above the clouds to scorching desert dunes. But man, it’s peaceful. It’s quiet. And the further out you go and the harder you strive, the quieter and more peaceful it gets. And that’s when I realized: peace does not come to you. You gotta find it.
What was the design process?
After doing a sketch, we went straight to the clay model. We had to build on top of a donor Royal Enfield 650. We’re not that sophisticated – we don’t have 3D scanners, printers and machines. We have a hammer and anvil. All the parts are still handcrafted. I wish we had some tech to make our lives easier. It’d make things a lot faster too. But it takes away some of the fun of building a bike.
What were the biggest challenges building this Continental GT 650 kit?
Changing its proportions without touching the frame. We found a way to extend the swing arm without replacing it entirely. It’s only a few inches and it sounds simple but it’s what can make or break your custom piece. If you’re not able to change your motorcycle’s proportions, even if only a visual one, the transformation will not look drastic enough to make it feel special.
The grips were surprisingly difficult to make. We almost gave up. I wanted to take this opportunity to reinvent the grips and switch system. I wanted one solid form. I didn’t want any buttons protruding or switches popping out. Everything flat and smooth. I wanted it to feel like it was carved out of a single billet of aluminum. It was. Now, imagine doing that manually. This is probably the piece I’m most proud of.
Was the design limiting when building this kit? Must be harder to make an aesthetically pleasing design that can be easily bolted together.
I worked in advertising. This is what we do best. Think inside the box. So I’m used to it. The challenge I posed for us was: how do we make a body kit that doesn’t look like one? It has to be odd enough for people to doubt that it’s a bolt-on. I knew we nailed it when the guys at Royal Enfield checked on three different occasions that it was a bolt-on. That was funny.
All your builds have a futuristic but timeless look. You definitely know a Bandit9 bike when you see one. Is this intentional?
I don’t think it’s intentional. I think it’s more of a taste thing. Some folks like their bikes vintage, some like the intricate complications, some know the ins and outs of the motorcycle world and work with that knowledge. Me, I’m three-dimensionally challenged and prefer simpler forms. I tend to dream about the future rather than relive the past.
I have so many crazy ideas but for now, I know how to build bikes. I hope I don’t stop there. If I had unlimited resources I’d go to town on everything – trains, planes, segways, watches, jewellery, houses, furniture, phones, appliances. And to be honest, that’s why I started an art gallery – to scratch that itch and produce all the crap I’ve got stored in my head.
Do you prefer building one-off custom motorcycles or kits?
I thought I would prefer to build full custom builds but this proved to be a very positive experience. I think they’re both difficult to do. My guys are always annoyed with me because I keep choosing the difficult path; nothing is ever easy with me haha. In my mind, why would I bother doing something I already know how to do? Or why do something because it’s easy? That’s not a good reason to do anything. Don’t you feel better after conquering something you thought impossible?
What’s included in the ‘Jaeger’ kit?
Surgical grade steel tank and front and rear cowl. Dual LED headlights, custom speedometer, handlebars, front and rear turn signals. Custom front fender, handlebars and gas cap. Custom twin exhaust and muffler system. Custom steel mono-block mirrors and swing-arm extender. Custom foot pegs and controls. Plus a weatherproof suede seat.
How many of these kits will be made? Can we ask the price?
At the time of writing this interview, we don’t know. We need to speak to Royal Enfield about price as a full set and as individual parts but you can buy the full Jaeger motorcycle from us for USD 27k inclusive of shipping. We’re only going to make nine units.
Did the global pandemic affected the project? And your business?
Fortunately, it hasn’t and I need to thank all our fans, friends, family and of course Royal Enfield for keeping us going. This is a tough business and I’d love to tell you guys about the economics of it all as well as the challenges we face beyond the bikes.
I’m certain other builders experience the same things and ask themselves the same questions: how do we top what we did last, how are we going to make ends meet, how will we stand out from an industry getting more competitive, how will I divide my resources – manpower, equipment, donor bikes, training, how do we get people to see the value behind what we do and how it will impact their lives. This is a constant dialog inside my brain and that’s not even working on an actual motorcycle yet. People see the end result but there’s so much revolving around the business.
What’s next for Bandit9?
Focus. We’re going to build a lot less pieces per year but take it to the next level with what we do make. This is going to be painful in the interim but I believe it will work in the long run. I can’t get too specific. It’ll ruin the surprise.