- Silke Bender
- Maurice Haas
I always used to tinker with motorbikes, even before I was allowed to ride them. When I was studying at the École Boulle in Paris, I used to spend my weekends in a workshop that belonged to the father of a good friend of mine – and it was home to a BMW R 69 S built in 1969. My friend’s father, an excellent mechanic, taught me everything a young man with a passion for technology could ever want to know. Now almost 90, the elderly gent gave up his motorcycle licence at some point and passed the bike on to his son. Then somehow it ended up in my possession. For me there was no question: this work of art just had to stay “in the family” – not least because it was built in the year I was born.
My wife and I love the close connection you get when there are two of you on a motorcycle: you can feel the other person’s body and lean into the corners in harmony.
I was always a fan of the twin cylinder: it offered the perfect compromise between character and torque. The French have an apt expression for the thrust you get from a sudden burst of acceleration: “un coup de pied au cul.” Anglo-Saxons would call it a kick up the backside. The BMW R 69 S corners as smoothly as a bicycle, boasts outstanding stability, and even after 50 years remains absolutely reliable and timelessly elegant in design – all things I love. And then there’s the regular rhythmic beat of the horizontally mounted cylinders. A single-cylinder engine is too harsh for my ears, a three or four-cylinder too high-pitched.
When I bought the motorcycle, I restored it to its original condition – although I took the liberty of making two small modifications: electronic ignition, because it’s more reliable, and a new battery compartment hidden beneath the seat, which I designed myself. But I was determined to preserve the bike’s patina, so I simply polished the paintwork rather than respraying it. Doing my own repairs and maintenance is a point of pride for me. I share my design studio with two other motorcycle enthusiasts, and we’ve set up our own workshop on the ground floor. When you work on a bike like this, you learn to be humble and respect the people who designed it: the engineers who built the R 69 made a really good job of it. Not just as good as required, but as good as possible. I like the fact that everything about this motorbike is so solid – and that everything is 100% analogue.
((Text 3)) Not long ago I invested in a second motorcycle, a BMW R 1200 RS, as a replacement for my BMW R 1150 GS, which I used to ride to work every day. It was no racehorse, but a good-natured thoroughbred all the same. But at one point I realised that I definitely needed something more like a racehorse. Even at first glance, I found the aesthetics of the BMW R 1200 RS very appealing. In particular, the winning combination of exposed engine and excellent wind protection. As a designer, I find this cohesive overall impression extremely important. When I rode the bike for the first time, I was completely blown away by the feeling of lightness and absolute precision. Not to mention its incredible performance.
With my new BMW I’m coming full circle. I fell in love with the boxer engine when I rode the BMW R 69 S. And I see the BMW R 1200 RS as a direct descendant of that machine. Both were super fast sports bikes for the road in their day, but they also offered high levels of comfort and reliability.
What I love doing most in my free time is going out for rides on the bikes with my wife. Although she has her own licence, she hasn’t ridden for quite a while, so it would probably be best for her to start off again on something a little smaller. But she really enjoys riding pillion. We love the close connection you get on a motorcycle: you can feel the other person’s body and lean into the corners in harmony.
Emmanuel Dietrich is a French product designer whose clients include Hermès, Ligne Roset and Calvin Klein; he has his own watch brand, Dietrich. He has homes in Paris and Zurich.