Melding artistic inspiration with practical application takes a special blend of talent. As you've likely seen in your life, some pieces of art intrinsically have the power to make your pulse race. Perhaps your breath comes a little more quickly, or maybe you even stop breathing entirely for just a moment.
But taking those artistic impulses and applying them to something that's meant to be used, and not something to simply be admired as a static object seems like an interesting challenge.
It's one that industrial designers take up every day, whether the rest of the world actively notices it or not. They have to not only think about the aesthetic appeal of a design, but also practical considerations like ergonomics, materials costs, and meeting desired customer price points.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Mark Wells, who is Royal Enfield's head of product strategy and industrial design. He had a lot to say about the design inspiration and process behind the 2024 Shotgun 650, which we're pleased to share with you here.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
You've talked about your dystopian inspiration for the Shotgun 650. How did that come about?
When we started this project, we were looking at the idea of taking that classic idea but doing something else with it. In India, you see loads of guys customizing their bikes, and they're not what we call rivet counters. So when you see somebody restoring a bike, they do it exact.
So, when we create a classic, we're really, really authentic. We try really hard to make a Classic or an Interceptor representative of that bike from the past and pull that together.
When we started this project, we were looking at how people modify classics. So in India, for example, on our 350, 50 percent of our sales come from the cast aluminum wheel version, even though the original bike never had cast aluminum rims.
So we kind of started around this idea of, well, how do we blend that classic look but put modern wheels on it, make the geometry modern, kind of get it to a point where it has that blend of the two.
And we were talking. One day, we were just chatting, and I was saying how it's almost like a restomod, almost like... Imagine a dystopian future where, I don't know, everything is now EV or something, and this was found in a barn, and somebody's like, "This is awesome."
Maybe they found a Royal Enfield 500 Twin. Royal Enfield used to make a 500 Twin that looked just like a Bullet. They found that in a barn. They then took some component parts off other modern bikes and forks, brake discs, and they kind of got it running again just by throwing it all together.
And then I kind of started thinking about, if you've ever watched Akira, not Kaneda's bike, but the clown's bikes, they're this kind of mix of new and old. If you look at the clown gang's bikes, they're actually like choppers and-or bobbers with a funny front end on them and all the rest of it. And if you've ever seen the film Gattaca-
In Gattaca, all the cars are very classic. They almost look like sort of art deco. This idea that, and again, to some extent when you look at Blade Runner, they're not all flying around in [modern cars]. The cars still have that kind of classic form to them.
And so that conversation sparked an idea. It was like, okay, we could do something that had that feel to it, that idea that it lived in a time where kind of almost, not quite Mad Max-y, but a time where old vehicles were brought back to life because they're the only vehicles, if you know what I mean.
And all of this was really just part of a conversation or a narrative about trying to get the design team thinking about what could we do and how could we do it differently.
Adrian [Sellers] is also very much into manga. He's done all of these illustrations. He's into that genre as well. So he immediately understood the minute I started talking about Akira and the clowns, that immediately clicked with him. And so we were both immediately on a shared understanding of what it could be. That's kind of how it evolved into a thing.
Royal Enfield Shotgun 650 Badass concept art by Adrian Sellers
Royal Enfield Shotgun 650 Icon concept art by Adrian Sellers
Royal Enfield Shotgun 650 Builder concept art by Adrian Sellers
And it's not just the look. The look is this blend of very classic Royal Enfield, but it's also the way the bike rides and handles. So you've not ridden it yet, have you? You're tomorrow's group? Yeah.
Not yet, no. Tomorrow, yeah.
So when you ride it tomorrow, I mean, I don't know how quick you ride, but today as we were going up the Los Angeles Crest Highway, I was following Glen, the product manager on this project, and Glen used to race. Glen's quick. And we were fully decked out, sparks flying off the back of the bike, so I've got some great video.
That's not what you expect from a Royal Enfield classic. And again, it's that blend of genres and styles that make it what it is. That's the sort of the background to it.
I think it's an interesting product because it doesn't fit in that kind of prescribed category. We had loads of conversations about this, like with the brand guys about what category it should be, and there was lots of discussions about, well, is it a bobber?
It's not really a bobber because for a bobber, ideally, a bobber's got a mud guard mounted on the swinging arm. You chop all the back off, and you mount the mud guard on the swinging arm.
But we haven't mounted the mud guard on the swingarm, because we want to have a bit more of a classic feel. The prevailing position is very much a classic roadster. So the ergonomics are very much that classic 350 straight back Bentley. So it's not a modern roadster. If you think like an MT07 or something, now, now your feet are sort of an angle. Well, it's not that.
And so all of those kind of blends come together, so it sort of defies any kind of putting it in an existing category. And I really like that about it. It's interesting. Whether people will get that or not remains to be seen, but it gives us the opportunity to try it.
I don't know whether you saw any of the concepts that we did at EICMA?
Royal Enfield SG650 Concept - EICMA 2021
Royal Enfield SG650 Concept - EICMA 2021
The video and the images we did for that had a very similar feel. And I found early on in the projects, I found a whole bunch of pictures of India. So there's a guy online, I can't remember who it is now, but he photographs India, which kind of has that almost cyberpunk feel to it.
Because if you think about it, India's already got lots of neon, so [the concepts have] got lots of neon. It's already got wiring everywhere. It's already got the new, as in India is leading the world in some areas, but alongside the very traditional.
It's such a melting pot, India. And you see, it's kind of like it skipped two or three stages. It leapfrogged the evolution. So you know, Delhi or Chennai, you have amazingly modern creations and wealth sat next to people still living in relative poverty. And it has a little bit of that. Photographed in the right way, you get that sense of it.
So again, we just thought it all fit. Ultimately, to customers, they won't see that vision. But that was the discussion we had internally when we were trying to visualize what this bike was and what it meant, if that makes sense.
About how long would you say you had this discussion? How did you sort of solidify or crystallize it, would you say? Did it go through multiple rounds of discussion, or were you all immediately on the same page?
Honestly, I think we were all pretty much immediately on the same page.
I'm very lucky like that in that my background, I'm an industrial designer by training. That's my background. I don't get to do any design these days. I maybe sketched I think once every three months or something, but I'm very lucky in that I've got a design team that just intuitively get it, and we're on the same page.
I was saying to somebody earlier, Adrian and I judged a custom competition at Wheels and Waves this year. And it was really interesting in that we had eight criteria that we had to score out of 10. And I think out of all of them, out of all the bikes we judged, I think there was one where we were a mark out. It was almost identical, without conferring at all.
And so, there is this sort of intuitive understanding about [design]. My attitude is, I've hired some of the best designers in the world, not just Adrian, but a team of some of the best talent in the world.
I really believe, really, truly believe, there's no point in hiring the best people and then telling them what to do. You hire them, and then you empower them to do [things].
So my job is, a lot of the time, exactly that. It's making sure that they have the scope and the freedom to do what they want. And when there's a question about a compromise because of engineering requirements or cost or, making sure that we fight on the design side of it. We make sure that we get the product we want, because that's what sells the product at the end of the day.
Sure. That makes a lot of sense. And I think that's a really good view to take, because a lot of times you have people who are too interested in making sure that it's only their vision that gets put out into the world, rather than making it a more collaborative process.
Absolutely. I mean, ultimately it's my job to sign stuff off, so ultimately I still say, "That's right," "That's wrong," and "That's what we should do." "That's not what we should do."
And I will input. I will say, "How about this? Why don't we do it like that?" But to be honest with you, a lot of the time I'm picking between options, but both of the options are really good.
I mean, we regularly, when we do the color, trim and graphic reviews... I've got a German girl that works for me called Darline, Darline Vogel, and Darline's amazing. We always sit down with 60 or 70 amazing ideas for color, trim and graphic, and we've got to pick four out of them. And a lot of the time the hardest thing is going "It should be that one."
So yeah, again, I just feel very blessed that we've got such a great team both in India and in the UK. So the team's split. We've got two studios, so there's about 35 industrial designers, well, industrial designers, model makers, color, trim and graphic, all the different areas of design. So yeah, I'm very blessed. I've got such a talented team, and it's good. It's very good.
How long has the team been together?
It's an interesting question. So as I said before, my background is I have my own industrial design company, and we started that business in 2000 and, well, 2001, 2000. And it started with myself and a guy called Ian Wride. We met at university.
When we left uni, we started this business, and we hired a bunch of guys, and then we worked with Royal Enfield from about 2005. And then in 2015, Siddhartha [Lal] asked us if we'd join the company, and we'd become employees. So we took a bunch of the guys with us to Royal Enfield.
But over that time period, the guy that ran the studio in India, who still runs the studio in India, a guy called Sivakumar, Siva was working at Royal Enfield the first time I visited India. So I've known Siva for nearly 20 years. I've known Ian for nearly 20 years.
And then we employed a bunch of the guys that used to work for us and then other designers. So people like Adrian, people like Steve Everitt that worked for us, they were all close friends. They were all people I knew and I'd worked with before and that I knew would be right for Royal Enfield. As soon as I had the job of being head of design, I went and headhunted those people. So as a team, we've known each other for probably 20 years now.
We've been working together at Royal Enfield for probably since about 2015, 2016. But as I say, people like Decker, who worked for me, people like Siva, we've been working together for 20 years now, and it's got a lovely family feel, as well. The team is a team, which is lovely.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about?
I'm just super, super delighted with the product. It's awesome to be here doing it. I love LA. LA is wicked. The roads here... Angeles Crest is just amazing. We don't get roads like that in England. You get roads like that in India, actually. There are some roads like that in India. India's got some amazing roads. Have you ever been to India?
You need to go. We do a big brand event every year at Rider Mania, or Motoverse now, which is in Goa. And we have about 15,000 Royal Enfield owners ride from all over India.
It's a huge music festival, and you get all kinds of music genres and styles, and then there's flat track racing. There's grass track scrambles, hill climbs, all sorts of competitions, and the energy and the vibe is just amazing, and you should definitely go. It's brilliant. And India's an amazing place to ride a bike.
I'm just very happy to be here doing this. I mean, we've had a stonking year. Eighteen months ago we started with the Hunter. Then we had the Super Meteor. We've had the Bullet 350, we've always had the new Himalayan, which is amazing, and now this. We're on a roll, I think. So I just hope people like it. I mean, that's what motivates me, is our customers, people like yourself saying, "Yeah, this is a great bike."