In the world of motorcycles, the name of Ola Stenegärd is sublime. The Swedish expert was responsible for the coolest BMW Motorrad models in the last fifteen years, and we got NineT thanks to one of his brave movement in the company. He was a pioneer in involving a world famous company with the world of underground motorcycle scene. And we know, there will be more, after we heard the bombshell that Ola moved back to Indian, where his career begun.
Who is Ola Stenegärd, please introduce yourself?
– I’m a motorcycle designer gearhead. And I am just about to start a new job at Indian Motorcycle as Director of Product Design. Super exciting!
How did you falling in love with motorcycles?
– One of my (much) older brothers was into bikes. And so were his friends. So I was just always hanging around as a lil’ kid, taking it all in. It was in the seventies so their inspiration was Easy Rider kinda. Hippies and choppers, hahah. They were my biggest heroes.
Where and what did you learn?
“Well, it started back at the farm where I grew up. Dad taught me how to weld when I was about seven years old so I could extend the forks on my bicycles, haha. And at about 11 years old I built my first motorbike, powered by an old chainsaw engine. Then followed countless mopeds, 125s and finally when I was 18, big bikes.”
How became somebody a designer and creative director at BMW, Indian etc….?
“Dad and my brothers were the ‘engineers’. A bunch of machines at the farm were home built. And every other tractor had a big truck motor in it. But my mom used to paint and draw a lot in her spare time. And I also always loved to draw so eventually I connected building bikes and sketching and ended up in art school, then industrial design school in Stockholm. But I just wanted to design motorcycles and not kitchen appliances, so long story short, I finally ended up at Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena. A dream come true!”
What was your first job in the motorcycle industry and which one was the most memorable?
“During my studies in Stockholm, I became a member of Plebs Choppers, and they built some of the most badass bikes ever. And so I started doing a lot of work on the side for Unique Custom Cycles who was owned by two guys from the club. After I graduated I worked for Saab 1998 to 2001 but kept freelancing for UCC and also Öhlins Racing. Then I got an offer from Indian Motorcycle and spent 2001 to 2003 with them. Now this was before Polaris took over so it was a bit shaky back then. So from there I went on to spend my past 15 years at the BMW Motorrad design studio.
The most memorable moment? So many! But rolling out the Concept Ninety with Roland Sands at Villa d’Este, totally and completely unexpected from the ‘adventure bike’ company and with dang loud straight pipes and all, for sure is up there by the favorite moments!”
What was the first motorcycle you bought, and what is your all time favorite bike?
“I had so many bikes, all favorites one way or another, haha… My first big bike was Honda CB350 but I was just 15. Once I turned 18 and got my license I borrowed some money from my brother and bought an old seventies style Triumph chopper that people would kill for today. 6”extended fork, no stretch or rake, coffin tank, white banana seat, blue candy flake with flames and murals and the whole shebang! But for me it was just a base and come first winter I tore it down and built my own vision of a proper clean Swedish chopper.”
Who inspires you the most? And what is your biggest inspiration?
“My inspiration comes from many places. Someone much more clever than me once said a designer should be like a sponge and soak up inspiration everywhere. It’s like that for me too. However I am not a kind of guy who goes to fine art galleries or finds inspiration in fashion or architecture. All my inspiration is soaked up in the motorcycle scene and the weird and wonderful people that populate this moto-universe. Motorcycling has so many sides to it and it just never seize to fascinate me! Racing, adventure riding, customizing (where my roots are), motorcycle fashion, motorcycle art, clubs, custom culture…it’s an endless and bottomless well to find inspiration in.”
I think, you were a pioneer who involved the custom builders into a life of a big factory. How came this idea?
“I don’t know…I grew up in customizing and building bikes and ended up in the industry side. So I just figured it makes so much sense to connect both of them. It was just a kinda secret dream of mine! And finally I got the chance to do a project with my friend Roland Sands and build the Concept Ninety. But everyone at work was so skeptical, haha. And no one thought much of it. Most thought the project was gonna fail anyway. I mean… these two sketchy geezers… tattoos and all… I mean seriously? Are we really gonna trust them with this money and a tight deadline and let them build a real running concept bike for the famous Villa d’Este venue? Honestly I still today don’t know what made them trust us, but they did and I am forever grateful for that.”
I think, the head leaders of motorcycles industries are strict people. Was it easy to manage this idea – customize bike, to be cool, to be a part of underground – with the top managers?
“No. Not at all. The whole idea of the nineT didn’t interest anyone at the time. That’s why it took years to convince the top dogs to do it. Still it was just a small side project, when it got signed off. And in which no one saw much potential at the time. Good for me and the project leader since we could just do what we wanted and thought was right way to do it, haha. But once it hit the market it just blew everyone’s mind…it was so cool to see it hit home! And prove everyone wrong. We were proud as pirates, haha.”
I think, it was a big success for everybody at the end, and many companies started to copy you.
“Yeah, honestly it blew my mind too! I mean I knew the scene was growing of course with lots of new blood coming in which was so inspiring, right? And I thought it’s easy gonna break even and stuff. But from there to basically colour the whole company? I didn’t see that coming. In retrospect it’s really mindboggling almost.”
What are you doing in your free time? (If you have any)
“Building bikes. Got two projects going right now so it’s keeping me busy. And both my sons are racing in motocross so that takes up a lot of time! Then my daughter is doing horse jumping so with that plus running the horse farm and stuff… idling in my free time is not a problem. But I like being busy. My family side’s all the same. 24/7. Always a thousand things going on. I dig that.”
What kind of bike do you ride currently?
“Right now I’m just looking at getting my hands on a Scout Bobber! And I would love a Chief Dark Horse too. I rode my new boss Greg Brew’s Dark Horse and totally dig that bike! It’s proper badass!”
But in my garage there’s an early 103-shovel project beside a lil’ 60’s style Triumph that I am also building up. Then I got an old ZX-6R for the racetrack and of course one of the first nineT’s. Then there’s a bunch of my kids motocross bikes of course and my oldest son’s 883 beside his Duke 125.”
Please tell me something about your change from BMW to Indian.
“Me and VP of Design at Polaris, Greg Brew, go way back. He was one of my teachers at ACCD and we also worked briefly together at BMW before he joined Polaris. He loves motorcycles so we always stayed connected. But when Polaris took over Indian in 2011 our contact intensified. I was very curious because I still love the brand and I see so much potential in it. And I was so happy to see Polaris take over because they know the powersport industry and they are serious and also have the passion and knowledge to bring it back on the road. And they did! So finally when Greg asked one day if I wanted to come work for him and run the motorcycle department, the timing was perfect. I had just spent 15 years at BMW and been through one of the most intensive product expansions that brand ever did, but things were slowing down and I was kinda entertaining the idea of another challenge. The stars just perfectly aligned and I said yes to Greg’s offer without hesitation.”
What is your plan for the future? Stay on the side of classic modern bikes or try to continue on the line of modern…?
“That’s the thing with Indian Motorcycle, even when I worked there back in 2001, I felt it’s a brand that can go anywhere. It doesn’t come with any baggage. It can enter any segment it wants and do so with flying colours. And with the backing of Polaris, it’s just the perfect setup to take this brand anywhere the it wants to go! There’s no limits. A designer’s dream.”
How big is the pressure on you to create something new and cool?
“Pressure is always there but you never think about it when you’re having fun, haha. Seriously… I consider myself extremely fortunate to be allowed to work on the industry side of things, be allowed to contribute on motorcycles that will one day excite and enrich someone else’s lives. Just like it always did mine, right? That rocks more than anything.”
I heard you will live in your home in Sweden basically and work from there, how often will you travel to the USA and maybe to Switzerland?
“I will split my time between the headquarter in Medina, Minnesota and the development center in Switzerland. I am also allowed to work a bit from home. Polaris is a very global company so the infrastructure is all there. I’m just super excited to get going now, it’s gonna be a blast!”