Friday, February 22, 2019

Concept Kx meant to create an impression that lasts

Filippo Corticelli, Royal Enfield chief designer, was at the International Motorcycle Show in Chicago this month with Royal Enfield's surprising new Concept Kx.

The Concept Kx — introduced to the world in Milan last November — is surprising because it is unlike any Royal Enfield motorcycle since World War II: very low, very sleek, and with a muscular looking V-twin motor at center frame. It is meant to evoke the Royal Enfield KX V-twin of the 1930s while employing modern technology.

I couldn't get to Chicago, so I was pleased when Filippo Corticelli immediately shot back the answers to questions I asked him by email. His responses below include an important correction to mistaken information I published earlier about the origin of the motor in the Concept Kx.

Q. Do I have your title right? Group Manager, Industrial Design, Royal Enfield? Could you tell me a little bit about your background and other designs you've worked on?

A. That is indeed my title. It is roughly equivalent to "chief designer" in the car industry.

I was born in Italy and started my professional design career in the mid-nineties at Honda's advanced design studio in Japan. I then moved on to Ducati, where I was part of the team responsible for the 999 and the first gen Multistrada. At Yamaha I was mostly involved in scooters for the European market, such as the first X-Max and the little Neo's. I went independent for a few years, mostly consulting on performance cars (mainly Aston Martin and Lotus), before spending two years in China as digital design head for Geely (the group who owns Volvo cars and more recently Lotus). When I was offered to get back into motorcycle work I didn't hesitate for a second, and joined Royal Enfield in early 2015, one of the first handful of UK based staff.

Man standing in front of mock-up of proposed Concept Kx.
Watch the video of Filippo Corticelli describing the Concept Kx.
Q. In Royal Enfield's Concept Kx video you emphasize the importance of the team in design, as opposed to some iconoclastic single creator. How how big was that Kx team? Regardless, are you the individual who held up the original KX and said "this should be the target" or goal, or the inspiration?

A. While I was the person who first identified the KX as something that would be awesome to work on, during the early concept phase the bar was held up high by the head of industrial design Mark Wells, who pushed all of us not to compromise an inch on the proportions of the original bike and gave us the ambitious requirement of a concept model that should create a long lasting impression. I then had the privilege and opportunity to be in charge of making this concept happen, fine tune the appropriate balance between heritage and futuristic elements, and deliver the finished article to a very high standard, down to all the little details that (we're glad) everybody noticed and got excited about.

At Royal Enfield, all projects are open from the start to all our designers across both locations (India and the UK), then each project team narrows down later. Once Concept KX reached the physical stage, I was supported by young designer Antoine Borsik who came up with the strongest idea among all for the front end of the bike, Nick Graveley who is a very expert contract clay modeller, and Antonio Tentorio who is one of our two concept engineers. The Concept KX would not be what it is without any of them doing their absolute best — it was the hell of a team.

Q. In the video you indicate that the V-twin motor and long, low lines were the starting points. Is that correct? 

A. Absolutely. The V-twin is a celebration of our mid- and late thirties Model KX, which was the largest capacity motorcycle built in Britain before World War II and also a V-twin. The "proportional guide" for the bike is as shown here below.

Original motorcycle with marks showing component alignments.
Original Royal Enfield KX of 1937 shows off its lines.
Q. One of my readers noted that the big motor is the most striking aspect of the design. It reminded him of the Vincent Black Shadow. To me, while Vincent motors were undoubtedly beautiful, the Concept Kx motor looks "emphatic." It seems to have its lower jaw thrust forward in an almost combative expression. It's muscular rather than beautiful. Your reaction?

A. Hopefully that is answered in the image above — the protruding crankcases "chin" was a unique visual element of the old KX.

The concept motorcycle with lines showing component alignment.
...and the same elements are visible in the new Concept Kx.
Want to seem more? Here's a link to the best collection of Concept Kx photos.
Q. It's startling for Royal Enfield to show a V-twin at this moment, when it has a long recent history of making only singles and is just now introducing new vertical twin motorcycles. Was it exciting at this stage to be handed another whole new set of possibilities?

A. Other than the much higher excitement that V-twin seem to provoke in people compared to a parallel twin, again this was an opportunity to remind the world that Royal Enfield produced  V-twin motorcycles from 1909 to 1938. The engine was indeed at the heart of this concept: it was very interesting to size up a V-twin and give some thought to what could be a good engine capacity to work on, explore the upper end of what our brand could carry whilst keeping to our mission and concentrate on the "middle segment."

Speaking of the powertrain, I also would like to correct what is written on your blog here: "The liquid cooled, dual overhead cam motor developed out of a now ended partnership between Royal Enfield's parent company Eicher and Polaris Industries, maker of Indian motorcycles." There was indeed a short collaboration with Polaris in the past, but that went away before anything relevant could come to fruition. We have therefore been absolutely clear that nothing shown by our Company would and/or could be linked to that joint-venture — not even the cylinder layout or the (single, not double) overhead cam setup. I am sure you will understand this is a sensitive subject, and is definitely one of the key points I would have been more than happy to explain in person, rather than reading later about factually incorrect speculations.

Note: I regret the error and have removed that from this blog. — David Blasco.

Q. Is it uncouth to ask whether the Concept Kx motor could have been polished? In photos its finishes look soft. Your reaction (which I hope is not to take offense!)?

A. We looked at a number of finishes, including fully polished or gloss black like the original chain cover. The choice of the current powdercoated finish was chosen to complement the satin copper details with a related darker hue. Photos don't give it much justice. Allow me to also risk being uncouth and say, especially not the current photo on your website, taken with a cameraphone and with the flash on!

Side view of new Concept Kx.
A fully lit photo of the Royal Enfield Concept Kx.
Q. The Concept Kx is not only a styling showpiece, the technology it displays is remarkable. The monoshock rear suspension designed to look like a hard tail, for instance, and the girder front suspension. There is so much going on here aside from styling. How did you define the mission?

A. The goal for concepts is generally to show ideas that would have as a priority to be perceived as unique (i.e. not seen on other motorcycles before) and believable, rather than fully production feasible. The rear suspension layout was one of the most controversial points during development; we looked at four or five different ways to do a modern take on a hard tail. The same for the girder front resolution integrating the headlamp nacelle, which is the result of several iterations including tubing, pressing and suspended or integrated lamp.

Q. The original KX was often engaged in pulling sidecars. Was it ever considered to design a sidecar to go with the Concept Kx? Perhaps it could have emerged as something like a gentleman's Ural?

A. The original bike compelled us to show it as a single seater; we have not developed a sidecar — not a bad idea actually, I might take you up on that if we ever get the chance to take the Kx further!

Q. Is the Concept Kx rideable? And this may be irrelevant to a styling exercise: is the motor even real?

A. While the motorcycle is fully packaged, the engine has no internals and the shocks are locked rigid. Part of the loom works, so that you can switch on DRLs and light up the speedometer. Therefore it's not a runner, but more of a pusher — believe me, it's hard work to bring it up and down stands and trucks, with some delicate parts and with no fluid in the brakes!

Q. At its introduction Royal Enfield waved off questions about whether the Concept Kx would ever be produced. Mark Wells said in the video that it was to be designed "without the constraints of production." But, if the public demanded it? What do you think about a Kx for the 2020s? My reader suggested that it could be a premium model, produced by Royal Enfield but positioned above the rest in the market place.

A. Working on a concept is similar to what Morpheus said about the Matrix: "some rules can be bent, others can be broken". The layout was done taking into account everything that makes a bike work, from the airbox to silencer volumes. On the other hand, we were free to cheat, slam and exaggerate some features, like on all concept cars that you see. We are of course glad to see that our brand can apparently "carry" a more premium product than our current 650 twins, but whether that actually results in an action plan or not is a much bigger and delicate discussion. We have made clear that the Concept Kx is not something you should think about putting down a deposit for, and please don't let it stop you doing that on a brand new 650 twin!

Q. What is the future for the Concept Kx itself?

A. The plan is for the KX to be experienced at a few more motorcycle venues around the world. Some day I hope it will return "home" to the UK in one piece, and be on permanent display in our office entrance lobby, next to the old '37 that inspired it.

Q. You were obviously aware that in the Interceptor there would be reference to the 1960s, a period my cohorts recall with some fondness, as we were young and the Interceptor was the pinnacle of our aspirations. But with the Concept Kx, the choice was made to refer to a Royal Enfield history — of the 1930s — that few living people recall first-hand. What motorcycles are we familiar with today from the 1930s?

A. All the fifties and sixties have been "redone to death" already in motorcycle styling, so it was immediately appealing for us to have the chance to work on a different part of our history as a celebration of the twins. We found our KX as a survivor still in regular use on a farm estate and just fell in love with it, simple as that. Like you say, the thirties are a time not many people alive today would have experienced first hand, which makes it even more worth remembering and get people to talk about.

6 comments:

  1. Sorry, but I am not drinking the kool-aid on this one. The prototype bares no resemblance to the 1930s bike except for the color. Yes, I do agree the 1950s-60s retro bikes are being designed to death. I stand by what I earlier wrote: The beautiful Harris frame and v-twin engine won't be mated up with the rest of it, not when the corporation has invested millions in new production facilities tooled up for production of already designed bikes and their shared component parts. That's why I see the frame/engine combo in machines akin to the Bernard Li Vincent designs.

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  2. Subjectivity, I do see something of a kinship here. Beyond that RE would be well served to go a bit upscale, the market exists. I write from New Jersey so hate to say that Harley, styling wise, seems to have lost the plot ergo RE might even sell a few stateside. Looking @ the Ural sidecar contraptions and what they're getting for them if I were RE I'd be tooling up an outfit set up yesterday. As a feller closer to his 8th decade than his 6th the idea of 3 wheels becomes increasingly attractive. As is well known the ladies are increasingly going moto so if these can be made low with comfort so much the better. Over all why not spoil these up? Phil

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  3. Must admit I like it wonder how they could keep it looking the same with all the emission standards it would have to meet.

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  4. If Royal Enfield is in no hurry to make the KX become a reality, there is an alternative. I believe the chap in Ohio,USA is still producing the Musket V-twin motor.With enough imagination,skill, and $$$ any bloke can build his own version of an Enfield V twin.
    Maybe the motor design is not a dead ringer for the KX ,but it's still a neat piece of kit.

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  5. "On the right track" says me. Pretty exciting

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