What Happens When an Auto Designer Turns To Two Wheels?
Alex Earle is a full time professional car designer, a very good, very well-known one, with a portfolio that includes being on the team that graced the world with the incredible Porsche Carrera GT. But his soul is stirred by two wheels, and those wheels are often powered by Ducati. You might have seen his Earle Motors Designs on Ducati Island at Laguna Seca and COTA, or in the Handbuilt Show during MotoGP weekend. Beautifully rendered ambitious designs, they stand out from the crowd. Recently we had a chance to talk to Alex about his career, his designs and how he brings them to life…
Ducati.net: Tell us about yourself – what’s your background?
Alex Earle: I grew up in Utah and Colorado – working in bicycle shops since I was a kid. My career path was actually city planning / landscape architecture in Denver. My boss there kept his 916 and 748S in the foyer of our office for years (he also had a slew of 911’s and some pretty amazing, vintage aircraft!) About that time, I discovered the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I scraped enough money together to visit the school and the minute I entered the gallery I knew my course. 3 years later I graduated and went to work for Porsche where I participated in the Carrera GT program. I’ve been in the automotive design business ever since.
Ducati.net: Obviously we love Ducati motorcycles, but this one is clearly something special. Tell us about the concept.
Alex Earle: I’ve been fascinated by Monsters since I saw my first outside a book shop in Cherry Creek. A yellow M900. The engine architecture and simplicity of the trellis construction took hold of my imagination immediately. I wanted to create something a little taller and even more raw from this platform. I could think of no bike more pure than the American flat tracker. Somehow the blending of this underdog, Italian bike and the unsung heroes of the American fairgrounds made perfect sense to me!
Ducati.net: Given your impressive credentials and exceptional skill with high line design and modeling tools, take us thru the steps of how you went from initial idea to creation of a working motorcycle
Alex Earle: This process was just like the OEM car studios. Sketching to define the theme and gesture then I built a 1/5 scale physical model using my own Monster as reference. The model and Ducati frame were then 3-D scanned. Data was then built in Alias – allowing us to tightly package the major components develop the mounting system and perfect the surface highlighting before committing to a physical part. A full size master was then produced on a big, 5 axis, gantry mill. Then a female mold was pulled to create the final, carbon part…more or less! The result is a highly developed form with surface quality comparable to an OEM car.
Ducati.net: So that’s the process, tell us about the design…
Alex Earle: The one-piece design was the result of my automotive training. The focus is on proportion, stance and surface quality. A continuous chamfer circumnavigates the base of the body adding torsional stability and volume. It is exceptionally easy to pivot around the tank and very comfortable. The complete body can be removed in 2 minutes, providing perfect access to the carbs and electrical. And it’s very light! All the OEM’s must address issues of unit sales targets, parts distribution, model range, etc. Concerns that typically result in design compromises to broaden appeal to the masses. My tracker is a pure statement of my personal, ideal bike. Rugged, simple, iconic, sexy and the most fun I’ve ever had in the canyons. No compromise.
Ducati.net: We know quite a few designers and have heard many times that the bike they drew doesn’t usually make it to production for just the reason you mention. But it’s not normally possible to purchase “factory prototypes” which are closer to the original idea of the designer. We know you do sell these bikes and they really look like a lot like factory prototypes to us. What’s the difference between a traditional factory prototype and say, the “red bike”, the white bike (which immediately sold to a well-known collector and is now part of one of the best Ducati collection’s in the world) and especially, the green bike which was the DNA and testbed the other bikes evolved from.
Alex Earle: The green bike (prototype 000) was developed for over 3 years. It still differs in a few key details like a small aluminum fuel cell, different mounting system and wider seat. It was featured on the cover of Sideburn #14 ridden by AMA pro Kayl Kolkman. Comfortable on Mulholland, desert gravel roads, splitting lanes or the Super Hooligan class. I have been continuously riding, modifying, reconfiguring and upgrading it still today. Still my favorite bike to ride and the anchor of my three bike “Tricolore”.
The red bike features 19″ custom billet wheels and hubs. Increased diameter gives better ground clearance and “roll over”. Maxxis DTR-1’s provide exceptional traction on a broad variety of surfaces and conditions. The big, upright bars and solo rear sets put the rider in complete command position. A 4.75 gallon fuel capacity and aircraft, vented fuel cap bonded directly into the carbon body. Throaty custom tuned exhaust and open airbox improve throttle response, power and sound. Make some really nice noise!
Ducati.net: The white bike was sold as soon as you displayed it – what are your plans for the other two? Are they for sale?
Alex Earle: The red bike is for sale. Asking price $50k. It is the only carbon bike I have and I would love to keep it for myself but I need to turn it so I can develop the next bike! I plan to keep the prototype (green/black) but I’m open to offers.
Ducati.net: What’s next for you? Any projects you can talk about yet?
Alex Earle: Currently I am finishing another street tracker using a Harley Davidson XR1200X motor in a custom chromoly frame. It’s my homage to the genre defining XR750 but with street focused comfort, range, electric start and manners. I can’t wait to ride it! I’d like to stay focused on street tracker variants. The simplicity and dirt capability appeal to me personally and the riding position really makes for a quick, fun hooligan bike you can ride all day. A perfect counter to the extreme sports bikes and heavy, complex ADV bikes. EARLE MOTORS is always going to be a limited operation. There will be very few of these bikes produced. For me the design is paramount.
For more on Alex Earle, and Earle Motors Design check out his website and the gallery below. Gallery photo credits include Chris Thoms, Nathan Barbour, Lily Blueskyes, Daniel Simon, Alex Earle