We recently caught up with Indian Motorcycle's Director of Product Design, Ola Stenegard, at See See Motorcycles during The ONE Moto Show weekend where we enjoyed some good coffee and even better conversation.

1.       Who got you into motorcycles?

My brother. I grew up on a farm. My brothers are way older than me. The youngest brother is 15 years older. He was the typical biker. He grew up on Easyriders and choppers. So that’s how it started.

“If you want into bikes,” he said, “you’ve got to be into choppers." It was only choppers. And it’s Sweden. When I was a kid, there were choppers everywhere. Cool choppers, old school.

2.       What were they using?

Harleys and Triumphs. So if you had money, it was Harleys, Panheads, Shovelheads. And if you didn’t have money it was Triumphs, more or less generalizing those days. So he was also the one, for my first bike he borrowed me $1,000 so I could buy my first Triumph from an old buddy of his, an old Triumph properly chopped-out ‘70s style, coffin tank, flames, banana seat, the whole shebang. That was my first big bike. I had a whole bunch of bikes before that, too. Back on the farm we had Honda 350s and 125s that we were just riding illegally. But the Triumph was my first big bike for the street, with a license I should say! (Big laughs)

3.       What was the first bike you customized?

That goes back. When I was, oh dude, now we’re getting into it, you opened a can of worms. Since my brother was into bikes I always watched him and his friends. They were wrenching on choppers and hot rods and V8’s. In Sweden we have a lot of V8’s, we love anything with American iron. That’s what I saw so I started working with bikes, bicycles, very early, extending the fork on every bicycle. The next step was to get a motor in there. We couldn’t afford mopeds back then. So now I’m like eight, nine years old. My dad taught me how to weld when I was about seven because he got so fed up with welding stuff for me.

So we started putting chainsaw engines because they still had a carb, we put them in bicycles more or less with raked-out front ends. And then eventually I could afford a moped. I built one moped that I actually took to a big hot rod show in Stockholm and I won first prize with that thing. It was a Sachs, a German Sachs. The rest of it, everything was home-built. I welded, I chromed, I was like 14 or 15. But you can imagine, it was like pouring fuel on a fire, right?  They had a moped class, which was really cool, so there was a whole pile of chopped and customized mopeds. And for a kid to win a prize there, it was a big thing. All the big chopper dudes, they had their bikes on exhibition.

Right about that time I also connected the dots because my mom was always sketching and drawing and painting, not professionally but just as a hobby. And that’s when I first connected the dots that, wait a minute, if I draw this stuff before I start to cut and weld, all the time it’d save. And then it took years, probably another 10 years till I realized there’s actually a profession where you can design motorcycles. So that’s how I got going.

It's cool that Indian picked a true chopper guy to lead its motorcycle design team. 

4.       Did you take any design classes?

For a long time I was just mainly into motorcycles, that’s all I did. I built choppers. You have a daytime job, you know, and all the money goes into building bikes, choppers, Harleys and Triumphs. I went to shows back then, the early ‘90s, and events. So that’s what I did. And then eventually, it’s like OK, I gotta go back to school, you’ve got to do something serious. I went back to a two-year art class. That’s where I first got exposed to industrial design. I’m like, wow, there’s actually a job where you can do this. For me it was like becoming an astronaut, so far away. Designing cars and motorcycles for work, and somebody pays you? From that school, I basically started to understand, that yeah, I can actually do this. Because when I realized this when I was in school at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Chip Foose was there and all these famous designers, from that moment that was my goal. That was everything, my mission from there on.

Because in Sweden we couldn’t really afford college, but I had a whole bunch of motorcycles, so I sold one. One bike paid for each semester. I ended up doing an exchange program so I did most of my classes over there, two-thirds of my education there, but I had to go back to school to graduate. But it was a great set-up for me. It was awesome just being there with and having all these old teachers from General Motors and Cadillac, guys I had only read about in books. It was mind-blowing.

5.       How’d you feel when you learned you’d landed the gig with Indian?

So I was at Indian the first time they started back in Gilroy. Remember that? I was there for two years. But then of course the backing, you know the whole story. The ship was going down and I was super bummed because I just loved the brand, that it was resurrected, but business-wise it was a disaster how they built it up. But I was lucky to get the job with BMW right when they started to push out all those new motorcycles for design and development. So I jumped on that and was there for 15 years. (Stenegard was a Motorcycle Designer at BMW from Jan. 2003-Jan. 2009 and was the principle designer on the HP2 Sport, S1000RR and more, then served as Head of Vehicle Design from Oct. 2009 – Feb. 2018)

But I always kept in contact with Greg Brew (VP of Industrial Design at Polaris Industries). He was one of my teachers at ArtCenter. When Polaris finally bought Indian I was like, whoa, what’s going on here. I’m like, are you serious about it, what are you guys doing? And then I met him at Sturgis for the launch of the Chiefs and after that it just intensified. After they invited me over about three years ago, now we’re getting serious. I was like, OK, this seems pretty good, where are you going, this is a really cool wave, I think I want to jump on that one. You need a company that can really manufacture and that was a problem a lot of these start-ups ran into. You need a company that can really manufacture stuff and a company that has your back.

So Greg Brew took me around the studio. We looked at the place, it was super nice. We looked at the designer institute. He knew exactly what he was doing because at one moment he opens the door and there’s the FTR. Like everybody, that’s my whole life, motorcycles, that’s all I do, so of course you pick up rumors and you hear stuff but about this, I heard nothing. He opens the door casually talking about something completely different and I’m like, what’s that, is that a concept? No, no, it’s a production bike, we’re going to launch it. That was it. Now I’ve been here two years.

6.       What projects have you worked on so far?

This is the only one that I was part of properly (the FTR Rally which sat outside the window). I came in at the tail end of the Challenger so it was just fit-and-finish, color, trim, stuff like that. And then we jumped on the next project which I can’t talk about (smiles). That’s the next big one. It’s going to be exciting.

7.       What do you use for design inspiration?

I’ve been with friends and we’ve talked about this and there’s always someone, “Yeah, I get a lot of inspiration from architecture or art” or whatever. I’m so boring because I’m just motorcycles, that’s my whole life. And depending on what bike you work on, to go into that scene and talk to people, see what they’re doing, talk about inspiring. Like this show (The ONE Moto Show). Walk around here, check out the bikes and look at stuff, this is super inspiring. If you work on a superbike, you go to racetrack days, you hang out at the track and talk to people and see what they’re doing. Why do you need an art museum when you have that?

8.       Your said your first year of coming to The ONE Moto Show was the snowpocalypse?

Yeah, I think that was the first year, must have been 2013, ’14, right?

9.       Did you get a chance to walk around last night? What do you think of the new venue?

I really like the venue because you have racing and the bikes at the same place. I was always a little surprised you had to go somewhere to watch the race and spend a day or half the day. Also the vendors couldn’t go and watch the races, and the racers couldn’t get back to check out the venue.

10.   What do you foresee as the next big thing? It seems to always rotate. One year it can be café racers, then it will be trackers and everyone’s hooligan racing, and then recently there’s Sons of Speed and everyone’s racing old bikes. Now I hear that baggers are getting to race at MotoAmerica. Is that it, let’s go road race baggers?

One thing is you never know, right, what the next thing is. But of course when I go to work, you live in a field of work that’s like five years ahead, or 10 years ahead, and you try to foresee all those things and that’s the fun part, trying to visualize what’s going on. But it’s really hard to tell, you just never really know but you have a lot of hunches. For me, that’s the thrill, too. I just love picking up on stuff and suddenly see it going in a certain direction and like oh man, I think this is the next big thing. And this is my job to see those things and even if I knew exactly or if I had my hunches, I’m not going to tell you! (laughter) That’s what’s so exciting, honestly, to see those things emerge and sometimes you can be a part of it and sometimes you’re on the sidelines watching it.