Custom, minimalistic motorcycles handmade in Austria
by Tobias van Schneider
On DESK, we always enjoy exploring creativity beyond the UX or brand design we're typically surrounded by.
It's here, not within our own field, that we find inspiration. And that's how we discovered Vagabund, a custom motorcycle shop based in Graz, Austria (which happens to be my hometown).
We decided to talk to Paul Brauchart, one half of the two-man Vagabund team, about building a brand that's more than "just a motorcycle shop," and just what "form follows function" means for beautiful, minimalistic bike designs.
Vagabund’s tagline is “We‘re not reinventing the wheel, but we‘re rethinking it.” How are you rethinking it? What are some of the dreams or requests you (and your customers) have that traditional motorcycles or the existing market weren’t fulfilling?
To us, Vagabund is more than just a motorcycle garage. This is where we started five years ago but now we’re growing into a larger brand that is seeking to diversify. We are getting some awesome companies that want to collaborate with us and we’re very excited for what the future holds.
When it comes to designing the bikes, we usually try to get rid of all the unnecessary stuff and integrate everything as minimalistically as possible. We’re currently working on a fantastic motorcycle which includes a ton of handmade aluminium bodywork. Our main goal for the future is producing motorcycles that are artistic pieces, yet still totally functional and street legal.
Do you mostly modify existing builds or are you designing and building some bikes from scratch?
Normally we work with pre-existing bikes as EU regulations can be problematic. For us it's not worth building a whole brand new suspension, frame or engine. However, once the bikes are stripped to their bare skeleton we recreate all the other parts from scratch.
I suspect people who do what you do have made a life of tinkering, making, following their curiosity. How do you get into motorcycle design? Did you do some sort of design or engineering before this, or did you just find yourself here?
I studied information design and Philipp Rabl, my partner, studied mechanical engineering. We both grew up constantly around motorcycles and were always building things. I met Philipp while we were both studying and working as test drivers.
What is Vagabund’s design philosophy? I’ve seen “simplicity” and “form follows function” mentioned in your marketing, but motorcycles seem anything but simple and your motorcycle designs are beautifully detailed.
Thank you, that’s kind! Simplicity is definitely what we strive for. While motorcycles are complex, we're trying to design as simply as possible and still maintain functionality and legality. It’s a huge challenge designing around existing bikes, we need to watch legislation and still try to achieve our minimalist aims. This is a challenge we love; it's not good enough if it looks nice, it´s still a vehicle which must be roadworthy.
Can you give us a behind the scenes look at your work? How many people are on your team, who does what and how does a typical customization process go? How do we work with you as a customer to get our dream Vagabund bike?
We are a two-man-show; I mainly do the design, marketing, graphics and conceptual stuff. And Phillip mainly does the engineering elements like CAD, welding, electronics and the mechanical stuff. However, we work closely together and our work often overlaps; I’m always in the workshop and Philip often designs too.
Typically when new customers contact us they have seen a previous Vagabund motorcycle that they admire, and we use this as a basis to craft them their own original piece. We try to create a whole experience around our customers getting a Vagabund motorcycle.
A big part of riding a motorcycle for many people, at least in the United States, is the culture and community. What is the community like in Austria? Do you aim to influence or change it in any specific ways?
I do think that the “community” feeling is much bigger in the States, and we aren't as much into this motorcycle scene. But there is a big motorcycle culture here, especially since we have fun roads to drive on through the countryside.
We aim to bring back some value to the field of custom motorcycles, and therefore mostly build limited stuff. We’ve chosen the longer path but a consistent one. We are trying to build a brand that develops cool products, and if we can influence the community in any way it would be awesome.
In the States (at least in the cities), bicycle sales have surged during the pandemic, and it looks like motorcycle sales are booming too. How has the pandemic affected your work, either positively or negatively?
We’ve been very fortunate during the pandemic and thankfully haven’t been affected too badly. We’ve managed it well and are grateful that our customers are still with us.
You’re already shipping worldwide. Where do you go from here? What’s the roadmap for Vagabund?
Jokes aside, we’ve also got some really exciting projects outside of the motorcycle realm. We’ve had our own clothing for a while now, and are currently collaborating with other companies on some cars, bicycles and other cool things.
We’re now thankfully reaching a stage where other companies would like to identify with our brand and image, and that's really crazy because we just started building motorcycles in a small parental basement workshop around five years ago. We definitely won't limit ourselves in what we're doing and creating.