Motorcycle brand Bandit9 creates handcrafted, cutting-edge motorcycles from its new workshop in Saigon. By Ruben Luong.
In the beginning, Daryl Villanueva created Eve. Eve was the first handcrafted motorcycle in Saigon conceived for Villanueva’s motorcycle firm, Bandit9, formerly based in Beijing.
“We start with the name first and it will evoke some sort of emotional design response,” Villanueva says. “I didn’t even complete it yet, but I knew it was going to be called Eve. It’s got a feminine design, like a classical instrument.”
Eve retails for $5,000 and can be viewed at Bandit9’s new showroom on Dien Bien Phu Street in District 3 starting this month. A beauty in chromed steel, it is a descendant of seven Bandit9 motorcycles manufactured in Beijing, each one bearing names like Nero MKII or Atlas.
But whereas the original seven are actually larger bikes that run up to 750cc, Eve is a smaller one derived from a Honda ‘67 Super Sport that runs a mere 90cc to 125cc, suitable not only for Saigon’s motorbike culture but also Bandit9’s updated business model.
“Power and speed mean nothing,” Villanueva says.“Agility is more important and you have more agility when you’re smaller. It’s the same thing in Paris, New York, Japan, even Beijing.”
Keeping the frame of the Honda ’67 SS, Villanueva gave Eve a new engine supplied under a contract by Honda. So while Eve is compact and vintage in terms of form and shape, its engine and mechanics are quite new and advanced for a small motorbike.
Ensuring the feasibility of the design was a challenge, however. Villanueva, a Filipino expat that studied graphic design and worked several stints in advertising, has no engineering background, so he designed around the new engine, carving the body as if from clay.
Eve ultimately streamlines the Honda ’67 SS with an elongated and conical unibody. To achieve this, the motorbike’s frame and rear suspension is embedded with the tank, rather than left as individual pieces.
Following Villanueva’s original concept, Eve continued to be designed on the fly as it was handcrafted in Bandit9’s garage in District 10. Elegant modifications included turn and brake lights integrated into existing bare bolts for another clean and seamless piece.
One Bandit9 motorcycle would take four months to handcraft in Beijing, but in Saigon, Villanueva’s personal mechanical and engineering duo, both Vietnamese who speak English, were able to fashion Eve in a month without forsaking craftsmanship.
“There’s a culture of churning things out quickly in China and quality suffers,” Villanueva says. “I’d constantly visit, explain and re-explain, and it wastes a lot of time. Not like here, where I can brief my mechanic and engineer on what I need and disappear for a week.”
For his next design, Villanueva wants to create something darker and more complex. It might even take on the name Adam. But while he finalises the concept for a new bike, Eve will be built from scratch only nine times, as with every Bandit9 design before it.
“Building nine is more valuable than building only one,” he says. “If I build one, it looks like a hobby, a one-off piece. But if I build nine, it feels more like a brand that creates products. Nine keeps it fresh. I don’t want to mass manufacture thousands and it all goes to waste.”
Even before the first one was built, Eve was sold out from pre-orders based on its concept alone. It was bought by Porsche and Ferrari dealers, Saudi Arabian royalty, an assistant director for The Avengers 2 and it also drew in female clients for the first time.
As Eve is also destined for a possible exhibit in Switzerland, Bandit9 hopes to continue its global appeal even from its tiny hub here in Saigon, and stand out for its artistry in an oversaturated realm of showy custom motorcycles often assembled from purchased parts.
“Custom motorcycles simply add a nice leather seat or get repainted,” says Jacob Barry, 28, Bandit9’s business strategist. “They’re not taken down to its bare bones and redesigned.”