Animal-like design.

BMW Motorrad has a heart for elephants.

They are just as persevering, off-road capable and loved as some BMW Motorrad – with the difference that the grey giants are at risk. The design department of the blue and white brand has literally combined the themes of motorcycles and elephants. Through the charitable cooperation of the Elephant Parade in Thailand and the Bavarian motorcycle makers. 

When BMW Motorrad's designers get visitors, the future gets put away into a drawer and a cover is put over any three-dimensional models. Nothing can be leaked. Top secret. New ideas for single parts and entire motorcycles are industrial secrets. In contrast, it's much more relaxed when the motorcycle maker from Munich devotes itself to a charitable cause. Or rather, when the designers focus on a wild project. BMW Motorrad and the Elephant Parade from Thailand – a non-profit organisation that concentrates on elephant conservation in Asia – have been in cooperation since 2016.  

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Mosha – a famous elephant with a prosthesis.

It's about proportions: Alexander Buckan, Head of Vehicle Design BMW Motorrad, explains what it means to bring the themes of motorcycles and elephants together from the perspective of the designer.

Mosha – a famous elephant with a prosthesis.

Where do the Munich motorcycle designers come into play? The creative minds have completed designs, on which elephant sculptures are modelled. Numerous companies, celebrities, artists and actors support the Elephant Parade by creating sculptures matching the actual size of a baby elephant at 1.5 meters. These are exhibited in public places worldwide and then auctioned off to support the "Friends of the Asian Elephant" hospital in Thailand – the only one of its kind that designs elephant prostheses. A famous example is Mosha the baby elephant. He lost a foot at the age of seven months after a landmine exploded. This misfortune, in turn, inspired Marc Spits to host the first Elephant Parade event in 2006; since 2008, the organisation has been supporting the elephant hospital. Exhibitions in India, Singapore, Chiang Mai and Amsterdam are up next.  

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Breaking with visual habits.

The team of designers around Alexander Buckan remembered the elephants.

Breaking with visual habits.

When designing a motorcycle, the first step is to draw up its proportions. You can skip this step with an elephant. "The animal already exists. It's physically complete. The designer now has to interact with the proportions available", explains Alexander Buckan, Head of Vehicle Design for BMW Motorrad. Apart from a few details, his team did only graphic work and did not have to follow the complex workflows usually associated with motorcycle design. Still, it wasn't easy. The designers had to come to grips with a theme that has nothing to do with their everyday world of work. "Getting used to an animal coming from the technological world was probably the biggest challenge", Alexander remembers. The designers had to break with their visual habits. "We abstracted the theme of motorcycles and transferred it to the elephant." With the precondition that the finished sculpture should touch people emotionally, of course.  

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All good things come in threes.

After two weeks, they had ten drafts, which came about incidentally in the normal course of business. Colleagues examined and discussed the sketches. In the next step, they went into detail and selected seven designs. Discussions continued until only three designs remained. The only important information and reference value for the designers were the exact measurements of the figure. It depends on how detailed the designs become with their lines and different facets. "Apart from that, we approached the sketches free of specifications. We had no colours and no specific motorcycle model in mind. This is also clear to see as it resulted in very different ideas", said Alexander. Each designer created a parallel between elephant and motorcycle in their own way.  

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Tanks, cylinders and the Paris-Dakar

One of the three final drafts made use of the old tank of a classic bike from BMW Motorrad. It forms the body of the elephant. The fuel filler cap deliberately stands out as a striking feature on the animal's back in three dimensions – this is the BMW Motorrad Classic Elephant. In another sculpture, the opposed-twin engine sets the theme, the two typical cylinders give the elephant an unusual appearance. And the third sculpture with the Lac Rose theme brings back memories of the successful 1985 Paris-Dakar Rally, because it interprets the winning bike with the colours orange and white paired with the typical BMW Motorsport stripes. The highlight: One leg of the elephant is modelled on a bellows.  

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The devil is in the detail.

However, the work is not yet been completed with the two-dimensional drafts. A game of ping pong begins. There are questions. It is unclear to the designers whether all details can be implemented. Will the drafts merely be painted onto the existing sculptures? Or can the fuel filler cap and cylinder heads be carved out sculpturally? There are also queries from Elephant Parade. "This is completely standard practice and interaction with our development departments always raises questions from both sides. Sometimes we then have to offer alternative solutions", explains Alexander. Generally, the exciting combination of emotionality and functionality appeals to the designer. "I think it's brilliant. On one hand, the motorcycle touches people emotionally, on the other hand it must work."  

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Clear case of an opposed-twin engine.

Alex alone in the office: Wherever the designer works, he creates a suitable and inspiring environment.

Clear case of an opposed-twin engine.

When Alexander Buckan thinks of the parallels between motorcycles and elephants the designer in him speaks: "Every child knows this animal, has a clear idea of it and maybe even has a cuddly toy one." The grey colour, striking appearance, the proverbial thick hide. The elephant is a magnificent sight. This means in a figurative sense that, "The boxer is one of the most well-known motorcycles in the world." With the two opposing cylinders you immediately connect it with BMW Motorrad", he finds. It's clear that he's a petrolhead. It's not only the design of new bikes that has captivated him: "For me, motorcycling is a lifestyle, an adventure and relaxation from everyday life," says Alexander, who himself drives an original BMW R 75/6, model year 1974.  

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The Elephant Rally.

A common sight: The elephant is at least partly a working and farm animal in Thailand.

The Elephant Rally.

The grey giant and the motorcycle – suddenly, other parallels occur to Alexander: Motorcycle journalist Ernst Leverkus initiated the first elephant Rally on the Solitude race track in January 1956. Dozens of Zündapp KS 601 drivers met up near Stuttgart to brave the winter weather. The motorcycle with its "bullish strength" and typical green paint meant the outfit was dubbed the "Green Elephant", in turn giving the meet-up its name. Drivers of different motorcycle brands have long since established themselves and participated in the three-day event, which has been taking place at the Nürburgring since the 1990s – organised by the Federal Association of Motorcyclists (BVDM).  

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Ambassador for peaceful coexistence.

As far as cooperation with Elephant Parade is concerned, Alexander and his team did not hesitate for a moment to support the endeavour. "The subject has touched us emotionally. It goes without saying that we would help with such a project", he says. In the Vietnam War, some 270 million cluster bombs fell on Laos in the course of the Vietnam War, and estimates suggest that around 30 percent of these are unexploded, some of which are still lying around and are responsible for dead or mutilated people and animals even decades after the end of the war. For Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design with BMW Motorrad, involvement with the Elephant Parade is a matter close to the heart. He lived and worked in India for three years, came into contact with the topic there and became a sponsor for a baby elephant. Edgar also addresses another thought: "Many motorcyclists love to discover distant countries and foreign cultures. This requires a peaceful world and intact ecosystems. It's becoming increasingly difficult to move freely in this world. BMW motorcycles and their drivers can be found in the most remote parts of the world; they are ambassadors of this idea of peaceful coexistence between humans and nature as well between cultures."

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The catalyst: The International GS Trophy 2016.

The project gained momentum with the International GS Trophy 2016 in Thailand. This is because if BMW Motorrad travels to a country with an event, the organisers depend on its hospitality – and they return it. "The Elephant Parade is an outstanding opportunity to get involved. Everyone involved in the organisation of the Trophy has seen how necessary it is to take care of these impressive animals," explains Ralf Rodepeter, Head of Marketing and Product Management at BMW Motorrad. The animal became the mascot of the International GS Trophy 2016. A large, orange elephant stood at the camp of the trophy participants in the evening, many photos were taken around the sculpture.   

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A mini elephant paces across the desk.

The International GS Trophy 2016 in Thailand is where the cooperation between BMW Motorrad and the Elephant Parade began. This little elephant commemorates the extraordinary trophy in the land of the elephants.

A mini elephant paces across the desk.

The elephant has been kept as a farm animal for decades in Thailand but recently many thick-skinned giants were abandoned in the bush, have been maltreated and depend on help. The grey creatures have found a new home in the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). The International GS Trophy 2016 led the drivers past this park, among other places. "On the one hand this was a really fascinating image, but on the other hand it was sad to see that so many animals are dependent on help," remembers Ralf. The participants received miniature sculptures as souvenirs. Even today, the figure on his desk reminds him of the "extraordinary Trophy". A perfect topic to credibly incorporate BMW Motorrad beyond the GS Trophy.   

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And on it goes.

The elephants designed by BMW Motorrad can be seen in various exhibitions of the Elephant Parade. Events are planned in India for the start of 2018 (http://elephant-family.org). Eighty-five sculptures were already exhibited in Sao Paulo from 1st August until 1st October 2017 (http://elephantparade.com.br); a sculpture by BMW Motorrad – the one with the three-dimensional fuel filler cap – was also on display there. In recent years there have been events in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bangkok, Bergen, Calais, California, Chiang Mai, Copenhagen, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Emmen and more. The Elephant Parade also maintains a museum in Thailand: The Elephant Parade Land in Chiang Mai tells the organisation's more than ten-year history and its mission to conserve the endangered Asian elephant. In future, the museum will display the elephant with the Lac Rose theme.

Further information at www.elephantparade.com.  

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