Pierre Terblanche in his own words

Published: 18 March 2001

Pierre Terblanche is Ducati’s top designer. He is in charge of the project to create a bike to replace the 996.

He joined us in the VIP Lounge in the TALK BIKES area of the site on Friday, March 23 and answered your questions for an hour-and-a-half.

In a frank interview he talked about the pressures he’s under, how the " new 996 " is shaping up and how he hasn’t taken a break from work in a year.

Read on…

Q: Why do bikes look so good in red?

PT: I don`t quite know why, i`m just happy that they do…anyway at Ducati we are not complaining

Q Is practicality important in bikes?

PT: That`s something with the new 996....we’ve tried to make it as practical as possible, and as good looking as possible. That is the hard part, as if you concentrate one on aspect it is easier but to combine the two is the hardest part. I`m 1 metre 90 tall and I at least want to fit on it. I don`t neccesarily mean practical such as a tourer… but at least shorter and taller people will be able to fit on it. And a little bit of steering lock doesn`t hurt!

Q: What bike do you ride generally?

It depends, I`ve got a Canyon 600, which, to my shame I designed myself. I like enduro bikes because they are quite comfortable, and in Bologna it’s the quickest way to get round the twisty roads. I’m not doing a lot of riding now because I can’t afford to be injured on a project.

Q: How far ahead do you design?

PT: We are designing for the year 2002 and on to 2006-7. That’s what I’m doing now, before that I was designing stuff for 2001. Normally we anticipate three years to five years ahead for a project.

Q: How will tough new European emission laws impact on your designs?

PT: We have to prepare... and make sure all our bikes will meet the emission standards, as will all manufacturers by law. We will have to have catalytic converters, and that is something the engineers are working on now. I`m not involved with the fuel injection and engine matters directly, I just have to make sure I can include their requests on the bike

Q: How can cats be included on bikes?

PT: Sometimes it can be quite hard to do... the catalytic converter has to be mounted into a certain position, and has great heat build up… bikes over the last five years have become much harder to design.

Q: Which of your peers do you most admire?

PT: It has to be Tamburini (he designed the 916 and the MV Agusta F4), who I actually worked for before. He’s the reason I came to Italy and Ducati in the first place.

Q: What did you think when you first saw the MV?

PT: It puts pressure on me to design bikes that are better than what came before and that`s all part of the fun for me. I was part of the initial development team, so I didn`t see the bike just out of the blue. When I finally saw it at a show, it was great, it’s a great bike.

I haven`t actually spoken to Mr Tamburini for a while, so I should really try to get a chat with him soon.

Question: Do you get informal feedback from him about your work?

PT: I`m sure when the new bike comes out I`ll get to hear what he thinks, informally or not!

Question: What is your favourite bike?

PT: That`s a hard one… I would say the Britten. It might not be suitable for the road....but who cares!

Question: Which are your favourite five bike designs?

PT: In no particular order… the ones that have most impact… the Suzuki Katana, Ducati Paso, the Britten, the TT750 Ducatis, because they were so tiny… and the Peter Williams monocoque Norton. They are the ones that had the most impact on me, that is the best way to put it.

Question: Which is the most hideous bike you’ve seen?

PT: Probably Morbidelli V8, but I don`t like saying it because maybe someone had good intentions, and I wouldn`t like it to happen to me.

Question: Is the humble CG125 actually more influential in motorcycling than the 996?

PT: Yes, I think so, the thing is that the 916 is not really real motorcycling in a way, I suppose the real motorcyclists are the ones that ride in the rain and at night. So the answer is yes, in general, but that doesn`t mean we want to ride them all the time, or ever in some cases!

Question: Do you like Japanese bikes?

PT Oh yes, but it depends which ones. The R1 was pretty striking and a good bike. I think the Honda NR was good, the FireBlade, the RC30.

Question: What do you think of the new Triumphs?

PT: I like them generally, but I think I was a little bit disappointed by the 600, I think it could have been a bit wilder. On the Bonneville, I think they did a great job. I think small companies like Triumph and Ducati shouldn`t want to imitate the Japanese, and should do things more different and personal. I like the Triples, for the power, and the kind of sound they make and so on.

Question: Where are you from?

I`m South African of French and Dutch descent, the names are both from French descent, and I have arrived in Italy via many countries including England for study. I`ve been here 13 years, so I suppose I’m Italian now.

Question: Do you think Japanese designers have more freedom than you?

PT: No. We at Ducati have a lot of freedom, probably more than the Japanese. I think we are lucky that we don’t have to sell to a wide range of clients so we can do wilder things and get away with it, for example the MH900E. It wouldn`t have been possible if we had to sell it to 30,000 people.

Question: Which is your favourite Japanese bike?

PT: It’s actually very hard to answer that. The most striking Japanese bike is probably the R1, the most polished bike is probably the Honda FireBlade, and there is also the Kawasaki ZX-9R…There is no one single bike that combines everything. But we want to make the new 996 the best of everything.

Question: Do you have any biking confessions?

PT: My most embarrassing moment is falling off a 48cc bike, downhill at about 60 mph with no protection. M girlfriend was following in a car, and she couldn`t stop laughing… and the whole company knew about it within 20 minutes. And I had to hear about it for four or five years.

Question: Do you have anyone in mind when you design?

PT I do have the rider in mind. I always include myself for the ergonomics because I am fairly tall, and most Northern Europeans are fairly tall. Ergonomics will be very important for the future for Ducati. Anyone from 1 metre 60 to 1 metre 90 should be able to ride new Ducatis.

Question: How much of the design work do you do yourself?

PT: Well, up until recently I did everything myself. For the new replacement 996, still a lot, but more guiding the project than physically working on the project myself.

There is less real modelling than in the past, the new 996 will be the first Ducati bike totally done on computer on CAD… which I can’t actually do myself. But I still make the key decisions on how it will look and where it will go. Unfortunately I’m doing less of my favourite job, which is modelling the bike out of clay.

Question: Can you give us some more clues about the new 996?

PT: Oooh, it won’t have a lot of weight, it won’t be very tall, it’ll be very small, redder than before... and more powerful and with better handling.

Question: Do you get to ride much?

PT: Just recently I`ve been so busy I haven’t had a holiday for over a year. I work so much, I actually have very little chance to ride. But in the next few years I’d actually like to do a little more riding again.

Question: Put the following in order of priority: Fine motorcycles, fine wine, fine food and fine ladies.

PT: That’s a hard one… well I hate to say it but if it’s between the fine motorcycle and the fine lady, it`s got to be the lady. Especially after all this work, although Ducati might not be pleased. Then it’s the motorcycle, then fine wine and fine food close behind.

Question: Tell us more about the new 996.

PT: The engine will still adhere to all the traditions of Ducati; a lot of torque; ease of riding; good sound etc. It will have a traditonal Ducati engine, but obviously highly developed.

Question: What do you think of the Benelli Tornado?

PT: I admire the work they have done on the Tornado, the only criticism I can have is that the underseat radiator makes the bikes rather wide, and that`s not a characteristic we`ve traditonally had at Ducati.

Question: What do you think of Carl Fogarty?

PT: The starnge thing is I haven`t actually met him, I`ve either been away, or busy...He seems like a pretty wild character, people say he`s quite shy, he certainly seems like a nice guy. He’s certainly not someone you want to see in the middle of the night staring at you with those piercing eyes.

Question: Do you have an exotic car?

PT: I own various strange cars; A Lancia Monte Carlo convertible, and the love of my life a 110 Alpine Renault. And I have a Renault Twingo, which is cheap and cheerful so I can leave it anywhere. I hope to buy a 1950s Mercury custom car, which is more of my passion than Ferraris. I`m a collector of memorabilia from radios, razors etc from the 1920s to 1950s… all made from bakelite.

Probably my favourite modern car would be the Lancia Stratos, stunning looks, good finishes combined with practicality

Question: What do you think of the Voxannes?

PT: I think that the mechanical layout is one of the best things done in the last 15 years, just the frame design and everything else. I have some reservations about some of the stylings. I`ve actually ridden the bikes and it would always be an honour to work for any of these companies.

Question: Do you think designers can be a bit precious?

PT: Designers are very touchy about their work. Everyone fears doing something that will be a flop. But if you have worked hard enough then you can be proud of yourself. Designing a bike is like running naked on to centre court at Wimbledon. You lay yourself bare and open to criticism.

Question: What have we seen on race bikes that you feel we’ll see on road bikes soon?

PT: Actually there hasn`t been that much on race bikes recently that is that fantastic. I haven`t seen anything new in the last 10 years really, except that they have rediscovered aerodynamics.

Question: Is it fun working at Ducati?

PT: To be very honest, it`s very exciting working on the bikes, but it is not neccessarily fun. Designing bikes is very hard and stressful. Fun is going out for a ride, or with your girlfriend for a meal.

PT: I have a question. What would people want to see on the new 996?

Your answers included sequential shift, a 16.5in front wheel… and a more affordable bike?

PT: A sequential shift obviously has a cost element to it for the bike purchase.

People seem to change their ideas about wheel size, but on the road I don`t see any particular advantage to it. Affordable is hard with all the expectations. The new 996 is totally new… I can guarantee it, but it`s still red

Question: What would you do in the future?

PT: I wouldn`t mind doing some crazy projects for myself for a few years....no deadlines, no-one chasing me, no worries. Maybe do a bit of sculpture and designing different things

Question: Is reliability going to be improved on the new 996?

PT: That`s obviously in the interests of the company. We have to improve all aspects of the bikes, so reliability is a major issue. I think the problems with Ducati is perceived rather than actual. A lot of the old electrics problems, for example, have been eliminated.

MCN: We're going to wind up the session now… Mr Terblanche has been very kind We'll leave the final word to him...

PT: Thankyou very much for allowing me this chance to chat with you, and I hope everyone has a very good weekend. And I hope the foot and mouth crisis is over soon so everyone can go riding again and things can improve. Good luck and I hope everyone enjoys themselves.

comments powered by Disqus