If MotoGP was decided purely on looks, which bike would win? We check out the lines and liveries with the doyen of two-wheeled cool, Roland Sands
If there is such a thing as a contradiction on two wheels, Roland Sands is it. He is a former US 250 road race champion, who probably makes most of his money selling pimp-up parts for Harleys. And there are no two more diametrically opposed motorcycles on this planet than a Yamaha TZ250 and a custom Harley.
Sands goes nuts for anything on two wheels – he rides road racers, dirt trackers, Harley bobbers, café racers, the lot. A few years ago he even built a mental bobber that was powered by a V5 MotoGP engine from one of King Kenny Roberts’ Proton racebikes.
So, given that Sands is the king of motorcycle aesthetics, why not grab hold of him and take him for a walk down MotoGP pit lane, just to see
what he thinks of the different bikes? We put the plan to him and he was, like, totally up for it, dude. The man is from deepest Los Angeles, so there’s a lot of LA speak going on.
The opportunity to obtain his views came at a recent round of the 2016 MotoGP world championship. FP4 is due to start as we wander into pit lane, wearing the very uncool but compulsory orange photographer gilets. Roland has been around race paddocks all his life, from club events right up to MotoGP, but he still seems giddy with excitement, like a fan who’s spent his whole life dreaming of being inside the paddock.
In pit lane, he’s like a kid in a sweet shop. This is a man who spends his days in workshops, hand-building some of the trickest bikes around, but he is clearly in seventh heaven wandering past the factory garages, his eyeballs just about exploding out of his face. He spends a lot of time taking photos with his smartphone, casually walking into the pits, where no one, unless you are wearing team pyjamas or you’re Brad Pitt, is allowed to walk. He squats down to get detailed shots of any neat bits that grab his attention, while factory mechanics eye him suspiciously and think about throwing him out.
Roland actually whoops when he spots Valentino Rossi’s crew warming up their rider’s M1 just ahead of us. I introduce him to Vale’s long-standing mechanics Bernard Ansiau and Brent Stephens. We get chatting and are soon deep into some bike nonsense when another member of the team has to drag Ansiau and Stephens back into the pit to perform some vital function before Rossi goes out. More whoops. We make our apologies and move on.
Roland is quite taken by the factory Ducati with its multitude of wings and its satin red and white paint job. He is constantly sucking up the details, shooting them with his phone and storing them in the back of his mind, no doubt to reappear in a year or two on one of his wild streetbike creations.
“It’s so cool; I just like the refinement of every detail,” he says. “Everywhere you look on all these MotoGP bikes there’s been an incredible amount of attention paid to every single detail. It has a pretty cool parallel to guys who build custom bikes to the top level – they pay attention to every single inch of the motorcycle. They’re maximising everything, and you can see it.”
While Sands likes all the bikes for different reasons, his preferred aesthetic is very old school – stripping bikes down to their core in a 1960s style, so you get to see the engine and all the guts. Indeed, he is currently converting – we kid you not – a $95,000 Panigale R Superleggera into a café racer.
“I’m building it into a café racer, but I’m going to keep all the electronics because they’re so intelligent and make bikes so fun to ride,” Sands explained. “I like old shit, but I’ve never hated electronics; I think they’re the best thing to happen. The people who talk shit about electronics aren’t riding the bikes hard.
“I went to COTA a while back to ride a BMW S1000RR. I’ve never ridden a 1000 like that – I wasn’t worried or scared about crashing, I was just having a great fuckin’ time. I think it’s so weird they don’t allow ABS in MotoGP.
“The coolest thing that electronics have brought to the sport is that they allow the guys to ride like fuckin’ animals. It’s so entertaining to watch [Marc] Márquez – he rides like an animal and pushes the machine way past its limit. To be able to override a MotoGP bike is a crazy, crazy thing! If you want to ride that way and you can ride that way, then the electronics allow you do that consistently.”
After our tour, I left Roland in the Red Bull VIP bar, hanging out with the rest of the US biking glitterati, while in the pits below, riders and engineers toil in the pits, worried about anything except how aesthetic their bikes look.
“I love the Ducati, I’m a big Ducati fan. Man, that bike is such a trip. I don’t think I’ve ever seen satin paint on a racebike. But I’m on the fence about the wings. I think they’re interesting. Bringing some Formula 1 thought processes into it is cool, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be impaled by one.”
“The Honda looks great, there’s a lot of radicalness in that bike. And I do like the big liveries – uni-branded bikes like the Estrella bikes and the Repsol bikes, they’re a real classic.”
Roland gives the Suzuki the thumbs up: “They’re bringing some art into it. It’s all the details on these bikes, how everything fits perfectly and nothing is overlooked.”
“I feel like I’m getting a bit too used to the top liveries because they don’t change much. I thought it was a disaster when Monster and Movistar got together on the Yamaha. Two green Ms on one motorcycle? Wow! But I like the Yamaha, just how everything flows into everything else. There’s no frills there, it doesn’t look that future-driven. In fact, it looks like they could sell the bike on the showroom as it is now.”
FuturoGP a la Sands
When he flew home to LA, Sands returned to his studio and drew up a couple of MotoGP bikes for us. No surprise that they’re both a bit wacky. One looks way into the past, the other way into the future.
“I tried to get on the future vibe, but I didn’t really come up with anything I would want to ride. I like the old shit! So this is more like a look back, but maybe it’s a little more attractive to the everyday customer. I would experiment with something interesting if I was doing a bike with full bodywork, but I tend to push towards a more classic aesthetic. I want to see the engine and all. The crazy future idea was inspired by my buddy Ola Stenegard.”
WORDS MAT OXLEY
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW NORTHCOTT & Gold and Goose