01 May 2012

Q&A with Steve Barry and Leo Yip of Ellaspede

The Ellaspede motorcycles in the artisan windows have been causing many a double-take over the last few weeks. We had a chat with Ellaspede co-founders Steve Barry and Leo Yip about motorcycles, design, and Brisbane.

What do motorcycles mean to you?

Steve: Motorcycles are a medium for me… a reasonably compact, cost efficient, self-satisfying but most importantly, usable medium. We can render our thoughts and expressions in their numerous components. The combinations of material, colour, texture finish and technique can make for a spectrum of possibilities.

Leo: Motorcycles represent freedom to me. When you are on a bike there is a sort of ‘zone’ you get into. It isn’t something that I can put into words.

What triggered your decision to go into business together building custom motorcycles?

Steve: We went into business together so we didn't have to work for someone else.

Leo: Yeah I think Steve sums it up well; we had a passion for motorcycles and are having a good crack at trying to turn our passions into a viable business.

How does your Ellaspede work fit together with your backgrounds in industrial design?

Steve: Using a 'design' approach to the bikes and soft goods helps control the process. It places parameters and measurable outcomes that could easily otherwise get out of hand. Of course art and design doesn't always like to be constrained so remaining open to where things may lead is necessary. We then just let the two trains of thought battle it out till the final outcome.

Leo: Our backgrounds as industrial designers allow us to have a unique perspective on things. We are able to not just piece together existing objects to create a desire shape or form but can conceive totally new ones and deploy a wide range of manufacturing techniques to have the part(s) made as economically and efficiently as possible.

You custom build your bikes according to the customer’s requirements. How do people usually react when they take their first ride on a motorcycle they have had a part in creating?

Steve: They probably feel like we do when we take our first ride on a self-initiated creation… they smile and take sneak peaks at their reflection in shop front windows. I'm guessing here, I don't really know, but the smile part does seem to be part and parcel.

Leo: Lots of smiles. I think one of our customers Tristan Schultz best sums this question up in one word: ‘Rad’.

Where do you feel you and your customers fit within the larger motorcycle culture?


Steve: I see myself as being of a previous generation to most of our customers. I'm more hands-on. I'm about style but style based on an earlier aesthetic. I also have a strong interest in what lies beneath… the nuts and bolts of it all. I see what our customers want and don't mind helping them achieve it.

I guess I fit in and perhaps our customers see me as the older guy who hangs out in the shed with the skills to give them what they want?

Our customers (so far) fit in as part of an emerging lifestyle trend - young 20 something males who've left uni, got a job, have some money (though not a lot), are into some creative thinking and want to be seen to be individuals (within the context of what they consider cool… which oddly seems to me to be quite specific, despite itself). They're not so interested in how or why it works, just that it does and what it looks like and means to them.

Leo: I guess I would be one of those 20 something males Steve has mentioned. For me it is about reshaping what people think of custom motorcycles. Whenever you tell someone that’s what you do you get the immediate response of, ‘oh yeah like American Chopper’. I have nothing against ostentatious style choppers but I would like to think that I am part of something that helps to define my generation and reflect our own aesthetic into our creations.

As for how our customers fitting into the wider motorcycling community. The motorcycling community is a fairly accepting bunch and there is a great sense of camaraderie, you nod your head or wave with your foot when you ride past one another (certainly don’t get that with drivers). I think our customers would fit into a niche, which is an emerging trend, and I would hope the wider motorcycling community would appreciate what we are trying to achieve.

Which three words do you think describe Ellaspede best?

Steve: Authentic, Innovative, Reliable.

Leo: Fun, Exciting, Evocative

Do you hope to expand your practice in the future? If so, how?

Steve: Certainly do… In fact we're fitting out our new, larger premises as we speak. The interest we've experienced has been very encouraging, but we always wanted Ellaspede to be something more than a house-based enterprise with an online-only presence. With the new place we'll (hopefully) be able to create the sort of scene that this style and lifestyle trend demands/ deserves.

Leo: Yes, we do have plans (as Steve mentioned). We would like to build on our strong customer base as well as introduce new people to our aesthetic.

As Brisbane locals, how do you think the city is perceived in terms of creative potential?

Steve: I think Brisbane is still the new kid on the Australian, perhaps even world block. But it has grown up dramatically over the last 20 years in every way and people now do take it seriously. It has become a destination for stuff going on.

Leo: Brisbane is great location for creation. We have great weather despite floods (which we have experienced first hand) and cyclones, great venues to host events and promote emerging talent and geographically positioned better than our Southern counterparts. Brisbane’s closer proximity and lack of day light savings means we can work on an more synchronization international level with neighbouring Austral Asian countries. This is great when creative people go from being cottage industry to mass manufacture it also opens up a larger market base. In terms of how it is perceived nationally, we are definitely taking the best from the other states and making it our own. On an international level we may still have someway to go but if the past 10 – 20 years are anything to go on we should be there soon.

What are your favourite Brisbane hotspots and why?

Steve: I don't go out much (remember I'm the older guy in the shed), but I do like the Woollongabba antiques district (though it still seems like it's missing things). It has age as part of its credentials and to me that's important. I find it difficult to respect fresh suburbs, or civil infrastructure. I can appreciate new things and like that they work efficiently and well… I just prefer the stories and history that older things possess. I see value in old, even broken things “I could use that for something down the track”… but you can’t keep everything.

Leo: Seems like every week there is something new is Brisbane, which is great - it means the city is alive. Hotspots for me, well you can never go wrong with Rosalie, West End and New Farm. For breakfast I’m a big fan of Sourced Grocer and Era cafe. Archive bar, Bowery, Woodland and Black Bear Lodge rate high on the list of local watering holes.

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