Daryl Villanueva from Saigon's Bandit9 riding his 'Jaeger' GT650 Royal Enfield custom Motorcycle

Interview: Daryl Villanueva from Bandit9 Motorcycles

Daryl Villanueva is a guy that’s very hard to pin down. Just when you think you have him figured out, he’ll tell you about a new project that will totally change your preconceptions and assumptions. You think he’s a custom bike builder? Now he’s writing a book. You think he’s an author? Now he’s opening an artspace. You think he’s a gallery owner? Now he’s hiring automotive engineers.

After being surprised more than a few times, what I think now is that Daryl is always pushing ahead at full steam which – for a guy who has bikes sitting alongside Max Hazan and Craig Rodsmith in art galleries across the world – isn’t all that surprising. What you see in terms of his output and ‘new’ bikes is where he was 12 months ago. We recently caught up with him to see where he’s been heading lately.

A custom '67 Honda SuperSport by Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

Can you introduce yourself?

Hello! My name is Daryl Villanueva, Chief at Bandit9 Motorcycles out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Where are you right now?

Locked down in my place. Unfortunately, Saigon’s latest COVID wave is out of control. Since the pandemic broke out, Vietnam had been one of the success stories; besides wearing a mask, life was normal for the past year. We were the lucky few.

The 'Jaeger' custom Royal Enfield GT650 cafe racer from Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

Tell us about your childhood

I was born in the Philippines to two wonderful, caring parents and I have a brother anyone would be proud to look up to. I’ve been raised, studied and worked in nine countries and I’ve made friendships that have lasted decades in all corners of the globe.

I started riding when I was 24; I’m a late bloomer. It was my first tour in Vietnam and since everyone was commuting on one, I thought I may as well do it, too. When in Rome, right?

What’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done on a bike? Made it my business. Fortunately, I’ve been able to make it work for 10 years. Now, that is crazy.

The 'Jaeger' custom Royal Enfield GT650 cafe racer from Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

What projects have you got on?

We are in the midst of a reinvention. We have to. Not just to survive but to thrive. I don’t want Bandit9 to improve its game; I want to play an entirely different one. We can’t do that if we’re structured like any old custom motorcycle garage.

So I brought on three engineers with aerospace, chemical, and robotics & mechatronics backgrounds. This move alone has changed the course of Bandit9 – from the way we think to the way we produce things. Imagine a motorcycle designed and built with the same precision you’d find in a spaceship. These guys, and gal, blow my mind every single day. I’m sure our customers are going to feel the same way when they see our new ‘Supermarine’ project.

I’ve also brought onboard two gifted designers from the automotive industry. The products we’re developing now are going to make the big boys wonder how a tiny shop on the other side of the planet challenged the status quo.

The 'Panther' custom Triumph T100 from Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

What’s an average day of yours look like?

With the new structure, I’ve gone from the micro to the macro. The engineers and designers know what they’re doing and are (obviously) much better at designing bikes than me, so I’m there to support them with whatever they need, orchestrate the different moving parts and guide them to the finish line. Hopefully, in first place.

The 'Jaeger' custom Royal Enfield GT650 cafe racer from Saigon's Bandit9

What’s this art gallery project about?

There were a few omens I read into, which sent me down this path; pandemic rental prices, Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way,” visions of sculptures in my head that wouldn’t let me sleep, and artistic friends who deserved a well-designed forum to exhibit their work. So I opened my art gallery, VAN DARYL. But the biggest motivator of all was to threaten snobby art galleries that size you up before you even set foot inside.

Art galleries shouldn’t be intimidating. Yes, artists deserve to be paid but I don’t believe that art should be reserved only for the wealthy. I see VAN DARYL as more of an educational tool than an art gallery. One that’s essential for a developing city like Saigon. It’s free, and judgment-free.

 A custom '67 Honda SuperSport by Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

What’s your daily ride?

I’m on a first generation Ducati Diavel for no particular reason. There are folks who are brand loyalists but I’ve never felt that kind of allegiance towards any maker. I’m drawn to products and ideas, not brands.

If there’s a pattern to the choices I make. I tend to pick the ones whose designs have a clear message; from one look, you understand what it’s going for. Honda Cub – charming and fun. Vespa – unmistakably Italian. Harley 48 – old school Americana. With the Diavel, I get “beast.” And it delivers. It’s definitely not for everyone; I think it’s an acquired taste.

The 'Jaeger' custom Royal Enfield GT650 cafe racer from Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

Electric bikes – yes or no?

Why not? I never understood this climate change “debate.” Let’s just pretend we’re not burning the planet; what’s wrong with going green? If you have the ability to do good, what is there to discuss? While politicians bicker, China’s quietly building solar energy farms. And people wonder how they caught up with the West in every single race from tech to space.

Back to motorcycles: electric’s clean. Power delivery is linear. We need to solve a few things like range, style, cost and infrastructure but time will take care of this.

Whatever happens with our electric future, I do have one hope: leave the past where it belongs. Enough with the retro, vintage or heritage look or we’ll be stuck in an infinite loop. I’ve seen a resurgence of 90’s graphics of loud purples and pinks. What? Why? It’s like we’re actively trying to de-volve. That or we’re really out of ideas.

A custom '67 Honda SuperSport by Saigon's Bandit9 Motorcycles

What will Bandit9 look like in ten year’s time?

That’s a difficult question. I know CEOs are supposed to have a clear vision of the future but I don’t. I’m only two or three motorcycles ahead of what the public sees.

I just had a long discussion with my designers about how they should think of Bandit9 as an artist, not a motorcycle company. Our approach is not about creating bikes that fit into categories. It’s not about market research or tapping into trends.

Our goal should be about creating an art movement, developing a distinctive style that will define an era, and it should be something that can be studied and taught. But most of all, have fun. People can feel that.

The 'Dark Side' custom Harley-Davidson Street 750 motorcycle from Saigon's Bandit9

What job would you be doing if you weren’t doing Bandit9?

I think I’d do short stints all over the place: Rolls Royce, Boeing, Dyson, Nike, Studio Ghibli, Tom Ford. Though I’m not sure anyone would take me. I’m a new Dad and I want to give my kid the same opportunity to live all over the world that I got. That is going to be tricky with Bandit9.

All photos by courtesy Jeremy Wong from Nemesis Pictures Singapore and Bandit9

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