Chances are if you have worn any technical Alpinestars products in the past 10 years Yann either designed them or had something to do with it. He has been a long time friend, one time Motocross riding buddy (I didn’t own a camera back then but our friend JP made a video of the 1st time Yann hit a jump ramp and 2nd time I did 11 years ago) and is possibly the most competitive person I know. Always one to have a strong opinion on things, I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with him about the state of the motocross industry, what he is up to at the moment and other things.
Can you tell us a little about your background and what you are up to nowadays?
I’m an architect (DPLG) with a passion for motorsports for as long I can remember. When I ended my studies in architecture I was an avid motocrosser at an amateur level and entered a design competition in a french mx magazine. The prize was to win Jeremy McGrath’s Fox gear back in 1997. I ended up winning the contest and later got a call from Pete Fox, who is the current CEO of the famous Fox Racing brand.
Useless to say I was ecstatic about this opportunity; later on from California to the UK I managed to do the tradeshow booth for the Eicma Milan show 1999; was a pretty cool booth back then with a totally modular aluminum structure with pilars featuring video screens yet displaying the current apparel line as well as protections and casual.
I then started a long working relationship from 2000 to 2010 with Alpinestars where I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with many champions from Formula 1 to motogp and obviously motocross which was the environment I knew the most at the time.
Been behind the curtain of this logo with a few very talented people for 10 years so I assume it was a good relationship or it would have not last this long. lol. Some products have been very iconic of either the brand and / or the sport itself so I feel really blessed to have been a part of it.
I relocated lately to France for family purposes and start a new chapter.
I know you and Marc Blanchard who we spoke to last week have known each other for many years, who do you think would win in a race between you now?
I don’t know I never got the chance to ride with Marc. but whatever the result might be in a race between the two of us I’m sure we’d have fun and that would be the most important thing.
But in a race with you, I’d probably win as you’d flip the bike at the start getting too excited; ahahah as you almost did with my ktm sxs back then. (EDITORS NOTE: didnt you front flip H’s RM125 on a 1 metre jump into a corn field? :)
What is the motocross scene like in France nowadays?
mx scene in France is pretty much like everywhere else, the sport has been touched by a severe economic crisis so it may have affected the depth of users but the serious riders are still there. To be fair I never seen as many campers as now even in local racing! I remember Michael Pichon coming to world class races with a small blank Vito…
Not sure eighteen wheelers and glossy paints are making for better racing but surely it looks nicer in the pits. Being more professional can’t be to blame as long as it is for the sport itself …
What do you think about the general state of the motocross industry at the moment?
I can’t name a company that has vanished from the mx map lately , so I assume it is a sport that is not doing too bad. Extreme sports in general are very addictive thus they tend to resist difficult times.
What are some of the biggest challenges at the moment in developing new products for riding?
There are always challenges and this will never change. They can be of various nature such as currency difference, high inflation level in the supplier’s country just as much as at a technical standpoint or style. The real challenge is to be relevant to the sport and it’s users yet being original and obviously within a price range. you can’t avoid distribution matters and sponsorship as well.
But of all challenges I guess the hardest to overtake is fear… it is always hard to convince people to take risks especially in an economic crisis… but objectively the biggest risk is to try to not take any! a friend put it this way lately: take chances is dangerous; but try routine: it’s lethal!
Due to the chaotic global economy, trade barriers, high oil prices and fluctuating currencies, what are your thoughts on the chances of seeing a re-industralisation process in the west?
Re industrialisation is an interesting question. Obviously I’d love for this to happen especially due to the very high unemployment levels in European countries and USA; but this can’t be just because of local unemployment as you got to finance this! and there is a deep financial issue in developped countries… I also could see working with asian countries for about a decade that their ability had increased significantly… their molding skills have deeply increased for example… 5 axis CAD machines run with the same mathematics in asia than in europe or anywhere else… so it is also a matter of people and their relevant education,skills and naturally labor cost. Intelligence is the most spread out material…
It’s not because you are born in the USA or Europe that you are smarter… I got the chance to meet some young chinese or Korean managers who were real sharp… hard working and all… so more than re industrialisation there is a visible power shift happening. China and India to only take them as example are countries above a billion people… for each new engineer in europe there is a hundred in china…
Not simple situation, that’s for sure! I guess the energy availability in the close future will be quite the barometer of either local re industrialisation or severe power shift…
Which companies in the motorcycle industry do you think are doing things the right way at the moment?
Not easy question; considering there is sadly relatively little things from the japanese four which kept me on my toes lately I’d assume they are not doing things the right way;
unfortunately decreasing numbers seem to corroborate this… in the other hand I feel like KTM is really doing a good job overal; I’d say that Ducati too somehow with their new partnership with Audi… If I could take an analogy with the work they did with Lamborghini… it feels like a very good operation for both parties for the future!
What do you think is key to creating a successful brand?
There are many keys but the people who make the brand and their loyalty to final customers are surely crucial. If you try to sell at high price a very low level product… you won’t be a successful brand for long as you’ve lost what made you a successful brand. There is a very interesting book called: «How the mighty fall» I guess all company owners should read it.
Motorcyle culture is pretty diverse nowadays, what are your thoughts on the different subcultures within it?
Diversity is actually increasing the depth of customers so I’m down with it. surely there are niche but a niche of now could be a well concrete market tomorrow and vice versa.
I personally like all forms of motorcycling, from naked bikes to supersport, trial, to motocross; I even don’t mind HD’s when well customised. it’s like beauty in general; it comes in all colors and shapes… or music: there is only good or bad music whatever the type.
What is your all time favorite motocross bike?
500 cr HRC 1985 and yz 125 1983 US market (yellow); so many to list… I also think KTM had the best 125cc 2 strokes in 2001 (EDITORS NOTE: They still have by far the best 2 strokes, nobody else has developed theirs for years!) and Chad Reed’s bike this year was pretty nice.
If you could own any street bike what would it be?
a Ducati desmosedici RR with race pipe mode; a friend in italy had one and he was crazy enough to put 25000km on it on the street! he was «mitico» as they say over there!
What do you think about electric bikes for the street or offroad?
I watched the electric bikes at the Isle of Man TT; to be fair they’ve come a long way already and they lapped above 100mph… it is quite interesting. I actually think that the electric power delivery could be good for supercross too… wait and see but surely a lot of development on batteries will be required for the future for both energy reasons as well as pollution
What is your first stop on the web each day?
my mailbox ahahah, RacerX, transworldmx, motogp.com;
Who is your favorite designer?
too many designers or architects to list but I appreciate the work of Pierre Terblanche , Massimo Tamburini and the guy I don’t know the name who designed the Sachs Beast and of course :Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad, Eileen Gray, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Santiago Calatrava, Carlo Scarpa, Gerrit Rietvelt, Walter Gropius,Frank Lloyd Wright; Philippe Starck
just to name a few.
What is your favorite quote?
A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new – Albert Einstein
Do you believe in any of the gods?
If you have a particular faith or religion, that is good. But you can survive without it. (Dalai Lama)
What inspires you?
inspiration is what is there but most don’t see till you do it.
Having two kids is also very inspiring…
If you could pick any set of motocross gear over the years as a favorite, which would it be?
The JT yellow gear Ron Lechien was wearing in 1983, he was so cool; he made me want to do motocross thus he made somehow who I am now.