How Steve Jobs’ motorcycle inspired Apple’s beautiful designs

“Apple’s recent move into its new multi-billion-dollar, spaceship-like headquarters brought back memories of a trip I once made to their original headquarters,” Glenn Leibowitz reports for Inc.

“When I was in high school in the early 1980s, I took a flight to Reno, Nevada to visit my sister, who had moved there for work. Since I had never been to San Francisco before, we decided to take a four-hour road trip there,” Leibowitz reports. “Yes, I wanted to see San Francisco. But I also wanted to head south to Cupertino, where I could visit the headquarters of Apple Computer and maybe even catch a glimpse of the legend himself: Steve Jobs.”

“So with no appointment, and nothing to indicate that Apple welcomed random teenage visitors appearing unannounced in their lobby, my sister and I drove to Cupertino. We located the main office, parked, and walked in,” Leibowitz reports. “And that’s when I saw it: Steve Jobs’s BMW motorcycle. It was parked right inside the lobby, between a row of popular video games (the standing, coin-operated kind) and some sofas. How odd, I remember thinking. How cool.”

“It’s a scene that I revisited while reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs a few years ago,” Leibowitz reports. “Isaacson notes that by parking his BMW motorcycle alongside a Bösendorfer piano in the lobby, Jobs felt he would inspire an obsession for craftsmanship and design.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Boy, we miss Steve, as always.

Steve Jobs on his 1966 BMW R60/2 motorcycle, 1981 (Photo by Charles O’Rear, National Geographic Image Collection, Washington, D.C.)
Steve Jobs on his 1966 BMW R60/2 motorcycle, 1981 (Photo by Charles O’Rear, National Geographic Image Collection, Washington, D.C.)


      1. Uuuhhh he’s riding a tricycle…it looks much worse than that helmet…
        Live free or die!
        Or don’t wear a helmet and die!

        I live in a free state where people are free to choose and I’m glad!

    1. I have been riding motorcycles for four decades and there has seldom been a time when I did not own at least one bike. In all of those years, I have worn a helmet. I prefer full face helmets for their superior protection.

      Would it be great to be able to ride safely with just a pair of sunglasses? Sure. When someone designs a stasis field to protect riders in a crash, I will be glad to ditch the helmet. Until then, I am wearing a helmet to protect my brain from the severe damage that even a low-speed accident can cause.

      There are states that permit adults to ride without a helmet, and I believe that people should have that freedom as long as they are willing to accept the consequences. But please keep in mind that first responders refer to people who ride motorcycles without a helmet as “organ donors.” There is a reason for that, and you should keep it in mind while you still have one.

  1. Such bullshit! All what today is visible of Apple’s design is inspired by the Ulm School of Design and especially by Dieter Rams’ work for Braun – as duly confessed by both Steve Jobs and Jony Ive. In great parts, it is even copycat! But it until recently, it was all only on the surface, since the interior pluming of a 2014 MacBook Pro looked like the engine innards of a Ford model 1965 – unappetisingly soldiered on the motherboard (anyone who has ever changed the battery saw the mess). Jobs’ taste of good design was never better expressed as in the toilet seat design of the original 1999 iBook. Fortunately, he finally discovered Dieter Rams, Braun and Ulm.

    1. Okay so I looked up images of Rams’ work and read the bullet points of his design philosophy that he concisely listed. Yes, you are right! He was a huge inspiration! Clearly Jobs, Ive and Rams are kindred design spirits with Rams leading the way. But I don’t think it takes away from what Jobs and Ive contributed. They are all great! All told, though, Jobs and Ive have made the greater impact as their designs are immediately recognized around the world. Have to disagree on the toilet seat Mac though. Not my favorite.

      1. …oh, and I forgot the horrible, terrible, tacky yacht, for which Steve Jobs commissioned Philippe Starck, the world’s foremost delinquent of un-design. That said much about the Apple God’s real idea of good design.

    2. Aaah…the Dieter Rams troll meme. If you knew anything at all – which you obviously don’t, about the history of design and homage to the greats, your head would explode with bewilderment.
      In art school, no matter the discipline – painting, graphics, sculpture, design or whatever, you are expected to pay ‘homage’ by reworking existing excellence with your own ideas. Coming up with something radical is easy, but it has no meaning – it’s just a one-off and would be viewed as ‘interesting’ but valueless since you would be unable to show or explain your ‘influences’ for the work.
      It’s also a mark of distinction among designers to publicly acknowledge those roots and influences. Successful designs may contain many references to past ideas.
      And Jonny Ive has many times cited Dieter Rams as a major influence and there is no record of Rams criticizing Ive’s work since Rams himself has published his own personal heroes and major influences.
      Get a clue.

      1. Yes, as a life-long designer, I obviously know nothing about design in general and the niceties (you call it “hommage”) of the business in particular. However, my remarks did in no way disparage the quality of Apple design – on the contrary, I’m proud that a long-vanished German school of design (and thought) lives on in Apple design. I just wanted to tone down a bit the notion of the article that a BMW bike was a/the major influence on the current Apple design. I also wanted to hint that Steve Jobs wasn’t always so lucky when it comes to judge design quality.

  2. The R series were great bikes. I had a R100LT (1993) one of the last of the classic series. They handled like a dream and were pretty frugal with fuel consumption.

    The Bing (read Bung) carbies alas were plagued by a design that eschewed seals. Still, the carburettors were easy to service which was just as well as they constantly leaked.

  3. As much as I respect BMW Motorrad, their boxer engines just never kindled any passion. I prefer classic V4 motorcycles. Especially the do it all VFR, Cycle World’s best streetbike for 12 years straight.

      1. Sameness? Not at all. Those plastic clad street bikes are the most innovative machines under the skin. You want them to look different, there ain’t nothin stoppin you:

  4. Design is a funny word, design is a really loaded word. We don’t have good language to talk about this kind of thing. In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. Where does aesthetic judgment come from? With many things—high-performance automobiles, for example—the aesthetic comes right from the function, and I suppose electronics is no different. But I’ve also found that the best companies pay attention to aesthetics. They take the extra time to lay out grids and proportion things appropriately, and it seems to pay off for them. I mean, beyond the functional benefits, the aesthetic communicates something about how they think of themselves, their sense of discipline in engineering, how they run their company, stuff like that.
    Everyone says they want to make a great product, or make a great movie, or whatever they’re doing, so there’s no difference there, but there’s a big difference in the outcomes. Look at the design of a lot of consumer products—they’re really complicated surfaces.
    You know how you see a show car, and it’s really cool, and then four years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory! What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, “Nah, we can’t do that. That’s impossible.” And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, “We can’t build that!” And it gets a lot worse.
    Sure enough, when we took the original iMac prototype to the engineers they came up with 38 reasons why it couldn’t be done. And I said, “No, no, we’re doing this.” And they said, “Well, why?” And I said, “Because I’m the CEO, and I think it can be done.” And so they kind of begrudgingly did it. But then it was a big hit.

    Excerpt from: “Steve Jobs: The Unauthorized Autobiography”

  5. Sure, in his 20’s. Jobs owned a motorcycle. This picture, staged for National Geographic in Oct 1982, is far from being representative of his design influences. Do you honestly think 1980s Apple products took any inspiration from BMW? Not at all.

    Jobs drove a Mercedes, the Apple parking lot back then was full of VWs and more than a few Porsches. It was definitely not a motorcycle culture.

    To this day not many people in the Silicon Valley actually wrench and ride motorcycles. Sure, there are many working level folks who know the advantage of easy parking and lane splitting (legal in CA). There may be a few garage queen bikes out there, purchased during the mid career identity crisis. You will see an occasional scooter ridden by kids and those who have already spent their entire budget on housing. Certainly there are people with so much money that they could have garages full of rare bikes. But computer geeks and fashion mavens just don’t seem to understand motorcycles.

    Today the leaders of the Silicon Valley are so enamored with the future of rolling or flying cell phones with no human interaction — it is obvious they have no understanding of the joy of pure harmony between man and a simple mechanical machine — especially one with a training curve.

    In Europe, things are different. Many people there get it. But in America, especially Silicon Valley, they derive nothing from motorcycles. They don’t respect machines that are unabashedly raw and visceral and demanding. Apple designers today would rather sit in 5000 pound rolling living rooms stuck in traffic than take a bike anywhere.

  6. In 1983, I went to my sister’s Stanford graduation, and then with my best friend, drove down to Cupertino on my way to LA. We stopped at Apple’s Infinity Loop and took our pictures in front of the building.

  7. “Those who have studied the matter.”

    So, what are Republican scientists saying about the issue. Oh, sorry they do not fit the left narrative and do not count.

    Those that studied the matter, did they accomplish on their own, or with Obama grant funding?

    Folks, you see my point. Left wing politics has totally corrupted this issue and common sense and reliable facts are few and far between …

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