10 Minutes with Ulfert Janssen

Feb 1, 2015

German automotive designer Ulfert Janssen of Gannet Design is one of the few who work on both two- and four-wheeled vehicles, including creating custom kits for Ducati bikes. GEMMA KOH speaks to Janssen about his favourite rides and travels.

1. Name one city where that your career has taken you to.

I did my studies at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Los Angeles. The laid-back Californian lifestyle is very inspiring and the car culture in LA is unique and interesting. Because the climate is so dry, you get to see some amazing vintage cars in mint condition.

2. What’s a memorable circuit where you’ve tested your designs?

I really love the Circuit de Montelo (also known as the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya) in Spain. It’s just 20 minutes from Barcelona’s city centre. When I was living there, I had the chance to frequently test motorcycles on the circuit. Riding there right after a MotoGP race weekend was very special as I could see the tyre marks on the tarmac where motor heroes like Valentino Rossi just rode.

3. What would we find in your carry-on when you fly?

I’m always carrying a small Moleskine sketchbook – great for making rough sketches or notes to freeze an idea quickly, which I can work on later. After some trips the sketchbooks look very tousled; you can almost see the miles the sketchbook has travelled with me.

If there is a prospect of riding a bike at my destination, I’ll have a helmet and gloves in my carry-on luggage. As for the earplugs they give out on the plane, I’d rather keep them for later to protect my ears from much louder exhaust noise on a motorcycle ride.

4. Where do you call home and where would you take visitors?

Being so much on the move, I’ve developed a triangle that I call home.

My studio, Gannet Design is in the countryside in Switzerland’s Emmental region – far away from any fuss and buzz. I would take visitors to the nearby city of Bern especially on Saturdays when the farmers’ market is on. It’s also nice to stroll through the beautiful city’s famous classic arcades.

I also spend a lot of time in Tokyo (where my wife is from). I lived in Tokyo for over two years (while working with Renault/Nissan). To be a designer in Tokyo is an amazing experience. It feels like you are glimpsing forecasts of future trends. Harajuku – with its cool small shops where funky young folks show off the latest in fashion, subcultures and trends – is a must-see for visitors.

The last point of the triangle would be my hometown Aurich, in north Germany, close to the Dutch border. It’s a very cosy, picturesque small town with many cafes. The North Sea is very close by. Visitors enjoy great walks on the dyke and see idyllic small fishing harbours like Neuharlingersiel.

5. Is there a biker hangout near one of your homes that you particularly like?

The scenic routes and passes in the Swiss Alps near my studio is dreamland for motorcyclists. On the twisty street are restaurants and cafes and you’ll see dozens of bikes parked outside. It’s a lot of fun to chat with these folks about their machines, special custom designs and surrounding mountain views. The Schallenberg restaurant is very well-known, and on weekends, it is can be difficult to get a parking spot here.

6. Where would you go for a driving or biking holiday?

The most memorable holiday I had was a three-week car road trip with my wife in New Zealand. I would love to return to do an off-road motorcycle tour from Auckland to the bottom tip of the South Island. As the country’s landscape is so diverse – from almost tropical fern forests, to desert-like moon landscapes, and even alpine snow-capped mountains and glaciers – it’ll be like doing a mini around-the-world tour. There are no dangerous animals so you can wander off into the wild without worry. I’m not too keen on the idea of going into the bush and coming out with a crocodile attached to my leg.

7. Where would you go to get away from bikes or cars?

I love to go to Miyakojima. It’s a very small Island south of Okinawa, Japan, with pristine beaches and turquoise water; you see amazing corals and tropical fish when snorkelling or diving. It’s almost like returning to a private beach – it is so deserted.