University of Wisconsin-Stout

Oct. 26, 2010

Rich Christoph has a concise explanation of what he does for a living as an industrial designer: “We convey ideas from thin air through artwork.”

His latest piece of art is a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the Forty-Eight.

Much like Christoph’s summary of his work, the Forty-Eight gets right to the point. “It’s this tucked, slammed, honest, simplistic motorcycle with no frills,” said Christoph, a 2005 University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate who majored in art with an industrial design concentration.

Christoph was the lead designer of the cycle, which came out in the spring. He worked on it for about three years, starting in 2007 after his first Harley-Davidson design, the Nightster, hit the streets.

The Forty-Eight, like the Nightster, is a throwback bike, similar to those popular in the 1940s and 1950s. In fact, the Forty-Eight’s name evolves from the style of gas tank it uses, one originally used on a 1948 Harley-Davidson.

The Forty-Eight has a low profile, far different than the big bikes that made Harley-Davidson famous. It was praised in a Popular Mechanics magazine review: “The Forty-Eight is exactly the right mix of badness and beauty. (It’s) the best thing to happen to the Sportster lineup since, well, the Nightster.”

The concept for the bike came from Christoph, who works at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee. “It was my idea and proposal, and then I worked with a team to refine it and put it into production,” he said.

When he presented the idea to the company, he put a mock-up version of the bike next to other models in the Sportster line. “It looked basically half the size. It’s visually more compact, stripped down, the essence of where the Sportster began,” he said.

Harley-Davidson has seven platforms of bikes. In the Sportster platform, Christoph’s Nightster is the top-seller, he said. It may have company: When Forty-Eights first hit dealerships in the spring, they averaged less than 24 hours on showroom floors before purchase, he added.

The Forty-Eight, which starts at $10,499, has a wide front tire, including wider triple clamps with fork brace, a low-slung, solo seat, new 2.1 gallon tank, side-mount license plate, and mirrors mounted under the handlebars. It comes in variations of black, silver and orange.

Christoph, a native of New Hampton, Iowa, worked on the Nightster from 2005-07 with Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the company’s founders. At that time Christoph was the youngest member of the company’s design team.

Nearly 190 students at UW-Stout are majoring in art with an industrial design concentration. The program combines drawing, sculpture and digital modeling. Art majors also can choose from four other concentrations, graphic design, interior design, multimedia design or studio art.

Christoph’s success doesn’t surprise Ben Pratt, one of Christoph’s professors at UW-Stout. “We have a lot of talented students, and he definitely was one of them,” Pratt said. “He always had an interest in transportation. He designed jet skis and motorcycles while he was in school.”

UW-Stout industrial design graduates can be found designing most any type of commercial product. “We graduate people who are designing everything from purses to machinery. It all has the same basic component — three-dimensional and understandable with desirable qualities,” Pratt said. “Industrial design is one of the best kept secrets. Anything produced needs to have someone behind it. People don’t necessarily recognize that industrial designers design products.”

UW-Stout has one of only about 20 accredited industrial design programs in the country, Pratt said.

For more information, contact Christoph at 414-881-7424,; Pratt at 715-232-1537,; or go to