‘80s futurism is the best futurism.
The year was 1989. Reagan was leaving the White House and a Bush was entering. Hollywood Squares ended its television run and Seinfeld premiered. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. That transformative period also gave birth to some of the most radical engineering and design periods in motorcycling. Yamaha’s Morpho Concept was proof positive of that fact.
Unveiled at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show, the Morpho Concept was an amalgamation of futuristic aesthetics and James Parker’s Rotationally Advanced Design Development (RADD) suspension system. The Standford-trained industrial designer dreamt up RADD as an alternative to the telescopic forks of the day. By separating the steering function from the suspension action, RADD eliminated the need for a steering head and allowed designers to lower the bike’s center of gravity.
Gallery: Yamaha Morpho and Morpho 2 Concept
That feature benefitted the DK Dynamics Design Group that Yamaha commissioned to assemble the concept. The result was an extremely aerodynamic package that perfectly paired futurist ‘80s bodywork with the unorthodox suspension system. The bike even featured an exhaust integrated into the fairing and adjustable handlebars, seat, and foot pegs. That adjustability led Yamaha to employ the Morpho nameplate after the Morpho butterfly that changes color under different lighting environments. That motif also extended to the concept’s marketing materials.
Catering to the superbike market, the Morpho harnessed a 1,003cc inline-four that generated 110 horsepower and a 190-mph top speed. Unfortunately, the concept never moved to the assembly line. The Morpho chrysalis may have died on the vine, but Yamaha revisited the concept with the Morpho 2 in 1991. Despite its tubular new ‘90s design, the Morpho 2 met the same fate as its predecessor.
While the Morpho never took flight, Parker’s RADD suspension did make it to Yamaha’s GTS1000 sport-tourer. However, the model only enjoyed a short run and Team Blue discontinued it in 1999. Even with that short production run, the RADD system may be more synonymous with the two Morpho concepts. After all, both designs were products of the beginning and end of an era.