[UPDATE January 11, 2023: After publication of the original piece, industrial designer Michael DiTullo reached out to share a little more about the Frog 750 project with RideApart. He graciously sent these amazing photos taken on the day that the Frog 750 prototype left Frog Design headquarters to go to SFMoMA in 2012: 

Yamaha Frog Rana 750 Prototype - frog design - Photo by Michael DiTullo 2

Image courtesy of Michael DiTullo

Yamaha Frog Rana 750 Prototype - frog design - Photo by Michael DiTullo 3

Image courtesy of Michael DiTullo

Yamaha Frog Rana 750 Prototype - frog design - Photo by Michael DiTullo

Image courtesy of Michael DiTullo

Additionally, DiTullo filled us in on another piece of the Frog 750 Prototype’s legacy, the Rana 2. The original Esslinger prototype from 1985 was also called Rana, which means frog (check the Latin names for different frog species to see the root word in action), so the Rana 2 was, in DiTullo’s words, “a concept bike designed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Rana designed by Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design, which entered the SFMoMA's permanent collection the same year.” 

Michael DiTullo Rana 2 Concept

Image courtesy of Michael DiTullo

The Rana 2 featured a trio of hot-swappable batteries at its core, and you can see an entire design case study at the link we’ll list in our Sources.] 

Original piece follows. 

What makes a successful industrial design? There are probably a multitude of answers to that question, many of which are far beyond the scope of RideApart’s motorbike-centric focus. However, we think it’s a pretty safe bet that if a given design goes on to very clearly influence designs by others, decades into the future—it's a great success, even if people don’t even realize it.  

Frog Design is a legendary name in the field of industrial design—and chances are excellent that you’ve interacted with at least a few things it’s had its hand in, even if you didn’t know it at the time. From the original Sony Walkman to the old-school Sony Trinitron television, to the Apple IIc and all of Apple’s ensuing design language throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, all of those products looked the way they did because of Frog Design and its founder, Hartmut Esslinger. 

That is the context in which Esslinger came up with the Yamaha Frog 750 prototype motorcycle design in 1985. On Esslinger’s Behance portfolio, he describes it succinctly as “Yamaha Frog 750, a retro-futuristic motorcycle designed with the most advanced safety features in response to California DMV’s withdrawal of permits for high-powered motorcycles in 1985.”  


In 2012, the prototype design became a permanent part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) collection, donated as a gift of Frog. The fascinating thing about this design isn’t its riding characteristics, because it was only ever a prototype and never went into production as the bike you see before you. Instead, it’s the clear ripple effects and influences this design has had on future motorbike designs since its creation.  

Honda, for example, took clear inspiration from the Frog 750 for its Hurricane. Former Frog creative director Michael DiTullo wrote that, “The Honda Hurricane was so influenced by the Frog FZ that Honda offered one to Hartmut as a gift!” 

In a Frog blog post when the company was preparing to donate the prototype to SFMOMA, Esslinger talked about how the Frog 750 came into being. At the time, he said, 

“The FZ project was inspired both by German bike magazine Motorrad's call for a safer and more beautiful bike and by California legislation against very dangerous motorcycles – of which Yamaha’s FZ 750 was one of,” he began. 

“I decided to participate in Motorrad’s competition and as Yamaha USA got wind of it, they told me that they would be happy to collaborate. This resulted that we made a foam-study (scale 1:2.5) which made it on the cover of Motorrad and then continued with the support of Yamaha USA to design a build a 1:1 (full scale) prototype based upon a real FZ 750,” Esslinger continued. 

“The bike got imported from Japan – without pistons in the engine and screws which made it un-drivable as it was outlawed in California – and then we went to work.  Aside of creating a retro-futuristic design language, we also integrated safety research by the University Bochum in Germany (especially in the area of body work against side falls and the shape of the seat/tank). We also increased side-visibility as a major cause of accidents in the US is a car cutting into a bike and we provided double headlights – by now an industry standard. In addition, we also designed light-weight rims with carbon-fiber core in order to reduce the mass of the wheels, back then quite a challenging proposal," he said.

“The design study went to Yamaha HQ in Hamamatsu, Japan, was liked but never built. However, we got permission to publish the bike and the global effect was tremendous. The biggest compliment was by HONDA, as their design team dedicated their Hurricane design to the FROG 750. They actually offered me one as a gift,” Esslinger concluded. Naturally, there was also a matching helmet involved in Frog's design study, because why wouldn’t there be?  

Frog eBike 2012 Concept -Jinseok Hwang
Frog eBike 2012 Concept -Jinseok Hwang 2

Influencing the Honda Hurricane—and thus, the evolution of Japanese sportbikes as we know them—might have been enough for anyone else. However, the Frog 750 apparently wasn’t done there.

See, in 2012, another Frog industrial designer of the time named Jinseok Hwang came up with the Frog eBike 2012 design. We should note here that the term “e-bike” was more nebulously used back in 2012, and while it might refer to an electric bicycle in 2023, back then, it could also refer to an electric motorbike—as the Frog eBike 2012 was intended to be.

At the time, Hwang clearly stated that the Frog 750 prototype was absolutely an influence on his work. It’s now 2023 as I write this—but this design from 2012 could easily fit into the current electric motorcycle landscape. In fact, elements of Hwang’s design have clearly gone on to influence some of the current crop of electric motorcycle designs seen on the world stage right now.  

Way before the Sondors Metacycle existed, the Frog eBike 2012 concept boldly chose to use negative space where a combustion engine and fuel tank would sit, to visually and immediately communicate that it didn’t need those things anymore. As Hwang told Fast Company, “That area of a motorcycle is important to the iconic statement of a motorcycle silhouette. It has to be filled with something our emotions can latch on to, so I filled it with negative space. The negative space alludes to the disappearance of both fuel consumption and mechanical systems.” 

Although plenty of (digital) ink has been spilled extolling the brave design choice of the Verge TS hubless motor design, the Frog eBike 2012 concept put that idea on the table over a decade prior. “It is all based on existing technology,” Hwang told Fast Company, regarding this design. “The technologies may not yet be mature or practical for these applications, but in theory it all makes sense. That is what design concepts are for: to push the boundaries, to inspire continual advancement of research, technology, and expression.” 

Could Esslinger—or anyone else, for that matter—have known that the Frog 750 Prototype would be the start of a motorcycle design conversation that’s still evolving through the first half of the next century? That’s highly unlikely. Does that make it a motorcycle design for the ages? Absolutely, yes. 

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