Lifelong motorcyclist and industrial designer James Parker, who founded his Rationally Advanced Design Development (RADD) company in the early 1980s to change how the industry thought about front suspension setups on bikes, has died near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was reportedly walking not far from his home when he was hit by a vehicle on July 1. He died on July 11, at the age of 76. 

His RADD suspension system first appeared on the Yamaha Morpho Concept. Although front forks have long been the most common type of front suspension on a motorcycle, Parker thought he could do better if he made the steering and the suspension two separate things. The front swingarm design that formed the heart of the RADD system also meant a lower center of gravity for any bikes it was used on, which was a definite plus in terms of handling. 

Although the Yamaha Morpho didn’t advance beyond the concept stage, Team Blue did go on to utilize Parker’s RADD suspension design in a later production model: the 1993 Yamaha GTS 1000. It marked a significant departure from what riders had grown accustomed to, but early reviewers appreciated its efficiency, its lack of front-end dive, and its stability.  

 

Parker’s career spanned decades, and he breathed life into several concept machines over the years. A visit to the Barber Vintage Museum in Birmingham, Alabama and its Advanced Design Center can get you up close to four of them.  

In the late 1990s, Parker also created his first design for an entire motorcycle, as the latest of the many attempts to revive Indian Motorcycle (at least, at that time). The late ‘90s effort involved the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indian Tribe in Oregon, which would have produced the bike at a factory built on tribal lands.

The engine to fit Parker’s bike design was to be created by Roush Industries. However, the plan wasn’t to be. Due to combined business and legal difficulties, both the bike and this incarnation of Indian Motorcycle never came to fruition. 

Parker’s entire career was about not being afraid to try something new. In fact, his designs very clearly show that he wasn’t the type of person to accept “this is how we’ve always done it” as a reason not to change.

As further evidence, he went on to design the Mission R electric motorcycle, which racer Steve Rapp completed a lap of Laguna Seca on in just one minute and 31.3 seconds. (In fact, Rapp’s lap on that Parker-designed machine held the record until July 2023, when Energica racer Stefano Mesa officially broke it during Race Two of the 2023 Super Hooligan National Championship with a one minute, 31.272-second lap of his own.) 

The man shared his expertise in many ways, including a regular column in Motorcyclist Magazine. He is survived by his sister, Cynthia, as well as a nephew and three nieces. His presence loomed large in the motorcycling community, and his loss will be keenly felt by those who knew him, as well as his many fans. We at RideApart extend our deepest condolences to James Parker’s family and friends.

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