Friday, November 09, 2012

Frog 750: The Yamaha concept that inspired two of the most successful Hondas ever

Frog 750 concept bike Frog 750 concept bike
Honda Hurricane Honda Hurricane Honda Hurricane Honda Hurricane
The Yamaha FZ750-based Frog 750 concept bike (top) and the Honda Hurricane CBR600F and CBR1000F (above) which it inspired...

Back in 1986, a time when motorcycle design was still evolving at a rapid pace, Germany’s Motorrad magazine ran a design competition, the challenge being to create a ‘safer and more beautiful’ bike.

Enter one Hartmut Esslinger, an industrial designer who had done some significant work for Apple in the early-1980s. It was, in fact, Esslinger who created the ‘snow white’ design language that was applied to Apple products in the 1980s and an evolution of which is still being used by the Cupertino-based company today. Before working on the Apple IIc and Macintosh computers, Esslinger had also created some fancy TV sets and music systems for German company, Wega, which was later acquired by Sony. Later, Esslinger also designed the 1970s Sony Trinitron range of TVs and other audio/video products from the Japanese giant, and also worked for French fashion house, Louis Vuitton.

So, who’d be a better man to create a cutting-edge motorcycle design than someone who had already established his credentials with brands like Apple, Sony and Louis Vuitton. When Esslinger decided to participate in Motorrad magazine’s competition, Yamaha USA decided to collaborate with him and together, they created a 1:2.5 scale model made of foam which was featured on the cover of Motorrad magazine. Happy with the design study, Yamaha also supplied Esslinger with an FZ750, which was then modified into the machine that the German designer had envisioned. The bike was christened Frog 750.

‘In addition to creating a futuristic design language, we also integrated into the design, findings of a motorcycle safety-related study done by the Bochum University in Germany, which influenced the Frog 750’s bodywork and the shape of its fuel tank. This was also done to increase the bike’s visibility from the sides, as a major cause of accidents in the US is a car cutting into a bike’s way from the side,’ says Esslinger on his blog. ‘We also provided double headlights, by now an industry standard. And we designed lightweight carbonfibre wheels in order to reduce unsprung weight, which was quite a challenging proposal back then,’ he adds.

Esslinger’s prototype bike was sent to Yamaha headquarters in Hammamatsu, Japan, where they liked the bike but decided they didn’t want to put it into production. Given the Frog 750’s unconventional styling and given the fact that the FZ750 was already fairly successful as it was, Yamaha probably did not have enough reason to take a risk with something like the bike that Esslinger had designed.

The Frog 750’s story might have ended there had it not been for another Japanese company – Honda – taking things up from where Yamaha left off. Honda liked the Yamaha FZ750-based Frog 750’s design so much, they went on to incorporate styling cues and design elements from Esslinger’s bike into their own new sportsbikes, the CBR600F Hurricane and CBR1000F Hurricane, both of which were launched in 1987. The bikes were very successful in the market and Honda were gracious in admitting that Esslinger’s concept bike was the design inspiration for the Hurricane duo. ‘The biggest compliment came from Honda, as their design team dedicated their Hurricane design to the Frog 750. They actually offered me one as a gift,’ says Esslinger.

Unfortunately, though, Esslinger never designed another motorcycle, though he did go on to do some other very interesting design work in other areas. Gizmodo has a very interesting interview with Esslinger, where he talks about design in the 1970s. You might want to take a look at it here

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