If you know about Frog, and you think about their work in the ’80s, it was synonymous with Apple–they were the ones who designed the cases for the Apple IIc and the first Macintoshes, not to mention Apple’s first tablet concept. But they were also busy dreaming up the future elsewhere. In 1985, Frog founder Hartmut Esslinger imagined a motorcycle that, while never put into production, would rock the motorcycle world and serve as a key bridge in the rise of crotch rocket aesthetic.
It was called the Frog FZ750 Rana (and sometimes the “frog FZ” and sometimes just “the Rana”). It’s a known influence for the Honda Hurricane, but it may go much deeper. Dig through Honda’s line from 1984 to 1986 to watch Honda redefine sportbikes from motors with panels into composite air razors. The fact that there’s nothing odd about Frog’s concept almost 30 years later speaks to how dead-on it was. I could see the Rana in a store window today.
The original Rana was just admitted in the SFMOMA. And in response, Frog has presented the Rana’s spiritual successor: the humbly named but “provocative new concept motorcycle” called the eBike 2012. It was conceptualized by senior designer Jin Seok Hwang, who wrote to Co.Design about his vision of the inevitable electric era of vehicles.
“So much of [current] design is dictated by the mechanical components; it is almost as if fossil fuel powered vehicles belong to the ‘steam punk’ era, whereas EV have more affinity with consumer electronics and smart devices. So the question becomes, how do we imbue something electric with the emotion of a classic motorcycle?”
To Hwang, that emotion was a statement of power. So despite the eBike 2012 using an electric motor that hides its copper coils inside a hubless rear wheel–meaning you can’t see the “engine” at all–he retained the traditional motorcycle’s silhouette, right down to the huge core that would traditionally house combustion components. Well, except for one thing: He put a big hole where the engine should be, almost mocking the technologies of yesteryear.
“Mocking is the wrong word…but yes, it is the dominant design statement, ‘look Mom, no gas engine!’ Hwang tells us. “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.”
But that hollow core is not all just a green statement, or a statement of power. Whereas the eBike 2012 could use this area to store batteries, it instead dedicates the entire lower chassis to this task, keeping the center of gravity low. Other invisible, electronic technologies round out the EV’s design–like fly-by-wire steering, a helmet with a HUD, and an omnipresent cloud connection.
“It is all based on existing technology,” Hwang assures us. “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.”