CUSTOM & STYLE: The Yamaha Root

The “Ah A May” (Yamaha spelled backward) project features this wild custom bike built by Yamaha’s music folks.

Project Ah A May custom motorcycle side view

Yamaha's crossed-tuning-forks logo refers to the company's origin as a piano maker in 1887; there was no need to change the logo when starting motorcycle production in 1955, as "tuning" has much the same meaning in music and motors—creating harmony from an assemblage of parts. Yamaha's longtime head designer, the recently deceased Kenji Ekuan, famously described motorcycles as erotic extensions of the human body, and the motorcycle as an instrument of pleasure, so perhaps it was natural that Yamaha's new head of motorcycle design, Akihiro "Dezi" Nagaya, should embark on a company-wide exploration of the "instrument" theme.

The “Ah A May” project (that’s Yamaha spelled backward) debuted last week at the 2015 Saint Etienne Biennial. The moto design team built custom instruments, and the music folks made a custom motorcycle—the Root. Nagaya explained, “There are in fact two Yamahas out there: the Yamaha that creates tools to make sound, and the Yamaha that creates vehicles… we thought that swapping the products that each organization designs would inspire us to be free with our design work and show each other what we were capable of… this type of collaboration between companies could produce some surprisingly interesting results. And if we keep doing it, it might lead to peace around the world.”

Yamaha Root studio rear view

Read that last sentence again, and pretend it’s 4:20, ’cause we’re headed into Yama-land:  “We want to enable riders to feel as if they are part of the passing scenery… and to provide a sense of unity among people, nature, and the vehicle.” Yessss. I like what Dezi and Yamaha’s music guru Manabu Kawaha are smoking; peace-love-unity is a rare sentiment in testo-fueled corporate-speak.

Although Yamaha PR likens the Root to a horse, to this Californian’s eye it’s clearly a surfboard hovering over a motorcycle, taking the whole “Wheels&Waves” trend a step further. As a design, the Root is, as the name implies, more trunk than flower, although as a concept it could actually lead interesting places. Is it a good motorcycle design? No. Is it a concept bike we want to see ridden like a surfboard down the road and straight into the ocean? Yes! Could it inspire other custom builders to make surf-cycles? Let’s hope. Thumbs up for the inspiration.

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