2008 Yamaha Morphous Review

A scooter ahead of its time

story by Steve Guzman, Photograph by Steve Guzman, Created Aug. 13, 2008
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“Well, well!  Meet George Jetson!” That’s the first thing I heard when I pulled into The Rock Store on a Sunday afternoon. The Yamaha Morphous didn’t stand a chance at blending in with the arriving cascade of crotch rockets and cruisers.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. What would be everyone’s reaction to this perplexing machine? Would the Morphous receive laughter or loathing from the hordes of ‘real motorcyclists’?  We were about to find out.

I pulled her right up front, set her on the center stand and walked away with cameras in hand. The gawkers began to move in. The initial reaction was mostly confusion. “What is this? Who makes this, Yamaha? (After seeing the Yamaha logo) Is this a prototype? When will this come out?” I walked up to field the questions.

It is a Yamaha and the sad thing is that it’s NOT a prototype. The Morphous is actually a production bike that’s been around the USA since September of 2005. I’m not sure if it was the short availability or non-existent advertising that made her such a mystery but she sure was making an impression today. Only two people I talked to had even heard of the Morphous; one was a scooter fan and the other was Jay Leno... and he’s heard of EVERY vehicle.

More people should know about the Morphous. BusinessWeek gave her a “Best of 2005”. She’s very comfortable, especially for riders with a shorter inseam. Her looks definitely do not inspire indifference. If you don’t love her or hate her you are at least totally confused by her.

This is a scooter that should have been marketed to Americans as an ‘automatic motorcycle of the future’, because as a scooter the Morphous is a complete failure. When you tell people that she’s a scooter they will usually respond that it’s too long, too big, or too spacey to be a scooter. Americans tend to associate the word scooter with the image of a Vespa. A scooter should be small, cute and retro. That’s why retro scooters sell so well in America. As a matter of fact, the only place retro scooters sell so well is in America. In Europe and Asia everyone rides more modern looking scooters. If you took a trip to Rome, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of classic Vespas on the road.

So, why would anyone build a scooter that looked like the Yamaha Morphous knowing that it would be such a hard sell in the United States? Because it wasn’t built for the U.S., it was built for Japan and over there the Morphous is a big hit. They love the custom look of the scooter which they call the Maxam. Chrome rectangular mirrors, naked chrome handlebars and, in 2008, a special Dark Violet paint scheme that looks black in the shade, but sort of purple in the light. They love the long & low look too. Remember, Japan is the motherland of the Honda Helix and the new Suzuki Gemma.

No other country produces a low cruiser scooter and when I say ‘low cruiser’, I mean 25.8-inch seat height low. Even tiny 50cc scooters don’t get lower than the 249cc Morphous. She’s also loooong at 93.3 inches. That’s just one inch shorter than a Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Boy. These dimensions make the Morphous better suited for long open roads than tight urban settings. Very smooth cruising, but a battleship to finesse around a parking lot full of motorcycles.

Imagine the Morphous as a 2-wheeled Cadillac from the future. Even the rear end of the Morph draws a design straight from the Cadillac playbook with her u-shaped LED tail light and turn signals surrounding the trunk. Yes, I said trunk. The Morphous is also one of the few scooters that feature a real, car styled trunk. It’s a conversation piece in itself.

The Design

It’s a Yamaha, so the quality is top notch. Even though the Morphous has a pretty short windshield it effectively kept the wind off of my chest when I rode laying back, cruiser style. I could feel the wind stream hitting me just below my chin, so at speeds above 50 mph my half helmet and glasses weren’t enough to feel comfortable. You could go for a full face helmet or an aftermarket windshield if you want more wind protection. A 28-inch aftermarket shield is supposed to keep the wind off of a 5’10” rider or you could just live with the cool, stylish short shield and workout your abs every time you ride.

The paint on the 2008 Morphous is really impressive, though a bit fussy if you like to keep your bike perfectly fingerprint free.

The storage is strangely laid out and a bit inefficient. With a big scooter like the Morphous you’d expect more. You cannot store a full face helmet or a 15-inch laptop under the seat or in the trunk but you could probably fit your half helmet and there’s also a shallow space that looks like you could store a Mac Mini in there. It does have a nice, deep glove box and as stated earlier, there’s the trunk which might fit a half helmet, though I didn’t have one to test.

The Morphous is a real eye catcher in the day, but where she really shines is at night. The LED lighting for the rear indicators looks fabulous and the digital display (speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip odometer, fuel level and clock), which can be hard to read during the day, gives off a warm, easy to read glow at night. The halogen headlight offers plenty of light. The front indicators are neatly set into the body panels to either side of the windshield, giving her a clean look. I wish they would have inset the front and rear reflectors, but since they aren’t required in Japan they just tack them on for us.

The Ride

I expected the Morphous, being the lowest scooter on the block, would drag around every turn. I couldn’t get her to scrape once, and believe me I tried. The only time she scraped the road was while riding two-up over a speed bump at a local grocery store. I was impressed that the Japanese were able to give the Morphous such a low stance without detracting from her ability to lean. The Morphous is powered by a 249cc, 4-valve, 4-stroke DOHC engine that is capable of 75 mph according to the digital speedo, though people have reported speeds of up to 80-85 mph. Acceleration is adequate though perhaps a bit relaxed. In my tests, we got the Morphous going from 0-60 in 18.41 seconds. Braking is provided by front and rear discs mounted near the 13-inch tires. Overall the Morphous offers a controlled and stable feel thanks to her long wheelbase and low rider center-of-gravity.

Summary

If you are one of the Americans that can love a scooter that does NOT look retro then you might find yourself attracted to this long and low space-aged marvel. If I owned one I’d give her the low-rider custom treatment and with an MSRP of $5,299 I might just do that. If you’ve tried other scooters and have a hard time placing both feet flat on the pavement or if you just like to stand out from the crowd and befuddle onlookers with a custom looking piece of Japanese scooter engineering then you’ve got to give the Morph a try.

Bike Personality Profile - If this machine could have its own personality, summed up in one or two words, what would it be? The Yamaha Morphous is an enigmatic machine.

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