The Evolution of the Morpheus Carbon Downhill Prototype
Every solid frame goes through at least few iterations during the prototype and testing phases. Some companies, like Morpheus Cycles, keep a generous open door policy and allow us bike geeks to follow the development process. Just a few weeks ago Morpehus completed their second batch of prototypes, so we thought it would be a great time to check in on the project with the owner and founder of Morpheus Cycles, Michael Schwartz.
Mike, when you began this project, it seemed as if your goal was to make the most adjustable bike on the market. Is that still the case?
Making the most adjustable bike on the market is not the only goal of this project, even though it will achieve that objective. The original concept was to create a product the could be adjusted on course by the rider without tools to make the product more ideal for that rider's style and that specific trail. Most of us don't have a team of mechanics behind us to help dial in our bikes so the idea is to allow the rider a way to change the geometry and ride characteristics independently. The system allows riders to make changes within moments on course so they can assess and adjust immediately.
Another opportunity the adjustments provide is the ability to set the bike up as a race bike or a freeride bike. With 25mm travel adjustment, 25mm bottom bracket adjustment, and 3 degrees of head angle adjustment the concept of two bikes in one is a reality depending on the parts one specs for their build.
The final objective in the adjustability area is to give the rider wheel size options. Even 30 months ago when the project began, we saw a future need for a frame that accommodates 650B so we made sure we kept that mind when working out the geometry. Some of the geometry will change for Prototype 3, so at this point in time we are not releasing those specs. We will keep our friends at Vital posted as we progress with the project.
During the course of your initial Prototype testing, what adjustments did you find worked well? What didn't work as expected?
One of the original design goals was to create a suspension system with low friction so that the bike would be very sensitive to bumps. The first Prototype had needle bearings pressed into the shock eyelids to help achieve this goal. After a couple months of testing the needle bearings were destroyed from high side loads and corrosion from the elements. This was causing play, and the bearings were too expensive to expect customer to change them often.
The other issue with the bearings was when the riders would make on-course adjustments. The small rollers inside the bearing were falling out. Try putting them back in with gloves on while on course and you will see that is a definite no go. For Prototype 2 we have an oilite bronze bushing which is working much better. The bushing releases oil when it experiences friction and we have not noticed any loss of initial plushness in the suspension by making this change. Replacement cost will now be a fraction of the cost while extending the bearing life substantially. Now there are no small parts to fall everywhere when you make an on-course adjustments.
What were the major things your Pro riders wanted changed for the second generation?
The Pros wanted us to lower the weight while keeping the bike very stiff. The original Prototype was about 10 pounds flat without the shock. The first lay-up had too much kevlar, which is impact resistant but also heavier than carbon fiber. Considering the first Prototype took 30 to 40 full swings with a hammer to develop a small crack, we figured we could dial back a bit in certain areas with the kevlar and replace it with more carbon. We created a new lay-up and in the process made the mono arm significantly stiffer. The new frame weighs 7.9 pounds without the shock but including all hardware and axle. Production weight will be between 7 and 7.5 pounds as we are working on a lighter axle and still making some other lay-up adjustments.
Are there any additional updates/changes you'd like to mention?
One major update has more to do with our suppliers than our own product. We all know there are disadvantages with using a BB pivot on a DH bike, including pedal bob, brake jack, and non-rearward moving travel. As a result, a major contributor to making this bike work properly is the suspension manufacturer. We have worked closely with Cane Creek and have come up with a custom DBair that is on the money and counteracts the majority of the negatives listed above. We are also working the Fox to try to achieve this same goal but so far the DBair is working out the best.
We are not trying to be different just to be different, it's the technology available these days that allows us to go back to a simpler platform. On the other hand we have seen some major benefit with our platform that others can not claim. So far we have yet to experience a stiffer DH bike or one that handles better in the turns or on the jumps. When the bike is running wide open over rough terrain we have also yet to experience a bike that is more reactive and sensitive to the bumps than this one. Our computer analysis shows this to be one of the most aerodynamic DH bikes on the market, which we intend on testing in a wind tunnel sometime during 2013. Some real world evidence on this point can be seen when looking at the numbers from the speed trap at Windham World Cup last year. Alejo had the 9th fastest speed yet he placed in the 130th range. This is certainly abnormal and says something positive about the aerodynamics of the bike.
Because the bike uses adjustable dropouts, it's conceivable to throw 27.5 or 29-inch wheels on there. Have you experimented with either yet?
That is the idea. We have already had customers running 24, 26, and even 27.5-inch wheels on their Vimanas for over a year using the Telescopic Rear Dropouts (TRD) and it works like a charm. Using TRD on the carbon DH allows riders to set the bike up for practically any intended DH usage. We are still working on specs for our build kits but don't be surprised to see a 26-inch focused freeride build and a 27.5-inch race focused build kit.
Who will be field testing the latest Prototype? Can we look forward to seeing one of the guys on it at Rampage next year?
In New York City we have three guys testing Prototype 2 to see how it works with different riding styles and levels of abuse. I represent the average guy who goes to bike parks during the weekend and does some local hike-a-bikes. Our Sales Manager, Alex Moschitti, is a elite racer who often podiums at Pro level Gravity East races. He's the tester that represents the average grassroots level competitive consumer. Our local Pro rider is Alejandro Ortiz who holds several titles including a previous win at the Pan American Championships. So it's basically an amateur, Semi-Pro, and Pro testing so we can understand how the bikes features effect riders on different skill levels. Once we get a couple other small details sorted we plan on producing Prototype 3 for the factory team guys as they will be spending most of the winter in Hawaii training for the bigger mountain events. I would be shocked if you do not see at least 3 of these bad boys in next year Rampage.
What is your expected time frame from here on out? When do you think it'll be ready for consumers?
I not a big fan of this question, only because our philosophy is that a product is done when it's done. We are already 30 months in and if things go perfect we are shooting for a small production batch in July 2013. On our first Skyla and Loki we could have sold a marketable product by Prototype 3, but we knew we could make it better so the production bike was actually Prototype 5. This bike will be no different and it will not release until we are fully satisfied that it is a competitive product. In regards to the pricing, customers will be very pleased. Our goal is the make the frameset available for under $3,000 including the custom Cane Creek DBair. Full builds will start in the mid to low $4,000 range.
Surely you've been tossing around a few names for the frame. What do you have in mind?
We have a couple names in mind, but we may leave this one up to the people as we did with the Vimana. We are open to any suggestions and I will even enjoy the insulting ones, so don't hold back. Cheers guys!