We were a bit surprised when the following release hit our inbox. Mike Schwartz is a passionate developer and wanted to share the journey of Morpheus, from humble beginnings to their final days. Read below for the story in his own words.

After 10 years of operation, Morpheus Bikes is closing its doors. From its humble beginnings starting out in a sausage casing factory in Bronx, New York, Morpheus eventually established itself as a major influence within the gravity community. With a relaxed non-corporate attitude and the ability to develop competition-ready gravity machines, Morpheus attracted some of the world’s best riders. It was a perfect storm that lead to Morpheus finding roads into Crankworx, the FMBA Tour, Rampage and UCI DH World Cup.

2012
2012

In the first couple of years, the direction of the company was not established. Initially, the goal was to build good quality trail bikes that did not break the bank. This idea proved generic and these were very crowded market segments dominated by the major brands. Things began to change when the owner, Mike Schwartz, started to work with Mitch Chubey (rider) and James Trimble (designer) on a more niche, gravity focused concept. Initially, Morpheus did not have the ability to do more than a basic steel hardtail, so this was their starting point.  Mike was very unsatisfied with the steel dirt jumper, making the argument that dirt jumpers have hardly changed in the last ten years. What was most important to Mike was to understand how the architecture of the bike could enhance his rider’s performance. After going with Mitch Chubey from event to event, Mike came to the conclusion that Morpheus needed a lighter, stiffer bike with more top tube clearance and short chainstays.  It truly annoyed the hell out of Mitch when Mike would talk about the top tube clearance on trials bikes.

 

A lightning moment happened when James Trimble and Mike Schwartz did a sketch that had the top tube and seat stays aligned from the head tube to the back of the bike.  This had not really been done on a production dirt bike and at the time looked very unusual.  To top it off, James designed adjustable, cantilever dropouts (later know as TRD) that made the design even more controversial. Mitch thought Mike lost his marbles when he dropped the money for the tooling on this new alien craft. When the prototype came, Mitch was embarrassed to ride it but could not deny that it was a major step forward. He stopped talking badly about it when he won his first dirt jump event in Canada. Morpheus launched a naming contest for the new bike.  After nearly 10,000 comments and hundreds of views, the bike was named Vimana (which was an ancient UFO for Sumerian times).  An unusual name, perfectly fitting for an unidentified flying object.

2013
2013

The journey was just beginning as Mitch Chubey, the prototype, and Morpheus’s low-key attitude attracted fifteen-year-old Anthony Messere to join the team. He had only ridden the bikes a couple of times when he exploded onto the scene with his Crankworx podium run. Mike recalls trying to tempt Anthony with a free frame at only 14 years old, only to be rejected and told, “Come back when you have a factory offer.”  Mike liked his confidence and riding style so he got his factory deal. Shortly after, Anthony exploded onto the scene with his breakthrough podium at Crankworx Slopestyle. The photos taken of him on the SRAM hip are still some of the most historically iconic ever taken at a slopestyle event. To this day, Anthony is the youngest competitor ever to reach the podium at a Crankworx Slopestyle event.

Morpheus Conspiracy, 2016.

Anthony and Mitch started a Morpheus tradition of developing young, hungry riders.  Over the years, other Morpheus riders such as Reed Boggs, Brayden Barrette Hay, and Casey Groves have carried the torch. As fierce competitors and product developers, these riders made an impact on competition and on the products themselves. In 2014 Morpheus’s stacked line had them a hair away from winning the FMBA World Tour, finishing the season in second, behind Trek. Morpheus finished in the top five or better every year until 2018 when they pulled out of the World Tour. These riders can all take credit from a competitive and a product development standpoint.  The development of the dirt line would not be so rich without the blood and dedication of these riders. The most credit must go to Mitch Chubey whose dedication, work prototyping, and clever mind brought the bikes to another level.

Anthony Messere to the moon on his Morpheus at Crankworx

Unfortunately, to be successful financially meant Morpheus needed to expand its sales beyond dirt jump and slopestyle. The company felt the next step to becoming a complete gravity brand was to develop a competition-ready downhill bike that could take on the likes of Rampage and the World Cup.  This was a long road and began with the abandonment of a project now known as the Flying Banana. This single pivot, carbon disaster taught Morpheus a lot about what not to do in the future. Morpheus never let the bike come to market deeming it unworthy of the brand’s name and reputation. Morpheus then partnered up with a famous bike design firm Faction Bike Studio for assistance with carbon construction and downhill kinematics. They worked together for six months and designed a new bike from scratch. When the first prototypes were produced Mike, Mitch and Chad Kelly (Director of Sales) were blown away with how good the bike was.  Knowing they had the tool for the job, Mike was once again on the prowl for a star rider to bring this new bike into the limelight. He knew Mitch and the guys would get it into Rampage but Mike had World Cup aspirations.

 

It was only later that month that Mike met Dakotah Norton on the first day of Crankworx 2015. They talked for about an hour just a couple days before Dakotah broke out to the world with two podium finishes at that year’s event.  After the event, Mike flew Dakotah and his manager James out to New York to test the bike at Plattekill Mountain.  Dakotah liked the bike and he liked Mike and his company, so he decided to give Morpheus a shot on a two-year deal. Over the next two years Dakotah put in a lot of hard work training and Morpheus pushed our resources to give Dakotah reasonable support on the World Cup circuit. He proved himself and made the finals many times with a couple of Top 20 finishes to boot. This support helped launch Dakotah’s career and it is exciting to see him reach such heights now that he is with a major outfit.

 

Morpheus made niche, competition-ready bikes, but they have never had the ability to achieve a financial benefit from selling other, less expensive commercial products. For many larger companies, the gravity divisions only exist as an image piece and these divisions are not profitable independently. While large brands sell low-end products with the help of epic posters of their pro riders conquering massive features, Morpheus has no such product to capitalize on. The market that Morpheus competes in is niche and low volume, making it difficult to recover the investment in proper bike design, tooling, testing, and production batches. The level of investment could pay off if models moved in the 1,000’s of units and not in the 100’s but these niche segments are just too small to make that possible.

Mike Schwartz, the owner, has the following message for those who supported Morpheus over the years:

“It has been an amazing ten years that has shaped both the gravity world as well as my life, personally.  Without people like Mitch Chubey, Chad Kelly and my wife Crystal, this journey would have never happened in the first place. I can close the doors knowing that we went head to head with the big guys (sometimes even with a better products) and we proved that hard work and innovation from a couple of dedicated people can compete with the world’s best. Morpheus is also proud to have been a stepping stone to young riders.  We were always genuinely excited for our riders when they went off to ride for big teams.

Finally, I want to thank the many customers who supported us and believed in us even when our designs were on the outside of what was considered normal.  We cannot be afraid to try something new in this life, only fear doing more of the same. -Mike Schwartz

Check out of some Morpheus builds in our Bike Check Section

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