2014 Motus MST Review – First Impressions

Riding a pre-production version of the unique sport-tourer made in America

Share this Article

The Motus MST is the most distinctive motorcycle we’ve seen in years. Designed and built in America, and using what is basically half a Corvette V-8 engine, the 1650cc MST offers a bold new take on sport-touring motorcycles.

Building a new motorcycle from scratch and certifying it for production is a long and winding journey, but the Motus crew is getting near the end of that road. The engine’s 15,000-km (9320 mi.) durability testing is being completed this month, with EPA-certification testing scheduled for this spring. Once EPA and CARB standards have been achieved, Motus has a full warehouse ready to begin production.

Motus says its 16 dealers have already taken orders for more than 200 MSTs, adding it intends to build 250 bikes in its first year of production. A hand-built sport-tourer with a bespoke (and powerful) engine is never going to be inexpensive, and so it is with the MSTs. The base version retails for $30,975, while the high-spec MST-R has a $36,975 MSRP.

We can’t wait to ride it, but in the meantime, here are some riding impressions of a pre-production MST from our buddy Neale Bayly, a freelance motojournalist who has been closely following the Motus story from its inception. We’ll bring you our own impressions once the bike nears production. – Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief


A word I’ve never used during my career to express my feelings after riding a new motorcycle is “proud.” But it was the first word to mind after stepping off the pre-production Motus MST following a high-speed blast along Interstate 20 outside of Birmingham, Alabama.

I was buzzing on pure adrenaline, blown backwards with how well the bike had performed and just so unbelievably proud of what the small crew at Motus have achieved with this motorcycle.

Tom Vaeretti in Waxhaw N.C. Photo by Neale Bayly

Motus Production Manager Tom Vaeretti with the Motus MST in Waxhaw, N.C.

It all seems like a lifetime or two ago that I sat in a Birmingham bar with Motus co-founder and director of design, Brian Case, in April 2008, as he pulled a notebook out of his leather satchel and showed me sketches of the motorcycle he wanted to build: An American V-Four sport-touring motorcycle. For those not familiar with Case, you should know he cut his motorcycle design teeth at Confederate motorcycles and was the chief designer on the radical, world-renowned Wraith.

We met in New Orleans back in 2004 when I tested a new Confederate Hell Cat, the first one in the lineup to use the exhaust pipes as the swingarm. It was a heady time, as Confederate owner Matt Chambers philosophized the gestalt of his creations and JT Nesbitt was swearing vows of celibacy to bring the Wraith to life. Case had closed the doors of his industrial design business in Pittsburgh and traveled south to join Confederate. Motorcycle history was being made by this eclectic collaboration of genius.

Over the two years following our initial conversation, Case partnered with Birmingham businessman Lee Conn, and the pair went to work on starting an American motorcycle company from scratch. Fairly frequent visits at that time were always fascinating as sketches turned to clay models, Pratt and Miller started building a chassis, and Brian and Lee’s dream started the long, slow slog to reality.

For me, it was near purgatory to know so much about Motus and not be able to say anything about it, as the last thing I can do in this life is keep my mouth shut. But with the threat of wearing an inverted fork tube in my ear if I squealed, somehow I managed.

Pratt and Miller. Photo by Neale Bayly.

The Pratt and Miller team show off the chassis it created for the Motus MST.

The engine was unveiled at the Barber museum in 2010, and Motus was in front of the world. The clock started ticking as an eager public awaited the new American sport-touring machine. By early March 2011, there was much chatter throughout the world’s media about this clean-sheet, American-designed and -made motorcycle, and a lot of speculation about the small company.

Joining Brian and Lee on a bitterly cold day that year, I watched them attend photo shoots and work on all the details of their upcoming trip to Bike Week in Florida, where they intended to show the world their two prototypes for the first time. Late in the day, as the light was fading, out of nowhere Brian asked me if I wanted to ride Bike No.2.

It’s not the first million-dollar motorcycle I’ve ridden – Valentino Rossi’s M1 was the other – but the Motus MST was not owned by mighty Yamaha and represented the fruit of three years hard labor for Brian and Lee. Not to mention it had a date in Daytona later in the week to be revealed to the world’s media.

A rolling test mule, it had no fairing and looked raw and aggressive in a streetfighter sort of way. Its EFI didn’t include an idle circuit, so it had to be kept revving, and the penalty for stalling was a slow, complicated process: wait four seconds for the Bendix to engage, hit the starter, and try to coax the engine to stay running, without either over-revving or stalling.

Nervously pushing the very stiff gear lever into first, I took off on the Birmingham side street. Holy shit. The suspension must have been set up for Andre the Giant, as even the smallest of bumps threatened to bounce me out of the seat. The gear lever took an act of Congress to select the next ratio, and there were some viscous hesitations and stumbles as the big 1650cc V-Four tried to climb up through the rpm range. The clutch was heavy, and trying to let the engine die down enough to change gear without stalling was putting my limited skills to full test.

But the seating position felt just right, and on a smooth piece of road I realized how light and easy it was to transition the bike. There was an intoxicating roar from the engine, and as I managed to get my heart rate down a little and my breathing under control, I realized I was riding the motorcycle I had seen on a sketch pad just three years prior. Brian and Lee were the only other people to have ridden the bike, and I have never felt so honored or privileged in my life.

Brian Case and Lee Conn proved the Motus MST's touring capabilities by riding it across the country from Daytona Beach to Monterey, Calif., for the U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

Brian Case and Lee Conn proved the Motus MST’s touring capabilities by riding it across the country from Daytona Beach to Monterey, Calif., for the U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

Fast forward a few months and the bike had undergone many revisions, mostly undetectable to the human eye, for a stint at the MotoGP in Laguna Seca. For the event, the two prototypes were to be ridden to California and back.

I joined Motus at Laguna and shared riding duties over the next couple of days as they made their way home, before leaving them in Denver. It was an insane trip as we rode long and hard, pulled all-nighters, took the bikes to the Bonneville Salt Flats for a sunrise photo shoot, and blasted across America at high speed.

Motus MST at Bonneville

One of the stops on Motus’ cross-country tour was the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The bikes were an evolutionary leap forward. Suspension setup was light years ahead, the gearbox heavily revised, fueling way better, and the ride was inspiring. Its high-speed handling gave me insight into the strong points of the Motus, backed up with an intoxicating, under-stressed powerplant that clearly had bucket loads of untapped potential to come. Built to make lots of fast miles in comfort, it was an incredible couple of days that left me excited about Motus and its progress.

Hit the fast-forward button again to October 2013 at the vintage festival in Birmingham, Alabama, where I’m in deep conversation with the guys at the Motus booth. The company has moved into substantially larger premises at the original Barber museum downtown location.

Brian Case and Mr. Barber. Photo by Neale Bayly.

Brian Case discusses the Motus MST with George Barber. If anyone knows anything about noteworthy motorcycles, it’s the founder of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.

Motus has a number of full-time employees, a dealer network in place, and hundreds of orders for new bikes. The last couple of years have been deeply complicated and stressful for the young company, as they have fought for investment capital, moved locations, and worked on bringing the Motus to production.

The current production engine shares not one part from the original Katech prototype, and the direct injection that was the buzz point of the original design has been replaced with conventional fuel injection. Just listening to Brian talk about what it takes to design an intake unit for a motorcycle’s fuel injection system and how to get it to production is enough to leave you exhausted! And that’s just one part of a motorcycle for which he designed virtually every component.

As we talked, Production Manager Tom Vaeretti filled me in on the current 30,000-mile accelerated durability tests the bikes are undergoing and the company’s plans to streamline assembly. With everything running at full throttle and EPA testing in the near future, it’s hoped that production will begin this summer.

Looking at the latest pre-production units under the tented area, and watching people’s reactions as they came to see them, Brian turned to me. “I need to swing by the office and pick up a few things. Would you like to ride along?” It was such a wonderful surprise, as I hadn’t even let my mind have such a thought. I jumped at the chance.

Just pulling out of the crowded parking area, the differences from the prototypes were like night and day: smooth and light clutch action, slick gear selection, decent steering lock, and a steady idle. The crowd of excited onlookers made the moment even more special, and within minutes I was carving my way down Mr. Barber’s driveway at speeds that would have me struck off his Christmas card list if he found out. I would have begged for forgiveness though, because if he could have felt the way the Motus MST was taking his lovely bends, he would have fully understood.

031714-2014-motus-mst-Red in the Moab curve 3

This thing’s a sportbike with the ability to go touring. Smooth fueling shot me forward, and keeping the rpm low, I short-shifted through the box, quickly realizing there is nowhere the Motus isn’t producing very strong, solid amounts of power.

Hitting the highway and dialing the big V-Four on about 80 mph, the tachometer was registering a little over 3,500 rpm and the bike was carving through traffic like a red-hot knife through butter. Brian did a couple of top gear roll-ons next to me, evaporating away in front of me as I watched with a mixture of schoolboy crush and excitement. How many people, I wondered, get to twist the throttle of a motorcycle that they gave birth to?

As we made our way into Birmingham, I pulled up next to Brian so he could see my shit-eating grin while I enjoyed the seamless power and the composed nature of the machine. Entering the complex system of exit ramps and flyovers downtown, he quickly left me in the tight turns, as I didn’t have the confidence to really lean the bike over.

Brian Case riding Motus MST in Birmingham. Photo by Neale Bayly

Brian Case takes the MST for a spin in Birmingham.

Watching Brian at speed spoke volumes about the handling and how much fun I will have when I’m more used to the bike. Braking hard for an intersection revealed strong, solid brakes, and with the front fork doing its job perfectly, I hammered them harder for full effect.

At the Motus headquarters, we ran into JT Nesbitt and got into some conversations about his newest machine and the Confederate days, so my excitement about my ride was momentarily pushed into the background. Brian finished his business, and as we said our goodbyes before heading back to Barber, he reminded me to keep the engine below 7,200 rpm for now. Suddenly realizing there was so much stimulation filling my limited amount of cerebral space on the way here, I had paid virtually no attention to the tachometer.

So back on the highway exploring the incredible rush of power available in top gear, I figured out I had only been shifting in the 3-5,000 rpm range, and had not even begun to explore the engine’s full potential. Moving cautiously into the outside lane, checking for members of the club that take offence to riding over the speed limit, I settled in. Clicking down a gear and opening the throttle to just past seven grand, I upshifted and pulled the trigger again.

I deliberately didn’t look at the speedometer, but realizing there is another wave of power available from 5-7,000 rpm that I didn’t think existed, I let loose a stream of very un-PG13 expletives.

Motus Prototype in Daytona. Photo by Neale Bayly.

The nature of the engine is so unlike most motorcycles I’ve ridden. A Honda ST 1100 has a similar layout, but feels like a neutered donkey at a steeplechase in comparison. The closest I can get to describing the feeling is its similarity to a big Moto Guzzi, although with massive amounts of extra power. If you’ve ever ridden a Guzzi, you’ll be familiar with the way the heavier flywheel continues to spin up for just a brief moment after you let off the throttle, and that’s sort of the sensation you get from the Motus engine as you roll off the gas.

It’s deceptively fast, and there is a strong need for caution. The noise-to-speed ratio is going to take some adjusting to, as you would swear the engine is on a Sunday walk, while the bike is hammering along the freeway like Josh Hayes heading into Turn 1 at Barber on his superbike.

For now, horsepower figures are not being released, but I wouldn’t be surprised if final figures revealed a number north of 160 when rated at the crankshaft. Considering the MST’s claimed dry weight of about 540 pounds (about 580 ready to ride), it’ll be the most exciting sport-touring motorcycle on the market in America – and one that’s designed and produced in America.

Motus HQ in Birmingham. Photo by Neale Bayly.

Back at the Barber facility, after a more respectful approach, I climbed off the Motus MST and handed it back to Brian and Lee. Feeling like one of the Chipmunks after inhaling a party balloon full of helium, I was so jacked up, it’s a wonder my aging heart was able to handle the extra blood flow.

Absorbing every second of the experience, I realized the moment was one of my absolute all-time motorcycle highs. The bike still has a few issues to be resolved before it’s ready for the general public, but they are few and minor. The V-Four’s fueling could’ve been smoother and the gearbox was a bit noisy, but these nits were already being addressed by Motus in advance of the production units.

As I type, teams of riders are putting in serious test mileage, Brian is overseeing the fine tuning from fuel maps to production processes, and the rest of the team are at redline working round the clock to bring the Motus to dealer showroom floors. Stay tuned, it’s going to be an historic event in motorcycling.

Related Reading
2014 Motus MST and MST-R Revealed
Motus MST Preview
Motus Builds Direct Injection V4 Engine

Free Insurance Quote

Enter your ZIP code below to get a free insurance quote.

Motus Dealer Price Quote

Get price quotes for Motus from local motorcycle dealers.
Get Motorcycle.com in your Inbox
  • Simon Evans

    Away from the gushing enthusiasm, the problem I have with all this is how far and fast the market has moved on while Motus have been developing.

    This is going to be a pricey bike if it doesn’t offer ABS, TCS, perhaps mapping modes and definitely the things that the upper-budget boys are now bringing to the table such as dynamic (electronic) damping and selectable suspension settings.

    These things were arguably gimmicks at Motus’s genesis back then, but here, now are firmly established and a de facto requirement in the rarefied atmosphere of the price stratosphere Motus will be operating in. Is there even an adjustable screen or seat height?

    While I wish the boys luck, I fear they may need pots of it – the sports tourer market has never been driven by `American Made`. Not even in America…

    • Lynchenstein

      Version 1.1 is likely on the drawing board already – which is more than likely a mere variant using the current chassis. I’d put my money on a naked bike to show off the sporting chops. I’d be surprised if they went the route of adding gizmos and electronic features for the pure sake of it.

      This will never be more than a boutique bike anyway until they get a larger dealer footprint and some marketing dollars. Those that crave unique and pricey will find their way to this bike, just like Confederate I suppose.

  • DickRuble

    I have a lot of sympathy for the Motus team. Not so much for the investors behind it. The bike looks good and I like v-4s, transversal or longitudinal. However, as Simon points out, the context for such a bike is absent. Were it competing in the $15K-18K segment, it would have a small chance to get some customers away from BMW and possibly others. $30K+ area, now you’re talking true exotics, not sport tourers. Power and torque alone is not going to do it.

    • Kevin

      At the price point it is not competing with any thing except a well heeled buyers decision to have something fun to ride and exclusive.
      Harley-Davidson can sell every hand built CVO bike they build and there will be plenty of those CVO buyers that want a Motus parked in the garage right next to it.

      • DickRuble

        We’ll see.. My perception is that there is a big chasm between sport touring types and Harley types. They don’t ride the same bikes, usually don’t have similar backgrounds, don’t spend money the same way.

        • Kevin

          I would agree if we were talking about someone limited to one bike, but anyone that can afford these bikes can afford to have more than one. Then it becomes a matter of a ride that matches the current mood or different riding objectives.

    • owsley9

      You’re forgetting about the overseas market. Much like Confederate bikes, there is a huge demand for these over in Asia. You’d be surprised the orders these companies get from outside of the US.

      • DickRuble

        Care to provide numbers and their source? Stating that Confederate sells huge numbers in Asia is pretty vague akin of the universally known fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

  • Johnny B

    Awesome article, thanks! I’ve been following Motus since I saw/heard them at Laguna Seca in 2013. They are much more charismatic in person and the attention to detail is obvious. Ingenious concept, excellent execution, can’t wait to get mine in red.

  • J Kanahe

    Visited my local dealer…all of their 2014′s are already pre-sold :{ This is the bike I’ve always dreamed of.

    • DickRuble

      What’s the address of your local dealer? I’ll arrange so you can get one.

  • Reid

    This is the bike that I wish Harley Davidson had the guts to build. I wouldn’t be surprised if Indian didn’t start making some calls to these good folks at Motus.

  • Kevin

    If I had the fee I would buy one sight unseen. This is history in the making and the first bikes will probably appreciate in value. For me to buy one though, it probably would not, as I would be leaving the right coast to visit family on the left coast as soon as it was packed!

  • Vrooom

    Sounds like a super nice bike, fun to ride and powerful, but would have to compare it to a Multistrada or Concours 14 mentally to see if I could ever justify that price (unless you guys want to do a shootout :)). I realize there are at least several thousand folks who will pay for an American made sport tourer, so I’m probably not critical to their business plan.

  • BorrowedSuits

    You may as well test a lear jet. I’m getting no closer to one of these than to one of those.

  • frankfan42

    Lovely bike, and the engine is a work of art. Still, the asking price is a little dear imho. I understand its not cheap to create something from scratch, it’s just that the BMW 6 has a touring version that offers “All of the above” and then some0 including that fabulous six, traction control, ABS and that wonderful headlight, and the price is still below where the Motus begins. I sure wish them luck, may they sell all they make. Choice is good, even if it’s’ one I would not or could not make at this time.

  • RSV4 Guy

    Not sure why some are so breathless about the price. I’m surprised they are this low at $30k. Hand built chassis and bodywork, hand cast engines- pretty naive to think they could compete with mass produced bikes. Honda makes millions of bikes and the Goldwing STARTS at $24k. K1600GTL is around $28k. Lots of us have sufficient income and will line up for products with true value- craftsmanship, character, and something every squid won’t roll up on. I say RIGHT ON Motus! That blue one for me please!

    • DickRuble

      No doubt there are a couple of MOTUS employees, investors and their friends posting here. Come back when you have the title of one of these bikes and you can prove you bought one.

  • Dave Cooper

    a comfortable American sport bike with top shelf components and more torque then just about any motorcycle ever? this is the first I’ve heard of Motus, but count me in!

  • Craig Hoffman

    It is a pity that Victory did not build this thing. Glad somebody did though.

    Motorcycle engine design seems a bit stagnant. Sport bikes rev ever higher and become ever more irrelevant for street riders, cruisers grow heavier and make little power given their cumbersome displacements, huge flywheels and heavy engines.

    It would seem Motus re-wrote the book with a simple but obviously effective and well executed design. No need for OHC and the taller engine it leads to when the power targets are met. While the Motus has a large displacement engine, it is not super large. Motus obviously did their homework to get the breadth and quantity of power that they did out of this engine. The bike must sound sweet barking out those twin Akra pipes.

    More than any high winding sport bike or slogging air cooled V-Twin, this thing screams American muscle hot rod, and it is the coolest power plant I have seen in a bike yet. Go Motus!

  • Scotty O

    Holy smokes! Motus has just brought the future of American motorcycling to life. This is the bike I’ve been waiting for. Buh-bye my 2012 Victory Vision!

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I am so excited about this bike. I really want to see it succeed. And I really want to find $30,000. I understand that quality costs, but I do wish they could pull the price down by at least $5,000. If not $10,000.

  • gjw1992

    I hope those transmissions concerns were mainly down to initial nervousness and can be refined a little – but it does look and sound like a terrific bike. Given the production quantity I doubt the price is a problem – and I’m sure things would change if build quantities jumped to the 10s of thousands. But as mentioned, it does remind me of a Honda St with a lot more go – the st1300 is still a good bike but dated and with less go than it could have.

  • Craig Hoffman

    The difficulty for any manufacturer in the American market is America is a Harley Nation, specifically big twin potato-potato variety. Even Harley itself tried to do something more advanced in the V-Rod and that fell flat, rejected by the “Faithful” and not attracting too many riders from other brands. I can’t blame Harley for selling what sells – air cooled big twins with embarrassingly low specific power output and leisurely handling attributes. That and all the very lucrative accessories that go with them. This type of bike and the stuff that go with it are what the majority of people who ride in America demand. It will be a good day for motorcycling in the US when the HD Doo Rag crowd toddles off to the damn nursing home already. Problem is, I am not that far behind them!

    I would like to see Victory do something like this. They have the pockets to support it, but alas, what is cool and what is profitable are two different things in the American motorcycle scene. I suppose Victory realizes that, and I give Vic credit for at least making bikes that handle better and have more power than their HD competitors. Despite building what I think is a significantly better bike, Vic lags far behind HD in sales. I may own a Victory someday though, a cross roads is the next planned stop on my personal road to Geezerville. Would love to take a detour on a Motus though!

    Given the utter dominance of potato head Doo Rag devotees in America, we are lucky we have any cool bikes available to us at all. A quixotic quest they are on perhaps, but all I can say is Go Motus! Save us from ourselves…

    • dinoSnake

      For me the V-Rod design fell flat because of, quite simply, a miserable series of choices by the company – the focus on sticking to the “drag bike” motif for the V-Rod’s riding position and layout. I really WANT to like a V-Rod, actually I’d really like to OWN a V-Rod…with a real-world, long distance riding position.

      Some moron at Harley feels that putting the Revolution engine into anything that even has the appearance of threatening their main V-twin line is a no-no. so we have the horrible, miserable, deplorable, painful, terrible and utterly useless extended “C-clamp” riding position.

      Shorten the wheelbase, pull in the steering rake, install mid controls, put on a decently sized fuel tank and design the thing to actually go somewhere and not just simply look cool standing still…and you’ll get my vote, and probably my cash too.

      But Harley is simply too stubborn with the V-Rod models – most of the Harley faithful don’t give a rat’s patooie about it, see that it is compromised and uncomfortable, and pass completely. The only market the V-Rod gets is younger power cruiser riders, and that’s a much smaller market than what it COULD get if only it was designed for an average rider.

      You criticize Harley, as so many with only an eye to sport bikes do (your post screams of it). But Harley’s bikes are comfy for distance and fit a good number of the people who can actually afford them – read: they don’t have 33-inch seats, don’t twist your back into a knot and most allow you to take along your significant other comfortably. The two most popular models, the Road King and the Road Glide, are popular for a big reason – they work for the good majority of people. Sport riders seem to want to turn everything into a speed course, not everyone is constantly desperate to see the world as one big race track (I’ve ridden with a mixed cruiser/sport group where the lead biker is a S1000RR rider, and that’s EXACTLY what every “group” ride with him turned out to be).

      And try the Victory Cross Country – awesome bike that “just works”, too.

      • Craig Hoffman

        I actually agree with you. Still a hard core dirt bike nut, and I have owned sport bikes, my favorite of which was a TL1000. Not a great handling bike but loved the V-Twin engine. I own an FZ1 now (near sport bike power in an upright riding position) and the next planned stop on my road to Geezerville is a Vic Cross Roads or, perhaps, a Cross Country after the kids are done with college and if I am not completely in the poorhouse! I appreciate the Vic’s comfort and laid back nature, and like that it offers superior handling and power to it’s HD competitors. Just because I am getting a little older does not mean I am dead.

        The Motus fascinates me though. Current Sport tourers from Japan leave me cold. The BMW 6 is cool, but in the end it is just too much. The Motus exudes character with that V4 engine and I like the simplicity of the design. It appeals on a primal level. I have not been this excited about a new bike in a long time. Who knows. If Motus is still around in 10 years, our paths may cross after all!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmetoconnell/ Emmet

    I’m sorry, but the photo of those guys standing behind the bike, arms crossed and wearing sunglasses? I bet they did a superb job engineering the chassis, but all I see are a bunch of unprofessional douchebags posing next to a motorcycle.

  • Mike c

    The price is very high. The low production rates might bring exclusivity but for the fact these prices should bring to mind top flight performance of say ducati street fighter and multistrada levels. The rpm vs displacemnet do not seeem to justify the hp estimates stated.

    Thisis lacking basic technologies as stated of ABS, TC, and such. This reminds my of the much delayed Norton Rebirth..pretyy bike..80 hp. A few delivered..

    In each case the market will dicate success. Will the marlet support a high price point for…….we really…a high price point…some exclusivity…maybe som prode in amercan made…but until recently most goldwings were american made and many other bikes.

    Good luck….

    Honestly to make it. IMHO MOTUS needs to get the content up to that of. Bmw RT1200 and the price down to the same.

    Long term no firm has survived of late on exclusivity alone.

    Value is the rule.