2014 Motus MST Review – First Impressions
Riding a pre-production version of the unique sport-tourer made in America
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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