Here’s why I like the Motus MST sport-tourer: it’s built by guys like me. There. I said it. I admit to being a bigot, but I like cultural products produced from within my culture, and I’ll bet you do too.
Lee Conn and Brian Case come from my tribe. I’m referring to the tribe of sport-oriented motorcycle enthusiasts, folk addicted to railing through a never-ending series of corners, who zoom in on digital maps to find the twistiest, gnarliest routes across states (or countries). Riders frustrated with gas tanks and seats that force them to stop every 90 minutes. Guys (and ladies) with no interest in motorcycles that weigh over 600 pounds, yet want the luggage, wind protection and long-distance reliability and power you usually find in 1/2-ton touring barges. “We are you guys,” Case told us. “We’re motorcycle nuts.”
In their minds, nothing like the lightweight, torquey, good-handling and fast sport-tourer they had drawn on a napkin existed. So they built it themselves: the Motus MST. It won’t be cheap. But in many ways, it’s in a class of one, and that means the roughly $30,000 base price is a bargain…or at least makes it the cheapest motorcycle of its kind.
We’ve already discussed the tech of the Motus in a few stories, but we can do it again, as there’s surprisingly little to the basic layout of the bike. The powerplant is unique; it’s essentially half of a scaled-down V-8, with
development assistance from Pratt & Miller, a big player in the custom racecar business. The liquid-cooled 1650cc design uses pushrods and hydraulic lifters, and is rated at 160 hp (180 for the MST-R). It’s bolted into a minimalist trellis-steel chassis, with a basic double-sided swingarm. Suspension is fancier—Öhlins NIX front suspension, with a fully adjustable Progressive rear shock (the premium-priced MST-R gets the Swedish treatment fore and aft). Brakes are Brembo radial-mount calipers (monobloc for the R).
But we all know the spec sheet. The last time we met Motus, two years ago, the boys from ‘Bama were headed back from Laguna Seca on their prototype machines. They told us they would see us again when the pre-production bikes were ready—and here they are. This time, they stopped at Piston and Chain, a sort of DIY motorcycle shop/social club for well-heeled moto-hipsters in San Francisco’s tech-friendly South of Market neighborhood. Case, Conn, and other Motus staff were on hand with a brace of very finished-looking pre-production machines and a slideshow to show off what they had been doing since the project got underway in 2009.
The well-attended presentation was informative for several reasons. Not only did we get an over-the-shoulder look at what it takes to get a motorcycle from napkin sketch to dealer network, we also got an idea of who will buy these bikes and why. The common wisdom (as far as I can gather from Internet posts and discussions) is that there is some magic price point, probably between that of a Honda ST1300 and a BMW K1600GT, above which not even the most eccentric oil sheik will purchase a motorcycle. The Motus, at a likely MSRP over $30,000 (final pricing hasn’t been set), should therefore sell not a single bike.
Sorry, common-wisdom-holders. Conn tells us they anticipate the entire 2014 production run, around 300 motorcycles, will be sold out, with 200 deposits already in the hands of the 15 existing Motus dealers. And that’s before a single bike rolls into a showroom or into the hands of the motorcycle press for a full test.
Case’s passionate tech brief revealed many tantalizing details. The 6-gallon tank is roto-molded (in the USA) plastic under a carbon-fiber cover, while the engine block is sand-cast by craftsmen in Texas. Wheels are forged aluminum OZ units or South African BST in carbon-fiber (for the MST-R). The instrument display is a brilliantly illuminated TFT color screen flanked by easy-to-press buttons for gloved operation. The seat is by Sargent’s, and mufflers are now Slovenian Akrapovic products, bolted to locally made headers. Catalytic converters keep regulators in all 50 states happy.
The motor is light—around 130 pounds without the transmission—and painstakingly made. Case told us it’s under-stressed, designed to handle a lot more tuning than the current 1650cc, 11.5:1 compression ratio configuration (the MST-R uses different cams and FI tuning to yield the extra 20 hp). Gearheads should appreciate that Case designed it to use as many commonly available parts as possible—the oil filter is a Fram item you can buy at your local auto-parts store—and the centerstand, minimal fairing and engine’s in-your-face nature make maintenance chores easier. Additionally, the TFT display offers reams of diagnostic data for home or professional mechanics alike, not just the usual trip computer, speed and rpm.
The MST isn’t for the gadget-obsessed farkle crowd, though it could surely be set up that way, given its 720-watt alternator. There is no traction control, ABS or selectable engine mapping—a Motus pilot will have to rely on his or her riding skills to get safely down the road. It’s an intentionally simple design, but the components it does have are carefully selected and high-quality, justifying the higher cost; assuming prospective buyers are connoisseurs who appreciate the same high-end brand names as Case and Conn.
I’m looking forward to a test ride—I’ve been invited to Alabama in October to do so—but I can safely guess this is a pretty comfy long-distance mount. The controls are adjustable, including the handlebars, I know the Sargent’s seat will cradle my tush like a Fabergé egg in a velvet case, and there are three different adjustable windscreens to choose from. Fuel economy should be in the mid-to-high 40s, Case told me, meaning 200-mile stints are possible—there are actually two overdriven gears and the “Baby Block” V-Four makes 100 ft.-lbs of torque at just 2500 rpm. One disappointment may be the recommendation for 93-Octane fuel, but maybe you can boost low-yield rural gas with locally made moonshine. Motus told me that it’s just a recommendation, and the bike’s EFI system will burn any fuel that meets a rider’s needs. Also, the roto-molded 5.5-gallon fuel tank is “fully ethanol compatible.”
Will enough buyers (300 or so a year) buy these bikes so it’s a commercially viable operation? At a starting price of around $30,000, that’s a million (or nine-million) dollar question for Lee Motus. If you’re a single-motorcycle guy (poor you!), you’d say no—there are plenty of more rational choices for an all-around sportbike. But you’re not Motus’ target customer. Think of a Corvette owner, for instance. He or she will usually have that flashy, iconic sportscar as a second—or third or fourth or fifth—vehicle, and didn’t fret over that car’s $50,000 base MSRP. You can say the same about any vehicle that’s more about fun and lifestyle than practicality, be it a motorcycle, sportscar, aircraft or boat.
“It’s a bespoke, super high quality motorcycle, and all the details we put into it cost more,” says the smooth-talking and confident Conn. “There’s a value to craftsmanship and there’s a value to the human connection in the products they buy and ride. The goal is you’ll buy it and give it to your grandson.”
My goal is just to ride one. Stay tuned.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com