HUR­RI­CANE 'MER­ICA

BUILD­ING THE AMER­I­CAN DREAM

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Mo­tor­cy­clists are a tough room. Show us what you’ve got planned and we’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. The next thing we’ll do is whine that we can’t buy it yet—un­til we can. Then we’ll gripe about the price.

The Mo­tus founders make no apolo­gies for time­line, avail­abil­ity, or price. They’ve been push­ing big, fast, ex­pen­sive bikes out of their Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, man­u­fac­tory for two years now. With 24 ac­tive deal­ers, mostly near the East and West coasts, the Mo­tus works ship a new MST or MST-R ev­ery day or two. All of them are spo­ken for, each des­tined to be­come a cher­ished heir­loom for its owner.

With plans to triple its in­au­gu­ral pro­duc­tion to 300 bikes per year, Mo­tus is work­ing to re­cruit an­other 75 US deal­ers. The com­pany is also ne­go­ti­at­ing to move into Euro­pean mar­kets. Still, if you phone down to “Mo­tus Galac­tic Head­quar­ters,” you’re likely to get a com­pany prin­ci­pal on the phone.

So who buys a be­spoke tour­ing rocket that costs nearly as much as a CVO Har­ley-david­son? Ac­cord­ing to Mo­tus co-founder Lee Conn, its customers de­mand a bike that car­ries value into the fu­ture as ef­fi­ciently as it schleps gear to your camp­site, a bike with in­dus­trial dura­bil­ity and sport­bike sus­pen­sion, and one that just in­ci­den­tally packs a kinghell en­gine with over­dog horse­power and the torque of an ar­mored ve­hi­cle.

Conn and co-founder Brian Case be­lieve in their prod­uct for the same rea­son some dis­miss Mo­tus as yet an­other dream sheet full of va­por­ware: It took 10 years to whelp. This pro­tracted ges­ta­tion in­cluded the founders rid­ing test mules all over the United States. They built the bike of their dreams, moved it to se­ries pro­duc­tion, and they’re still ob­sess­ing over it.

“Our goal,” Conn said, “is to make a su­perb mo­tor­cy­cle, full stop. Let’s look at Har­ley. Lots of rid­ers love ’em, but you buy a Har­ley and the next thing you know, you’ve spent an­other $10,000 in ac­ces­sories be­fore you get out the door. Our bike is al­ready kit­ted up. That’s why it starts at 30 grand.”

Some new own­ers come off tra­di­tional V-twins. They’re look­ing for Amer­i­can dura­bil­ity and long-term value, cou­pled with lower main­te­nance and mod­ern per­for­mance head­room. With 165 hp (180 in “R” form), the MST is no­body’s slow­poke, and with

“Mo­tus’ clear­est shot at his­tory may be ac­tu­al­iz­ing a new, com­pet­i­tive Amer­i­can brand, but in 10 years they could also be rec­og­nized as the mar­que that reimag­ined as­pi­ra­tional mo­tor­cy­cling.”

more than 120 pound-feet of torque, its alu­minum Baby Block MV4 mill is a roll-on in­sti­ga­tor of the first order.

“From 20 to 90 miles per hour,” Conn said, “it should rip the face off ev­ery­thing.”

Other buy­ers are sport rid­ers who’ve grad­u­ally dis­cov­ered that there isn’t enough ibupro­fen in the tank bag to con­tinue tour­ing on a race replica. “Su­per­bike” once meant a big, fast, ver­sa­tile mo­tor­cy­cle. Now it’s a eu­phemism for id­iot-sa­vant track toys.

Buy­ers com­ing from Euro­pean or Ja­panese tour­ing sleds claim they’re seek­ing a less-me­di­ated rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. While Mo­tus ve­hi­cles em­pha­size su­perb hard parts from sup­pli­ers like Öh­lins, BST, Ri­zoma, and Brembo, they are dis­tinctly short of dig­i­tal rider aids. Trac­tion con­trol, wheelie con­trol, and an­tilock con­trol are man­aged by the rider’s right hand.

“It has one rid­ing mode,” Conn said, “and that’s ‘ride yer damn bike’ mode.” In fact, Mo­tus sales have been brisk at multi-line BMW deal­er­ships, where a few iron-bearded geezers still re­mem­ber find­ing sim­ple, el­e­gantly en­gi­neered bikes that could scour con­ti­nents with noth­ing more than gaso­line, a bit of oil, and the fac­tory tool kit un­der the seat.

“Sport-tour­ing has got­ten very func­tional, with no sex ap­peal,” Conn ob­served. “The K1600 does ev­ery­thing it was de­signed to do. What it doesn’t do is whis­per to you on Satur­day morn­ing that it’s time to get up and go ride.”

The pro­duc­tion MST may look like its pro­to­type but barely shares a part with it. Af­ter Case and Conn wrung out their pro­to­type bikes for tens of thou­sands of miles, Case went back to the draw­ing board to make fur­ther im­prove­ments.

The up­shot of that ex­tended devel­op­ment phase—which, to be fair, was barely dou­ble the devel­op­ment cy­cle for a legacy OEM with es­tab­lished pro­cesses in place— is a durable plat­form with sim­ple ser­vic­ing and max devel­op­ment head­room.

The MV4 en­gine is un­der­stressed and pushrod-sim­ple. An MST’S chromem­oly frame should stand up to any­thing short of ex­tended sub­mer­sion, and the balance of the bike is com­posed of top­shelf, con­ven­tional tackle.

The triple-sealed chain is guar­an­teed to last 20,000 miles whether you lube it or not. If you ever man­age to wear out the rear sprocket, Mo­tus will ship you a new one un­der war­ranty. A cen­ter­stand

and ec­cen­tric rear axle ad­justers make chain ad­just­ments easy. The oil fil­ter, which you can buy at any auto shop, spins neatly onto the front of the en­gine.

Conn said they de­signed their ser­vice plan to keep rid­ers on the bike, not in the wait­ing room, us­ing a pro­to­col that lever­ages deal­er­ships far be­yond the fledg­ling Mo­tus dealer network.

Un­der its two-year stan­dard war­ranty, Mo­tus cov­ers war­ranted re­pairs per­formed at any rec­og­nized mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ship in the US. The fac­tory ships any needed parts to the dealer, trans­mits any rel­e­vant ser­vice man­ual pages, and pays the ser­vice depart­ment its stan­dard hourly rate.

“It’s about giv­ing rid­ers the best pos­si­ble own­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence,” Conn said, adding that ev­ery nor­mal ser­vice can be per­formed with (you guessed it) the fac­tory tool kit un­der the seat. There are no spe­cialty tools re­quired for reg­u­lar up­keep—no fac­tory com­puter, no Vul­can tri­corder, no four-clawed din­gle-wan­gle.

What ser­vices are an­tic­i­pated by new Mo­tus own­ers? Very few. The en­gine shares ba­sic de­sign ideas with Chevy LS V-8s, in­clud­ing hy­draulic valve lifters with a ser­vice in­ter­val of “in­spect at 100,000 miles.” Over­built for the long haul, it’s stuffed with forged in­ter­nals and pack­age-pro­tected to 2.4 liters—a nearly 50-per­cent up­size in dis­place­ment.

Stalk­ing Mo­tus across rider fo­rums re­veals three rough spots that are dis­cussed pri­mar­ily by non-own­ers: starter mo­tor noise, en­gine ring, and stiff shift­ing.

From our per­spec­tive, start­ing the MST sounds glo­ri­ous. It whines like a Pratt & Whit­ney Wasp ra­dial while it cranks then set­tles into a lumpy hot-rod idle with a back­ground cho­rus of ring­ing.

The ring­ing at idle dis­ap­pears un­der load. It comes from a spring-loaded torque com­pen­sator in the triple-plate clutch and is as dis­tinctly char­ac­ter­is­tic of a Mo­tus as dry clutch rat­tle is of tra­di­tional Du­catis.

Own­ers re­port that stiff shift­ing smooths out af­ter the first few thou­sand miles. In this rider’s ex­pe­ri­ence, shift­ing Mo­tus bikes with an oft-frac­tured left an­kle pre­sented no chal­lenge. If you can’t shift your Mo­tus, per­haps it’s time to con­sider a Subaru, which has the same lu­bri­ca­tion sched­ule.

“Change the oil ev­ery 6,000 miles,”

“We wanted to cre­ate the best en­gine, and I think we have. We’re plan­ning to be around a long time.” Push­ing old-school hot-rod­ding tech­niques to un­prece­dented lev­els of com­pact­ness, light weight, and re­fine­ment, Mo­tus en­gine devel­op­ment owes much to spe­cialty engi­neer­ing firm Pratt & Miller, one of the most sto­ried en­gine tuners in Amer­i­can rac­ing.

Conn ad­vised, “and go wear out your tires. This bike is de­signed to be rid­den and rid­den hard, not pol­ished up and parked in your liv­ing room.” This from a man who keeps mul­ti­ple an­tique mo­tor­cy­cles rest­ing com­fort­ably on the pol­ished oak floors of his home.

In full dis­clo­sure, there are at least a cou­ple of Mo­tus bikes sit­ting static. The MST-R bear­ing se­rial #1 sits in the Bar­ber Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum. An­other was pur­chased by the re­cently re­opened Petersen Au­to­mo­tive Mu­seum. Along with Mo­tus in­vestor Pratt & Miller, th­ese mu­se­ums per­ceive his­tory in the mak­ing.

The mad­men of Mo­tus may just be un­stop­pable. In 2014, Case and Conn took shake­down bikes to Bon­neville, where with no mod­i­fi­ca­tions they se­cured a land-speed record apiece. Bolt­ing li­cense plates and lights back on, they rode the long way home to Alabama, ar­riv­ing just in time to fore­stall do­mes­tic dis­cord. Pas­sion drives this com­pany.

Conn re­serves com­ment on fu­ture V-4 vari­ants. “What we’ve built is a plat­form,” he said. “You don’t need too much imag­i­na­tion to see where we can go.” Mo­tus is in its early days, and the MST re­mains its flag­ship prod­uct.

“Mo­tus is re­ally a mo­tor com­pany,” Case said. “Har­ley makes en­gines. In­dian makes en­gines. We wanted to cre­ate the best en­gine for light ap­pli­ca­tions, and I think we have. We’re plan­ning to be around for a long time.”

The com­pany is ex­pand­ing fur­ther into crate-en­gine pro­duc­tion for ap­pli­ca­tions rang­ing from pow­er­sports to in­dus­trial set­tings. De­vel­oped in con­cert with Tier 1 GM sup­plier Kat­ech and rac­ing stal­wart Pratt & Miller, the 140-pound Baby Block is flex­i­ble, pow­er­ful, and adapt­able. Conn es­ti­mates that a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 500 hp can be pro­duced from the tidy en­gine pack­age. True in­cor­ri­gi­bles like de­signer Case don’t stop there, of course. The naked spe­cial crouched out­side his of­fice door has a big honkin’ su­per­charger hang­ing off the side.

But it’s the pro­duc­tion bike that will shal­low your breath­ing and make you re­think your en­tire life’s pri­or­i­ties. Mo­tus’ clear­est shot at his­tory may be ac­tu­al­iz­ing a new, com­pet­i­tive Amer­i­can brand, but in 10 years it could also be rec­og­nized as the mar­que that reimag­ined as­pi­ra­tional mo­tor­cy­cling. A cen­tury from now, it might even be seen as Amer­ica’s mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany. That would be a nifty trick, but then so was build­ing a se­ries pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle to heir­loom stan­dards out of four beers and a nap­kin sketch. Build­ing a vi­able mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany, from sup­ply chains to dealer net­works to pay­roll to war­ranty ser­vice, is an even rarer trick. Cur­rently sell­ing bikes al­most as fast as they can bolt them to­gether, Mo­tus owns that achieve­ment. “Trends fade,” Case said, then paused. “Mo­tus is not a trend,” Conn said. “Mo­tus is about get­ting back to that feel­ing we all re­mem­ber where you just want to get on your bike and ride that thing all over. Noth­ing too com­pli­cated, just a great plat­form with killer torque and un­be­liev­able re­sponse ev­ery­where.”

If you’re a gen­tle­man of a cer­tain age, Mo­tus just called your bluff. It’s built a bike with bru­tal Amer­i­can power, de­cent com­fort, roomy lug­gage, pres­tige-level fit­ments, solid war­ranty cov­er­age, and chip­per road man­ners. Its bike re­quires less main­te­nance than the av­er­age lawn­mower. Count up your kid’s col­lege ex­penses, di­vide by four, and tell ’em they’re on their own for se­nior year. There’s your budget.

Like a Patek Philippe chrono­graph in a world awash with plas­tic Ca­sios, the MST is built to be passed along to your heirs in fine run­ning order. Rangy, wellfin­ished, com­fort­able, and swift, the Mo­tus MST won’t over­ride the im­pulses em­a­nat­ing from your hel­met. It will com­mu­ni­cate those di­rectly to the pave­ment, me­di­ated solely by your skills.

If you’re ready for that, Mo­tus is build­ing you a bike right now.

right Mo­tus mo­tor­cy­cles are hand as­sem­bled from hand­made parts. “There is a foundry­man ladling 1,500-de­gree alu­minum—one mold at a time—for each of our 22 cast­ings. There is a woman lay­ing up ev­ery car­bon-fiber panel and a guy hand weld­ing each chas­sis and set of head­ers—all with an ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail,” co-founder Lee Conn says.

ABOVE They’re a mo­tor com­pany first and a bike com­pany best. Mo­tus en­gines have been trans­planted into speed­boats, Po­laris RZR UTVS, Con­fed­er­ate cus­toms, and Fer­rari repli­cas, but no ap­pli­ca­tion moves the soul more swiftly than the nat­u­ral habi­tat of its own steel-tube trel­lis frame.

LEFT Sand cores for the MST cylin­ders. The “USA” em­boss­ing was in­spired by NASA rock­ets of the ’60s. “A nod to pi­o­neer­ing new fron­tiers,” Case says. BE­LOW If gen­tle­men pre­fer red­heads, it’s be­cause the “R” model adds 15 more horse­power and the car­bon-fiber quo­tient of a fac­tory race­bike.

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