The Bike And Brand That Departed Too Soon
At the recent MotoAmerica season finale at Barber Motorsports Park, I was invited by Neale Bayly to attend a gathering in the museum’s Advanced Design Center. In the course of the evening, after chatting with various moto-dignitaries, I took notice of the Motus MST-R on display. Instantly I was transported back to the day I spent riding one of those amazing motorcycles and touring the Motus plant in Birmingham, Alabama with founders Brian Case and Lee Conn. Brian is now with the Advanced Design Center, and we talked for a few minutes about my experiences that unforgettable day back in 2017, how enthralled I had been with the first American-designed and built four cylinder street motorcycle since World War II.
Brian Case and Lee Conn in 2017, with one of their Motus MST-R creations.
Brian and Lee had a dream- A truly American dream. Build the ultimate street bike, from scratch, with an all-new proprietary engine and chassis, that would perfectly blend their three core principles- performance, comfort, and range. Brian brought his experiences with Confederate Motorcycles where he’d been the creative mind behind the vaunted Wraith model, Lee had 20 years of small business experience and savvy, and they both had a passion for motorcycling. And Motus was born.
The Motus MST base model back in 2017. Thumbing it to life in their warehouse made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
On invitation from Lee via a mutual friend, I made the trek to their facilities in the original Barber Museum and spent a day touring and riding Motus. Built around their unique 1650cc “Baby Block” Corvette-inspired, pushrod-actuated, overhead valve MV4 powerplant, the Motus MST and MST-R were unlike anything I had ever seen before, much less ridden. Firing one up sounded and felt like keying an old 1970s era American muscle car to life. The bike made 180 hp and 126 ft lbs of torque, carried its engine weight, crankshaft and gearbox low beneath the seat, and with the frame very narrow at the seat, I remember how comfortable I immediately felt on the bike at 5’8”, 150 lbs.
I rode the blue MST, and Lee rode his personal MST-R, which had previously completed a cross-country trek and set records at Bonneville Salt Flats.
I spent a few hours chasing Lee around the Southern Appalachian hill country outside Birmingham, mesmerized by this incredible feat of American motorcycle engineering I was straddling. Lee throttled hard up the curvy country roads, and I gave chase, howling in my helmet at the raw power and nimble handling of this amazing machine. A few corners into one particular curvy uphill road, Lee leading the way, I found myself completely “in the zone“, dialed in and feeling one with the bike, diving deep into each corner and accelerating hard out, the music of our two Motus steeds echoing in my head. The bike felt half its claimed 560 lb. wet weight, and with a 5.5 gal tank, we could pounded out 250+ miles were it not for time constraints and summer storms forcing us back to the Motus HQ that day.
The Motus MST-R on display at Throttlestop Museum in Elkhart Lake, WI.
And then Motus was gone, closing their doors almost exactly a year after my epic day with them. I was stunned and saddened that such an amazing motorcycle and company who hand-built each one, folded so suddenly. I had such high hopes for the brand as many did, but alas, they went the way of so many fantastic motorbike brands before them, financially unsustainable. Yet the legacy of that bike, it’s uniqueness, and that still fascinating engine, lives on at the Barber Motorsports Museum and at the Throttestop Museum in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, who happen to posses one of the last to ever roll off the Motus assembly line.
In talking with Brian, he still spoke of their achievements with a sense of pride and joy, even with the tinge of sadness at its demise. “But your creation and legacy will live on here as well as with other places and people who possess a Motus. You guys made motorcycle history,” I told him that evening at Barber. “There is a certain satisfaction in that,” he replied.
The photos here are from my day spent with Lee and Brian at Motus in 2017, and from the Throttlestop Museum not far from the famed Road America complex in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. For more photos of their Motus, click here:
*They’ll send you a login code, then you can peruse the entire collection in their virtual museum.