The Motus Story – Part Two: Awakening

A new series of stories from the pen of moto-adventurer Neale Bayly.

Moments before the sheet dropped on a new American motorcycle

Pulling off the highway and onto the grounds of the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, is something of a sacred experience to tens of thousands of motorcyclists who make the annual pilgrimage. A physical home to the often-spiritual experience we know as “motorcycling,” Barber is where the deeds of the world’s manufacturers and racers are preserved in pristine recognition of their achievements.

Motus co-founders Brian Case and Lee Conn pulled into Barber in early spring of 2011 in a van with the name of their motorcycle company on the side, and their first prototype in the back under a sheet waiting to be unveiled to the world. For them it was surreal.
Just a few short years before, Brian found himself between design jobs and Lee had recently sold a business started 12 years earlier.

Disillusioned with V-twins dominating boutique two-wheel culture at that time, Brian spent a few months riding, sketching and thinking about what the future of American motorcycles could be. As avid riders who liked to go far and fast, where was the American sport-touring machine? At one time, fast and luxurious American 4-cylinder motorcycles ruled our roads, but the US hadn’t built a 4-cylinder bike since WWII, and mainstream design had progressed very little since then. How had American sports cars come so far, but American motorcycles were still big, nostalgic cruisers?

The beginning of Motus: V4-powered American sport-tourer

By the spring of 2008, when America was in the midst of the Great Recession, Brian and Lee reached their decision to build America’s first V4 powered sport-touring motorcycle. They named the company, rented space in downtown Birmingham and went to work. While it might have seemed like the worst of times to design and build high performance motorcycles, the opposite was true. And as counter-intuitive as it seemed to some, it was the perfect time to partner with world class companies willing to tackle such a project— Motus was born.

Early foam mockup showing longitudinal V4 and “rib cage” exhaust

As Lee went to work on the business side, Brian furiously sketched, sculpted and digitized his vision of a comfortable American sportbike. Every decision was filtered through his three guiding ideals: Performance, Comfort and Range.

Clay mockup was laser-scanned and turned into prototype molds

When the designs were done, Brian packed up the clay model and went to live in Michigan for many months while Pratt & Miller Engineering brought the MST-01 prototypes to life. With over twenty-five years as an exclusive racing partner to General Motors, it was Pratt & Miller’s endurance racing pedigree that Motus wanted to bring to their motorcycles. History is littered with motorcycle companies that built bikes around available motors—only a very few have ever undertaken the added challenge of designing and producing their own engine. So, when on one frigid Michigan day in early 2010 the first Motus motorcycle roared to life and Brian took it on its maiden run along snow lined streets, it might seem surprising that it barely brought a high-five. Never mind, there was not time for celebration.

Prototype complete and ready for unveiling

Returning to Birmingham to reveal the prototypes at the Barber Museum before beginning a hellish three years of testing and tuning, no one on the growing team skipped a beat. Over the years, they had visited the Barber Museum often. Brian analyzed technology, shapes and styles while Lee studied the various companies. Both felt they were standing on the shoulders of the motorcycle giants who had come before them—especially when the sheets were pulled off the prototypes in the museum under the watchful gaze of the history of motorcycling itself.

Mr. Barber had been a huge inspiration, and in many ways, they had patterned the Motus corporate culture after his insistence on excellence, grace and attention to detail, powered with a gentle urgency. It was clear no one could have picked a finer place than Birmingham, Alabama, to bring such an ambitious motorcycle dream to reality.

Prototype unveiling at Barber Motorsports Museum in 2011