Insights: a new series of stories from the pen of moto-adventurer Neale Bayly.
Against the backdrop of MotoGP machines on full throttle, Motus co-founders Brian Case and Lee Conn would once again talk themselves hoarse as they met thousands of race fans at Laguna Seca in July of 2011. Over the course of the three-day event, they told the story of this new and radical American V4 sport-touring machine time and again. It displaces 1650cc. It has push rods. It makes around 180 horsepower and 125 ft.lbs. of torque. It’s built in America. Pricing and availability are…TBD.
While the questions or the story didn’t change, a profile emerged of the most interested inquirers. Serious motorcycle aficionados, most with multiple machines, usually with a European leaning, and all of them extremely excited to see and hear the Motus run.
Unveiling two prototypes some weeks earlier at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum to a close group of press, peers, and industry professionals, Motus’ small team put the enormity of what lay ahead briefly out of mind. Wives, children, and parents who had all sacrificed much over the previous years were able to bask in the glow of this herculean achievement. Lee was almost overcome by emotion during his speech as, from the podium, he could see such earth changing machines as the Britten V1000, the Pierce Four and others. Brian was just as overwhelmed, as he sat on the machine answering a barrage of questions about his design.
As with every ridgeline conquered at Motus, the celebrations soon turned to a manic ride, this time to Bike Week at Daytona to show the prototypes to a motorcycle crowd who knew almost nothing of their existence. The Daytona reveal was just as much a part of the ongoing testing—a chance to meet the world’s press and thousands of riders. With the prototypes fully loaded with data logging equipment, Pratt & Miller sent a team for support, and everyone moved into a big house on the beach for a week. From motorcycle legends like former World Superbike Champion Scott Russell, to domestic and foreign magazine editors stopping by for informal visits, the pace, as usual, was frenetic. The bikes were ridden to the racetrack, Main Street and beyond and engineers were downloading and analyzing data.
Everywhere the prototypes were seen and heard, the reaction was uplifting and energetic. It seemed like the whole country was learning about and cheering the scrappy company from Birmingham making history with their dreams. The prototypes performed flawlessly, and leaving Daytona on a high, none of the guys could have foreseen that they would one day face a serious hurdle because of this initial success.
Daytona Bike Week became Laguna Seca for MotoGP, and with another Motus house filled with journalists, photographers and friends, it soon became a staging point for the biggest test to date. With dealers signing on and customers making deposits, they decided to ride back to Alabama visiting dealerships along the way. Not only would it be a great opportunity to spend time with people, it would give invaluable test data for their return to the “woodshed” for further development during the upcoming year.
The enthusiastic reception to the prototypes continued from Alice’s Restaurant in NorCal to dealerships in Texas, Colorado, Tennessee and Georgia. They rode through scorching deserts, crossed high mountain passes in the Rockies, and ended up running hard and fast through the low swamplands to the west of their Birmingham home. They pulled all nighters to make sunrise at the Bonneville Salt Flats, put in an 1100-mile day, and burned the candle at both ends—as well as in the middle.
For Brian and Lee and the growing team at Motus, they had proved the motorcycle world was ready for a comfortable American sportbike powered by a big push-rod, hot-rod inspired engine. Now, the trick was to finish testing and work toward production.