The Motus Story – Part 4: Growing Pains

Insights: a new series from the pen of moto-adventurer Neale Bayly.

MST-01 test mules looked good, but were far from production ready. 

In the autumn of 2012, the last thing anyone at the fledgling Motus Motorcycles expected was to be, in part, victims of some initial success. Motorcyclists and media had applauded the two MST-01 prototypes from Florida to California and the industry was abuzz about first American V4 sport-touring motorcycle. The questions quickly centered on “How much?” and “When can I get mine?” and Motus co-founders Lee Conn and Brian Case were often seen as being coy when asked about pricing and availability. Truth was, they had no idea yet.

Every waking minute for the past three years had been spent building and testing prototypes. The mission at Motus was clear from the start to build the most exquisite machines possible and never, ever cut corners.  But, given the magnitude of the project and the small size of the team, the they found themselves with more questions than answers and the chorus of media, anxious customers and bankers was growing louder.

Suspension and chassis testing at Barber with Pratt&Miller and Öhlins.

Until Motus put big “PROTOTYPE” stickers on the bikes, dealers and buyers perceived they were ready for production. Designing and sourcing hundreds of proprietary components was challenging and time consuming. Once, when sourcing 300 sidestand cut-out switches, the manufacturer replied with a quote for 300 thousand. The sheer enormity of building a new American motorcycle company from scratch was completely lost on the public, but was happening feverishly behind the scenes at Motus.

Tough decisions were in store as first slow steps turned into a jog. Leading the technical teams, Brian added cruise control and a ride-by-wire electronic fuel injection, but aborted gasoline direct injection. He added a full-color LCD/TFT display and selected production colors. Sargent made final seat shape revisions.

Replacing the GDI system with a 3D printed port fuel intake prototype. 

The aluminum foundry and engine assembly facility were initially in Texas, but after a serious “lights-out” fire at a machine shop and repeated slowdowns at the foundry, the production casting was moved to Indiana and all engine assembly was brought in house to Motus HQ in Birmingham.

Challenges:  this CNC caught fire while milling an engine block mold.  

While Brian worked tirelessly on refining details of hundreds of mechanical components, he simultaneously oversaw production line setup. Lee was pulling double shifts on everything from marketing to part sourcing as he took deposits from customers, signed up dealers and worked with investors. By 2012, Motus boasted just four employees and durability tests were performed by seasoned industry veterans as ongoing upgrades and refinements continued all year. And throughout these long, hard days the same questions kept coming and the answers to them were getting harder to fend off.

Many, many months of testing and development.

The lengthy certification process to get EPA and CARB certificates isn’t a sexy media story. Neither is the story of tens of thousands of durability miles or that some certain part is being revised for greater reliability or that a machine shop caught fire. Journalists were eager to test the production motorcycles. Dealers were looking for pricing and customers a due date.

By the fall of 2013, Brian, Lee and their staff once more took the historic drive to Barber with their motorcycles. This time it was to display five production intent bikes at the Vintage Festival, so the world could see, hear and ride a finished Motus. Behind closed doors, they held their collective breath as they waited for the certificates of approval to arrive.

Part 1: Validation here
Part 2: Awakening here
Part 3: Emergence here