First Look: 2011 Motus MST-01 - Motus Operandi

New motorcycle startup envisions a uniquely American sport-tourer

Engineered in Michigan, designed and built in Alabama, featuring an all-new, 1650cc V4 engine, the 2011 Motus MST-01 sport-tourer could put America back on the map as a builder of high-performance, sport-oriented motorcycles. Motus-Latin for "motion"-is the brainchild of company president Lee Conn and design director Brian Case. Conn is an entrepreneur in the healthcare field, while Case is a product developer and designer of the Confederate Wraith. Friends and riding companions first and business partners second, the duo started work on their American motorcycle concept in '08. "We took a piece of paper and drew our ultimate dreambike-a kick-ass sportbike with a cool look and hard bags," Conn explains.

The Motus MST-01 (to be followed by a higher-output, higher-spec MST-R) is designed for serious sport-tourers who value comfort, performance and range. The company has polled hundreds of sport-touring riders to verify their likes and dislikes. "These guys want to ride long distances on a lightweight machine with great engine durability and aerodynamics," Conn says. Motus sees its opportunity in the sport-touring segment because it attracts experienced riders with higher incomes.

Michigan-based Pratt & Miller Engineering, a powerhouse in sports car racing, has been contracted to engineer and prototype the all-new machine. The liquid-cooled V4 will deviate from typical high-performance protocol by utilizing a single, chain-driven camshaft nestled in the valley of the Vee like an American V8, with pushrods and two valves per cylinder. Design benefits include compact cylinder heads, simplified maintenance and, most importantly, useful power. Pratt & Miller created the Le Mans-winning GT1 Corvette C5-R and C6-R racers-also single-cam, pushrod, two-valve designs- which should answer any questions regarding the new engine's performance and durability. Targeting 140 horsepower at 7800 rpm and 120 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm, the fuel-injected Motus MST-01 aims to provide strong performance across a wide rev range, with a pleasing countenance that higher-revving fours lack.

The V4 motor will be mounted longitudinally in a steel-trellis frame, and used as a stressed member. The 90-degree cylinder layout affords perfect primary balance, and twin balance shafts quell second-order vibration. Motus chose a six-speed manual gearbox with chain final drive. Chain drive remains the accepted standard for performance bikes, and its use here-despite requiring a power-robbing bevel-drive output to turn the power sideways from the fore-aft crankshaft-injects a higher quotient of "sport" into the sport-touring equation.

Conventional wheels and tires (17-inch), suspension (43mm inverted front and monoshock rear) and brakes (four-piston/320mm radial front and two-piston/240mm rear) are specified, and will be sourced from top suppliers like Marchesini, Michelin, Öhlins and Brembo. The aggressive bodywork will be aerodynamically scrutinized using Pratt & Miller's sophisticated design computers, and the body panels will be created from fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon-fiber, as pricing allows. The 525-pound MST-01 is expected to be similar in size to the Yamaha FZ1, with its cockpit designed to "95th percentile" standards, meaning that it should comfortably fit 95 percent of the general population.

The prototype engine is scheduled to run in early 2010, with a rideable prototype following as soon as mid-year. If the tallest hurdle-EPA certification-can be cleared, 2011 production motorcycles may be available as soon as late this year. Price point is expected to be somewhere in the range of a loaded BMW K1300GT-in other words, the mid-20s. Motus hopes to eventually establish dealership outlets across the country, but until such relationships are formalized, the first production units will be sold and delivered through the factory in Alabama.

It's impossible to consider the challenge Motus faces without recalling the inglorious demise of Buell, which, despite the deep pockets of Harley-Davidson, got the axe late in '09. But Motus actually sees a silver lining in the recent economic woes. "The recession has allowed us to access resources that were otherwise inaccessible," Conn explains. "We have manufacturers working with us that five years ago would not have even talked to us. And remember, 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started during recessions."

Motus Motorcycles also has a larger and more patriotic goal: reversing the loss of American manufacturing. "From our standpoint, creating and maintaining a manufacturing base in this country is essential," Conn adds. With such a provocative motorcycle in the pipeline, we hope that this ambitious and worthwhile agenda will find traction.

Motus MST-01

Motus' liquid-cooled, 90-degree V4 will mount as a stressed member in a tubular-steel space frame. Corvette racing powerhouse Pratt & Miller is leading the engineering effort.