2016 Motus MST and MSTR - RIDE REVIEW

America’s sport-tourer is born and bred in Alabama.

2016 Motus MST on-road action

The Motus MST and MSTR aren't motorcycles that neatly fit into the sport-touring category, and not simply because of the $30,975 entry price. What most significantly makes the Motus different is its engine.

A dyno graph provides a technical chart of an engine’s performance, but what a rider actually experiences is determined by many other factors, such as the pull ratio of a throttle, the efficiency of aspiration and oxidation, the delivery of energy from piston top to contact patch, weight and geometry, and—most of all—vibration, sound, feel and feedback. The main takeaway of the Motus experience is how happily brutal its engine is, and it comes with hard bags and comfortable seating for two.

Lee Conn and Brian Case, founded the Motus motorcycle company. Of the two, Case is the designer, and they shared in the development and testing of the Motus MST, and even more upscale MSTR. In August 2014, each of them set land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats time trials, establishing the Motus MSTR as the fastest-ever production pushrod-engine-powered motorcycle in the world. Now the bikes are in production, and demo rides are available by reservation.

Just for quick reference, the Motus MST and MSTR are powered by the MV4 1650 and MV4R 1650 engines, respectively. This “Baby Block,” as Motus calls it, is a 1649cc, 90-degree, V-4. The Motus MV4 produces 165 peak horsepower and 123 pound-feet of peak torque, while the MV4R makes 180 hp and 126 lb.-ft. of torque, with its high-lift cams, titanium valves, and revised mapping. Both engines have over 80 lb.-ft. of torque right off of idle, and an incredibly wide plateau of torque of over 100 lb.-ft. from 3,200 rpm to redline, which is 7,400 for the MV4 and 8,600 for the MV4R.

Motus engine

The engine has sleeved cylinders providing room for a significant amount of overbore. The MV4 and MV4R can also be purchased without a motorcycle attached, but if the vehicle happens to be present, the heads, clutch, and transmission can all be removed while the engine remains in its chassis.

The Motus has a trellis chassis of round-section chromoly tubing, with the engine serving as a stressed member. The MST and MSTR have ride-by-wire with a controller hidden beneath the bodywork. The cruise control has one-button function (It’s the starter button), and the TFT dash is a multi-function, multi-programmable, multi-diagnostic full-color display. It has impressive features for the rider and service professional, but also an impressive number of buttons.

Front suspension has fully adjustable Öhlins NIX fork legs with damping segregated between legs: one handling rebound and the other compression. The MST rear suspension is a fully adjustable Progressive shock with remote preload adjuster. Braking is by Brembo, and the hard side bags and side and center stands are all standard.

As shown by the fork and brakes, Motus uses a number of quality, outsourced, components that also include a Sargent seat, Powerlet power ports, and adjustable HeliBars. Options offered are a rear rack and top box, heated seat and grips, a lower Sargent seat, forged aluminum wheels, and three variations of adjustable windscreens in size and tint. Wet weight is a claimed 550-Alabama pounds.

2016 Motus MSTR static side view

Upgrade components on the MSTR are carbon-fiber exhaust canisters, carbon-fiber composite bodywork, an Öhins TTX twin-tube shock with a knob-type remote preload adjuster, Brembo M4 monoblock calipers, BST carbon-fiber wheels, and two additional Powerlet ports.

Although the Motus models have EFI, ride-by-wire, and a TFT dash, they do not at this date have traction control, ABS, or multiple riding modes. Make of that as you will; some riders might feel the bike wanting for these items, while others don’t care.

Some readers likely remember that Motus motorcycles were originally to be aspirated with direct injection. This plan was shelved as a result of visits to dealers during the bike’s miles and miles of cross-country development. According to Conn, dealers were hesitant to take on a new brand with the complicated technology of a high-pressure fuel system. As of today, few models of automobiles have direct injection, so the support hasn’t been as fast as anticipated and isn’t yet there for a small brand of motorcycles.

So, what about the experience of the Motus and its MV4 1650 engine?

Even though the Motus has a beefy engine, it has a noticeably narrow seat. This is appreciated because that makes its 31-inch seat height feel lower. Egress of getting the bike on or off the center stand is totally reasonable.

2016 Motus MST overhead view

Because of the engine’s fair size, it bellows deeply like a twin. Also, the 75-degree crankshaft provides a big bang of a firing order from the engine’s 1-4-3-2 timing sequence, that on one of its two firing revolution features a 345-degree rotation between firings. In addition to adequately muffled big bangs, there is a fair amount of mechanical noise even at low rpm, and while stationary the motorcycle gently rocks side-to-side.

Even when knowing what a Motus dyno graph looks like, one might not be prepared for how effortlessly the bike aggressively launches, regardless of whether it’s the MST or MSTR. Like with an electric motor, huge torque is available at even the lowest rpm. For reference, the MV4 engine produces more torque from idle than many four-cylinder liter-bikes do at peak. And that is exactly how it feels to ride.

While the Motus might not have the top speed of a large-displacement sportbike, it can launch and accelerate like one, requiring an aggressive rider to work at keeping the front wheel on the ground. For some riders, tight roads are great fun on the Motus if only because every time you have to slow the bike down it's an excuse to again feel all of the power that you dare on the exit. The MV4 is a great educator in how it provides a real-world experience of the difference in feel and rideability between torque and horsepower.

In short, what’s most impressive isn’t that the Motus accelerates hard, it’s that it accelerates hard at such low engine speeds. Because of that, the Motus’s character is without the normally expected clues of hard acceleration. The frantic feel and sound of a sporting bike’s engine revving high into the power curve is missing; all you get on a Motus is the unhurried growl of an unrushed engine, as the world comes ever faster towards you. It’s an odd feeling.

2016 Motus MST rear view on-road action

So are five mph roll-on wheelies.

Redline has an initial soft limiter, which leads into a hard one in case the rider doesn’t take the hint. At steady touring speed there’s a bit of low-frequency vibration through the foot pegs, but it’s the type that lets you know what speed you’re going and how hard you’re accelerating. Whether or not that feel would be unwelcome throughout a long touring ride cannot yet be said.

The Motus mildly twists sideways when the bike is parked and the throttle is blipped. While in motion there is a peculiar feeling of weight. It’s not a feeling like that of dead weight, it’s a feeling of live weight, such as a large amount of mass spinning at varying speeds. The feel seems to change as rpm and lean are varied, sort of like when carrying a passenger who’s waving to your neighbors. Likewise, there’s a fair amount of steering input required when accelerating hard out of fast turns, likely due to the increasing speed of the crankshaft and the engine’s gyroscopic influence. Added to that, of course, is that greatly increasing tire speed while leaned over requires steering input.

In reality, the MST carries its mass fairly low, making low-speed maneuvers easy and without any falling-in or top-heavy feel. The braking is predictably predictable, as Brembo components usually are. It’s impossible to say what long term will reveal, but for a day’s worth of riding the Progressive shock of the MST provided proper high-speed damping for comfort, with well-controlled low-speed damping for the weight shift of accelerating and braking. Overall, the suspension was consistently comfortable and compliant, which is highly appreciated on a touring motorcycle. As mentioned, steering effort seemed to vary slightly, but never was the bike truckish feeling in general, or heavy feeling in slow, tight turns.

The exhaust is louder than what a sport-touring rider might expect. Maybe the niche class of the Motus should actually be referred to as “hot-rod” touring.

For its power and size, the MST is light and leaning, of course, toward performance, but with a comfortable seat. I found myself sitting at the front of that seat, rarely sliding back into its wide pocket. There’s a lot of room on these bikes.

2016 Motus MST hand levers adjustment example

The hand levers are adjustable. Heat was not an issue on the ride but the day’s weather was pleasantly cool and we were always on the move. In those conditions, the heat management was without fault, but the jury is waiting in a mid-summer desert traffic jam for a final ruling on this matter. The adjustable windscreen provides good protection without any buffeting, for my 5-foot 10-inch height.

It should be mentioned that a few times while going up through the gears the transmission didn’t slide into third gear on the first try. In fairness, this could have been because the lever was adjusted too high. It’s something that more seat time will parse.

All in all, the Motus has enough features of comfort to qualify as a reasonable sport-touring motorcycle. Even so, it is considerably more dynamic than a high-end posh machine. With its big, longitudinally mounted, V-four, and its hot-rod attitude, it’s not the quietest, it’s not the smoothest, and it’s totally not the tamest. But the Motus works as it’s designed; it does what a sport-touring bike needs to do. Plus, it goes like hell. Heavier, quieter, more electronicer sport-touring bikes might be more refined in what they do and how they do it, but this is the only sport-touring motorcycling that has ever made me laugh out loud for what it gave me viscerally.

Some riders want ABS, traction control, selectable riding modes, which are becoming the norm on powerful performance bikes. I’ve ridden many motorcycles that have those things, and they are fun and impressive features, but they are not yet on the Motus. So that will certainly mean that the Motus is not for everyone. But this bike doesn’t need to make excuses for what it is, which is a hand-built boutique motorcycle from Birmingham, Alabama. And its difference, its character, is its engine.

Every Motus comes with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Engines are available without motorcycles.

PRICE $30,975/$36,975
CLAIMED WEIGHT 585/565 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0/33.5 in.
CLAIMED HP 165/180
MV4R: $10,200

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2016 Motus MST action.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST action.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST and Peter Jones.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST static.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MSTR static.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST studio.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST studio.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MST studio.Courtesy of Motus

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Motus engine.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MSTR studio.Courtesy of Motus

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2016 Motus MSTR studio.Courtesy of Motus