Motus MST and MST-R | From $30,975 | 1650cc | 165bhp@7800rpm | 123lb-ft@5000rpm | Liquid-cooled 90º V4 four-stroke
Tested by: Alan Cathcart and Images: Phil Hawkins
The first American four-cylinder streetbike in the past 70 years has now reached production – a bike whose patient development since 2008 has resulted in a unique machine that is all-American, without being a V-twin.
Tell me about the engine
There’s nothing on wheels more typically Yankee than a lazy-revving, large cube motor. Though manufacturers from other continents long ago discarded this simple-is-best mechanical mantra, US auto makers have refined the humble overhead valve push-rod power-plant to the point that it’s now capable of reliably delivering some serious horsepower. There’s nothing low rent about using pushrods, or sticking with OHV, so long as you do it right – as proved with the making of the Motus MST and higher-performance MST-R sports tourer.
For the KMV4 1650cc ohv V4 Baby Block motor powering the Motus with pushrod actuation of the two valves per cylinder was conceived as one half of a typical Detroit-built V8, duly downsized. It was developed by specialist Katech Inc, employing the best design features of its GT1 Le Mans-winning Chevrolet Corvette small-block V8 pushrod motor. After Motus Motorcycles owners Lee Conn and Brian Case founded their company in 2008, they inked a deal with Katech to develop a motor to power the Motown motorcycle.
The MST-R uses the same essential engine platform as the MST, but has a high-lift cam, revised engine mapping and a 400rpm higher rev-limiter than the MST’s 8,200 rpm redline.
What’s the chassis like?
Having enlisted Katech to develop a pushrod V4 motor, the two partners went looking for someone to help them create the motorcycle to house it. In 2009 they signed up Pratt & Miller, another Detroit-based engineering company which, while serial race winners in Endurance car racing and partners with GM in developing the supercharged Cadillac CTS-V, also has a high-tech R&D capability covering everything from US Army ground support vehicles to zero emission electric cars.
Although Brian Case conceived the Motus platform to house the KMV4 motor, with the crank running lengthways in the chassis BMW Boxer-style, he’s relied on Pratt & Miller to develop the chassis, six-speed transmission and chain drive.
Braking power on the MST is provided by two-piece Brembo calipers gripping the 320mm discs, which are effective without being grabby. The MST-R still carries the Monoblocs in best sportbike mode, and you must therefore be ready for the fierce immediate response they deliver, for ABS is not yet available but should be coming next year. The sidestand is easy to find and it comes with a centre stand as standard.
Should I buy one?
At over £20,000 in UK money, they’re not in everyone’s budget, but besides not having ABS, they’re very well spec’d, and include a two-year unlimited mileage warranty.
The MST and MST-R have a unique engine design, invigorating performance, are extremely comfortable for long journeys and are well finished. The Motus is a very serious and well-conceived attempt to service a segment in the marketplace that’s been completely ignored until now by American manufacturers.
So what’s it like to ride?
The Motus is undeniably unique in appearance – in a good way – with the red rocker covers on the MST-R’s V4 motor representing engineering eye candy. But that’s nothing to what happens when you thumb the starter button, and the Murphy ECU’s excellent cold start mapping helps the engine instantly catch alight, settling to a high 1,500 rpm idle. It’s the entry ticket to a concerto from one of the most absolutely unique engine notes in modern-day motorcycling.
Once in motion you don’t have to combat the sideways sway on the Motus that you usually get with any lengthways crank, like on a BMW Boxer or Moto Guzzi. The torque rotation is completely cancelled out by the perpendicular gearbox design. I’d been expecting that by eliminating the balance shafts which had previously removed any trace of vibration from the V4 engine, Motus would have restored at least a few vibes. Sorry, no vibes of any kind till you start nearing the revlimiter. Top gear roll-on is very good, making this a relaxing mileater in freeway travel.
The gearshift action is light and precise, with well-chosen gear ratios thanks to the ultra-torquey nature of the engine delivering the luxury of an ultra-long first gear, then three evenly spaced ones before the overdrive fifth and sixth for long-legged high-speed cruising. The engine’s only turning over at 3,500rpm at 85mph in top gear, so less than halfway to redline according to the good-looking new full-colour Murphy TFT/Thin Film Transistor dash. It’s legible in sunlight, with its main screen displaying a tacho, digital speedo, mileage, twin trips, trip computer, fuel gauge, DTE and gear position, and then there’s an engine screen featuring such data as throttle position, water temp, oil pressure and the usual warning lights.
There’s a USB port for a flash drive to upload engine maps plus a power port for plug-in accessories like GPS (with an extra two more available as options), and a stock 720W alternator powering a 60amp charging system to operate them.
There’s a completely intuitive feel to the steering, which makes you realise the chassis geometry has been well chosen, and nicely refined. It’s more sport than tourer, and the MST and MST-R find their way through a series of turns almost on autopilot, with huge feedback from the front tyre via the well dialled-in Öhlins NIX30 fork. They’re fitted with Pirelli Angel GT rubber as standard, which I know from personal experience give good mileage in combination with excellent grip, plus they heat up fast.
The MST has an extremely comfortable riding stance that you can tailor via the finest multi-adjustable triple-axis handlebar package I’ve yet encountered on any motorcycle – you can even adjust the wrist angle over a 15º span.
The windscreen is adjustable with four positions, up to a maximum of 75mm from its lowest setting, over a five-degree angle.
Yes, that is a KTM headlight on the bike, in case you thought it looked familiar. Together with the twin spotlights fitted as standard, the Motus light package gives outstanding high-speed illumination on a twilight ride.
The Sargent seat is very comfortable, offering good support, while narrow where it matters, making it easy for a 5’10” rider to put both feet flat on the ground. Your knees tuck in easily to the flanks of the well-shaped tank, avoiding contact with the cylinder heads thanks to the motor being canted forward 15º. Coupled with the quite low-set footrests and the 825mm seat height (there’s a 25mm lower option for shorties), this delivers a relaxed riding position with relatively upright posture. The flip-up footrests’ are not adjustable, but the toe pegs for the gear and brake levers are.
I was particularly impressed by the Progressive Suspension rear shock on the MST, which while adjustable only for preload and rebound damping compared to the MST-R’s all-singing (and more expensive) Öhlins TTX36 shock, delivered better damping over rough surfaces and a superior ride quality. The variable rate spring helped the Progressive shock live up to its maker’s name, with better compliance over real-world road surfaces. OK, the Öhlins is better for sport riding – but I have to say that while the MST-R does have an extra top-end kick in performance, and its flatter Rizoma bars give a sportier stance at the helm, I much preferred riding the MST. The R-model is a sportbike that you can fit luggage to, but the MST is a true sports-tourer, a proper all-rounder of a motorcycle, and a very enjoyable real-world bike to ride.
Imagine you won the lottery and had the financial resources to develop your own sport touring motorcycle from the ground up. Would it be very much different from the Motus MST?
Price: $30,975 for MST, $36,975 for MST-R, plus tax
Engine: Liquid-cooled 90º V4 four-stroke 1650cc
Power: 165bhp (123kW) @ 7800rpm (R: 180bhp)
Torque:123lb-ft (167Nm) @ 5000rpm (R: 126lb-ft)
Wet Weight: 263kg (R: 256kg)
Seat height: 800mm (R: 825mm)
Tank size: 20.8 litres
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