Fuller Motus

Motus Operandi: The Fuller Motus

In our July 2017 coverage of The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, I mentioned the stripped-down Motus MST-R that I’d noticed on the green. I wasn’t alone—it earned the Industry Award, and owner John Bennett of Sacramento pleased the crowd by firing it up on the dais after collecting his trophy. 

Through the magic of Facebook, I learned our own Sactown An is a friend of John, and asked for an intro. We exchanged emails, promising to meet up and shoot the bike, but then I received an email from Brian Case, Co-Founder and Design Director at Motus, inquiring whether I knew any superstar photographers. As a matter of fact, I do!

Brian needed some kickass photos to get the Fuller Motus on Bike EXIF, and we were gonna shoot it anyway… but we had to step up our game a bit. As I later told John while standing in the heat of the Sac, “We usually shoot the bikes dirty, and then say, ‘We rode these things.’” Since we mostly shoot in the Bay Area, Angelica spent an entire day scouting locations in Sacramento, and An poked around parts of The Sac too. 

A few days later, we’re at our first location, shooting the Fuller Motus, but moments later we’re on to the next spot, having been unceremoniously booted from what looked to me like an empty, decomposing parking lot by Johnny Wannabe-Law. I guess it was kinda barricaded…

We spend the day hanging in the Sacramento heat with John, who doesn’t seem to mind loitering in the shade and talking about bikes while Angelica shoots his glorious MST-R and An keeps an eye out for more unwanted attention and cracks jokes about how we always get into trouble on CityBike photoshoots. 

The Fuller Motus isn’t just any MST-R, as if there even is such a thing. John has long-standing friendships with both Lee Conn and Brian Case, even left a Suzuki track bike in Lee’s garage in Birmingham. When Lee told John he was starting a motorcycle company with Brian Case, John told him, “Sell my track bike, and make that the first deposit on whatever you’re going to build.”

John’s bike is the first customer-delivered Motus. “Motus number one is at the Barber Motorsports Museum. Motus number two, three and four are the demo bikes that Lee and Brian ride around, and then this is Motus number five.”

We talk about John’s taste in motorcycles, other bikes he’s owned—I want to understand why he’d pull the bodywork off. He also owns a 2016 Ducati Monster R, and I point out that he seems to really dig raw, elemental bikes like that. 

He concurs. “I don’t go touring, I don’t need the bags. My wife doesn’t ride on the back. There’s so much craftsmanship with the Motus, but it’s covered up. Typically, a manufacturer is covering everything up because there’s no craftsmanship. There’s a big bead weld on the frame, wires all over the place… it makes it easy to assemble and low-cost, but pulling everything off the Motus, you can see that somebody hand-wove all the cabling, and it has ARP bolts everywhere, all the detail work you don’t see in pictures. 

“Last October, I was at the vintage show at Barber Motorsports Park, hanging out with Lee and Brian, and Brian Case said, ‘Hey you want to go over here and talk to this guy Bryan Fuller?’ I was like that Bryan Fuller?” 

Fuller had apparently been dying to build a Motus-based custom. 

“Brian Case said, ‘What if we used your bike, to give to Fuller and let him do his thing?’ I said, oh… let me think about it. So I thought about it…”

Remember, this is the first customer-delivered Motus, number five, after the bikes that the founders rode around the US to prove their point. The first customer bike. In twenty, thirty, forty years, some Ameri-centric concours collector is going to be melting down at the mere notion of cutting it up, ranting on whatever social media has become about the sin of bastardizing a bike that should have been mothballed and preserved. You know how those guys are.

“… and I said, ok, you guys talked me into it. Why not? I shipped the bike to Motus, and they took it over to Brian in Atlanta.”

The result? An exquisitely crafted, painstakingly detailed, all-American street fighter with an audacious, asymmetrical, and divisive paint job—a portion of the internet-commenting peanut gallery, unable to just appreciate a bike without putting their biases and ignorance on display,  have proclaimed the red, white and blue paint, with its hand-painted stars, to be garish and “too American.” Most of these guys are the same jokers that cry out, “Why pushrods?!” Maybe they like to adjust their valves every couple months of actual riding, or maybe they’re just untutored and solecistic. Anyway… 

“80% of it is still the stock Motus. It was a project of subtraction.”

Using the word “stock” to describe the bike is something of a misnomer, given the extremely high level of spec the bike started with. The frame, swingarm, tank, seat pan, and motor are original Motus, though the USA-badged engine has been dyno-tuned for the exhaust, designed and hand-welded by Bryan Fuller himself, aurally and visually reminiscent of side pipes on a Seventies Vette. Suspension is stock Öhlins, beyond the black-anodized fork tubes, and it rolls on the original BST carbon wheels, painted to match. 

But fascinating details abound: the tail section is hand-fabbed aluminum, with a Victory taillight that looks very right despite its seemingly strange source. The headlight utilizes a lens cut from an old Bell helmet faceshield, protecting a custom, stacked LED arrangement that John added to his bike, pre-Fullerization, using lights from his local LED lighting specialist, Clearwater Lights. Rizoma bits, gorgeous as always, are all over the bike. The battery is hidden in plain sight, relocated to a trick little drop-down platform behind the motor—one of the coolest touches, to my utilitarian eyes.

That Number Five can be this radically customized while retaining so much of the stock MST-R speaks to the design and build quality of Motus motorcycles. 

John agrees: “I had no idea when I told Lee to sell my track bike that they were going to create something so high quality the first time out. I was just blown away by the fit, the finish, the handbuilt pieces, the styling. It was just spot-on.”

Later in the day, after we have enough shots of the bike to prove its existence to John’s insurance company if “something happens,” John reveals the emphatically patriotic, red, white and blue Evel Knievel jacket he’s been hiding in the backpack he stowed in the van earlier today, and says to An, “Want to ride it?”

It’s a smart move. An is the member of the Wrecking Crew voted “Least likely to wreck one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable motorcycles that don’t belong to her” back in high school, so he can truthfully say “I let CityBike ride it,” without any real risk of it getting riggity-riggity-wrecked. 

An dons the Evel coat, buzzes up and down the hot stretch of asphalt a few times in her perfectly matching red Gasolinas, content to return Motus #5 to John without lifting its front wheel or leaving strategically placed “An was here” patches of smoking rubber.

That won’t do.

I screw up my courage and ask John, “I know we just met…” like I’m about to ask him upstairs for some weird V4 nightcap, “But is there any chance you’ll let me ride it too?”

Surprisingly, he doesn’t even raise an eyebrow, though I find out later I’m the third person outside of the Motus and Fuller crews to ride it, after him and An. But I don’t know this as he clears me for takeoff after a couple back-and-forth runs. 

And take off I do, although I’m mentally stuck somewhere between, “Take it easy, you can’t afford to fix this thing,” and “Damn the torpedoes, let’s get it on!” I know from our first encounter with Motus motorcycles last year (“Motus With The Mostest” – February 2016) that the lack of ABS and traction control won’t be an issue unless I make it one, but the bike has no mirrors, the exquisite controls are unfamiliar and adjusted for someone else’s hands, and in town, the Brembo brakes are almost too much, requiring a very gentle touch—the bike’s wheelbase is not long, and John estimates that his bike is roughly 100 pounds lighter than the MST-R original wet weight of 565 pounds.

I end up half-lost just outside downtown Sacramento, nervous and sweating in my ‘Stich. The speedometer is just messing with me. There aren’t any sensible numbers on the miniscule MotoGadget display, just flashing nonsense—the result of resetting the gauges without recalibrating, John later tells me. 

On Highway 160, headed back into the heart of The Sac, it’s clear enough to open it up for real. Before that, I might have been breaking the law, but had semi-convinced myself I was “just speeding a little.” There’s no more of that bullshit. I float upward through the gears in no time, the mighty V4 straining vigorously against physics and more institutional authorities like the CHP officers that certainly lurk nearby—the main office, where I’ve attended CMSP meetings is just around the corner. 

If any of those officers see me, John’s bike will be headed to impound and I’ll be going to the clink. There’ll be no talking my way out of this one. (Un)Fortunately, it’s all over in just seconds, and I’m back on surface streets as 160 (the highway, not my speed… I think) dumps me into one of the seedier parts of The Sac. 

But I’m not ready to give up yet, and I’m still tearing the throttle toward my right knee at every chance, just in lower gears. A fortuitously-timed red light saves me from rock-and-rolling past two of Sactown’s finest at full volume, although they appear to be deep in conversation with a couple crackheads anyway. 

Eventually I find my way back to John, An and Angelica, pull my helmet off, and finally exhale: “That is fucking awesome!” 

And it is. Raw and refined at the same time, like a serious troublemaker in a bespoke suit. “American muscle” is mostly a lie in 2017, the bullshit blathering of done-run-outta-tricks marketers, the equivalent of playground braggarts, now grown, clinging to a once-glorious past. 

But American muscle is alive and well with Motus, even if it comes well-dressed and civilized from the factory. Number Five, the Fuller Motus, is proof. 

This story originally appeared in our August 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.