WORDS: Alan Cathcart PHOTOS: Phil Hawkins
We’ve all had the dream where a total stranger comes up to you with his checkbook out and says he’ll bankroll anything you want to do. Sounds like fantasy except that this particular dream did come true for Louisiana motorcycle designer J.T. Nesbitt. The Bienville Legacy is the result.
Nesbitt is a fine arts graduate who, as a student, assembled a motorcycle in the art faculty building of Louisiana Tech then closely avoided being kicked out after he rode it up and down the second floor of the building. He later began designing motorcycles for Confederate Motors in New Orleans—as iconoclastic a manufacturer as you’ll find. After Hurricane Katrina, Confederate moved to Birmingham, Alabama, but Nesbitt decided to stay behind.
Fast-forward to April 2012 when Jim Jacoby appeared in his studio. “He was a total stranger who walked in out of the blue and simply asked me, ‘What would you design if you could design anything at all?’” Nesbitt recalls. “Because I’d been preparing seven years for that question, I told him I would design the bike that answered all the questions the [Confederate] Wraith asked, and I pulled out the sketchbook and showed him what I had. So then he said, ‘Right, let’s build it.’”
Given the go-ahead to translate his concept into metal, Nesbitt needed a powerplant; his first choice was the all-new, 1,645cc V-4 Motus engine. Motus was founded by Brian Case, former colleague at Confederate, and his partner Lee Conn. “For a long time I’ve wanted to create a true American four-cylinder superbike, meaning a quintessentially American, long wheelbase, supercharged V-4,” Nesbitt says. “That being the case, I couldn’t use any other engine than the Motus V-4, which epitomizes American engineering culture.”
The Motus V-4 engine is fitted with a Danish-made Rotrax supercharger delivering 10 psi of boost, which, together with titanium valves, a hotter camshaft, and a higher compression ratio, is expected to boost horsepower to nearly 300. The motor is used as a main load bearing structure in the Legacy with a vestigial chrome-moly space frame locating the steering head as well as the mounting bracket for the rear aluminum structure comprising the seat. This bracket also doubles as the mount for the single, centrally located carbon composite leaf spring, which comprises the mother ship for the entire suspension system. “The leaf spring is a modern-day Paleolithic bow,” Nesbitt declares. “Our first experience of springing as a human race was by pulling a bow to shoot an arrow.” Employing the single leaf spring permits the use of four identical carbon-fiber suspension arms front and rear—two to act as Britten-style girder fork struts up front and two as the swingarm. Target minimum weight for the street-legal Bienville Legacy V-4 is 400 pounds.
In August, Jacoby will attempt to set a series of new AMA Land Speed Records at Bonneville. Two sister bikes, in the exact same spec, will be built for sale at something in excess of $250,000. When will they be finished? “It’ll take as long as needed,” Nesbitt says, “but will be finished in time for Bonneville 2014.”