JT Nesbitt returns to motorcycle design with Bienville Legacy project

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First there was the Wraith, then the CNG-powered Magnolia Special roadster. Now there’s this Bienville Legacy project, the culmination of everything JT Nesbitt knows about motorcycle design and a complete re-think of suspension, man/machine interaction and the American superbike. It uses a single, centrally-mounted carbon fiber leaf spring for both the front and rear suspension.

“This is the product of seven years spent on an [metaphorical] island,” JT told us this morning. After Katrina, the New Orleans-based designer entered a period of self-imposed exile. He did some drinking, some Bonneville racing, hung out with us a lot, bought a Bimota, made fun of Indian and generally didn’t engage too much with the outside world. Now, thanks to Jim Jacoby’s American Design and Master Craft Initiative, JT is back to building bikes.

“The legacy answers all the questions the Wraith asked,” begins JT. The Motus KMV4-powered prototype will weigh less than 400lbs and, equipped with a supercharger, make more than 300bhp. Like the Wraith, the Legacy is equipped with carbon girder forks. Just here, those girders are identical front and rear (enabling identical brake discs, calipers and wheels front and rear) and are sprung by that central leaf spring. That massively reduces parts count and unsprung weight while increasing the service life of suspension components.

The adaptation of seemingly out-dated ideas into fresh new ones doesn’t stop there either. In place of a conventional modern motorcycle’s foam/vinyl seat, there’s instead a horse-style leather saddle, individually tailored to each owner. Why? “On a single motorcycle, one may encounter: vinyl of the seat, painted plastic of bodywork, aluminum of the chassis, and painted steel of the gas tank, with huge gaps in between each material transition. And that is just in the seating area! The ‘saddle’ of the Bienville Project, just as the saddle of a horse, will encourage the free exchange of information from man to machine and back again, while still providing room for athleticism (rider movement).”

That saddle, along with the longitudinal V4, girder forks/swingarm, hand-formed fenders and general old worldness creates something of a bizarre aesthetic. “Motorcycles are sold primarily based on looks, specifically the way they look on a showroom floor without a person astride,” explains JT. “Who ever heard of a motorcycle showroom with a mirror so that you can look at yourself while you ‘try it on’? A silly thought, but the observation that, ironically, motorcycles are sold while standing still is not invalid.”

“The thought then, is that the machine is incomplete until the human element is ‘snapped’ into place. Even the most expensive bespoke suit is nothing but a pile of cloth until it is worn, and like that suit, each saddle will be custom tailored for the individual owner. Whilst a perplexing object to behold on the sidestand, once in motion with a person astride, the visual incongruence is resolved. Francis Bacon once said, ‘There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.’”

The Bienville Legacy project is being partially funded through Kickstarter. The photo gallery can be viewed here.

  • Chris

    While this is cool, I’m not understanding why this should be a kickstarter project? I love the confederate designs & lust for a bike like that, but this just doesnt make sense to me.

  • IAimToMisbehave

    Right off the bat I see several fundamental and unsurmountable problems with this design

    1) Carbon Fiber as a material does not suffer constant flexing without eventual total failure
    2) Everything about the central spring says that’ll hit the rider at some point in time … creating a liability nightmare
    3) The entire design seems to be based solely on computers while ignoring the physical world the bike needs to live in

    Honestly 99% of the time I’m one of JT Nesbitt’s biggest advocates ….. but methinks this time he may of gone a step too far letting his ego ( or perhaps the egos of his designers ) overcome any viable and actual realities of design and engineering

    To end with a quote from a former mentor that I feel applies well here ;

    ” Theories are a wonderful thing up and until they are crushed by the hard weight of fact ”

    Honestly JT . Invest your time and money into something we can ride literally …. rather than virtually . Virtual Reality leaving something to be desired

    • Glenngineer

      Carbon fatigue is a bitch.

      This is a beautiful art bike, and I love the equestian saddle concept, but it’s going to be totally unobtainable and totally useless, like the rest of the Confederates.

    • http://www.twowheelsplus.com/ Anders

      Carbon fibre is already used in leaf-springs on various vehicles. Why shouldn’t it work here?

      • Glenngineer

        CF as a leaf spring is fine, as long as afformentioned bitch fatigue is addressed. I think driving both ends with a single spring is the bigger challenge – your front/rear spring rates will become a function of front/rear wheel position. Indpendance – of individual wheels, from external forces like braking and drive, is something most vehicles go through great pains to attempt to achieve. Linking the front and rear ends in the name of design aesthetic and parts count is a solution that satisfies the artist, more than the rider.

        • JT Nesbitt

          The chassis is under construction and not shown, Independent front and rear suspension? Well DUH….JT

          • Glenngineer

            I mean, I’d hope so, but the pictures show a single floating leaf spring and the article sites it as providing suspension for both ends.

            • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

              Corvettes use (and have used) a single leaf to provide suspension spring for both sides of the rear independently.

              • Glenngineer

                I know at least one generation of Corvette, i couldn’t tell you which but its a more recent one, uses the engineered dependence between rear wheels to counter body roll. Thespring is mounted to allow compression of one side to reduce the spring rate on the opposite. Pretty badass.

                • Ducky

                  Any vehicle with a live axle, torsion beam, and even antiroll bar has at least some level of dependence between each rear wheel. It’s not an entirely desireable thing, however.

          • kidchampion

            I think the illustrations confused the audience. The top image looks like an impractical Philipe Starck sketch for a motorcycle and the bottom illustration looks like someone took a crap on a cruiser parked in a dark alley. Maybe the finished product would look like a hybrid of the two. The video is pretty clear but I also saw it as a cautionary tale about strange shirt collars. Good luck with your project.

            • JT Nesbitt

              I love this site…

            • Glenngineer

              My current employer blocks the video:G

  • johnzero

    How about… in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is a big difference.

  • Jack

    Sigh… I wish you the best of luck.

    This is my respectful on the internet voice.

  • Scott-jay

    Ooooo…. those retro Indians annoy JT so much; so he counters with a cowboy touch.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      Good one!

  • amanlikemike

    You know, I think JT might just have considered the possibility of material fatigue and the fact that it might be quite nice if a bike didn’t launch the rider into orbit on first contact with any kind of undulation.

    Corvette has been using composite leaf springs in their cars since around 1984 without killing too many people (well, not due to catastrophic suspension failure, at least). I’m fairly sure Cadillac wouldn’t have put em in the new model if fiery death came as standard.

    The latest composites can handle millions of full rebounds in their lifetime (many times that of your standard steel spring), but I strongly suspect that the one used as part of this chassis is unlikely to have to ever handle a single full rebound.

    Plus, surely all suspension has a finite lifetime anyway and only a complete ‘tard doesn’t run regular checks on the key components of their bike.

    I guess ‘Miss Behave’ didn’t watch the video, otherwise he may have heard the word ‘master craftsman’ (as opposed to CAD/CAM operator) being bandied about and maybe noticed pretty much all the work being carried out on a drafting board. No doubt CNC lathes and the like will have their part to play in the process, but this looks a lot like a bike born out of good ol’ fashioned engineering equations and experience.

    And JT doesn’t have any designers. In fact, I’d be surprised if he even has any spare pencils.

    As for it being unrealistic: this appears to be about as ‘real’ as modern motorcycle design from scratch gets. Every single one of history’s greatest designs started out as a theory – a central thought which was subsequently refined via empirical support or contradiction during the design, build and testing process, into the finished article.

    This bike certainly isn’t going to be for everyone. But I’d assume that’s the point. My understanding is that JT’s building it because he simply needs to bring it to life – I doubt it’ll go into production or even be for sale. But the thinking behind it has the potential to shake things up. Or at least be a bit more interesting than the latest BMW GS color scheme.

    Based on the depressing arguments applied in some of these comments, if I didn’t know better, I’d suppose that John Britten was wasting his time too.

    All that aside, taking the thing on the salt will be a whole shitload of fun. What more of a reason does anybody need to build a bike?

    • kidchampion

      My argument is that the images and video supplied confused what should be the most obvious audience for this motorcycle design project. Less information could have been presented to greater effect:

      $500k for 3 motorcycles, designed by JT Nesbitt, to break 3 land speed records!

      I would have been more likely to donate NOT seeing a sketch.

      I am sincere when I wish him luck. I am also sincere when I vow to avoid shirt collars that look like wizard sleeves.

      • JT Nesbitt

        Dude — We just got finished filming the last of the “What Dat Is?” spots, and thank you for the inspiration for “kickstarter Wizert” — It’s dedicated to YOU Kid!! — JT

        • kidchampion

          Always happy to provide inspiration. “What Dat Is?” sounds right up my alley and I hope it provides a boost to your fundraising.

    • longtravel

      You’ve got a point that carbon can have a perfectly acceptable fatigue life if you design it properly but you are incorrect in stating that it would be many times that of a steel spring. A properly designed steel spring will have an infinite fatigue life as long as you keep the stresses within said spring under endurance limit of the steel it’s made of. Carbon fiber, like aluminum, does NOT have an endurance limit and therefore WILL fail in fatigue at some number of cycles no matter what the load. If you engineer it properly then that will happen long after we’re dead and gone, just like all those other suspension bits typical on motorcycles.

      Also “good old fashioned engineering” is 400 dudes in a room with drafting boards and slide rules doing a brute force attack on a wicked hard math problem, not a guy with the knowhow and experience of a master craftsman that can come up with a similar solution outside of normal engineering practices. I know I sound like a dick but there’s a big difference. I know because I’m an Engineer and I wish I was a guy with the knowhow and experience of a master craftsman cause it looks like way more fun.

  • amanlikemike

    But fair play, that dude’s sweater is pretty sketchy.

  • Glenngineer

    @JT – what is the confidence level from the Motus folks that you’ll be able to get three engines when you need them? They’ve been quite over there since pricing was announced.

  • Rick

    I would so love to see Dan Gurney and his merry band of pranksters at All American Racers turned loose with a Motus V-4, we’re overdue for a new Gator!

  • Coreyvwc

    One thing cannot be denied, it will be a work of art.

    • Adam N

      Nope, this will be a work of craft. More importantly, it will be a product.

  • randry

    Love the concept, hate the exhaust pipes. You have a whole new idea and the same ole cheesy looking pipes. Can you run them around the back of the heads down the middle, out the back end of the bike? Incorporate them into the fender, something. The pipes drag it back into that new/old school cruiser look. I know you can doit. Go get’m JT.

  • AHA

    Do it JT. Build it and race it. Don’t care about the supposed design problems. You’ll figure it out and the story will make all our lives brighter.

  • The Blue Rider

    Damn the torpedoes! How long before we see it? Any idea what to call it, or will Bienville Legacy be its name?

    • JT Nesbitt

      …Full speed Ahead!” – Adm. David G. Farragut
      Love that quote. October will be a busy month…JT

  • carbon

    I think what some people are picking up on is:
    - the gentlemen in the video are taking themselves way, way too seriously.
    - the video seems contrived. The fakey-shaky hand-held camera, the oh so-purposeful contrasting background props behind the pitchman (a modern cappuccino maker, manual typewriter), and the shots of JT working in his studio, going through the whole multi-month design process (drafting to fabricating) feel like they were all shot in a day. So much striving puffery in the statements.
    - the motorcycle sketch that looks like it drove out of the Jocky Journal’s “Short Bus” thread. JT’s late rococo Arlen Ness-like period?
    - the already mentioned Obi-Wan Kenobi’ed collar.

    PS: I loved, loved the Wraith.

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    Designers are the world’s thickest skinned, most optimistic people. Few people go through their days getting shit on this much and keep going. Pick up the signal, discard the noise, make it happen.

    • JT Nesbitt

      Thanks Man. I owe you a beer. — JT

      • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

        JT, this is Scott from CCW, glad to see you are getting back into a bike building. We get to do this shit and others get to talk shit. I am fully subscribed and can not wait to see this progress. Cheers brotha!

  • Adam N

    The Wraith was an ugly function is subservient to form motorcycle. Let’s also face facts that when southern people say Confederate they are not talking about state’s rights. I ain’t whistling Dixie.

    It’s very exciting to see that at present they’ve amassed $1500 of the $500K or three percent of the total. Maybe it’s because that lower drawing looks like a squid has attacked a VMax?

    Please, why cant somebody like Bombardier make a nice normal motorcycle that isn’t some homage to an imagined American ideal back from a time when white men ruled uncontested? This is worse than weak, it’s embarrassing.

    • JT Nesbitt

      Motus makes a fantastic motorcycle, should solve all of your problems. I have ridden one and it is world class! — JT

  • Ducky

    JT and co., you could definitely contact someone who knows a lot about chassis and suspension design to help you out… Tony Foale (his book helped me a LOT!).

  • Porter

    Is that dude wearing make up?

  • John

    Stupid. The front end is copied from his Confederate work, which is very cool. The rear swingarm is so long that it won’t be a “superbike”. I don’t think he knows anything about handling. The carbon thing in the middle is fucktarded because a child would see that it won’t work. And it has a Motus motor? Ugh. And the chick with the beard looks like a dude. This isn’t news.

    • ike6116

      Where can I look up your resume?

  • Victor

    “On a single motorcycle, one may encounter: vinyl of the seat, painted plastic of bodywork…” Ah, intelligent design critique, more like this please.