Motorcycle designer JT Nesbitt, lately of Curtiss Motorcycles, is branching out into new-old territory with his latest design.  As a fan of the design of vintage motorcycles, and a vintage bike owner/rider, he’s long pondered how one could make a successfully modern motorcycle that pushed the right emotional and aesthetic buttons for enthusiasts of vintage machines.  He’s been talking about this for years in fact, sharing sketches and ideas with his peers, honing in on what might work in practice, with intention of limited production.  As an homage to his New Orleans roots, he dubbed the project the Magnolia 4.

Looking inside: the Magnolia 4 has interesting technical features that make it contemporary, and it was always JT Nesbitt’s hope that solving technical problems would arrive at a beautiful motorcycle. [Bienville Studios]
The silhouette is distinctly American, with a long, low chassis housing an inline four-cylinder motor.  The Magnolia 4 consciously evokes an engine design that was the pride of the American motorcycle industry between 1910 and 1940, which was copied at times in England (think Brough Superior’s fours, etc), Italy (Moto Guzzi built a racing inline 4), and Germany (think Windhoff 4, etc), but none were particularly successful ‘over there’, except the Belgian FN Fours and Danish Nimbus, which never had quite the .  The list of American motorcycle brands featuring inline 4-cylinder engines is long – alphabetically, Ace, Cleveland, Henderson, Indian, Militaire, and Pierce.  Simply put, they are icons of American design. The last of them left in production, the Indian 441, rolled out of the factory just before WW2, and we never saw an American inline four again.

Fully clad in CAD, the Magnolia 4 design looks at this like a long-lost member of a vanished species: the Luxury Motorcycle. [Bienville Studios]
JT Nesbitt thinks that’s a shame, as the motorcycle industry has solved many of the problems vexing inline fours in their day, like torque reaction from a crankshaft in line with the frame, overheating of the rear cylinders, inadequate oiling, poor suspension, and weight.  Motorcycle designers today are blessed with computer aided design, 3D modeling, AI engineering input, and rapid prototyping; they could easily make an inline four work, and work well.  But contemporary motorcycle designers make really ugly motorcycles today, which is partly to do with environmental and legal standards, partly to do with their education, and partly the climate of fear in corporate culture.  To create an attractive inline four would require a designer who’s an outsider, and JT Nesbitt is that person.

JT Nesbitt at our ‘Electric Revolutionaries’ exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum, where he was a featured designer. [Petersen Museum]
Just as William Henderson did in 1911, JT Nesbitt and his Bienville Studio team have designed a complete motorcycle, with nothing off-the-shelf.  The engine features a shaft-and-bevel overhead camshaft, internal oil cooling (no external radiators barring he engine finning), a built up crankshaft that can be configured many different ways, and a tubular finned crankcase.  The 3-speed hand-operated gearbox is a modern update on the intimidating old hand-shift system, using a centrifugal clutch driven by the second of two contra-rotating flywheels that cancel out the rotational mass of the crankshaft, rods, and pistons.  It’s a robust design, intentionally over-built, and meant to last 100 years in regular use, with infinite repairability.  A little computer tech is necessary, but it’s kept to a minimum in order to future-proof the motor.  It’s also kickstart only, and has no batteries!

The engine is a 1750cc inline four with single overhead cam and internal oil cooling, a 3-speed gearbox, and centrifugal clutch. [Bienville Studios]
The rest of the machine will be at least visually familiar to students of Nesbitt’s design for the Curtiss One eBike.  Modern, ultrastrong girder forks use contemporary shocks, while the rear end is not quite ‘softail’, but uses a swingarm with two triangulated air shocks: with a little calculation on weight distribution and damping rates, the Magnolia 4 should handle well, just like the One. For extra rider cush, Nesbitt has added a vintage touch – a proper saddle, with an Indian-style forward mount, a composite leaf spring bolted to the main chassis spar, and single hydropneumatic shock at the rear.  The tanks are panniers, and the fenders are riveted down the centerline, with moderate valances and flowing lines recalling the best of 1930s design.

Elegant from any angle, naked or touring: the Magnolia 4. [Bienville Studios]
The Magnolia 4 is a clearly modern design that integrates modern mechanical solutions with an aesthetic sensibility.  In other words, it is intended to be beautiful.  To my eyes, JT Nesbitt and the Bienville Team have succeeded in the design brief he’s set himself: to create an elegant, timeless motorcycle with modern performance and comfort, that will look as good today as it will look in another century.   That brief worked for Henderson, Ace, and Indian, whose machines we still revere: let’s hope JT can get this thing produced.

A contemporary motorcycle I would happily spend time with: the touring, full dress version of the Magnolia 4. [Bienville Studios]
For full view of the Magnolia 4’s details, check out the Bienville Stuido’s website, which has the most sophisticated 3D configurator of any vehicle website – two wheels or four – that I’ve ever seen.  It takes some time to download, but be patient, it’s worth it!  If you’re interested in this machine – and I know you are – you’ll want to read it all, and download the PDF that’s attached for even more details.

Hop on pop! Something in my bones is aching to see the Magnolia 4 become a reality. If you feel that way too, and have the means to help make it so, give JT Nesbitt a shout. [Bienville Studio]
What’s next?  “We’ll build a 1:1 scale model, which will be very useful, but will not be a runner.  It’s to generate interest, but more importantly, you can’t test ergonomics on a computer screen, and ergonomics are very important to me.  This bike fills a niche that’s currently vacant.  Our pricing structure is based on the value of original American four-cylinder motorcycles: original examples of the genre – an exceptional Henderson, Ace, or Indian Four – will cost you $200,000 or more.”   Early American four-cylinder motorcycles were always the most expensive bikes on the market, for good reason: they were the last word in speed, sophistication, styling, and elegance.  Will the Magnolia 4 become the next motorcycle in this lofty lineage?  I certainly hope so.

[UPDATE: in the first hours after posting this article, JT pre-sold TWO Magnolia 4s.  No I don’t get a commission 😉  But he wanted to stress that his intention was to produce a dozen Magnolia 4s, and as one is for him, that means there are 9 spots left.  Given the interest already demonstrated among Vintagent readers, I’d say if you’re interested, better give JT a shout. ]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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