You had better be holding on to the bars when you crank the throttle open on this baby!
With the sidestand grinding across the hot New Orleans asphalt, a quick thought goes though my mind: "The sticker price on this baby is $60,000."
Approaching the exit of the turn this is forgotten as I twist the throttle, lay 140 horsepower through the massive rear tire and annihilate the next straight. Well into triple-digit speeds out along the New Orleans Levee, tucked in behind the small instrument cluster, I sit up and squeeze the firm brake lever. Activating the 12 pistons responsible for pushing the pads against the 320mm full-floating rotors, the Hellcat loses speed at an incredible rate. There is minimal dive from the fully adjustable 50mm Marzocchi race-derived front fork, and the bike remains rock solid as I flick into the next bend with the lightest nudge on the bars. The accompanying sound of metal meeting asphalt joins the roar of the twin exhaust pipes and the fun continues.
This is the pay-off after spending a couple of days rumbling round the city of New Orleans dodging rain storms and looking for cool photo locations. Rarely getting out of second gear, riding such a feral, fire-spitting beast in town is like trying to bang Carmen Electra in a Honda Civic, possible, but not enough room to exploit her full potential. Now, with no traffic and some open road ahead, I can truly get a feel for Confederate Motorcycles
' chosen son.
I had flown into the hot, humid Big Easy a couple of days earlier to meet with the people responsible for creating arguably one of the wildest looking motorcycles ever made. Working out of an old industrial building not far from the French Quarter, I arrive to find everyone hanging out at the end of the workday, drinking red wine and talking motorcycles. A cosmopolitan group, company owner Matt Chambers and his staff are nothing like the current genre of bike builders being pimped out on the tube these days. Riders, philosophers, artists, engineers and dreamers, these guys have got their own ideas about what an American built motorcycle should be.
Intros over, JT Nesbitt shows me concept drawings from Confederate's new motorcycle, the Wraith
, which you will probably have seen in the media by now. As incredible as the Hellcat, and then some, it is just going to distance the New Orleans Company even further from America's bike builders.
I am here to ride the Hellcat though, but not before Matt spends some time giving me a brief history of Confederate Motorcycles. Starting in 1991, with a desire to build an American motorcycle for Americans, Matt has spent the last 13 years hard at work building and perfecting the Hellcat. Born from a need to be original, and to have a distinct individuality, Matt started by thinking about what he wanted the bike to be. The first step was to write up the "Iron Laws." There was to be no compromise on time, energy or effort, and everything must be hand-built with Rolls Royce quality. In fact, it needed to be overbuilt with heirloom value and be timeless. something you could leave behind for your kids.
Only top-shelf components for the Hellcat: Marzocchi 50mm inverted fork with radial-mount brakes and a pair of fully adjustable Penske coil-over-shocks are standard.
Leaning up against a wall in the French Quarter later in the evening, as my eyes ran over the incredible array of hardware on the Hellcat, Matt Chambers has obeyed the laws. The Confederate Hellcat is the most visually challenging motorcycle I have ever seen. It is just so stunningly beautiful in every detail it'll leave you drooling out of the corner of you mouth if you look at it too long.
The first Confederate motorcycles were on the market by 1994, and 500 of the original series have been sold so far. Now, Confederate is building the latest version of the Hellcat and will stop when 150 of this series have been produced. The bike pictured here is No. 39 of that series and features what Matt calls the "F type" chassis. Hand-made at Confederate, it is patented and built to highly exacting standards and was created with performance in mind. The frame houses a 124 cubic-inch S&S V-Twin engine that pumps out 140 horsepower and a stump-pulling 145 lb-ft of torque. Packed into a bike that weighs less than 530 pounds, you had better be holding on to the bars when you crank the throttle on this baby. No sooner has the engine picked up off idle, the fat rear tire starts spitting asphalt and the bike launches forward with a Herculean rush: Not for the faint hearted.
Gas gets into the monster 1000cc cylinders via a Super G carburetor, and once exploded exits via Confederates own unique exhaust system. Carefully tuned, the header pipes meet at a flexible junction, where the swingarm ingeniously becomes the tail pipes. Sitting on top of the chromed and polished engine, a svelte carbon fiber gas tank takes center stage with a small, understated Confederate logo on the side.
Moving to the rear of the tank is another unique Confederate feature, the carbon fiber solo saddle. Modeled after the sprung-saddle-era Harleys but with a modern twist, it provokes a lot of questions when the bike is parked. I was little skeptical when I first sat on it, but it is fairly comfortable out on the road. For anything more than short day-rides or a little posing down the pub, I would look into something a bit more substantial, but it sure does look the part. Running under the seat, dual Penske shocks control the rear wheel's movement and are adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping. The bike was originally set up too firm for my weight, so I backed off some preload and compression and all was bliss in the butt department.
The bike rolls on some slick looking Lightcon wheels, and the rear is a humongous eight inches wide. I initially thought the fat 240mm tire would make the Hellcat a handful in the turns, but this is not so. The bike maneuvers extremely well and is totally stable cornering at speed, with my only complaint that it could use a little more ground clearance.
From Confederate: "Each Confederate machine manufactured with these engines is fast as hell, tough as nails, and possess its own special character and personality."
Coming at ya, the Hellcat looks like some sort of futuristic British streetfighter with its three stacked PIAA headlights. The black forks, sinister looking radial brake mounts and six piston calipers complement this look. The perception changes again when riding the bike, with ergonomics a cross between a '40s Panhead and a mid-'80s Superbike. An eclectic mix of styles, eras and disciplines, there is absolutely no confusing the Confederate Hellcat for any other motorcycle.
The view from the hot seat, like the bike itself, is pure minimalist; just a small speedometer and tachometer interrupting the view. The switchgear is totally futuristic, with touchpad starting and turn-signal operation. Elegantly machined, the control housings only add to the bike's clean, classy presence.
Out on the levee, the clock is working against me and it is time to take the Hellcat back before I end up owing Matt Chambers sixty large. I have had a blast, and am very impressed with the bike as a package. Sure, it is not as super slick in its operation the way a factory-built OEM motorcycle is, but is does extremely well for what it is: A highly collectable, unique expression of two-wheeled artwork that can be ridden seriously hard and fast. Priced at $60,000 it is not for the masses, but Chambers and the crew at Confederate never intended for that anyway.
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