Adhering to boundaries isn’t something Confederate Motorcycles of Birmingham, Alabama, can be linked to, not in the slightest. Ever since the company’s inception in 1992, Founder Matt Chambers made it his life’s work to do just the opposite. With the new Hellcat X132 Café, Confederate Motorcycles continues shifting the paradigm of conventional motorcycling.
We had the opportunity to pick Matt’s brain one afternoon. He’s a thoughtful gent that’s inspired by passion and many different forms of creativity, and his moxie and willingness to go against the grain is what sets Confederate apart from the rest.
HB: Confederate’s known for its radical designs…how did the X132 come to fruition?
MC: The goal with this particular bike was to make something that would really last. A motorcycle equivalent to your favorite leather jacket, with the dream and vision of it being something that was ageless. It’s our first motorcycle with a steel tank for that reason. Everything on the Hellcat X132 is so incredibly overbuilt I can’t imagine it wouldn’t perform 100 years from now like it does today. This particular model is patterned after the F6F Hellcat from WWII. There’s a certain lean minimal toughness we were going for and we were able to get the maximization of torque relative to weight. We were seeking the highest torque we could get from the bike. It doesn’t make a lot of high-end power but its got a lot of low-end capability right off idle. It starts to kick off power pretty fluently. As for the look of the bike…I think it’s a lovely thing. It’s kind of been keeping with where we were 20 years ago. It’s somewhere between an old Crocker or Vincent. It has a bit of a Vincent feel to me, kind of like a giant American Vincent motorcycle but not as small or dainty. This thing is built to look like it’s ready to break through a brick wall. I think it’s very industrial looking and it’s kind of beautiful, but for me it never was to be the most beautiful. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
HB: Being that this is the third iteration of the one that started it all, which Hellcat is your favorite?
MC: They’re all quite wonderful. The first bike, what we decided to do was to take the transmission, four-speed S&S case back in 1992, and we re-machined it so essentially it would run in reverse. We built the package so it had the tightest center-to-center distance from crank output share. We were the first guys to really unitize that design. It was the first RSD architecture with the S&S motor we were running at the time, which carried over to the second generation [Hellcat], but this bike has the all-machined unitized case structure and that’s really the major innovation of this product because now the swingarm pivot is machined into the case and still has the vertical transmission. It’s also tighter than ever, which now makes an extremely rigid platform to build a motorcycle around. And that’s part of the reason the motorcycle is going to last so long is because it is built to such extremely robust specifications: the billet cases, giant swingarm pivot, and huge mounting system in the front. It was the first time we were able to take a clean sheet of paper and design the mounting system with a motorcycle. It’s also cradle-less, which made it easier to get the bike to meet its specifications. It’s definitely a bike that on the chassis dyno is going to line up perfectly. That’s always been a calling card for Confederate is that [the bikes] do line up very accurately and precise.
HB: It’s clear that aeronautics play a large part in Confederate’s architecture. Care to elaborate?
MC: It’s just the best place to start from. We have two guys, Rich Coon and Jason Reddick, that handle quality control on the final build of the Hellcat. Both were officers that spun wrenches in the military as airplane mechanics and they both love bikes and have built custom bikes, but at their core, they’re aircraft mechanics. And that’s what we wanted. They just understand about codification and the way you build, and how you make sure everything you do is memorialized the right way so it’s done properly. There’s also a certain intuitive emotion about it that when you’re flying you can’t have a mistake and we want to bring that to our motorcycles, because in a way they’re the same. The other thing is that for me personally, going back to Glenn Curtiss’ early motorcycle career, which some people think he was just as instrumental as the Wright Brothers in aviation, but he started off with motorcycles. Glenn Curtiss was kind of the initial guy that got motorcycling going, along with Harley-Davidson and Indian, but I think Curtiss gets less credit than he deserves. He was a real example of American exceptionalism and he won the first land speed record on a motorcycle [in 1903]. And he got out of motorcycling to go into aviation so that connective tissue goes back to the roots of American motorcycling. I feel like there’s a place in the market for a small batch of motorcycles to be built by a little company like this that would essentially be like what the Hellcat was to the Wildcat. Lighter, more powerful, better built, higher quality, more attention to detail, and no compromise and that’s kind of the niche we fill.
HB: Is the designer, Ed Jacobs still part of the process?
MC: Ed still works with us on an as-needed basis and that will continue but we’ve actually brought in a new designer that we’re not ready to release to the public just yet. When I tell you, you’ll know who he is. It’s going to be cool. Not to take anything away from Ed or any of the previous designers that we’ve worked with, but this is a real pedigree guy that’s been around the industry and really is quite the genius.
HB: How long to build one X132?
MC: It takes one guy about a week for just the assembly process. The way the system works is there’s a procurement team responsible for the quality control of all the parts, which are brought to either Jason or Rich and it’s their duty to basically build the bike. There’s one other gentleman, Chris White, who does the sub-assembly. But it all begins with all the pieces coming together by procurement, which is what we call the preferencing of the bike, and that comes with the owner’s name, and then the assembler builds the product. We do a little bit of machining in-house. We have a machine shop that’s operating at all times, but I’d say about 10 percent of the machining is done in-house and a gentleman in North Carolina does the rest. We fabricate the headers, frame, and the swingarm, which is a bonded part. The tanks are made in California and when they come in we do the finishing work. After that they go to paint. We have a good relationship with a local painter that does it all.
HB: Give us the scoop on the involvement of S&S’s X-Wedge.
MC: I always felt that the centerpiece—or the soul—of the motorcycle is in the crank. I watched with great interest with the huge investment S&S made with that huge motor, but I never saw that motor as being right for a custom motorcycle. My vision was that basically they were making the perfect Confederate motorcycle engine. I just don’t see it as looking right in a typical custom bike. Jesse James is a pretty good friend of mine and I asked what he thought about that motor with the plain bearing bottom end, he didn’t think it was aesthetically pleasing. I thought he was exactly right. But when you tighten up that format, and you put the frame around it as tight as it could possibly fit, and you really accentuate the muscularity of the package by shortening the center-to-center distance using billet material to highlight the power then I think it becomes really industrial chic like a well-designed power plant or refinery. When you look at the advantages of the [X-Wedge]: one-piece crank and 50-pound flywheel, that baby’s gonna last forever. It has the better oiling system and valve geometry. The whole package is so much more robust; I’ve wanted it since 2002! If you look at the motor and the way we’ve packaged it, looks like a giant Vincent motor. We did it to echo the wonderful work of Phil Irving and Phil Vincent who we have always been in awe of at Confederate. They were way ahead of their time.
HB: How much emphasis is placed on form over function or vice versa?
MC: The idea is that the motorcycle will tell us what it wants to be. Some of the stuff on a deep level is a listening process. Listening to the machine, which takes time and requires quiet and reflection. It’s that hour a day where you go off by yourself and you think of your motorcycle as a meditative experience to really get in touch. The process for us in the beginning, middle, and end, the intent has been to simplify and minimize the quiet, to bring a noise-free transparent clarity to the motorcycles that we make. Obviously decisions are made, and some are right, and we work on a best efforts basis. Skeletal minimalism is a theory that we speak of internally and the idea is to fuse simplicity with a sense of transparent clarity to give a product where someone who doesn’t know much about motorcycles or care much about them could say, OK I understand what you’re going for. And then when you get on it, it essentially needs to feel the way it looks. When you strap it on, the look and feel need to be in perfect harmony.
HB: Describe the Confederate clientele base for us, Matt.
MC: Some of our clients are hardcore riders. Maybe half. With this bike the number is up a bit. With the Fighter and the Wraith…their aesthetic is more of an art form but [the Hellcat 132] is more of a purpose-built motorcycle. The one thing I’ve noticed with our clients is that they’re all very confident people. They know who they are, what they want, they know what they like, and don’t care what people think. The one thing I love about this company is that the people that appreciate it are the kind of people that don’t look externally for what they think. Unfortunately I think we live in a world where too often people try to figure out the mood of the masses. If everyone’s buying a certain product, then hey…I want that too. Then we end up where folks don’t know themselves anymore. Therefore they’re not really doing what they were put here to do. Nobody is going to buy a motorcycle from us unless they know motorcycles, and they can tell a good motorcycle from one that’s not so good. The one thing I know about our clients is that they’re all very comfortable in their own skin: men that don’t care what other people think about them. They care about what they know about themselves, which is the highest source of pride for me to be able to serve those clients. We founded this company specifically for those guys. Part of the original idea was that we thought the world was made up of too many people that just sort of went along with everything. We wanted to stand up against that. As it turned out we create vehicles for like-minded individuals. There’s absolutely no doubt that Confederates stand out from the crowd. If you pull up to the gas station guys are going to congregate around it. It exudes a sense of principled individuality.
HB: Since most of the Confederates are limited production, how many X132’s will be out on the road?
MC: What we ended up landing on with the design of this exercise is that we’re going to build 151 of this Hellcat, in a café version and roadster version. We’ve sold 54 of them as of today [time of print 5/23/12] without any promotion and I think the goal is to get the 151 presold, built, and then delivered.
HB: What can we expect next from Confederate in the future?
MC: The unexpected. The next bike I want you to ride is going to be the roadster version of the Hellcat. It’ll appeal to a different audience for sure. The next bike, which you’ll see next spring, is very different from what we’re doing. And 24 months from today [May 23, 2012] you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. HB
|Bike Owner||Confederate Motorcycles|
|Shop Name||Confederate Motorcycles|
|Shop Phone||(205) 324-9888|
|Shop website||confederate.com |
|Assembly||Confederate Motorcycles |
|Build Time||Six to eight weeks|
|Year Manufacturer|| '12 Confederate/S&S Design|
|Cases||Proprietary machined 6061 alumuminum |
|Cylinders||S&S 4.4-inch bore x 4.4-inch stroke|
|Exhaust||Proprietary TIG-welded stainless|
|Manuf./Type||Confederate Close-Ratio Five-Speed|
|Case||Contained within unitized engine case|
|Year/Manuf.||'12 Confederate Motorcycles|
|Triple Trees||Confederate Proprietary|
|Manufacturer Rear||Race Tech|
|Wheels, Tires, and Brakes|
|Manufacturer Front/Type||BST Carbon Fiber|
|Tire/Size||Pirelli Supercorsa SP 120/70 ZR|
|Caliper||Dual Beringer four-piston AEROTEC Radial|
|Rotor||Dual Beringer AERONAL Floating Stainless |
|Manufacturer Rear||BST Carbon Fiber|
|Tire/Size||Pirelli Supercorsa SP 190/55 ZR|
|Caliper||Single two-piston Brembo Monobloc|
|Rotor||Cross-drilled Brembo Stainless |
|Front Fender||Carbon Fiber|
|Rear Fender||Carbon Fiber|
|Fender Struts||Billet Aluminum|
|Gas Tank & Cap||Confederate Proprietary, Newton Fuel Filler Cap|
|Oil Tank||Oil-in-frame design|
|H/Bars||Proprietary clip-on w/ integrated reservoirs|
|License Mount||Billet Aluminum|
|Seat||Hand-stitched premium leather|