Monday, August 2, 2010

True Americans

I thought it was about time for some bikes. Is it ever a bad time for bikes, really? I spotted Confederate Motors from Birmingham, Alabama, at the Auto Show this year. They were a bit hard to miss, though, actually, located in the main lobby rather than on one of the exhibition floors. This is truly some of the most astonishing design work I have seen in a very long time.

I'm going to start with the F131 Hellcat Combat, because it's the most traditional of all their bikes. Let it be said, of course, that "traditional" is extremely relative when describing anything Confederate is doing. Here's the Hellcat:

Most definitely click these.
The Hellcat weighs in at 490 pounds with a horsepower of 149. Now its posture and attitude are clearly American. I'm tempted to argue that even if Ducati or Yamaha were to actively try to replicate the sensibility of American bikes, they'd get something close but just a little The effortlessness with which Confederate captured it is brilliant because, at the same time, they don't look like any other bikes out there. Even more, they look like something from the far distant future. The Hellcat is a little bit too soft and curvaceous, in my humble opinion, although a gorgeous machine, to be sure. It would've been perfect underneath the leather-clad behind of Kristanna Loken. All of them have been sold.

It's very difficult to decide between the next two, but I'll go first with the B120 Wraith:

With a top speed of 185 miles-per-hour, the Wraith is the fastest bike in its class. In fact, it shattered the record by 25 miles-per-hour. Its monocoque construction is mostly aircraft-grade aluminum and carbon fiber. So it has 125 horsepower and 134 foot-pounds of torque on a bike that weighs only 390 pounds. That's sort of like taking the engine from this:

And putting it onto this:

Of course, the Laugh & Learn™ Mower has "poppity-pop action," and you really can't beat that.

I find it most impressive that Confederate doesn't just have a design
concept for their machines; they have a fully-articulated design philosophy. It's what can be said for only the greatest industrial designers through history: Dreyfuss, Loewy, Bel Geddes. They weren't just making nice objects, they were transforming the world. It's not something that I'd be necessarily surprised to find in some grad school designer with perfectly clean fingernails. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a fantastic, straightforward design coming from someone in the machine shop, building a bike from scratch, from the ground up. The difference with Confederate is that they have the best of both worlds: a deep understanding of the aesthetic they're creating and dirt under their fingernails.

When you really look at the bikes, you can see what they're after. The design speaks of honesty and integrity, brute strength, and a fearless individuality. In essence, "be true to yourself, wear it with pride, and if anyone doesn't like it, they can screw off." It's something Harley-Davidson lost years ago, not long after the first yuppie corporate tool bought one to satiate his blossoming mid-life crisis. Need I even mention cheesy Hard-Rock-Cafe-style tourist trap restaurants? I'm not saying Harley doesn't do some great work, but the best thing about them is their historical continuity. They hardly celebrate rebellion anymore, and Confederate easily proves that the appeal of "Americanness" is a much more elusive, mysterious quality.

They're so very pared down that I actually needed to ask if they're street legal. It turns out that all of Confederate's bikes are. If you want a Wraith, you'd better be quick about it; they're limited to an edition of 250, and there's only
one of them left.

The Wraith's spongeworthy performance notwithstanding, my favorite of Confederate's existing bikes is the P120 Fighter Combat:

--Photo by Randal Crow.

--Photo by Michael Furman.
Although the carbon fiber wheel fork of the Wraith is no doubt lighter weight, more aerodynamic, and perhaps even stronger, visually I find it a bit awkward. I also find the sharp, triangular profile of the Fighter more pleasing. To me, the lucidity of the contours is in such glorious counterpoint to the ostentatious display of its structural complexity.

--Both Crow.
It's a bit longer than the Wraith and heavier at 460 pounds. But with 160 horsepower, it's no slouch in the performance department, either. It has a top speed of around 155 miles-per-hour. Of the fifty of these built, only four remain. They also made thirteen P120 Black Flags, of which only nine remain:

--Photo by Arik Sokol.

I was told this project is three years old now, so it's not as much the future of Confederate as it is perhaps the present. But I thought I'd end with the Renovatio concept bike, which I think is absolutely brilliant:

I can't help but think that from an engineering standpoint, cantilevering the seat off the back like that would require stronger and therefore heavier framing. But it looks so freaking cool, who would ever care? I bet it even has poppity-pop action.

©2010, Ryan Witte

No comments: