2005 F-113 Hellcat
Cruising through Daytona in 1998, Roland Brown attracted many admirers - rather it was the hand-built-in-the-Deep South Confederate Hellcat which he rode which caught the eye. The Hellcat was, reported Roland, 'a Vincent on steroids,' an 'in-yer-face, hard-charging bruiser of a bike'. Safe to say then, that this latest offering from the Louisiana outfit was a V-twin with one hell of an attitude.
'Don't just park it and walk away!'
The Harley rider's shout stopped me in my tracks outside the Daytona Beach diner. I'd pulled up alongside a group of riders, killed the big V-twin motor, leant the bike against its sidestand and headed towards the door. But this guy wanted to know all about it just like everyone else who'd seen the Confederate Hellcat that day.
If you like a quiet life, the Hellcat ain't for you. Long, muscular and aggressive, the big black V-twin with its swept-back handlebars, single saddle and horizontally mounted twin shocks looks like a Vincent Rapide on steriods. In reality it's the latest model from Confederate Motorcycles of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and it draws a crowd wherever it goes.
Confederate have been building their distinctive brand of V-twins for several years now, starting with the Grey Ghost cruiser which, like this bike, was powered by a Harleyesque aircooled V-twin from engine specialists S&S. Several US firms with names like Titan, Big Dog and American Ironhorse have set up in recent years to produce cruisers, most looking very similar to Harleys. But none of them has built anything remotely like the Hellcat.
This is a V-twin with attitude; an in-yer-face, hard-charging bruiser of a bike whose styling is influenced by drag racers as well as the legendary Rapide and Black Shadow. The pair of 1600cc (96 cubic inch) Hellcats that I rode produced 100bhp with loads of low-rev grunt. Confederate can also supply an even bigger and torquier 113 cubic inch version that kicks out 115bhp at the rear wheel.
Actual capacity of the big lump is about 1880cc, but Confederate boss Mat Chambers refers to it as the 1861 which is the year the Civil War began. The Confederate name and the flag on the tank are not there just for fun. Chambers is a bike enthusiast, former lawyer and a student of American history who is driven not just by the desire to build motorcycles and make a few dollars, but to show what the Southern states can do.
The Hellcat's unique look begins with the long gas tank, which narrows at the rear and flows into the thick steel frame spine. The leather-covered single saddle bolts to the frame tube, just above the front mounts for the pair of WP piggy-back shock units that are worked by the cantilever swing-arm. A carbon-fibre mudguard stretches round a fat, 200-section Avon rear tyre.
Unlike its basic profile and all-black finish, the precise specification of the Hellcat varies considerably. The bike I covered more miles on had a low-level two-into-one pipe with SuperTrapp silencer, conventional Ceriani forks, a 19-inch wire-spoked front wheel and a single front disc with four-piston Performance Machine caliper. The second Hellcat had 17-inch cast aluminium wheels, upside-down WP forks, twin discs with four-pot Brembo calipers and a thunderous high-level exhaust system.
Most of the 50 or so machines that have been built at Confederate's Baton Rouge factory since the bike was launched last year have been a mix of these two. The majority have been fitted with the 17-inch wheel/twin disc front end and the conventional, low-level pipe, which allows the big V-twin motor to breathe better than the high-level system.
For all its aggressive look, the Hellcat felt surprisingly laid-back and Harley-like when I'd climbed aboard. Vincent flats and rearset pegs would fit the black bike's image. But instead, the riding position left my arms stretched out to the wide, quite low bars, my body lent slightly forward from the low seat, and feet well forward.
The Confederate's straight-line performance soon got the adrenaline flowing, though. Roll-on acceleration was fearsome. At the tug the wire at about 50mph the Hellcat stormed away, engine pulsing and thundering and hurling me forward almost hard enough to put a tighter bend in those swept-back black handlebars. Moments later the tiny speedo in the headlamp was reading over 100mph with 20mph or so more to come.
The pair of Hellcats I rode had similar engines but they, like the two chassis, felt different. The first motor was very smooth for a solidly-mounted V-twin, giving the whole bike a very sweet, free-revving feel at most speeds. But it suffered from a slight carburation glitch just off idle, and its clutch slipped when the motor was revved hard in the higher gears. The other engine ran flawlessly but was less smooth, though vibration wasn't a problem at moderate speeds.
Both bikes juddered a fair bit above about 80mph, mainly through the footrests. Combined with the exposed riding position that means the Hellcat isn't a machine you'd want to ride at high speed for long. Its five-speed gearbox was good, though. My only slight problem was an occasional difficulty in finding neutral mainly because the warning lights, set into the aluminium speedo surround, were very hard to see.
That was annoying in traffic, but most of the Hellcat's details are good. Neat touches include the tiny oil temperature gauge in the front of the fuel tank, and the rear brake pedal with its drilled pattern of the Confederate flag. The S&S motor, which is bought part-assembled and finished off by Confederate with their own pushrod tubes and rocker box assemblies, is a well-tried unit used by many of the smaller American firms.
With its forks kicked out at 30 degrees and its wheelbase a whopping 1651mm, the 225kg Hellcat, whose chassis was designed by Californian drag-race specialists Kosman, is designed more for straights than corners. Steering was pretty slow on both models, especially the 19-inch front wheel version. And I don't have to crank the bike over to radical angles before the graunch of footpeg on Tarmac revealed that I'd run out of ground clearance long before approaching the limits of the fat Avons.
The Confederate's high-quality cycle parts did at least mean that handling was much better than that of most cruisers. Suspension was reasonably soft, with over 125mm of travel at each end, so the ride at slow speeds was comfortable. The Hellcat's well-damped shocks kept the back end under control, and both bikes stayed solid through fast, sweeping curves.
Braking was pretty good even with the single disc and four-pot caliper set-up, and excellent with the second Hellcat's twin-disc front end. Confederate are not restricted to one supplier and are also considering using four-pot AP Lockheed calipers, PFM discs and Dymag magnesium wheels on future production.
For now the firm's 12 employees are concentrating on producing bikes at a rate of about two per week, and also developing a GT Tourer V-twin and also a sportier model, with steeper steering and shorter wheelbase, that are due for release later this year. Mat Chambers is also looking for distributors in other countries, with a view to starting exports in the near future.
The Hellcat's high specification and limited edition, hand-built production means the price is a hefty US $29,000, about £17,500. But if you want a big American V-twin that looks different to the others and is guaranteed to cause a stir every time you park it, the Confederate Hellcat takes some beating.
Year of specifications
Confederate F113 CID sidewinder
120 hp @ 6200 rpm
227 kg, (500 lb)