S&S XW117 X-Wedge

Great X-Pectations

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Kevin Wing

Excepting Harley-Davidson (obviously), no other company has a broader footprint in the American motorcycle industry than S&S Cycle. In addition to supplying components to Victory and Indian, S&S delivers more than 8500 of its V-Twin engines each year to numerous boutique builders and individual customers, making it the second largest motorcycle engine builder in the USA.

S&S doesn't offer complete motorcycles--yet--but that could change very soon with the advent of this machine. A one-off prototype built-to-spec for uber-enthusiast Jay Leno of Tonight Show fame, the XW117 is the first motorcycle constructed entirely by the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, manufacturer--including the tubular chassis, engine, transmission and even the dedicated fuel-injection and engine-management systems. Could this bike represent the birth of America's next standalone motorcycle manufacturer?

The soul of the XW117 is the company's all-new, 56-degree X-Wedge engine--the first that's not derivative of Harley's iconic, 45-degree design. The 117-cubic-inch (1917cc) X-Wedge gets its name from its "cross-wedge" combustion chamber, which aligns the intake and exhaust ports with the valve stem plane to maximize efficiency and minimize mechanical noise. A single, 30mm-wide Gates carbon-fiber-core belt drives two separate exhaust cams (flanking a common intake cam), while dead-straight pushrod angles combine with automotive-style rockers and hydraulic roller tappets to complete a valve train that's reportedly 5 decibels quieter than other S&S engines.

Fuel injectors are mounted directly in the cylinder head for optimal fuel delivery, while a single, 52.4mm throttle body modulates airflow. The closed-loop fuel control and anti-detonation ignition technology are both part of S&S's self-developed engine-management package. Custom X-shaped headers paired with twin, EPA-legal Arrow mufflers handle exhaust duties. Notably, the X-Wedge 117 is the first 49-state certified engine produced by any engine manufacturer to meet 2010 U.S. emissions and noise standards.

Even surrounded by all the other standout hardware in Leno's 17,000 square-foot "garage," the XW117 looks incredible. Leno's design brief requested something midway between a cruiser and a sportbike, with excellent handling and an upright riding position suitable for street riding. The result is something of a stretched-out streetfighter. With a low seat, swept-back Pro-Taper Raptor handlebar and high, mid-mounted footpegs, the riding position seems curious tooling around Burbank. After repeated runs through Southern California's Piuma Canyon, however, you quickly come to appreciate the improbably sporty yet comfortable stance.

The tubular, double-cradle frame is stretched out to a rangy 60.5-inch wheelbase, and with a 28-degree rake you might expect ultra-slow steering. Instead, the 550-pound (dry) bike is surprisingly sharp in changing direction. Credit the fully adjustable 43mm Ohlins fork and stiffly sprung Ohlins twin piggyback rear shocks. Grippy, sportbike-sized Metzeler Roadtec Z6 rubber on forged-aluminum Performance Machine Revolution Race wheels only add agility, letting you ground those lowrider footrests relatively early, and the exhaust, too. Twin 320mm Braking front discs gripped by highly effective four-piston radial Brembo calipers easily stop this heavy, fast (geared for over 140 mph) beast.

Despite lacking a counterbalancer, the 95-horsepower X-Wedge motor is satisfactorily smooth all the way across the rev range. It's very refined in terms of operation, too, starting, idling and injecting without any issues to speak of. Only the transmission displays any rough edges, with a hint of snatching when the tach drops below 2000 rpm. The clutch is surprisingly light-action, though the shift action is somewhat harsh. Perhaps the admittedly low-mile bike just needed more break-in. Thankfully, with 114 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, shifting is mostly superfluous once you're up to cruising speed.

Very impressive, this first attempt by S&S at making its own motorcycle. Whether or not the company wants to enter the game of building complete bikes remains to be seen--there seem to be some strategic divisions on that point, complicated by the current financial upheaval and ongoing custom market downturn. S&S reps say that Leno's streetfighter cost $50,000 to build as a one-off prototype, but economies of scale would surely mean such a bike could be sold even in limited-edition quantities for around $25,000.

With the only comparable machine--the S&S-powered Ecosse Heretic--costing more than twice that much, it'd be a good buy. And, judging from my experience riding this prototype, it'd be a very good bike, too.

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