Confederate Wraith B120 | New Bikes '07

Back from the abyss, and ready for production

Admit it: You thought the Confederate Wraith was history. The wild-looking futurebike concocted in the creative cauldron that was New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit surely had been consigned to the dustbin of history. But you'd be wrong. The radical Wraith concept is about to become reality, entering production about the time you read this at Confederate's new Birmingham, Alabama, digs.

Created just six months before Katrina leveled Confederate's 'Nawlins HQ, the avant-garde amalgam of art and science has been transformed to customer-ready condition by Confederate engineering chief Brian Case and the born-again company's R&D; team. As a production-ready package, it's substantially improved from the prototype I rode two years ago (Motorcyclist, April 2005).

The chance to ride a production-spec version of the girder-forked, spine-framed, carbon-fiber creation came not in the Deep South but on Southern California's famed Mulholland Highway, North America's most illustrious Racer Road, a switchback roller coaster of sportbike paradise twisting through the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles. It's hardly the place to put a custom bike through its paces, except the Wraith isn't really a cruiser, but a new kind of naked sportbike. "The term we're using to describe the Wraith is Luxury Sports," said Confederate President Matt Chambers. "It opens up a new class of motorcycle for our customers, aimed at letting them carve up the twisties in a way they couldn't do with a Hellcat."

Indeed, the Wraith is a very different motorcycle from Confederate's low-slung Hellcat, beloved of movie-land glitterati such as Cruise, Cage and Pitt. It was during a delivery of the latest H-Cat to a star customer that Case took the opportunity to truck the pre-production Wraith out West for some test riding and to do a little promotion by showing the bike off to potential customers at L.A.'s infamous Rock Store, the area's most renowned motorcycle hangout. But what surprised me most during my day aboard the Wraith was the way Case & Co. have transformed what was a very uncomfortable motorcycle into something infinitely more practical; it's far smoother and less tiring to ride than the pre-Katrina prototype. It's now less of a design statement, more of a motorcycle, one you can relish barreling through corners on.

"The main difference is the motor," said Case. "We've sourced a completely different engine from JIMS, a 120-inch (1965cc) Big Twin with dual counterbalancers. This allows us to use the engine as a solid-mounted frame component and opened the door for a new transmission rather than the Hellcat gearbox we used before. It's a big difference."

I'll say. Whereas they never got the prototype Wraith's 1490cc twin-carb motor to run properly, the JIMS engine is remarkably smooth by American V-twin standards. It's also plenty fast, a trait helped by the bike's relatively light dry weight. Considering that 70 mph equals a relaxed 3000 rpm according to the tach/speedo unit, the Wraith is a reasonably long-legged, 120-mph package, supposing you could hold on tight enough. Wrists and shoulders cramp up after a ton-up blast, and the seat remains ergonomically flawed. Sourced from the Hellcat and then padded for comfort, it's angled all wrong for the leaned-forward stance dictated by the handlebar and footpegs.

The Wraith feels small and compact, with a sportbike build that tells you this innovative motorcycle was born to burn up the highway, not profile along Main Street. Hustling through Mulholland's switchbacks was satisfying and easy thanks to the bike's ultra-direct steering and the mondo feedback from the front Penske shock and Metzeler Sportrac rubber; you can feel every ripple in the tarmac through the grips. Ride quality is improbably good; the Wraith floats over even the worst bumps and ridges. Yet where the low-slung Wraith is most impressive is in how totally stable it is when leaned over, with zero deflection if you hit a bump or surface joint. It also flicks easily from side to side through a series of S-bends. The front suspension is compliant enough to shrug off serious pavement acne with no hint of bump-steer, even cranked over in a turn.

There were glitches, the most serious of which was the absurdly stiff action of the hydraulic diaphragm clutch, even after maxing out leverage with the lever's inbuilt master cylinder. This needs a rethink, because while clutchless upshifts are no problem, your hand soon cramps up in traffic. But in all other respects, the Wraith is ready for prime time.

"We're all tuned-up, ready to start manufacturing the Wraith," said Chambers. "We have a firm commitment from JIMS for what essentially is an H-D-validated motor. We're looking at commencing production by the end of this year, and we have a back order of about 35 bikes, which we can produce at the rate of one per week until June, when we'll move to two per week."

If you're one of the few interested in becoming a Wraith owner, check out www.confederate.com. Just remember that: a) you'll need $55,000-plus to join the club; and b) you'll need to get used to having your picture taken when riding it.

2007 CONFEDERATE WRAITH B120
PRICE
MSRP $55,000-plus
ENGINE
Type a-c 45-degree V-twin
Valves {{{OHV}}}, 4v
Displacement 1965cc
Transmission 5 or 6-speed
CHASSIS
Weight 410 lb., claimed dry (186kg)
Fuel capacity 4.1 gal. (15.8L)
Wheelbase 58.5 in. (1486mm)
Seat height 31.0 in. (787mm)
Conceived seven years ago by Confederate's then-designer J.T. Nesbitt, the production Wraith performs far better than the pre-Katrina prototype.
"It's great that a company could exist after what Confederate has been through, let alone produce something as way-out as this," said Jay Leno as he sat on the Wraith in the Rock Store parking lot. "I can't figure out why some people seem to think it's insulting they should charge big bucks for their stuff."