Ragjun Cajun

130-plus horsepower, exotic materials and high-end build quality make Confederate's F124 Hellcat the Bimota of the bayous

Like a bayou 'gator waiting patiently for its next meal to wander too close to the water's edge, the F124 Hellcat lurks lazily yet powerfully in a corner of Confederate's cavernous factory situated in New Orleans' hip warehouse district. I roll my eyes over it and every 10 seconds or so spot another trick component, one more clever piece of design innovation.

Note the fat, snakelike exhaust pipes, internally ceramic-coated and externally heat-wrapped, both leading to a 3-inch Inconel (used for exhausts in Formula One and Champ Car) collector that feeds into--get this--the tubular steel swingarm whose twin arms slant down toward the pavement and act as barely muffled outlets for the hulking engine's exhaust.

Or the long-stroke powerplant itself, all 2031cc--124 cubic inches in Confederate-speak--delivering a mighty 135 horsepower at 5200 rpm to the rear wheel, with an astounding 140 pound-feet of torque on tap at 4500 revs (Confederate's numbers). This mammoth V-twin mounts rigidly to the steel spine frame, with the 3-inch-diameter backbone doubling as the dry-sump motor's oil tank. A 2-inch front downtube and duplex engine cradle lock everything in place to achieve the stiffness Confederate captain Matt Chambers says was one of his key objectives for the Hellcat.

Or the five-speed close-ratio transmission with belt primary drive and vertically stacked shafts housed in a special S&S-built; gearcase. It's a layout Yamaha adopted to great acclaim on its first-generation YZF-R1 exactly four years after Confederate incorporated it in '94 for exactly the same reason: to significantly reduce wheelbase, in this case to a tight--by power-cruiser standards--61 inches.

Or the patented way the chain final-drive has been moved to the bike's right side via an outrigger bearing mounted in a plate bolted to the swingarm pivot and gearcase. Chambers says this adds immeasurably to overall chassis stiffness while also shortening wheelbase, extending chain life (due to reduced lash) and permitting a significantly wider rear tire, on the Hellcat a massive, 240/40VR18 Metzeler ME880 on an 8-inch Lightcon cast wheel. A 4-inch hoop up front carries 130/60VR18 rubber.

Or the fat Marzocchi inverted fork, the same 50mm unit used by MV Agusta's Massimo Tamburini for his F4 1000, located by a mega-stiff Traxxion Dynamics triple-clamp, each clamp milled from a solid 30-pound chunk of 6061 aluminum. Or the six-piston Swedish-made ISR radially mounted calipers. Or the exquisitely shaped 4.75-gallon carbon-fiber fuel tank made by Fiber Dynamics to J.T. Nesbitt's voluptuous design. Or the equally curvaceous--and surprisingly comfortable--carbon-fiber seat mounted atop a bicycle-type post that delivers a low, 27-inch seat height. Or the twin Penske shocks mounted side by side in a conscious reference to the Vincent Black Shadow's layout. Or the minimalist twin taillights nestled beneath the seat that double as turn signals.

Get the picture?
The Hellcat is a sophisticated back-alley hybrid, a finely detailed high-octane blend of power cruiser and superbike, something unique in today's market. At a claimed 500 pounds (dry) it's a touch porky. But when you consider those pounds are motivated by the aforementioned 135 rear-wheel horsepower and that most of its two-wheel competition is less powerful and/or significantly heavier, you see the brilliance of what Chambers and Confederate design chief Nesbitt have concocted. In many ways the Hellcat is the Bimota of the bayous; not just for the uncannily similar financial roller-coaster ride each company has experienced, but also for the exquisite engineering and manufacturing both marques embody.

Wheeling the Hellcat out into the Louisiana sunshine, all that carbon-fiber weave takes your breath away. It seems inappropriate to actually sit on a piece of it, but once settled aboard the seat you find it's unexpectedly comfortable thanks to its, er, dynamic shaping. (One wonders if Confederate offers a personal butt-molding service.) The low-set footpegs don't position your feet quite as far forward as most cruisers, and they're rearward enough to let you lever yourself off the seat to avoid the worst of the Big Easy's paving imperfections. They even offer a reasonable amount of cornering clearance.

The bobtailed Hellcat is low, lean and meaty, but paradoxically quite refined--Sylvester Stallone in a Savile Row suit. But it is definitely a cruiser, even if the lovely sweep of the carbon tank extending in front of you is surmounted by a Monza filler cap more Ace Caf than Boot Hill Saloon. Thumb the starter and the big engine pulses to life with a blast of thunder from the twin swingarm-exhausts, telling everyone within a quarter-mile that something menacing has woken up.

Pull in the high-effort clutch lever and select first gear with an unavoidable clunk. Crack the throttle just a quarter-inch and the bike launches forward like a freshly fired Scud missile, the horizon suddenly rushing toward you as if in fast-forward. The thing really is a rocket.

No normally aspirated production streetbike I've ridden accelerates as violently as the Hellcat, including several tricked-out versions of Yamaha's V-Max and Triumph's Rocket III, the latter the only other streetbike with as many cubes. But the Rocket, which is significantly less expensive and has a much more liquid power delivery, feels nothing like the angry-sounding Hellcat. The 'Cat's massive torque means that when you pull the wire in any gear, it surges forward instantly and irresistibly.

It's unnecessary to rev the motor anywhere near the 6500-rpm redline, especially with the clean-shifting five-speed gearbox (neutral, though, can be elusive). Short-shifting just before five grand to stay in the meat of the torque curve is definitely the way to tame the Hellcat as you hurtle into the distance. Suddenly you're looking at 3000 revs in top gear and the speedo says 100 mph. Already? This bike eats distance like no other...until you come to a corner, that is.

The Hellcat's chassis feels plenty stiff and taut, although the twin Penske shocks--adjustable only for rebound damping--don't seem to deliver the 4 inches of wheel travel Confederate claims. This is partly due to the stiff springs needed to prevent the engine's prodigious torque from compressing the suspension under brutal acceleration. As a result ride quality is pretty harsh, with only the bike's weight preventing it from catching air--along with the rider--over the concrete ridges of New Orleans' streets.

What the Hellcat doesn't like is cornering at more than part throttle. It pushes the front wheel noticeably if you try, and the resulting understeer can take you places you don't want to go, unless you back off the throttle and let the bike recover. The fat tire is the culprit; it works well during normal running but does nothing for the Hellcat's handling under power. I quizzed Chambers about this one evening over a bourbon, and he admitted that fitting a smaller, 180-spec tire makes a huge difference in handling. "But then it detracts from the whole point of the Hellcat," he said with a smile, "so why do it?" Otherwise it steers creditably well for such a big, long, heavy bike, easily flicking side to side in slower turns.

Vibration is ever present from the solidly mounted 45-degree V-twin, but surprisingly, the vibes aren't overly invasive, especially if you short-shift and let the tallish gearing take the edge off. Still, the Hellcat's hearty throb felt about average by most cruiser standards. Confederate also offers an optional 113-cubic-inch engine for the Hellcat, and though it doesn't quite pack the arm-stretching wallop of the 124-cube powerplant, it vibrates less and is significantly smoother.

The Hellcat stops well, with immediate response from its ISR calipers. The twin-piston-caliper rear brake proved easy and convenient to use, with the well-placed pedal allowing you to get the most from that fat rear tire.

Confederate's F124 Hellcat is an American motorcycle unlike any other, just as New Orleans is America's most foreign city and Louisiana its most foreign state. It fits, then, that the Big Easy's own motorcycle company builds the most foreign cruiser in terms of both specification and performance. The Hellcat is more of an exotic super-cruiser, really, one built for well-heeled enthusiasts who want to be totally different and need to do things their own way.

Wonder if that had anything to do with Brad and Jenn's recent breakup? After all, Mr. Pitt did just take delivery of a brand-new Hellcat...

Stripped to its bare engine, frame and carbon-fiber seat, the Confederate looks part Space Age, part Massey Ferguson. Torquey V-twin provides Hell(cat)-on-wheels acceleration.
Crack the throttle and the Hellcat launches forward like a freshly fired Scud missile, the horizon approaching so quickly it does a Blue Shift. No normally aspirated production streetbike accelerates as violently.