By Mike Mello
Design makes people take notice of a product. Before any performance figures are recorded, before initial pricing is released, and sometimes before the actual product is even available, a vehicle’s design can make headlines because that’s where so many people feel an emotional connection.
In terms of motorcycles, the Confederate Motor Company
has a couple of products available that got my attention because of their design, and I don’t even ride motorcycles. It doesn’t matter, these bikes made me stare, made me inspect, and made me grin because they just don’t look like many motorcycles I’m familiar with.
When it comes to cars, I go with my emotional reaction first and look at stats later. The exposed materials on these bikes are just right out there and the architecture seems burly and elegant at once. As the iron horse analogy has been referenced many times, it is taken further here, especially with the B120 Wraith. Aircraft grade aluminum combines with a carbon fiber monocoque chassis to create a riding platform that looks like it just flows from the front hub to the swing arm in a naturally engineered form – a mechanical horse with natural lines indeed.
After studying the Confederate products for a bit and speaking with company founder Matt Chambers, it’s clear that these machines are made for a rider seeking a different kind of exclusive motorcycle. These are the kind of bikes that I hope to see in person at some point, although that’s probably an unlikely occurrence, given the limited production numbers. At this point, Confederate builds about 130 motorcycles per year. Customers get in touch with the company, down payments are made, and by the time the materials are in house, the customer’s machine is built in about one week.
These American-built and American-designed motorcycles are what Chambers describes as part of “a desire to really re-affirm American design excellence.” After citing the Cadillac CTS and Harley Rocker as other symbols of leading transportation design, Chambers spoke of how American design can indeed compete with the best Italian and German products.
But why does design suffer in the first place? When budgets and manufacturing processes crimp the designer’s vision, there’s going to be shortcomings, right? Perhaps it takes a small company with a rebellious nature to bring these kinds of products to market, albeit in small quantities. These motorcycles are not just sketches though; they’re out there making their place in history so when the next “Art of the Motorcycle” retrospective rolls through the Guggenheim Museum, there will be a wider breadth of show to entice and inspire the design world as a whole.
The Confederate name was chosen to represent the company since the idea of fighting off the establishment is what grounds Confederate. Chambers spoke from the heart when describing his company’s desire to provide “more honest design” that, for example, doesn’t shroud a regular shock absorber behind a giant chrome shield.
When looking at the B120 Wraith, I see mostly raw materials that make for a no-flash, independent look. Perhaps that’s one way these machines exemplify rebellion since they don’t look like many other motorcycles. Chambers reports that no customer has yet to specify any other color than black or clear coat and I wonder if these bikes would look just as crisp wearing a shade of blue, red, or orange.
Either way, it’s impressive when designers and builders produce a product that is beautifully unique and expands a particular product segment in a positive, progressive way. To me, these machines still come from an emotional, rebellious place that contrasts their carbon coloring and bulletproof appearance. Perhaps it’s time for me to learn to ride.
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