It’s always enjoyable to get the new motorcycle magazines in my digital inbox, so when Cycle World showed up yesterday I took a few minutes to run through the mag and see what was new. There is a review of the Confederate Hellcat by John Burns which quickly had me scratching my head. He complained it was too loud, which is quite possible, didn’t handle like a sportbike which makes sense and the engine runs so bad, missing and fouling plugs, he could hardly manage to get around town. That last part was interesting since it colored his review to the point where he just ripped the bike apart. OK, maybe it’s that bad.
Don Canet, in a one page follow up, took the bike to the dyno and drag strip where they first found a defective starter and ignition system which was fixed. After the fix the bike had 132 horsepower and 150 foot pounds of torque which resulted in a 10.59 second 127.85 mph pass at the drag strip. Measured top speed was 148 mph. Those are pretty stout numbers for a big V-Twin. One might have thought they would have confirmed all was well with the engine before John Burns took it for a road test.
Burns mentioned things like leaking brake fluid and a fine mist of unleaded escaping from the tank when it’s full and Canet said it was impossible to shift right until an update fixed the problem. During the top speed run the rear cylinder, piston and rings were damaged and needed to be repaired with a later production fix. Not a good experience, overall.
This particular bike was the first one produced in Birmingham, using many leftover parts from New Orleans and some problems might be expected but anyone buying a Confederate is going to be buying a hand built low volume bike and by its nature, each customer will be a test rider to some degree. This type of problem will never occur in a Honda, for instance, where low volume means under 100,000 units and problems are removed long before any new bikes hit the sales floor.
I had personal experience with low volume bikes and the problems they exhibit when I bought a Buell RS1200 back in 1989. It was number 5 of a production run of not many more. This was long before they were purchased by the mother Motor Company and the problems were continuous. I, too, had a gas filler that leaked fuel around the edges, a reserve indicator that simply said I had another mile or so before I was really out of gas, rear brake pads that literally fell out while riding down the street and front motor mounting studs that broke while I was waiting at a traffic light. There was a problem with the transmission that prevented finding neutral and a frame design that prevented the clutch cover from being removed without major disassembly of the motorcycle itself, which made the moderate transmission problem a major repair. The shock absorber was improperly filled with fluid and quality overall was awful. There was more, but you get the idea.
The most aggravating thing about this experience was that every time I called Buell, they were already aware of those problems from others who had experienced them before. The Internet and email were not as prevalent in ’89 as they are today and news traveled slowly.
The point of all this is that Buell improved over the years, … a lot. Those problems took longer to fix than they should have, a few lingered for years from what I’ve heard, but today Buell makes an excellent bike. Low production means problems are often found on the fly and fixed on customer bikes and Confederate may have much the same situation on their hands. When you drop that kind of money on a bike you hope for the best, but like the Buell in 1989, pricey meant exclusive not trouble free.
Maybe Cycle World will get another chance to review a more fully sorted example at some future date, although, too, I also think Confederate would have helped themselves a lot by going over the test bike to be sure it was tip top before handing it over to a magazine for review. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.
Then again, maybe Burns was just having a bad day.