Confederate America GT Motorcycle Road Test

This high-end, unique near-custom motorcycle reveals the pleasures of running without the big dogs. From the June 1998 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

Badass. That's the word that came to mind when we first saw the Confederate America GT. Actually, we heard the motorcycle first. A rumble as the engine started in the depths of our five-level, underground garage reverberated, resonating in the cement and steel of the building itself, as the bike ascended each of the four ramps up to our floor.

By the time the America GT came to a stop outside Motorcycle Cruiser's shop, everyone had stopped what they were doing just to stare at the incredible machine.

The America GT's bad-boy image could come from the motorcycle's long, low, lean look, or its beefy radial-shod wheels sporting high-end brakes, or its plethora of machined billet aluminum components, or its 113-cubic-inch torque-monster motor. Instead, all of these noteworthy items connive to make the Confederate America GT one of the most unique production bikes that anyone can buy. Well, anyone with a fat checking account. Confederate Motorcycles, Inc. doesn't manufacture one-size-fits-all, off-the-rack motorcycles sold in volume. Nor does the Louisiana-based company sell only one-off boutique customs at astronomical prices. The America GT falls squarely in the middle -- with just enough stylistic exclusivity and, at $29,995, pricey enough to keep the riffraff away. Call the GT an off-the-rack custom.

Confederate's unique approach to building motorcycles is illustrated by the design of the GT's frame. Made of 120-gauge DOM carbon steel tubing, the single-backbone, double-cradle frame features an impressive three-inch outer-diameter (OD) backbone that also pulls double-duty as a 5.5-quart oil tank. The downtube measures 2 inches in diameter while the cradle weighs in with 1.25- inch-OD tubes. The subframe consists of slightly less beefy 1.125-inch tubing and is rubber mounted for vibration damping. The swingarm is constructed of a one-by-two-inch rectangular arm of .065-gauge chromoly braced with one-inch-OD tubing that is cantilevered, looped, and triangulated. All of these pieces are machine fit and heliarc welded, producing a frame as inflexible as an extremist's value system.

The rolling gear bolted to the chassis is no less impressive. The 41mm inverted fork assembly offers compression and rebound damping adjustability over 5.1 inches of travel. The two rear dampers feature preload adjustability only but prove that you can lie down on the job and still get your work done. The front suspension provides a firm ride without being harsh, and if that type of ride doesn't suit the rider, the settings can be dialed in for a different character. The rear end delivers a plush, but not overly soft, ride over its 5.5 inches of travel.

With such high-quality components making sure the frame stays in firm contact with the ground, the GT's footwear also had to live up to the same level of performance. The three-spoke Dymag magnesium wheels in 3.5x17-inch front and 6.25x17-inch rear are light and strong, but when shod with Pirelli radials--particularly the massive 200/50 ZR 17 rear -- the effect is stupefying. The bike screams, "Go fast!" Thankfully, the two Brembo 12.6-inch full-floating, cast-iron front discs and four-piston calipers, prodded into action by a Brembo master cylinder, can bring the GT to a screaming halt. The rear wheel responds to a 10-inch disc and two-piston caliper. The only shortcoming we found with the chassis was woefully minimal ground clearance. A bike with a frame this stiff and such capable suspension components shouldn't be slowed down by dragging parts.

If the America GT's chassis evokes thoughts of illicit speed, the engine makes them a reality. Although the air-cooled 45-degree V-twin motor can be accurately termed a "Harley-pattern" engine, the statement only tells a portion of the story. Wedged into Confederate America GT's frame is a brawny S&S; motor producing something in the neighborhood of 100 horsepower. The engine brags of an impressive 113-cubic-inch displacement or a claimed 1861cc (think Civil War or The War of Northern Aggression, depending on your geographic heritage). However, our calculator says that the conversion from SAE to metric units comes up about 9cc short of that magic number. The displacement can be credited to the large 4.0-inch (101.6mm) bore and lengthy 4.5-inch (114.3mm) stroke. A S&S; Super G carb handles the mixing duties while two pushrod-operated valves per cylinder move the necessary gasses through the cylinders. Exhaust duties fall on a 2-into-1 SuperTrapp system.

The Confederate-designed close-ratio five-speed transmission deserves a special note. An Andrews gearset was flipped upside down and rotated 90 degrees forward, yielding an engine/tranny unit that is 3.5 inches shorter than those other 45-degree V-twins manufactured in Wisconsin. The transmission also places the chain final drive on the right side of the bike. A hydraulically actuated clutch finalizes all agreements negotiated between the power train and the transmission under the trick billet primary-drive-belt cover.

The America GT is a feast for the eyes. From the polished fork to the hand-pressed and fabricated 5.0-gallon fuel tank to the meaty rear tire, the Confederate demands attention to the level of detailed work. Clean is the operative word for the handlebar and triple clamp area. The speedo is inset in the headlight (although we'd like for the instrument face to be tilted back a bit more to make it easier to read). All wiring hides inside the drag style bar. The oil tank cap serves as dipstick and temperature gauge. The flush-mount gas cap keeps the profile uncluttered. The glossy black paint highlights the GT's sensual lines as the light wraps around the bike's curves.

The GT doesn't try to hide its tubular structure. The struts lay atop the fenders. The subframe crosses over the swingarm braces, creating angles that contrast the curves of the tank, seat, and fenders. Most of the machined parts kept their natural finish after their trip through the milling machine. The primary drive cover, with its engraved Confederate logo, must be seen to be appreciated. The countershaft cover is simple, clean, yet powerful looking. Many pounds of billet aluminum gave their all for this bike. The only noticeable warts are the chain guard and the SuperTrapp canister (which is actually an automotive canister that happened to be the right size for the GT). On a lesser styled machine this wouldn't be a problem, but here their roughness stands out.

Like the scent wafting from a Louisiana kitchen as a spicy meal is prepared, the American GT's looks whet our appetite to ride. Thumbing the starter button elicits a bellow from the SuperTrapp, and the big V-twin settles into a lumpy idle. The transmission slips easily into first gear. Riding the GT around town reveals the engine's strengths and weaknesses. Off the line, mountains of torque launch the bike with authority. Roll on the throttle and the bike leaps forward. Crank on the throttle, and you best be holding on! Remember, this bike delivers horsepower and torque numbers similar to a stock Valkyrie and weighs 188 pounds less, wet. The America GT loves to accelerate.

Unfortunately, all that acceleration does not mean the GT makes a good boulevard troller. At low speeds or simply while holding a neutral throttle setting, heavy surging throws a wet blanket on the festivities. Since a good portion of our cruising takes place on city, the surging can be downright annoying. While the exhaust note may be music to a riders' ears, the open-ended SuperTrapp we rode with puts out too sufficient decibels to quickly collect a stack of fix-it tickets and a ton of glares from people the hearing portion of the population. (Confederate told us later that the GT's SuperTrapp normally ships with a backing plate and that in such a configuration that it does conform to federal noise standards.) Another not-so-positive characteristic of the engine is the propensity towards vibration. One tester said that the vibration was so bad at some engine speeds that it actually blurred his vision. The intense vibration would definitely hamper our desire to ride the GT on a jaunt longer than a single tank would take us.

The fuel tank itself presented another problem. When full, fuel leaked out of the cap, all over the right side of the bike and onto the rider's leg. Putting just four gallons in the five-gallon tank remedied the problem while shortening the range by 35 miles to 135 miles. Other problems we find troubling on a $30,000 motorcycle are the turn signals and solo mirror. Regular readers of Motorcycle Cruiser know how we feel about Harley-spec turn signal switches (right turn switch on right grip and left on the left), but the source of our complaint on the Confederate is the inability of the rider to cancel a signal after it is started. Once the button was pressed, we had to wait while the signal flashed for seven to eight seconds. Attempting to cancel the signal by pressing the opposite signal only started it flashing, too, giving the impression of turning on the emergency flashers. In today's congested urban environs, being able to signal for a variety of actions is a necessity. Similarly, only shipping the GT with a left hand mirror constitutes a major oversight. Survival depends on knowing what's happening on both sides of the bike.

Our example of the America GT experienced a couple mechanical problems. The first is fairly common among high-powered motorcycles that get flogged at the dragstrip. After numerous full-boogie launches, the clutch began to get a bit tired. Another result of this extreme use was the need for a slight valve adjustment. However, the major failure of the America GT was not related to its hard life as a test bike. Part of the starter assembly fragged, and the chunks of metal tumbling around the primary drive destroyed the belt. Confederate says that they would cover the part in question (a Harley starter assembly) under warranty.

When it's all tallied up, is the America GT worth $30,000? Well, how dear is the money to you? If 30 g's doesn't seem like a lot of dough, then it probably isn't a lot -- for you. If you crave the ability to out gun almost anything you're likely to encounter, then this black beauty is for you. If you love the attention a unique hand-crafted piece of machinery garners, then maybe you can live with the teething pains. Confederate Motorcycles has hit close to its mark of being different from mass produced bikes while not resorting to the unobtanium prices of one-off customs. However, since we tend to favor function, we'll have to say that the America GT isn't quite there, yet. With Confederate's quality approach to building motorcycles, we don't expect to say that for long.

IN BRIEF

High Points: The sound of 113 cubic inches at play; Unique touches -- stylish frame tubing, billet primary cover, billet countershaft cover, oil temperature gauge in plain view, wiring hidden inside handlebar. Gobs of torque right off the line.

Low Points: Reliability problems; The noise of minimally muffled 113 cubic inches; Unique flaws -- leaking gas cap, funky turn signals, inaccurate, hard-to-read speedo; Excessive surging.

First Changes: Seal fuel cap; Add a right mirror; Find a quieter, prettier exhaust system.

RIDING POSITIONS

Friedman: Let's just say that I'm not going to be investing 30 grand in a Confederate American GT any time soon. You get plenty of nice stuff for your money, including excellent suspension, strong brakes, one-of-a-kind styling and a truckload of torque. And you should for that price.

It was the no-cost extras that put me off. Like fuel spraying out of the filler cap, oil leaks, extreme surging except under load and a vibration that made my head feel weirder than usual. You can put up with a few eccentricities, like the primitive turn signals, in such a singular, hand-built machine, but making the rider a human Molotov cocktail takes the personality aspect a bit far.

The Confederate is huge fun to ride for a short time and there are no ignition sources nearby. If you get the chance, take it. Just make sure the tank isn't full.

Art Friedman
Find out how weird Friedman's head usually feels by dropping an email to ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.

Brasfield: Is it possible for a $30,000 motorcycle to nickel and dime itself to death? I think so. Something about walking around smelling like an arsonist doesn't appeal to me. The other idiosyncrasies, like the vibration and surging, put me off, as well. And no matter how nice any bike looks, I hate pushing it to the end of my block because it's simply too loud to ride away from my house at 5 am. (Test bikes come and go, but neighbors stick around forever.)

If I dislike the bike's extra "features" so much, why do I rate it higher than Art does? Acceleration. The GT flat-out gits. Any bike that makes me laugh this hard (You know, the kind of laughter that's accompanied by an elevated pulse rate and a healthy dose of adrenaline.) deserves some bonus points. Unique styling helps, too. Every time I look at the Confederate, I see something new. The detail work -- from the tank logo to the engraved logos on the brake pedal and the primary drive cover -- stands out. If the folks in Louisiana are willing, I'd love to clear a space in my garage for a long-term test of their craftsmanship. I promise I'll dust, polish, and roost the GT on a regular basis. Just don't expect me to commute on it.

Evans Brasfield
Brasfield, Motorcycle Cruiser's former associate editor, now roosts at his own website.

SPECIFICATIONS
Confederate America GT

Suggested base price: $29,995
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: NA
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 3000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled, 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 1 intake, 1 exhaust valve; operated by pushrods, hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1852cc, 101.6mm x 114.3mm
Compression ratio: 9:1
Carburetion: 1, 44mm S&S; Super G
Lubrication: dry sump, spin-on filter, 5.5 qt.
Transmission: dry, multi-plate clutch; 5 speeds

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 551 lbs.
GVWR: 1051 lbs.
Seat height: 26.5 in.
Wheelbase: 65 in.
Overall length: 88.3 in.
Rake: 30 degrees
Wheels: Dymag magnesium, 3.5 x 17 in. front, 6.25 x 17 in. rear
Front tire: 120/70 ZR 17 Pirelli MTRO1
Rear tire: 200/50 ZR 17 Pirelli MTRO2
Front brake: 2, dual-action, 4-piston calipers, 12.6-in. disc
Rear brake: dual-action, 2-piston caliper, 10-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm inverted, 5.1 in. travel, adjustable for compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 5.5 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal., (.4 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 31.3 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt headlightTaillight: 1 bulb
Instruments: speedometer, odometer, oil temperature; warning lights for high beam, oil pressure, neutral

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 30 to 39 mpg, 34.4 mpg average
Average range: 172 mi.
Quarter-mile acceleration: 11.61 sec., 118.4 mph

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparisons are available at the Road Tests section of www.MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Instead of hiding the subframe, Confederate flaunts the tubular structure of the America GT. Since so much attention was lavished on the machined parts, both the chain guard and muffler seem cobby by comparison.
Three tools in one: oil temperature gauge, dipstick, and oil tank plug. The gauge is not only a clever design, but also a functional one. The culprit in the great gas leak fiasco tries to hide out, unnoticed at the right.
The heart of the America GT comes from Viola, Wisconsin in the form of a hand-built, balanced, and blueprinted 113-cubic-inch S&S; V-twin. The third bolt securing the air cleaner cover disappeared on the way to photo session.
The brake pedal reflects the hand-crafted nature of the Confederate. How many OEs could produce parts this pretty while still meeting quotas?
The front end's function lives up to its purposeful looks. The compression and rebound adjustable White Brothers fork, Brembo calipers and discs, and Dymag wheel handles any velocity the engine generates.
Although it no longer produces the America GT, Confederate is still building stunningly original motorcycles. Its current model is the Hellcat Generation 2 shown here, which can be seen in more detail at the Confederate website.