Riding the Wraith
New Orleans never labored beneath the austere Puritan ethos imposed elsewhere in the United States; rather, the Crescent City’s French-derived Creole and Cajun population embraced the relaxed philosophy of laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll. And they do at Confederate Motorcycles—the only motorcycle manufacturer located south of the Mason-Dixon line—which is about to hit the marketplace with its girder-forked future-bike known as the Wraith. An astonishing axiom of alternative design bursting with new technology, the bike has earned its creator, J.T. Nesbitt, worldwide attention and acclaim for the special brand of minimalist magic it brings to the American V-twin power-cruiser cult.
Though I have covered thousands of miles testing motorcycles around the world, I was quite unprepared for the surprise awaiting me after hopping aboard the Wraith’s low-slung carbon seat; I discovered a riding position totally unlike anything I’ve encountered on two wheels. Without a fuel tank or airbox for your knees to grip, it seems as if you’re mounted on a mountain-bike frame suspending a bare V-twin motor. The improbable location of the rearset footrests—at least by American cruiser standards—and an overly-wide, one-piece handlebar that pivots directly in the fork stem combine to result in a position more sportbike than cruiser.
Far from being a conventional American cruiser, yet not quite an all-out sportbike, this Britten of the bayous is the Southern equivalent of a naked streetrod that brakes and steers like a ProTwins racer while offering real-world street manners that manage not to be overly superficial. It’s a radical American alternative to an Aprilia Tuono or Ducati Monster, with rearset footrests and a forward-inclined riding stance betraying its sporting potential, a promise backed up by the Wraith’s handling and suspension compliance. The Wraith features surprisingly good ride quality, just floating in a ghostly manner over even the worst bumps and ridges in the road surface. But most impressive is how completely stable it remains on the angle in 80 mph sweepers, with zero deflection if hitting road imperfections. The handlebar is too wide for comfort aboard a neo-sportbike—the light, positive steering has no need of the extra leverage it offers—but even when you hit a bruising bump leaned hard over, the Wraith shrugs it off, despite the absence of a steering damper.
The Wraith is reasonably comfortable and delivers a straight-backed—if rather close-coupled—stance, but it lacks the key ingredient of having something to push your knees against as you steer the Wraith in turns. Confederate should rethink this design element. The seat itself looks great but is all wrong for this kind of bike. A rider needs to move easily from side to side on a motorcycle with steering geometry that allows you to chuck the Wraith into turns—and one wearing sticky 17-inch Metzeler Sportrac rubber that permits considerable lean angles. The Wraith’s stylish but impractical cruiser-esque carbon throne does not allow you to move with any remote degree of comfort or control.
The Revolution 1490cc air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin delivers 125 hp with an astonishing 104 ft lbs of torque at 4,200 rpm. The American V-twin power is put to the pavement via a six-speed transmission.
Low and lean like more conventional cruisers, the Wraith also seems fairly compact on the road, as its 58.5 inch/1485mm wheelbase, 27-degree head angle and 98mm of trail would confirm. Those are sportbike stats, and the overpowering first impression this motorcycle delivers is that it’s born to burn up the road, not pose down on Bourbon Street. There is excellent ground clearance, and two days of enthusiastic cornering didn’t see anything touch down once on the lean, limber Wraith. The front shock, though, is too softly sprung for the considerable stopping power delivered by the single 320mm Spiegler floating steel disc and its eight-piston caliper with radial master cylinder; scaling 415 pounds dry, there isn’t a lot of Wraith to stop, by U.S. cruiser standards.
The fact that the chassis of this work-in-progress performed as well as it did underscores the worth of the Wraith’s concept. I’ll pay it the ultimate accolade and say that if John Britten were alive today and wanted to build a naked streetrod, I’ll bet it would look a lot like the Confederate Wraith—only with smaller girders, more pragmatic rider packaging, and above all, a more modern motor.
OK. It starts, it runs, it looks great and works fine. But will the Wraith become an eye-grabbing showbike aimed at drawing attention to the Confederate brand when displayed at shows and ridden at demos? “No way!” declares Matt Chambers, president and CEO. “The Wraith is Confederate’s next customer model, and we’re aiming to start series production late in the summer with a target sticker price of $55,000. Wraith‚ being the Scottish word for ‘ghost,’ we’ll have a party here in New Orleans on Halloween night, at which point we’ll have 10 or so Wraiths built, which we’ll take down to the French Quarter, then ride them uptown in ghostly procession.”
As inimitable, eccentric, and eclectic as the city of New Orleans itself, the Confederate Wraith is an avant-garde amalgam of art and science, epitomizing what the American V-twin was in the very beginning: a pure, honest soul of two-wheeled travel. As the rolling antithesis of market-driven conformity, the Wraith proves that American ingenuity is alive and well. It lives at 845 Carondelet St., in New Orleans, La.