Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster Test
Peripatetic. Look it up. That’s the crossword-closing crusher of a word that describes one of the most iconic motorcycle designers in the world today, globetrotting South African-born Pierre Terblanche.
After making his mark in the early 1990s as a disciple of the late, great Michelangelo of the motorcycle, Massimo Tamburini, Terblanche has been the Director of Design for Ducati, a full-time design consultant for Piaggio, worked on the revitalized born-again Norton, and in 2013 he moved to the USA, as head of product development at Confederate Motors.
His debut design, the Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster, became the first new Terblanche-designed motorcycle to reach production since 2007, when launched in August 2014 to widespread acclaim.
But three months later, just as the first such bikes were rolling out of the company’s Birmingham, Ala. factory, it was announced that Terblanche would be moving to India to head up product development at Royal Enfield. That made the heavily revamped Speedster version of the Confederate X132 Hellcat his farewell legacy for America’s only motorcycle manufacturer in the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
A Louisiana gourmet dish prepared in Alabama by a South African chef, the Speedster is different than what’s come before from Confederate, the same as every pot of jambalaya is a standalone Creole concoction. So, I was quite unprepared for what awaited me as I threw a leg over the Speedster and settled myself aboard the surprisingly comfortable yet minimalist-looking leather-clad seat.
You now seem perched very high up on the Speedster’s good-looking leather seat, even if you’re sitting low enough to easily put both feet flat on the ground at a stoplight. Yet, the whole bike feels very low slung compared to before, so that you seem rather detached from it and no longer feel a part of it as I did on the previous X132 café cruiser, or indeed on the previous Nesbitt-designed X124 Hellcat sport-custom.
It makes it hard to ride the Speedster in something approaching anger, so that it lives up to its name, and doesn’t concord very well with its aggressive appearance. That’s because you can’t easily grip the fuel tank with your knees to help steer the bike in turns because your feet are parked too far out in front of you—fine for a chilled-out cruiser, not so good for the kind of on-road action I had always understood Confederate riders relish.
There’s also a new handlebar, which is wider and farther pulled back than before, resulting in a more upright riding position that is indeed a fair bit more comfortable than the old Hellcat. That bike had low-set flat clip-on handlebars that dictated quite a long stretch forward over the fuel tank, to deliver a sporty stance that got to be hard work on your wrists and shoulders after a couple of hours.
Its extra width is also handy, because of the triumph of appearance over function that has been inflicted on the Speedster by the adoption of a massive 240/40-18 rear Metzeler on an eight-inch BST carbon rim, compared to the Superbike-sized 190/55-17 Pirelli Diablo and six-inch rim on the old Hellcat.
Of course, you don’t get to use a fraction of the width of this design statement, which instead heavies up the steering and makes the previous sweet-handling Confederate café cruiser into frankly a bit of a truck. This is not helped by the inch-longer wheelbase, and substantial extra trail.
Firing up the S&S X-Wedge powerplant can take a little while, but eventually it catches on the second or third rotation, bursting into life with a satisfyingly meaty peal of thunder from the exhaust canister beneath the engine. It settles into a 900 rpm idle that is quite devoid of the clackety rattles and shakes of other American air-cooled V-twins, and it’s also quiet in terms of decibels.
The X-Wedge motor’s happy zone is between 1500-3500 rpm, and you’re best shifting up at 4000 rpm as shown on the bike’s only instrument, a large black- faced analogue tach that’s very café racer. It contains a small digital panel showing road speed and the fuel level, with a red ignition light, green N-for-Neutral, and that’s all.
Doing so will let you surf that so- strong torque curve, but you must remember that while 3000 rpm in top gear is already 100 mph, it takes you very little time to get there thanks to those substantial reserves of grunt. The motor is very refined in terms of operation—practically civilized— and a reflection of what Confederate Motors CEO Matt Chambers terms the more gentlemanly nature of the beast that he and Terblanche aimed to achieve, complete with a quieter induction system and less strident exhaust.
Though the surprisingly light-action hydraulically operated Bandit clutch—surprising, because of the 140 ft/lbs on tap— barely needs to be troubled accelerating out of even the tightest turn from little more than walking pace, you’re best off keeping the revs dialed up above 1800 rpm to avoid any trace of transmission snatch.
Fortunately, there are acres of torque from there on up to the 5100 rpm power peak, where the triple-camshaft 2163cc motor delivers 121 horses at the gear- box. This is 15 horsepower less than the previous Hellcat, but delivered more smoothly as part of the gentrification process that Terblanche has applied to the rest of the bike.
The shift action of the five-speed Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster's gearbox is quite positive, swapping ratios smoothly, except from second to first when there’s a big clunk each time you go through neutral while downshifting.
However, with so much torque on tap, two of those five ratios are completely superfluous—you can start off from rest in third gear without slipping the clutch unduly—and the X132 will go almost anywhere in top gear with simply magnificent roll-on performance from any revs. This is a great bike for close-quarters traffic combat, using the S&S engine’s meaty response to zap past cars or trucks.
While you expect all that from such a big-cube motor, the fact that this impressive performance is delivered with such extra refinement and so little vibration is really noteworthy. Still, while the slightly detuned engine package is more than potent enough to impress, I found it hard to ride the new Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster anything like as enthusiastically around turns as I did its predecessor, and the main reason for that is the sense of detachment you get from the riding position.
I knew the essentially unchanged chassis package was plenty capable enough to let me get the lower frame rails rubbing on the tarmac, it’s just that the rather strange way I was forced to sit on the Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster didn’t lend itself to reminding me of that.
The suspension seems more compliant than before, with the previous fully adjustable Marzocchi 50mm fork replaced by a 48mm unit from WP that eats up bumps and surface irregularities with little fuss and less noise. There are fewer rattles and rubbing sounds from this finer finished new model.
The Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster has taken several steps up the ladder of excellence in terms of fit and finish and perceived quality, and the S&S engine seems even quieter and more sophisticated, if slightly less meaty and muscular than before.
Really, the whole bike exudes quality and represents a decisive step up in terms of togetherness and finish than any previous Confederate model I have ridden. It is very evident that Terblanche succeeded in getting Confederate’s suppliers to raise their game to his levels, so that the Speedster no longer feels like a collection of parts, but a more homogeneous, more refined whole.
Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster Riding Style:
- Helmet: Arai CT-Z
- Jacket, Pants, Gloves & Boots: Kushitani
Photography by Phil Hawkins
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.
Confederate X132 Hellcat Speedster Photo Gallery