Under a bright sun on the white surface of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats Sept. 7, the creators of the Wraith motorcycle set out to prove a point.
With one of Confederate Motorcycle Co.'s electricians on board, the carbon-fiber and metal machine raced across the sand, eventually hitting 129.8 mph.
The first test run proved Confederate's concepts on the purity of the bike, its form and materials, while also teaching its developers and molders something about how far they can take it.
``Our whole mantra is the revealing and exposing of everything,'' said J.T. Nesbitt, head designer for New Orleans-based Confederate. ``We don't cover anything. We don't paint anything. If you take the time to make the components beautiful, you don't have to cover it.''
Confederate is a 10-year-old company specializing in hand-built, high-end motorcycles. The company's Hellcat is a re-imagining of the American dream machine, President Matt Chambers said during a discussion of the firm's offerings at the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual conference, Oct. 27-30 in Pasadena.
With its sleek, unadorned metal and carbon-fiber fuel tank, front fork and seat, the Hellcat takes a wide berth around the paint and accessories that have become the standard American chopper format, Chambers said.
``This is design truth,'' Chambers said, referring to Confederate's products. ``This is 100 percent pure love, passion and romance in all design aspects.
``These must be alive, be soulful. We're looking for a sincerity of design truth.''
``I will attest to that,'' said Dan Martin, president of Summit Tooling Inc., a McHenry, Ill-based maker of injection mold tooling and the owner of three Hellcats. ``The choppers look pretty, but they're not comfortable, they don't handle well, they don't brake well. With Confederate, they really look at what's necessary, the ride, the feel and the design and engineering to achieve that.''
Now with its second product, the racing bike called the Wraith, Confederate set out to push its own standards. The bike is built on what Nesbitt calls a ``deep understanding'' of the engine and how it works with the chassis, stripping down the machine to its bare essentials of form and function.
``It was challenging for us,'' said Adam Arnold, project engineer with Fiber Dynamics Inc., the Witchita, Kan.-based molder that uses its lost-core resin transfer molding process to make Confederate's carbon-fiber parts.
Fiber Dynamics has worked with Confederate for two years on the Hellcat. When plans for the Wraith ramped up in the summer, the firm was in line to work with the motorcycle company and designers to help create the race bike on a tight time frame.
``A lot of designs come in from the customer that require design modifications to make them with our manufacturing in mind,'' Arnold said. ``With this, we were collaborating back and forth.''
The Wraith was merely a concept when Nesbitt spoke at the IDSA's regional meeting in Pittsburgh in April. In the audience was Brian Case, president of Pittsburgh design firm Foraxis Design Solutions LLC and a motorcycle enthusiast.
He was immediately hooked by Confederate's design outlook and offered his company's help on any upcoming programs.
Nesbitt admitted they were seeking some help with computer-aided design.
Case immediately volunteered Foraxis' aid - although, he admitted, the company did not have any software on hand. Before leaving the event, he bought into Think3 Inc.'s programs, seeing it as providing the ease of use and support he'd need.
``I offered to go and work with [Confederate], and in the process I had to find out about a lot of other things,'' Case said.
Within weeks, Foraxis was mapping out a digital copy of the engine using Think3 and working closely with Confederate to make its concept a reality.
At the same time, though, Case admitted the four-partner operation also had to learn more about manufacturing methods, especially Fiber Dynamic's lost-core forming, to come up with the right design.
``I had to learn their process, just as you would anything else, like co-injection molding for instance,'' he said.
The Wraith depends on a hollow, 14-pound carbon-fiber backbone that curves along the top of the bike. Confederate called on its customer, Summit Tooling's Martin, to handle the tooling for the part.
``They know me pretty well, they know my operation and what we do,'' Martin said.
Summit Tooling coordinated its process along with Fiber Dynamics, as well as Confederate and the designers. The backbone was complex, Arnold said. It includes an integrated oil tank with threaded aluminum insert for the cap, eight different inserts for connections to the seating, fuselage and engine along with gauges and other electronics. Fiber Dynamics had to come up with three individual internal carbon-fiber ribs to provide structural stability. On top of that was a timetable aimed at getting the bike ready in time for the Bonneville test run and Confederate's aesthetic requirements.
``It's also more challenging when you put the cosmetic elements into it,'' Arnold said. ``This is a case where they not only want it to perform, but it has to look its best. We used a lot of different materials in order to tailor the strength and stiffness where we needed it.''
Within two months, Confederate had all the parts to its prototype bike. Within two weeks it had been built and was prepared for test runs in Utah.
Production of the Wraith is set to begin in the spring, with a formal roll-out set for October. Confederate already has started taking orders.
Case sees his experience with the production as an opportunity for him and his small design group.
``I want to work on things like this,'' he said. ``These things that carry real emotion.''
Fiber Dynamics sees the Confederate work as part of its expansion into a wider variety of products beyond its bread-and-butter aircraft parts. It recently launched a new division aimed at automotive aftermarket components including carbon-fiber air-intake manifolds.
Enthusiast and Confederate customer Martin, meanwhile, already has his order in for a Wraith. The fifteenth bike off the line has his name on it.
``They're just pushing the envelope and doing things that are functional and beneficial to the whole bike,'' he said. ``With every component, they're trying to achieve the ultimate, the Ferrari of the motorcycle world.
``It's nice to see that somebody is doing what they believe in, rather than conforming to others' expectations of the norm.''