Thursday, January 12, 2006

Confederate design

Despite the obvious reasons for choosing to own a motorcycle some of us also are drawn to the way they look, the style. This is aesthetics. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all philosophical on your asses. I went to the Confederate Motorcycles website yesterday just to check if there was anything new. You may have seen one of their bikes on the cover of any number of motorcycle or design magazines and you may or may not have liked it. The look of the bikes is certainly not to everyone’s taste. I, personally, think they are gorgeous but what intrigues me about this brand is it’s not just another American bike builder using Harley-Davidson clone motors. They have cleverly named their particular flavor of powerplant the radial twin. I don’t think this is just to skirt the issue of ripping off the Motor Company from Milwaukee but another nod to the Confederate Motorcycles design aesthetic. They describe it as this –

“Confederate Motor Company's unique design aesthetic adheres to the industrial elegance of the Bauhaus and a deep history of Southern ingenuity that includes the invention of the first submarine the C.S.S. Hunley, the LeMat double barrel pistol, Jazz, and Rock n' Roll.The fastest and most luxurious American radial-twin motorcycles ever made, each machine is entirely crafted by hand to showcase evolved individual craftsmanship. Devoid of ornamentation, the minimalism of each machine illuminates the stark and elegant beauty of uncompromised American heirloom quality.”

This is the core of what excites me about this company. Not only am I excited; it also seems to leave a bad taste in my mouth. On one hand this is a company that builds motorcycles that seem to go, stop, and look cool-all the things a motorcycle should do. Pretty cut and dried. The other hand is a different story. I am no expert on industrial design, but I do enjoy the idea of making everyday items beautiful. I can appreciate a motorcycle that looks different than all the rest and still does not compromise the actual function of the item. Reading the above description I can see where they are going, however, it seems to drip with pretense. I get the idea of using industrial design and engineering to build motorcycles but are they using motorcycles to sell engineering and industrial design? After hurricane Katrina came and kicked the shit out of the gulf coast, Confederate’s building was destroyed. Determined to keep on kicking they have chosen to continue operations in Birmingham, AL. They chose Birmingham for a few reasons but it seems as though the choice was made more for cool factor than anything. I am quite torn by the duality of what I read about Confederate. The company’s founder Matt Chambers in a press release about the move said this about the bikes-“This is what we are about - celebrating a sense of individuality and reasserting fundamental integrity back into American motorcycles.” I really like that. The same press release also states that the bikes are “Owned by movie stars, rock stars and at least one foreign prince…” I’m not so excited about the latter little tidbit. Another small issue I have with these bikes is the cost. The Wraith model is $67,000. If you want to reassert fundamental integrity back into American motorcycles perhaps you could design a bike that someone hauling down a cool forty grand a year could afford.
Maybe that bad taste in my mouth is just sour grapes. I’ve never felt the astronomical cost of a new Ferrari was something to worry about. I feel the same about the motorcycling equivalents built by MV or Benelli. Perhaps it’s the fact that this is another Harley clone that, however cool looking it is, is just another custom bike. Maybe it’s just the fact that I know what goes into building something like this and the fact that they are marking it up like jewelry seems ludicrous. I like the way they look and I’m sure that riding one would be the most fun you could have with your pants on. What I cannot figure out is are they a motorcycle company trying to survive and stay true to a design aesthetic or a marketing company trying to get rich by selling a modern Crocker they talked you into believing was “most expressive of a sense of individuality”.


Lucky said...

I appreciate what you're saying, but to offer a counter-point: until a company starts selling huge numbers of a product, any product, it's best for that company to appeal to the top 10% of the market because it costs a LOT to hand-build something.

Alas, the top 10% of the motorcycle market tend to be pretentious asses that will rarely ride their trophy bike.

Anyway, my point is just that they're trying to make a living, which means appealing to the people with the money. I'm sure if they could sell their bikes to everyone for a low price, they would (at least, I hope so.).

That said, I sure wish Exile Cycles wouldn't have gone on TV. Now I'm never going to be able to get one...

Incidentally, have you seen ?

Great post, anyway, I know what you mean about being torn between admiring the craftsmanship and innovations, and being disgusted by how it is presented.

Surly said...

I was trying to say I really don't know if I should think they are the Paris Hilton of motorcycling or just guys tring to build bikes who are also design and buisiness oriented. They seem very "corporate" in their way of describing things and that may be just what it takes to survive. Again, it could be sour grapes. I really cant make up my mind. Thanks for reading.