Four days at the Apex
K3 Chris Onwiler
During the week of Thanksgiving, we spent four days in the Apex MFG race shop. Our mission was to turn a brand-new leftover 2013 Triumph Speed Triple R into a really special nuvo-retro track day bike. (To read previous articles about this build, check out 11:15 and Creating the K3R Prototype, Part 1.) By the time we arrived, Apex's master fabricator, Teddy Donahey, had stripped our Speed Triple, built a subframe and a fairing bracket from scratch, and hung the Glass From The Past bodywork into place with temporary fasteners. The bike looked incredible but there was still a ton to do.
Since this project would be labor-intensive and feature so many prototype parts, Teddy and K3 each attacked the tasks which made best use of their specific skill sets. Donahey handled the cutting, welding and hand fabrication of one-off custom bits, as well as supplying the lion's share of the imagination which shaped this bike. TrackdayMag.com Senior Editor K3 would be charged with installing the Bazzaz electronics and doing all the wrench work needed to assemble the machine.
When you're prototyping, the amount of time required to get things right is astronomical. Some of the issues which came up during our build seem trivial to mention but are in fact critical. One example would be the under-seat wiring. With the new Donahey-designed subframe, finding a neat, effective and secure system of getting both the stock and Bazzaz electronics packaged was a challenge which required hours of work to accomplish but, once finished, appeared as if it should only have taken minutes. Another hitch occurred when trying to fit the trick Apex Revolver rearsets to the bike. They would have been fine if we'd used the stock Triumph shift rod; however, the strain gauge trigger of the Bazzaz quick shifter required that we reinvent the shift lever in order to provide adequate clearance to accommodate that piece of electronics.
Because we had gone from the Speed Triple's high, dirtbike-style handlebars to a set of low, fork-mounted clip-ons, much attention had to be paid to the details of brake and clutch lever positioning, as well as cable, hose and wire routing. All of these components must move through an arc when the forks are steered and nothing can be allowed to crimp, rub or snag. Get any of this wrong and you'll be risking a crash. Complications seemed to plague this
build. We had nearly every wiring connector
apart one or more times during that four days at Apex and twice managed to render the machine incapable of starting. The Remus low mount slip-on muffler, which logically should have been a ten minute install, wound up causing us fitment issues when we tried attaching it to the Apex Revolver rearset. Once this problem was solved, we noticed that the rider's right heel was going to be all over that lovely muffler during cornering, which in short order would melt the sole of an expensive racing boot to the metal and also ruin the finish of the Remus. A one-off heel guard had to be fabricated, which Teddy handled with ease. The finished piece is one of our favorite creations on the whole motorcycle but it took the master fabricator close to two hours to take this single handmade part from conception to finished product.
We had invested a lot of time mounting the Glass From The Past bodywork to our Speed Triple and while we'd more or less gotten it to fit, there was still a huge amount of work left to be done. Everything but the tail section was still a work in progress at the point when our time at Apex came to an end. Not only did we still need to create more secure attachment points just to keep the bodywork fastened to the motorcycle at speed, but we knew from the beginning that the late-60's era lowers, which hadn't even extended below the exhaust in the original design, were going to drag the ground when exposed to modern lean angles.
Near the end of the build, the Apex MFG staff let us in on a pretty damn neat inside joke. Triumph Speed Triple R models are generally referred to by the abbreviation S3R. Several of these were at Apex, waiting to be sold. When one of those machines was pulled from the line and designated to be the TrackdayMag.com project bike, everyone around the shop began to refer to it as the "K3R," since it was destined to be the new love of Senior Editor K3 Chris Onwiler. In fact, they even went so far as to machine that designation into each heel guard of the prototype Apex Revolver rearsets. These guys just don't miss a detail.
The final touches of love bestowed upon our Speed Triple R while it was at Apex were all Teddy Donahey's doing. He couldn't bear the thought of us running the Triumph in its Glass From the Past black gel coat because that simply wouldn't be trick enough. To put his signature on the machine, Ted grabbed a few cans of Krylon and created a "Detroit Camo" paintjob. The inspiration for this crazy, asymmetrical collection of fades and shadow lines is the proximity of the Apex MFG race shop to Detroit. Automobile models of the future, visually disguised with eye-tricking paint schemes and blocky add-on body panels, can regularly be observed buzzing up and down the farm roads around the shop. Teddy decided that since our machine was also a prototype, we should paint it accordingly for its maiden voyage. To compliment this wild look, he carved a seat and tank pads from HT Moto foam, using their Snow Camo pattern. The end result was a stealth paintjob worthy of a WWII German U Boat.
As the bike left Apex, it was a very cool piece of equipment but still had a long way to go before it would be track ready. There were just ten days left until we needed to leave for the machine's scheduled debut at Jennings GP racetrack in Florida. The most major issue was that its fuel injection would need to be remapped for the new exhaust system. For that work we turned, as usual, to Valley Racing in Beecher, Illinois. Tuning savant Brian Conley has dialed in each of our project bikes since the inception of TrackdayMag.com and our association with him goes all the way back to the 1990's. Valley's slogan is, We make the difference between "Runs Good" and "Runs Great!" We certainly won't argue with that! This was the first Triumph Speed Triple that the shop had seen but it hardly mattered. Brian has a lot of experience with the Bazzaz reprogrammer and always gets good results with it. There was an initial issue with a bad O2 sensor-eliminator plug but once that was replaced, Conley was quickly able to get the map to his liking. The finished tune resulted in 129.63 HP with a staggering 79.94 foot pounds of torque. Best of all, this bike had the flattest torque curve we've ever seen, hardly varying at all from 3000rpm to the redline. She likely wouldn't be the fastest thing out there in ultimate acceleration, but this machine was obviously going to come off a corner with authoriety.
Our final task before leaving was to solidify the body mounting system, which had only been addressed in a temporary fashion at Apex MFG. Channeling Teddy Donahey's mantra of "I can make anything out of anything if I have basic hand tools," we fabricated some aluminum brackets that strengthened the setup substantially. Also, at Ted's suggestion, we added a bunch of tiny Acorn nuts to the lower fairings where we were expecting them to rub. These would provide a bit of protection for the bodywork and also generate an obvious
grinding sound to warn us whenever we reached the limits of ground clearance while leaning. In layman's terms, when we felt our nuts dragging, it would be time to come into the pits and address the situation!
At this point, we were ready for our first test weekend. Mechanically, we had a brand new motorcycle with a modified exhaust and a professional dyno tune. The bike was going to run well, for sure. The things we'd be working on were ergonomics, body clearance in the corners and suspension tuning. Once travel partners Ed Baviar and Johnny Laconte had picked us up, we were Southeast bound and down, loaded up and truckin'. We had a long way to go and a short time to be there. This Florida test session was sure to be a very interesting trip.