It seems my column discussing various design aspects of the Triumph Daytona 675 (Full Pin, Apr. '08) touched a nerve with the people at Triumph headquarters. The basis for the column came from talking with Carry Andrew-who built our project bike's engine-about the differences between the Triumph parts he saw and the typical Japanese equivalents. Just a couple of days after the issue hit newsstands, an e-mail beamed over from Hinckley via Triumph's U.S. headquarters in Georgia.
As stated in my original column, the 675 engine's castings are thicker in places than the typical equivalent Japanese parts and made from what looks to be a slightly weaker material. In the e-mail from Triumph's Product Manager Simon Warburton the company's design department claims that the crankcase material is not weaker than that used by the Japanese. "In fact, it is pretty much the same stuff," says Mr. Warburton. "If sections of our crankcase are thicker, it is because they need to be thicker due to the strength required in that area."
A second example I outlined was the Triumph's camshafts, which have a rougher finish and proportionally smaller holes than a ZX-6R's camshaft, used for comparison. "The difference between Kawasaki's camshafts and ours is the process," writes Warburton. "Theirs are forged, ours are cast. Some of the other Japanese manufacturers use forged cams, some use cast like us." A very valid point and something I didn't consider when looking at the parts.
In a way, comparing specific parts of the 675 triple to a typical Japanese four-cylinder engine is an apples-to-oranges affair, and that may have been a mistake on my part. For example, if a set of cast GSX-R600 camshafts weighs 4.38 pounds (it does), how much lighter-if at all-would an equivalently designed set of cams for a 675cc triple weigh? Certainly not 25 percent less, as the weight of the sprockets and their mounts are fixed. And the triple's lobes would have to be larger to accommodate bigger, heavier valves. Fifteen percent lighter, then? Ten percent heavier? The Triumph's camshafts weigh 4.14 pounds, about five percent less than the Suzuki parts; that may be comparatively light, or it may not. And until Suzuki makes a middleweight triple or Triumph makes a four-cylinder again, we won't know.
I also wrote that Triumph, as a smaller company, had to design and build almost every part specifically for the 675 (allowing those parts to be optimized for the application) as opposed to the Japanese, who share parts between models to save costs-even if those parts end up sacrificing performance. Warburton counters, "The Japanese manufacturers use all new parts on their sports bikes, and are able to spend a lot more money doing so due to their economies of scale. They have very few parts that are common with other bikes in their range (a notable exception being the large number of common parts between the GSX-R600 and 750). For us, a relatively small manufacturer, it is much more difficult to justify making a new part for a bike when we could make do with a part already in use on another bike."
Without wading through thousands of part numbers and backtracking through hundreds of individual models, I don't think anyone can say for sure if Triumph or the typical Japanese manufacturer shares more parts among its models. It's really a moot point: If the part is shared, the benefit is in cost savings, while the drawback is that the part may not be optimized for the job. If the part is not shared, it's more expensive but can be made to an exact specification, with the resultant better performance. Either way has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on your point of view-just as I pointed out in my original column.
Warburton also refuted my point that Triumph, a smaller company with fewer models updated less frequently than the Japanese, can devote more time and attention to each bike's design. "We are much smaller than the Japanese manufacturers, but this does not give us any advantages in terms of updating our bikes-they need a much smaller percentage of their Design and Development staff to update a bike, which is why they can afford to do it every two years."
My point here was that from a time perspective, an engineer with three or more years available to finish a project is able to do a more thorough job than someone with a two-year window, who is likely to cut corners. That said, if you've got four times the number of engineers and 10 times the budget, that shortened time scale may be a nonissue, and I can't argue with the counterpoint here.
My column was intended to highlight the positive aspects of the 675's design and the David-versus-Goliath battle the company is facing with the Japanese. The 675 is competing on even terms with the Japanese middleweights, and that is a major achievement-even more impressive considering the relatively short time in which the company has reached that parity. And finally, if we didn't believe in Triumph, the 675 and its potential as a racebike, we wouldn't be putting the major time and effort into the project that it is requiring.
Speaking of which, the Triumph FX bike is coming along nicely. This evening Eric Nugent and I are assembling the last of the parts to arrive, and if all goes well the bike will be run on the dyno tomorrow and at the track on the weekend. Stay tuned.