It turns out there was a bit more crash damage than originally thought when Troy left the track at over 90mph. That said, I'm still pretty impressed with how well the bike took the tumble. In the end, there was a small crack in a frame tube at the weld, we destroyed one of those beautiful rear Thyssenkrupp carbon wheels, triple clamps were bent, radiator was bent (but not leaking), and the carbon seat frame was toast. All major powertrain components survived intact with some minor TLC required on the battery side plates. I was pretty worried that the front forks would end up bent, but they checked out straight on V-blocks and a run-out gauge (whew!).
I debated sending the bike back up to Ely in Oregon for the repair work, but he was knee deep in another 2 frames and this was a great opportunity for me to get even more hands on with the bike. Not to mention the possibility that the new bodywork from Paul Taylor might finally turn up and I wanted to be the first to see the bike in its new clothes! With a little more conviction than I actually felt, I told Ely - "I think I can fix it here." and after reviewing the damage he agreed it was worth a shot...
I broke the bike down to the bare frame, whose paint had seen better days after 2 seasons. I knew it wasn't going to "pop" as much as the House of Kolor Honey Neon paint, but I found a powdercoat from NIC Industries ("Juicy Fruit") that came pretty close and would be way more durable. I also lucked into a local powder coater - Grizzly Powdercoating - in Santa Cruz that was affordable and FAST. Frame was delivered on Friday and back in my hands, looking great, the following Tuesday. I already had my new triples (left them raw CNC finish to expedite delivery), so I was ready to start the rebuild...
The bike really is a joy to work on with only basic mechanic skills and typical shop tools needed to perform a full tear down and rebuild. This is one of those little details that doesn't get a lot of attention from a spec sheet or race result perspective but makes a big difference to a potential club racer that needs to live with the bike throughout a season (or several).
As I started pulling the bike back together, the new carbon fiber parts from Paul Taylor of Taylormade Racing started showing up. These parts have a story all their own worthy of a future blog post, but let's just say it was a massive 24-ish month international effort to go from first sketch to physical parts in hand. And man, oh man... when you've got these in your hands you realize it was all worth it! So incredibly light...! Patience, tape, dremel work, and fussing with Dzus fasteners is required to get the body fitting properly. But in the end, it pays to have bodywork that fits together nicely and can handle being removed and reinstalled several times per weekend. I even ended up with enough time before the test to try a livery design with some 3M 1080 wrap vinyl.
Here's the original "sketch" for the livery design. Ultimately, I'd like to get the main fairing sections painted with automotive paint and a nice clear coat, but that's likely going to need to wait for the off-season. The green number plate is required for AFM, but not CRA and AHRMA (which are our next race events) who allow a black and white plate.
With the bike mostly reassembled outside of some more fairing fitting, I took advantage of an opportunity to throw the bike on a dyno and confirm that she was back to full function and power before hitting the track. Note the new fairing & dash support bracket off the front for the new fairing. This part actually came in lighter weight than the plastic part we had been using for the Kramer fairing. Thanks, Nick & Ely!
Speaking of weight, the bike is called "Lightfighter", and we've made some conscious decisions to keep the weight to a minimum with the use of carbon fiber, titanium, and aluminum where appropriate. Race bikes have a tendency to creep up in weight over the course of the season with little zip ties and extra hardware getting added to solve problems. So, I was curious to see where we were coming in weight wise since the bike hadn't been weighed in awhile. I was very pleased to see that sans front fairing, the bike coming in at 390lbs/177kg, which keeps me from being called a liar by all those at the track that I quote "just under 400lbs" to for that inevitable question!
With the bike tested on the dyno, the next step was a track shake down test to ensure that everything was as it appeared - i.e. straight, tight, and ready to race! Unfortunately, at the 11th hour, Troy needed to hang back and watch his kiddos, which left me little option but to dust off (literally) my leathers and perform the shakedown testing duties myself! I was excited, but also nervous as I realized it's been over 2 years since I rode a bike on the track...
This is how we do a "Launch Event" at Lightfighter Racing... a bike, a trackday, and a garage. Maybe one day, we'll have time for shows and press, but for now... we've got work to do (and limited budget!).
Little tweaks to the cockpit and positioning of the fairing vs. prior designs really added up to a big difference. The cockpit (seat center to steer tube center) is shorter now thanks to a shorter "tank" fairing as well as tangent tube clip-ons from Evol Technology. The new design front fairing is lower and wider which compliments the lower clip-on position for a more aggressive "GP" feel onboard the bike. The functional air ducting feeding the battery visible on the top surface of the tank add a level of visual drama as well and provide a clue to the whirring fan sound that's noticeable on start-up.
Almost two months to the day from the crash, the Lightfighter was back at the track and theoretically better than ever. I tracked down the photographer, Dito Milan, in the morning and asked if he could grab a couple extra shots of the bike in the garage. He exceeded my expectations in providing the shots you see here. Thank you, Dito!
What was it like to ride?... Mostly amazing and maybe even a little scary. As I mentioned, it's been 2 years since I've been on the track and doing so at Laguna Seca, a track I've crashed the most at, on a bike I literally just repaired, was a bit nerve wracking. After I got the first couple of timid sessions out of the way with no issue, I finally convinced myself... "Ok, I remember how to do this." I was still slow, but the last few sessions of the day started to show me the potential of the bike and it was AWESOME. Quietly whooshing past a fire-breathing liter bike is a grin-inducing experience that I wish more riders had the chance to experience!
With 240 lbs-ft of torque at the countershaft sprocket, I will admit that I was scared to "pin it" in several areas of the track. The acceleration rate is brutal and relentless with no shifting required to top speed. The brakes are even more impressive and I never got close to the limit of this system. The bike handled like a proper race bike. The chassis felt stiff and precise, and the softer spring rate for Troy's lighter weight felt surprisingly appropriate for me with the preload cranked up. In a single track day, I wasn't able to fully adapt to the Dunlops and I know I was leaving massive amounts of time in the corners on the table. I never doubted their grip level, but I also didn't get the feedback to feel comfortable with the edge grip to reach the full lean angles the bike is capable of. Hence my frustration of being the weak link in the chain and not being able to extract the performance that is clearly available.
Enjoy the gallery below of more great photos courtesy of Dito Milan from GotBlueMilk Photography:
Outside of the impressive performance, I love the look of the bike with the new bodywork! It's got a great presence in real life being both modern and race inspired without looking like anything else - a feat hard to pull off these days. It feels much narrower and more compact than a liter bike, perhaps more similar in size to a Supersport or Moto2 bike without the width through the middle due to the combustion engine's cylinder head.
I'm left with a whetted appetite for my next chance to get the bike on the track, but for now I feel satisfied knowing that Troy will be back on-board to show us what the bike is truly capable of when we return to Laguna at the end of June for the CRA race. I'm also pleased that I was able to run every session of the day without a single mechanical or electrical issue and confirm that the rebuild was a success.
Thanks to all who stayed with me through the long blog post and continue to support this effort.
Special Thanks to:
Nick Gravely, Claymoto - 3D modeling/VR
Fabien Rougemont, Redster Design - Concept sketches/3D model development
Dejan Havi - Class A surface modeler
Nick Lambert - Solid modeling, part thickening, body mounting design
Paul Taylor, Taylormade Racing - Composite part manufacturing
And as usual:
Troy Siahaan - Racer
Ely Schless - Design & Fabrication
Joe Wismann - Trackside team support