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|Bike Review - Posted 23rd January 2015|
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Triumph 955i Special, Part 2
Glenn Wilkin wasnít entirely satisfied with his Daytona 955. So he gradually transformed it into a street triple with a sprinkle of automotive magic...
After buying and getting used to the Daytona, there were many things which needed sorting. The first thing to address was a weird stability thing that developed after about 1500 miles. The previously stunning stability started to disappear, replaced by an uncertain turn-in to bends, a high speed weave and what became appalling squirrelling about on the brakes. Worse, even on a dry road and sensible throttle openings it would slide front or rear. The superb chassis meant this was never frightening but it was NOT GOOD. I always wanted to be able to slide the bike around but, as no-one has ever mistaken my riding for Mr Rossiís, plainly something was wrong. It got so bad I began to hate riding the thing and all my efforts to sort it out were going nowhere.
I started by deciding that as the Showa suspension is adjustable in a thousand different ways it must be possible to dial out the problem. I set the static sag, experimented with pre-load, compression and rebound damping, mostly to no great avail although I did find the rear spring was so stiff as to not sag at all under the weight of the bike like it should do. The front springs did seem a little soggy so I replaced them and the fork oil.
Still a disappointing ride though, especially that turn-in; it was so slow and imprecise. I fiddled with tyre pressures and dropped the yokes a little, no good. Finally, sitting glaring at it one day I looked at the tyres. They had bucket loads of tread on them so I hadnít thought about them too much but now I noticed the tread blocks had worn into a kind of circular saw blade profile when viewed from the side, the leading edge of each one lower than the back of the block it followed. This was big money (to me) but I bit the bullet and had two new tyres fitted, Michelin Pilot Road 2s. Not a supersport tyre, but I donít ride so hard anyway. Wow, what a change. Everything was great again. I guess I now know a little about what racers feel when their tyres go off: it was incredible. The over-stiff rear spring is still there, on the to-do list.
The gearing was the next thing. Even moderately tight turns needed first gear and a bit of clutch slipping which got annoying after a while, especially in town. I experimented a bit and eventually found a compromise gearing set-up. But it will never be ideal: first is far too tall, fifth and sixth a little short. Without swapping cogs in the box thatís how it is. I now have 70mph at about 4k in top as opposed to about 3250rpm on the standard set-up.
Another issue was the position of the switchgear on the bars. It is located with plastic pegs moulded into the switch housings that engage holes in the cast clip-ons. That would be fine if it was in the right place but due to a stunning bit of design it really wasnít. All the action takes place on the left hand side, the right switch houses only a starter button and kill switch. Not a problem but the lights off/side/head switch is closest to your gloved thumb and about half an inch from the dip/main. Going from main to dip in a winter glove it is so easy to switch the lights off altogether leading to a panicked split second while you find the switch to restore illuminations: god knows what the oncoming drivers think.
Filing the peg off and moving the switch block by around 20-degrees makes it harder to do this but despite a lot of night riding I still get caught out sometimes. Not long after my bike was made Triumph blanked off the light switch altogether and went for AHO. Itís amazing that, over a 100 years after the invention of the motorcycle, not all controls yet fall easily to hand.
The major thing was still the brakes, and not just the spongy front. The rear actually failed an MoT because it simply doesnít work. A twin opposed piston caliper bites a smallish disc, there was nothing wrong with either of them, nor with the master cylinder. The brake just has another fundamental design flaw This time it is the size of the master cylinder. A 14mm bore is too big by a mile for the piston area resulting in a rock-hard lever and not much effect at the business end. Even standing on it produced no noticeable deceleration. At the time it was built, most people seemed to dismiss using a back brake on a sports bike as wimpy so I think Triumph made it useless to gain street cred! Seriously, I have no idea how it got past development testing but like the riding position, it did. Anyway, a smaller, half-inch master cylinder from a ZXR400 restored some sense and the rear brake now performs acceptably.
At the sharp end things were more complicated. Firstly, the people who thought two brake pistons at the rear needed a 14mm cylinder also decided that the eight similar pistons at the front needed exactly the same thing. Well, they were wrong twice but at the front the cylinder was too small, giving enough travel for the lever to hit the bars under hard braking, even when bled-out perfectly. And that bleeding is not easy because the brake lines arenít very well thought out either. One line runs from the master cylinder to the right caliper, a second runs up from there, over the mudguard and down to the left neatly creating a trap for any air in the system without any obvious way of getting it out. I guess a dealer would have a powered bleed rig, but for us at home itís a pain.
I have fitted individual lines to the calipers and done away with the link pipe and changed the master cylinder for a larger 5/8Ē one which has all helped. However, and this is odd, whatever you do, however good you get the feel of the lever, after a couple of weeks it goes soggy again. There doesnít seem to be any air getting in there and everything is good but there we are. Iíve serviced the cylinder, it isnít scored, the lines are new, pads are good, new seals in the calipers and new pads again, all to no avail. I had also put new EBC discs on as the old ones had a bit of rotational play in them. They do stop you OK but I am at a bit of a loss really to know how to liberate what should be a superb set of brakes.
Another pain was that engine flat spot. Loads of low-down power up to about 4500rpm, and a huge rush at 5500rpm onwards were separated by a sort of lost-world plateau where twisting the throttle had no great effect, and this on an engine renowned for mid-range grunt. A K&N filter made it worse of course, so did my lightened silencer which had most of the internals removed to let that lovely noise out. The flat spot was, sadly, put there deliberately to help the bike through the ever-sensible Euro noise tests and the only way to get rid of it is a re-map of the ECU. I had the bike dynoíd, and we found a healthy 115bhp at the rear wheel at about 7500rpm but things were clearly not right at lower engine speeds with an almost dangerously lean area at about 3500rpm.
Power Commander was recommended to me. Itís an electronic thing that alters fuelling by changing the injector duration, quite crude really. A better alternative is to use some freeware called Tune-ECU which lets you alter anything in the engine map, but you really need a dyno of your own to use that. A Power Commander has lots of pre-set Ďmapsí that you can put on depending on the spec of your bike. So I got a used Power Commander and then found that I had an odd spec on my bike. It is a Mk1 in terms of mechanics but has a Mk2 ECU and god-knows-what map. In the absence of cash to get a professional remap I have just chosen what seems the best Ďmapí from those available online. It helps but is not perfect with definite over-fuelling at some revs and throttle positions, but itís better than too lean. I also went back to the stock, but very heavy, can. Would you believe around Triumphís stainless job is around 15lb? If I ever have the cash I will get it set-up properly with the gutted silencer which, I have to say, looks and sounds great.
So finally, with those problems addressed as well as I could, I could get to that riding position thing. The stock Daytona, unless you have very short legs, very long arms and a 360-degree universally jointed neck, is NOT COMFORTABLE. Also itís relatively heavy 195kg means you need a fair effort to turn it compared to the benchmark Blade. Hence I suppose the width of the bars but none of it really worked for me.
A Speed Triple mod was the way to go, as many have done but there is more than one way to skin a feline and this is mine. The Speed Triple in 2001 differed from the Daytona roughly as follows: engine map and cams profiled for more mid-range, naked bodywork and less trick magnesium bits. The bars were conventional bits of 7/8Ē tube and there were the trademark twin round headlights. Daytonas got some magnesium castings on the engine. Thatís about it so it is a simple matter to buy this stuff and convert into a Speed-Tona as some will call them, a lighter-than-stock Speed Triple with a Daytona top end rush. What could be better?
In accordance with my law of not having much dosh, I made most of the bits I needed and bought what I couldnít because genuine Speed Triple bits, even secondhand will not be cheap. The most challenging bit is the top yoke. A genuine one with cast-in bar mounting clamps will cost you about £120 used, so some people have just drilled the Daytona one and fitted bolt in clamps. Not a good move because it is cast aluminium and thinner away from the stem and stanchion clamps to save weight. I certainly didnít think it was strong enough to take emergency braking loads. Happily I work with aeroplanes and do structural repairs to aluminium, sometimes using hot bond techniques. In this way, plus a bit of machining, I thickened up the casting acceptably to drill it to take ST1100 Honda bar clamps to which I fitted Renthal super-bike bars.
The twin headlights were cheapish things. I recommend you spend the money and get good ones. These are pretty poor really but look the part with a decent light output from the H4 bulbs. Mirrors are the pricey but beautifully-made Oberon cafť racer offerings. Amazingly for their size you can see pretty well in them although it takes a conscious look down to have a peek.
The pretty but now redundant Daytona fairings went in the loft, meaning I could alter the position of the heavy, white-faced clocks to somewhere I could actually read them. Another odd design fault with the original bike was that the clocks were sited to be awkward to see in daytime and unreadable at night. That natty idea that got me nicked a couple of years ago because I genuinely had no idea I was nearly 20mph over the speed limit! It needs lighter, lower clocks that would allow me a small wind deflector, as well as a softer rear spring Ė so the bike is not perfect yet.
But it is a whole lot better. The lighter weight lets it turn with ease, a gentle tweak on the wide, relatively high bars or a nudge of weight on a footpeg sends it turning with all the poise and balance that that massive alloy frame and sorted suspension can muster. It holds a lovely line through a bend even when the bumps and potholes leap out unexpectedly. It tracks straight and true over any road surface despite the huge 190 rear tyre, and it is comfortable for an hour or so, bearable for two. It is obviously windier now and there are still the brakes to really sort out but it is by any definition a good bike. A bit heavy, gruff and uncivilised but beautifully made by Triumph, altered to suit my preferences by me.
But itís not Ďperfectí. So where is that magic then, the stuff we started out with many words ago, on a page far, far away? That lies in the engine, or to be more precise, in the noise that it makes. As a motor it is great. It pulls any revs you ask it low down, hurls you forward relentlessly in the mid-range and makes the world blur at the edges if you really wind it up. It idles with a grumpy, slightly rattly unevenness that would never have been allowed in Japan or Germany but, like that Merlin, when it all comes together something special happens. It isnít really an exhaust noise as that is not too loud so maybe itís the intakes, the long tracts left from the Daytona to get cold air to the airbox.
This triple does something to the ears that a standard Speed Triple doesnít, nor even a Jota or the old T150. Maybe itís just cos itís mine? At low revs it growls along like a Rottweiler with toothache, the midrange passes in a violent snarl that always makes me grin and when you get past about 6000rpm the effect is hard to describe. It absolutely howls, a spine-tingling, primal banshee wail that defies translation into mere words. Because of the speed you will be going this noise doesnít come to you very often so it remains a special experience, something you know is there but which is often tantalisingly out of reach.
I canít own that Merlin or the Spitfire but I can own this bike Ė and every so often reach out and touch the magic.
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