Factory R&D is one of those small shops that make some unique high-quality components, and while they may not be as well-known or have the exposure of some of the bigger companies, what they do have is the confidence of guys like Team Yamaha. Factory R&D’s founder, Ken Leybourne, explains, “We do all of the triple clamps and linkage, as far as I know, for Team Yamaha’s motocross team, as well as their Supermoto team.” How does a small company score a gig like that? “I guess it was word of mouth, and meeting guys like Steve Butler and Keith McCarty, and them seeing what we do. They saw my triple clamps and a lot of people say they look like jewelry, so maybe that was it. We’ve been doing it for six years now. We make some little specialty parts every now and then, and they use some of the parts that I’ve designed.”
Of course, Ken’s not exactly new to racing or race engineering, having worked in the past on projects as varied as IMSA GTP cars, and on a variety of mountain bike components. “As you can see looking at some of the pictures on the walls, I used to race cars. In 1980 I started in with the GTP stuff, as like an entry-level mechanic. I was working for company that made high-voltage switch gear, and CGI sponsored that car. They actually sent me to engineering school, so I was working for them at night, and going to school during the day.”
“They had a building off to the side that was fenced with big walls around it. No one really knew what was going on in there, and then I heard there were race cars in there. So I was kind of hanging out and got to know the guys and we talked a bit. Next thing you know I was asking, ‘Why don’t you change that?’ Then they had a problem on a car that they’d designed that the front end wouldn’t steer enough. It was also lifting. So I designed this little splitter for the car that came out on the front and held the car down. Then we changed the rack and pinion so that it would actually go around corners. So the next thing I know they moved me from in there to over on the race team. Then it became a full-time deal. That’s when I got into auto racing. We caught the very tail end of the Can-Am series, and did the IMSA series. I did that for like 13 years.”
“As I was getting out of it, I was a Team Manager for Team Toyota.” Some of the drivers Ken worked with included Jan Lammers, Jochen Maas, John Paul Jr., Bill Adams, John Morton, Pete Hallsmer, Geoff Brabham, and Elliott Forbes-Robinson.
Ken was also working with the Toyota off-road team back when stadium racing was still in vogue, working with drivers like Robby Gordon, Ivan Stewart, and¿Rick Johnson. While he was still busy there, he was riding his MX bike, and crashed, and came up with a unique excuse to keep him out of hot water with the team. With a smile he said, “I’ve never told this story, but¿it was definitely forbidden to do that kind of thing, so I told them that I’d fallen off his bicycle in front of my house.”
As odd as it sounds, a bum knee may actually have helped nudge him into his current business. “I’d always had kind of a knee problem. So at one point I decided. “Okay, I’m going to get it operated on. The doctor said it was pretty bad and he’d repair it and see what would happen. But he suggested that I start pedaling a bicycle to get the range of motion back. Shortly after the surgery I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper and just started on the trainer in the garage. As I got better, I started riding mountain bikes. Then when suspension came out, they were real flexible. While I was on the racing teams I was designing parts, so I decided to design something else to hold that front end more rigid, and that’s when I came up with the fork brace. I was the first one to come up with the triangulated fork brace to help stiffen the front end. A couple guys started asking if they could get one, and before I knew it, I was in business.”
“We’ve been in business since ’95. I was kind of doing it as a part-time deal, and was also working for a bicycle component manufacturer called Kore Bicycle Components as their chief engineer. I worked for almost four years. Now we make triple clamps for Honda, KTM and Yamaha. We were either the first, or one of the first to come out with the offset triple clamps.”
“We also make our carburetor part called the P-38 which goes on the bottom of the carb for four-strokes and changes the timing of how the carburetor works. We’ve been making that since 1998. We also make fuel mixture needles, we make a lot of titanium parts¿nuts, bolts, things like that. We do some specialty stuff. We’ve also made some things for KTM. When they first came out with their big axles, and we also make other parts. I work pretty closely with Yamaha and KTM.
Ken also showed off his newest product, which is called the Glide Ring. “We used a video camera to slow down and record what the shock and spring were doing as it moved through the travel. We saw that the spring would grow or chatter as the shock moved through its travel. It always wanted to try and turn. The way that the shocks are held together, they’re basically trapping the spring. As it compresses, it gets more force on it. and it’s always this jerky motion on it when you watch it in slow motion. So I developed the Glide Ring that allows the spring to turn back and forth as it travels up and down. We brought that out about the first of the year. I’ve shown it to some of the teams that we work with.”
Ken uses a unique way to keep things sliding smoothly. “We don’t use a needle bearing. When we tested it, needle bearings would get water in it and rust, or get dirt in there and after a short time it’d lock up. We tried Teflon, which is really slick, but it compresses too much. Delrin was too hard, and it just made it harsh. I have a friend that works at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and he told me about this new type of composite plastic. That’s what we’re using in it now. It doesn’t have a lot of squish. This new plastic that he gave us the line on it doesn’t slide well against metal, but it slides better against itself. So what we’ve done is go to a split ring, and it slides really well.”
“I was surprised, coming out of corners how well the rear end bit into the ground. It also got a lot better traction on little choppy stuff. It also really helped in situations where you’re seat bouncing a little jump out of a corner. Overall, it gives the back end a really nice feel.”
They do, and not just on their own products. “There are companies out there who are copying our products, so we have to take theirs and test them¿like our carburetor part. We test every bike that it goes on. We don’t make a one size fits all thing. The same thing goes with our triple clamps. We buy everyone else’s triple clamps and try them out to see what theirs are doing and how they compare to ours. We spend a lot of R&D time, I think, and maybe some of the other companies don’t do that.”
23192 Verdugo Dr., Unit B
Laguna Hills, CA 92653