After riding both bikes back-to-back the differences between the two aren't dramatic, but they are definitely significant. The most obvious difference lies between the rider's legs. Peak horsepower is up to a claimed 170-15 more than the standard version-while torque gains just 2.2 extra ft/lb to 90.7 (claimed). The bump in torque is negligible, but the extra power up top is hard to ignore, especially with the throttle to the stop going up the hill at Laguna towards the Corkscrew. Standard models are reeled in with relative ease and the butt dyno feels a difference, too. We've complained in the past about throttle response being too sensitive on previous KTMs we've ridden. That's been remedied by an improved fuel map that smoothes things out, and if that's not enough each RC8R also comes with a progressive throttle tube (no throttle-by-wire here) that limits output by approximately 10 percent until half throttle, where full power is again available. Revisions to the transmission also paid dividends on both models as shifting is now buttery smooth, requiring just a gentle flick of the toe to engage the next dog. Strangely, however, a slipper clutch is not standard on the RC8R. Instead, upon deceleration the electronics package will open a butterfly on the rear cylinder to bleed off excess engine vacuum. It works well, but is still no replacement for a true slipper. Hence why one is an available option along with multiple race packages.
Bringing all the action to a halt is largely the same braking system as seen on the standard RC8. Four-piston calipers are radially mounted and grip 320mm discs that are now beefed up to five millimeters thick. We never had an issue with the previous binders and the R version is just as good. Power is strong and easily manageable and the radial master cylinder provides predictable feel at the lever, allowing precise trailbraking right to the apex.
Speaking of precision, one of the things we raved about with the original RC8 was its razor-sharp handling. Its sharp steering angles and frontal weight bias made for an abundance of front-end confidence. The R version sees a seven millimeter increase in trail (97mm from 90mm) via a revised lower triple clamp, thus creating more stability at high speed (like, during a race). A five-millimeter shorter wheelbase (1125mm vs. 1130mm) combined with the weight savings from the forged aluminum Marchesini wheels makes for a bike that turns even quicker, yet retains the precise handling and stability we loved on the original. Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires sweeten the deal by being lightweight and extremely sticky, even under the pressures of a racetrack environment.
A 2mm overbore compared to...
A 2mm overbore compared to the standard RC8 accounts for the R's bump in displacement. Forged Marchesini wheels front and rear shave a total of two pounds compared to its cast counterparts.
One of two limited edition...
One of two limited edition paint schemes, energy drink maker Red Bull rarely licenses its name. That makes this Red Bull edition RC8R even more rare. It also tacks on another $4000 and comes in at $23,998. Unfortunately, no performance upgrades are included.
This Akrapovic paint scheme...
This Akrapovic paint scheme is the second of two in the limited edition series. Pricing is the same as the Red Bull edition as is the lack of upgrades, despite the aftermarket Akrapovic exhaust shown here.
Watch Out, Italy
While we didn't have an opportunity to try the RC8R on the road, if the regular RC8 is anything to go by then we'll love this one just as much. It's (relatively) relaxed seating position perches the rider slightly higher (20mm to be exact), but the adjustable rearsets can suit even six-footers. KTM clearly has Ducati in its cross hares with the RC8R and quite frankly, we're interested to see how the two stack up as well. So stay tuned as we pit Team Orange against Team Red for a superbike smackdown.