Maybe we should apologize in advance for Alan Cathcart's first ride review of the 2009 KTM RC8R back in the May issue ("Getting Serious"). With such a glowing review, you weren't the only ones this side of the Atlantic waiting for samples to play with. But KTM kept us waiting. And waiting. In fact, it waited a whole model year before deciding to appease us Yanks, choosing to refine the bike in Europe before sending it abroad. Perhaps all good things indeed are worth waiting for as 2010 finally sees the KTM RC8R available to the U.S. market.
With a company slogan like "Ready To Race" it's a bit odd to see the standard RC8 not quite live up to that motto. It has all the pieces to make a lively sportbike-Brembo brakes, fully adjustable WP suspension, and Marchesini wheels-all of which we raved about because of its razor-sharp handling, but the one glaring piece of the puzzle that is missing is the most important of all: the engine. With only 1148cc at its disposal, it was already giving up 47cc to its direct (Italian) competition. KTM admits to deviating from its norm and creating a comfortable sportbike for the road, but also says that a full racing version has always been in the plans.
That issue has been addressed with the RC8R, and in a big way. It now gains that extra engine capacity to compete with the big boys via a 2mm-larger bore. Other improvements include a host of subtle changes like forged Marchesini wheels, a bump in compression to 13.5:1, a liquid-cooled oil-cooler and an updated transmission with an improved gearshift arrester star and revised engagement dogs. These last two items being important as other than the small engine, sloppy shifting was one of our other few complaints about the standard model.
43mm WP suspension provides...
43mm WP suspension provides full adjustment for an already precise motorcycle. Each stanchion receives a Titanium-Aluminum nitride coating to reduce friction, something the base model doesn't get. Brembo four-piston calipers clamp on 320mm discs and bring the RC8R to a stop, pronto. Both front and rear wheel spacers were designed in such a way to facilitate quick and easy wheel changes.
When World Superbike rules allowed 1200cc twins to compete against 1000cc fours that opened the floodgates for other manufacturers to join the fray. Naturally, KTM and its "Ready To Race" attitude saw this as an opportunity to compete against the best in the world. Even from the start of the standard RC8 project, the aim was to create a track-ready motorcycle that could also do double duty on the street. For example, turn indicators and the rear fender are extremely simple pieces to disassemble-making track prep that much easier. Rear ride height is adjustable via an eccentric insert in the shock linkage. Further, the R model boasts adjustable cam sprockets to take advantage of the rather lax World Superbike specs. But instead of jumping head first into racing, the Austrian firm-after only returning to producing road motorcycles in the latter part of this decade-knew that it would need some time to prepare before racing its flagship sportbike against the lions. The program started with the domestic German Superbike championship, followed by a few other domestic European championships. World Superstock competition has been KTM's most competitive playing field thus far, but RC8R project leader and race team manager, Wolfgang Felber, has his sights set for a full assault on World Superbike in 2012. Not coincidentally, when asked whether any consideration was given to participate in AMA competition, Felber-without hesitation-simply replied, "no."
The Proof Is In The Pudding
It seems as though the refinement year KTM took before introducing it here paid off. Team Orange gathered much of the North American press to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last November to put the bike through its paces. Also in attendance was a large sampling of the company's LC8 range of motorcycles featuring the 990cc V-twin, including the Super Duke, Super Duke R, 990 SM R and 990 SM T. A few standard 2010 RC8s were also available to give a proper side-by-side comparison.
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.