155.36 @ 10,600 rpm
86.31 lb-ft @ 8200 rpm
10.14 @ 139.8 mph
Racetrack Top Speed:
Superpole Best Time:
For 2010 the KTM RC8 ‘R’ is the Austrian weapon of choice. We were able to ride the new KTM at a stand-alone press introduction at Laguna Seca late last year and came away surprised by the sinister black cat and that’s the bike KTM showed up with for our Smackdown. With a solid base setup for the Northern California Grand Prix track and an entire day to work with the new machine, we were able to get along with it quite well. This came as a surprise to us due to the underwhelming performance the base RC8 delivered at the same track earlier that year. No question the ‘R’ is worth the extra money when it comes to KTM’s premier V-Twin sportbike.
Compared to the base model, the ‘R’ gets a host of upgrades to make it more racetrack friendly, including updated geometry, better suspension, Brembo monobloc brakes and fully-adjustable subframe, handlebars, footpegs, ride height and more. In the engine area, a 2mm increase in bore bumps it up to 1195cc, while lighter parts are used internally throughout. Increased compression ups the power significantly, turning what was an underpowered machine into a much closer competitor (for full details see the 2010 KTM RC8R First Ride). Even so, come shootout time, most of our test riders found it to be fun to hustle around the track while still being on the slow end of the spectrum.
“The KTM’s got a good, strong engine, though it’s not a real fast superbike,” concludes Hensley. “When compared to the others, it just feels a little sluggish, and heavy. Kind of like an overweight kid on a playground, it wants to run with the other kids, but it just can’t keep up.”
An area of contention was the sheer amount of vibration through the clip-ons. As early as 5000 rpm the bars start buzzing and as the revs build the high-pitched tingling only gets worse. And while the Ktoom is a fun and emotionally-inviting machine to ride, when mated to a fairly abrupt throttle, it made for a motorcycle that required a rider’s full attention to go fast.
One of the riders that seemed to figure the RC8R out early was Earnest. “The engine just doesn’t feel very fast. It comes off corners fine, but doesn’t pull very hard. The engine vibrates a lot and the on/off throttle transition is fairly abrupt. It does free-rev quickly, making blips for downshifting easy.”
While there’s no question that the RC8R struggles in the engine department compared to the competition it faced during Superbike Smackdown, considering this is basically the first sportbike to be made by the Austrian manufacturer, it’s hard to not give them some kudos for even being competitive in this cutthroat group. That’s nothing short of a very tall order and KTM is closer than most would get on the first try – BMW excluded, of course.
“I think the power output for KTM's first superbike was a valiant effort, it's just not up the other manufacturer’s numbers,” Sorensen says. “The RC8R had good low- and mid-range torque, and then signed off on the top end. It had somewhat of a buzzy feel towards the end of its curve. But I think you will see dramatic gains in horsepower in future models of this bike because they are just getting started.”
KTM's RC8R makes solid HP and torque numbers on the dyno but struggles when it comes to corner-exit acceleration at the track.
A glance at the dyno graph confirms the riders’ feelings, as the KTM produced 155.36 hp, which was the fifth of eight. It didn’t fare as well in terms of the on-track data numbers, with the Katoom producing the lowest maximum acceleration numbers exiting both Turn 6 and Turn 15 at 0.37g and 0.48g, respectively. Compared to the Ducati, which was the only other Twin of the test, it produced 0.69g exiting Turn 6 and 0.76g coming into the straight from Turn 15. Top speed down the front straight was at the bottom end as well, clicking off a best of 143.1 mph just prior to braking into Turn 1. This compares to a max of 157.2 mph for the BMW, which was quickest of the test.
At El Toro the KTM’s quickest quarter-mile was a very fast 10.14 @ 139.8 mph. This may not have lit the world on fire in the context of this competition, but that time is still nothing to be ashamed of in the grand scheme of motorcycling. It does compare well to the other Twin, the Ducati 1198S Corse, which was only a hair quicker with a best pass of 10.01 seconds at 145.2 mph. In fact, just a couple years ago the KTM’s run would have been enough to take the top spot, and still to this day anything that close to a 9-second pass is downright impressive. Unfortunately for KTM, it’s not a couple years ago. It’s 2010 and a 10.14-second pass was seventh-quickest. It’s truly amazing how quickly things progress.
The lack of a slipper clutch reared its head when pushed hard, no surprise considering it’s a big-bore Twin. Getting into the corners required finesse and modulation of the clutch lever, especially when charging-in deep and grabbing
multiple downshifts. This is also exacerbated by a somewhat questionable transmission. The original RC8 was extremely vague feeling when shifting, impossible to find neutral when stopped and prone to hit false neutrals under both acceleration and deceleration. But KTM claims to have addressed all this with a “totally reworked gearbox for significantly faster, smoother and easier gear changes.” And while we agree that it is better, it’s still belongs at the back of this group.
Earnest comments that the KTM transmission is “much improved over last year. No more missing downshifts.” Though Hensley adds: “I found the KTM’s clutch to be a bit chunky; As in, first gear ‘kachunk!’ Second gear, ‘Kachunk!’… and so on.”
On the other hand, the KTM has a very respectable set of binders. The black Brembo monobloc calipers and steel-braided lines, combined with a radial-mounted master cylinder, equate to a substantial set of stoppers. Due to pad compound the initial bite wasn’t quite the best, but there was loads of feedback that makes for a very user-friendly system. In brake-distance testing it stopped from 60mph in 127 ft, the same as Suzuki’s GSX-R1000, which put it in a tie for the fifth spot. With the simple addition of some more aggressive pads that number would easily be shorter as the quality of the braking components are top-notch.
Another redeeming factor for the RC8R is without question its appearance. The angular lines are stunning to behold and the matte black finish a thing a beauty. This motorcycle was voted top of the pile in the appearance category by the majority of our riders.
“The KTM is just an awesome, unique looking motorcycle in my opinion,” says Hensley. “I couldn’t wait to ride this bike simply because it radiated a serious kind of cool. It looks like the bike Mad Max would’ve ridden if he’d been a road racer. Out of all the motorcycles we tested, this is the one that I’d most like to post up on in the real world. The KTM’s got serious visual character, for sure.”
The ergonomics, however, were a point of contention. Several riders had a tough time gripping the tank with their legs when hanging off the bike. Combined with the ultra-slick seat, one has to use a good deal of upper-body strength to keep from dropping off the inside of the bike when hanging off through some of the longer of Thunder Hill’s corners. This was further exaggerated by the bikes overall front-high/rear-low stance. We crisscrossed duck tape on the sides of the tank to give it some impromptu grip, which helped greatly but didn’t look too pretty.
The KTM RC8R flicked from side-to-side extremely quickly with very little effort.
The slim overall size of the matte black beauty, combined with a race-ready chassis with extremely stiff shock, made for a motorcycle that flicks from side to side with ease. And while the combination of springs and valving gave us some suspension troubles during the day, it makes for one of the few bikes in the group that with some time spent tuning, has potential to be race ready out of the crate. Where most of the Japanese machine shocks are progressively sprung and overheat after a few laps due to the high temperatures of track riding, the RC8R truly gets a racing rear end with its WP shock.
The Austrian company’s tagline is “Ready to Race” and with some serious set-up work the RC8R would be no exception. If you’re okay with the quirkiness that is an exotic Twin – think Ducati from a few years ago – then the KTM may be right for you. And by no means is that a bad place to be, it’s just an unorthodox one. But considering this is the firm’s first-ever sportbike, they did an extremely admirable job to finish in sixth position. We can’t wait to see what comes next.