2010 KTM RC8R First Ride

MotorcycleUSA Staff | November 13, 2009

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Check out MotoUSA putting the new KTM RC8R to the test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in our 2010 KTM RC8R First Ride Video.

Looks can be deceiving. One can easily be mesmerized by a beautiful exterior only to find out that what’s inside doesn’t live up to the allure. We’ve all been duped at some point in our lives. Case in point for myself recently: The 2009 KTM RC8. Upon first glance the mold-braking angular lines, bright orange paint and monster V-Twin engine had visions of exotic Lamborghinis dancing through my cranium pre-ride. Problem was that within a matter of a few laps it was apparent a lackluster, almost scary gearbox was mated to a lethargically ill-running engine; more on par with a Ducati 848 than the 1198 it should compete against considering its 1145cc displacement. Not exactly what I was hoping for. No carbon fiber-clad Lamborghini here – just a well-painted kit car with a Ford Focus engine under a fiberglass bonnet.

Enter the 2010 KTM RC8R. Major changes afoot and even sexier looks. But before riding the ‘R’ at KTM’s recent Laguna Seca press introduction I was understandably apprehensive considering the taste left in my mouth by the previous version. Had the Austrians remedied the problems or simply added some trick parts and a bit of new nomenclature? Time to find out…

Putting the new KTM to the test at Laguna Seca.
Massive changes grace the 2010 KTM RC8R. But are they enough to help it live up to its stellar looks?

It’s the Inside That Counts, Right?

Said claimed added oomph comes by virtue of a heavily modified 75-degree V-Twin engine. Bore is increased 2mm from the base model, making for a final 105 x 69mm bore and stroke that equates to 1195cc (base model is 1148cc). Lightened pistons are used to combat the added size, while the connecting rods are now of a trapezoidal shape, designed to reduce mass as well as increase the size of the load bearing area on the piston pin to improve durability under increased compression. Intake valves are 42mm titanium, while the exhausts are 34mm steel.

The same compact 4-valve cylinder head is used, but reshaped to flatten the combustion chamber, raising the compression ration from 12.5:1 to a relatively high 13.5:1. Inside sits camshafts that are now mated to adjustable cam sprockets, something rarely seen on a production motorcycle. This is to allow them to be tuned to match to one of KTM’s three hop-up kits available for the bike (Club Race kit, Stage 1 Superstock kit and Stage 2 Superbike kit). The valve train also features finger followers with DLC (Diamond Like Coating) for reduced drag and added durability; similar coating to that used to reduce drag on high-end suspension.

Forged aluminum wheels grace the R model for reduced weight  as does and updated shock and black powercoated swingarm.Fairing design stays the same for the R model but it gets while painted number plates and a double bubble windscreen.KTMs LED dash relays everything from the tach to temp to lap times.
Updates from top to bottom grace the new KTM Superbike. Faster, lighter and more stable at speed were the design goals for the 2010 RC8R.

Keeping things cool is a 3D-shaped water pump wheel that forces added coolant through the machine at a faster rate for lower operating temperatures. A quick glance at the side of the machine also reveals a visibly larger integrated heat exchanger, with increased capacity to further reduce engine temp both internally and that propelled back on the rider. This is aided on the back end as spent gasses expel through the same exhaust, only now with heat-coated front header pipes.

One of the biggest complaints with original RC8 was without question the transmission. Vague feeling, impossible to find neutral when stopped and prone to hit false neutrals both under acceleration and deceleration, KTM has addressed all this with a “totally reworked gearbox for significantly faster, smoother and easier gear changes.”

Internally, a new gear selector is combined with softer springs on the selector shaft and detent lever. The shift drum is new as well, with modified tracks that feature a different contour design for claimed smoother feel while shifting under load. Shift-dog height is also reduced as well as skinnier to improve gear engagement –something the bike desperately needed. Additionally, a radial-mounted clutch master cylinder now benefits from stiffer clutch springs for added durability for both “race and street use” according to the Austrians. Though these are all tall claims considering the previous clutch could barely withstand a trip through the parking lot, let alone the racetrack.

But Who Doesn’t Like a Nice Chassis?

Housing this extensively updated engine, which is claimed to produce 170 hp at the crank, is KTM’s trellis frame, now in a vibrant orange color with some much-needed new dimensions. This comes by virtue of a new CNC-machined triple-clamp, measuring 28mm as opposed to the extremely aggressive 34mm of the stock RC8. This equates to an equally large trail change from 91mm to 97mm. And for good reason, as the stock RC steers far, far too quickly in our opinion.

These clamp onto WP’s latest 43mm inverted fork, featuring full adjustability and 120mm of travel. Front spring rates have also been reduced slightly to 9.5 N/mm, though it’s offset by stiffened internal damping settings. WP TiAIN (Titanium Aluminum Nitride) coated inner tubes and piston rods reduce friction and add durability.

Out back resides WP’s 4014 race shock. Featuring stiffer overall damping than the base model, it also has a softer spring (110 down to 95 N/mm), much the same as the front end. It’s fully adjustable with 120mm of travel, also including independent ride height via an eccentric ball joint. Standard position is right in the middle of the 12mm range (up from 7mm on the standard model). Also from WP is a full-adjustable steering damper, one which actually works (as opposed to some “show” units found on a few of KTM’s Japanese counterparts these days).

Prowess at full-lean was without question the shining point for the 2010 KTM RC8R.
The angular lines of the KTM look good from all vantage points, ever the rear. It’s a nice change of pace to see such a radically different machine.

Speed kills. Brakes save. And as such, getting the new ‘R’ hauled back down are some serious stoppers. World Superbike-spec black Brembo monobloc calipers grab 320mm front rotors and are controlled via a radial master cylinder. Thickness of the front rotors is up 0.5mm (4.5mm to 5.0mm) to handle the added heat and stress. As for the back, it gets the same high-end Brembo treatment with a two-piston fixed caliper clamping a single 220mm disc.

Reducing rotational mass are new forged aluminum Marchesini wheels. Compared to the cast units on the base model they shave just shy of 1.5-lbs front and rear combined. May not sound like much, but rotational mass can be multiplied greatly, not to mention the cast units on the base model aren’t exactly porkers. Revised stiffness of the back wheel is also said to get rid of the squealing sound emitted by the standard RC8 when using the rear brake.

Interesting? Wonder if this is true or PR hype? Guess we better test it… New rear wheel axel clamps and an updated sprocket design make for quick tire changes at your local track, while rear-stand spools come standard.

The last piece to the RC8R hard parts puzzle comes from via rubber. Instead of the base Pirelli Supercorsas used on the standard bike, it gets what we consider one of the best trackday tires made: Pirelli’s Diablo Supercorsa SP, no doubt showing just where KTM intended users to put this new motorcycle: The racetrack.

Not to Mention a Good Looking Figure…

KTM held the press introduction for the 2010 KTM RC8R at the beautiful Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and we enjoyed every last second.
Revised sheering geometry made for a much more stable and far better handling bike as compared to the stock RC8.

While there’s no question we instantly fell for the hot new angular looks of the original RC8, the ‘R’ only takes things to the next level, now featuring a black fairing mated to a white lower and tail-section, with white and orange number plates up front. The frame is also orange now, while the swingarm has been power-coated black along with the forks, brakes and rear sets. Hot I’m tellin’ ya! Hot!

For added aerodynamic performance it gets a ‘double-bubble’ windscreen, which was tested and developed in KTM’s own wind tunnel, as was the rest of the bike’s bodywork. A carbon fiber front fender replaces the plastic unit as well, now featuring four screws instead of two for easier removal and reduced weight.

Quick-change designs allow for faster removal of the license plate, turn signal assemblies, mirrors and passenger seat, all aimed to speed up the process form switching the bike from street to track use with minimal tools in less time. Try doing that with a CBR…

2010 KTM RC8R at Laguna Seca. Quite the combo.
2010 KTM RC8R and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Quite the match.

Adjustability is one area KTM has strived to separate itself from the pack and the RC8R has no shortage of this. The subframe has two positions, allowing the seat height to be raised or lowered 20mm (805mm to 825mm), while as said above the shock ride height can move 12mm. Clutch, front and rear brake as well as shifter lever and linkage are quickly changed as well, making for one of the most adjustable motorcycles on the sport market today. As for weight, KTM is claiming 401 lbs without fuel, two lbs less than the base model.

An electronic-coded key is in place to reduce theft, while a multi-function LED display greets the rider up front and relays everything from rpm to vital signs to laps and lap times. Retail price will be $19,998 and the new KTM is set to hit dealers in February.

Though it’s Really About the Performance 

Let’s be honest here. I wasn’t expecting the world as I hopped on the RC8R for my first laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The dry lakebed had played host to my first taste of the base RC8 and as you know it wasn’t exactly a four-course Michelin Star meal. And while being at the same location conjured up some serious déjà vu, thankfully history didn’t repeat itself.

Bombing through corkscrew on the new Katoom. Not a bad day at the office. Not at all...
Hucking the new RC8R though the famous corkscrew. Rough day at the office.

Throw a leg over, thumb the starter button and the ‘R’ barks to life with a surprisingly loud rasp. Ducati-like in some ways, but also with a hint Japanese ting; almost a hybrid of the two – though the KTM is still more pasta than sushi. Also instantly apparent right from the get-go is a reduced amount of vibration. The base model and the ‘R’ may feature the same counter-balancing system, but the lighter pistons and updated engine internals have smoothed things out through the bars healthily, one no longer worrying about losing fillings and seeing a dentist after every ride.

Next up on the wow-that’s-a-big-difference list is the chassis. Where the base model falls into the corner with almost scary quickness, something KTM says is for “improved street ability”, the ‘R’ is light-years more stable and planted, the added trail from the new triple-clamps fully allowing the aptitude of the chassis to be exploited in a confidence-inspiring manner. From corner-entry through full-lean and all the way to the exit, KTM has made the ‘R’ far better. It’s now a machine which asks the rider to push it to the limits instead of scaring one away from them.

Further multiplying this is the addition of Pirelli’s Diablo SP rubber as standard, a tire which we consider one of the best on the market today. The front profile is near perfect, allowing for seamlessly smooth transitions without any unwanted dive, and outright grip for a trackday tire is downright amazing. This did nothing but enhance the experience. In fact, Pirelli fitted its Diablo Supercorsa SC2 full DOT race tires in the afternoon, and while grip was slightly better, the SP is so close in performance that unless one is truly able to push 10/10ths they are never going to notice a difference. They’re that good.

Cranked over through Rainey curve at the Seca  MotoUSA puts the new KTM RC8R to the test.
Feel and feedback from the KTM and Pirelli rubber at maximum lean is downright awesome.

And while the chassis is its shining star, the updated engine is no slouch. Is it as fast as an ‘R’ model really should be? Compared to say a Ducati 1198R? No. But this bike is also not going to cost what a Ducati ‘R’ will cost. Its 20K retail is more on the lines of a Ducati 1198S. This considered, then I’d say it’s definitely on par going by my seat-of-the-pants dyno. And before you discredit my rear end, don’t forget I’ve ridden just about every current sportbike made at Laguna Seca, including both the Ducati 1198S and 1098R.

KTM claims 170 hp at the crank and with mechanical losses factored it that puts it in the 150 hp range at the rear wheel. Right on par with a stock 1198 (our test unit from the ’09 Superbike Smackdown put out 150.36 hp @ 9700rpm). On the track power was strong and extremely easy to use from the very bottom right up to redline. It did taper off some the last 1000rpm, but this is something most V-Twins will do as a byproduct of the added low end. This ease of use made spinning the rear and steering with the back end very doable and quite effortless once up to speed as the connection from rider input to the rear tire is very linear, with no jumps and spikes in the rev range. Only complaint would be how loose the throttle housing is and how easy of a pull it has, resulting in jerky off-idle acceleration if not very precise with the right hand. KTM commented the pre-pro units we were on had a straight 1:1 pull throttle tube, while the production machines come with a cam-type progressive throttle tube to aid in smoothing this out. Even so, as we rode them it was only an issue the first eighth turn if one was ham fisted.

We instantly found the R to be a massive improvement over the base KTM RC8.
We came away from our ride at Laguna Seca impressed with the new chassis, engine and brakes on the 2010 KTM RC8R.

No motorcycle can be truly good if it can’t be slowed down as fast it can be sped up. Brembo monoblocs with steel braided lines and a radial master cylinder, make braking a breeze. We had zero complaints about the brakes. Zero. Feel, feedback and power are all through the roof, making deep trail-braking well past the apex a thing of ease and beauty. Nothing more needs to be said. Check. Mate.

While the brakes are simply as good as it gets in the production world, the lack of a slipper clutch made corner-entry not as seamless as it could have been. The fuel-adding and valve-opening system KTM has in place, which ups the idle and lets air in the combustion chamber under braking for reduced back-torque, does help, but without proper finesse of the left-hand lever the back end tends to do a bit of dancing, especially as the pace increases. Amusing, but not fast.

Mated to this clutch is the updated transmission and while it’s said to be far improved, it’s still the Achilles heel of the RC8R. The difference was that now instead of missing three or four shifts a lap I was only missing one or two per, but in reality you shouldn’t be missing any. For some reason this was particularly bad during the full-throttle up-shift from fifth to sixth gear. Nearly every lap as I crested the hill over the wide-open Turn 1 the final shift into top gear would catch a false neutral, slamming me into the tank with force. I even tried different bikes to see if the one I was on happened to be bad and they did the same thing. At a moderate pace or on the street one may never have this issue, but for a model designated ‘R’ for Race, it shouldn’t happen at full-tilt on track.

Lofting it up out of the final corner at the dry lakebed. This came with ease.
The added power and improved chassis equated to a far better overall machine. No question the ‘R’ in a whole different league compared to the base model.

One area KTM has separates itself from the competition is adjustability. Handlebars, levers, rear sets, ride height, subframe, seat, shift lever and linkage are all tunable to the rider’s preference. And while one may think this could get a novice lost, KTM has designed it smartly by offering only two-positions of adjustability through most of the system (high-low), so as not to muddle the picture with excess options and all the adjustments can be made quickly with minimal tools. Add to this the ability to swap the lights, mirrors and bodywork to race trim in less than 30 minutes and, like they say, the RC8R really is “Ready to Race.” 

And the Final Verdict?

It’s easy to see the 2010 KTM RC8R is better than the base model in every way; superior brakes, vastly improved chassis and a smoother, faster engine. Thus, finally, the Austrians have made a machine that lives up to the stunning looks the RC8 has had since day one. So, no matter the price difference, I can tell you in total honesty that if it’s an RC8 you want, you simply must buy the ‘R’. There is no debate. As for how it stacks up against its competition, which is mainly Ducati’s 1198, well I’d have to be clinically insane to give you a verdict without riding them back to back. Which is why we’re going to do exactly that in our 2010 Superbike Smackdown. So stay tuned, it’s shaping up to be our biggest yet!

MotorcycleUSA Staff