Acknowledged for the outstanding performance of its dirt bikes, Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM has entered the premier Superbike class with its $19,998 RC8R. Based off the RC8, the R is the premium up-spec version designed to eventually compete in World Superbike. It’s also the motorcycle they chose to fight with in their first-ever Superbike Smackdown appearance. Take a closer look at it in the 2010 KTM RC8R First Ride report from Laguna Seca to learn even more about this motorcycle.
KTM is renowned for its unique approach to engineering and assembling motorcycles and the RC8R continues this trait. From the fresh look of its stealth fighter-inspired matte black body panels to the partially exposed big-bore twin-cylinder engine hung within a bright orange steel-trellis frame and the liberal sprinkling of high-end components, it appears the Austrians are definitely on to something with its new Superbike.
Like the Ducati, the KTM utilizes a big displacement liquid-cooled V-Twin for propulsion. However, its cylinders are canted at a narrower 75-degree angle as compared to the Duc’s 90-degree format. Its two giant pistons gobble up 105 x 69mm bore/stroke dimensions that equates to an engine displacement of 1195cc.
Measured against the Ducati, the KTM has 4cc less with a slightly smaller bore and longer stroke which should equate to less top-end power and more bottom-end and mid-range performance. Fuel is squashed to a 13.5:1 compression ratio which is highest among the group. Both Twins also sport twin 4-valve cylinder heads each powered by a single fuel-injector.
As compared to the four-cylinder contenders, the KTM has superior grunt down low right off idle, but it still feels down on power against the Duc. Where the Ducati is wheeling and feels slightly out of control (in a good way) the KTM’s powerband feels tamer. But the biggest problem with the engine is how much it vibrates. At first it’s not that big of a deal but when you’re droning down the freeway the vibrations are transferred right through the controls and become downright annoying.
Looking at the dyno graph shows that the two Twins are close with the RC8R mustering 86.31 lb-ft of torque at 8200 rpm which is good for the second-highest torque figure. With upwards of 100 horsepower available from 6500 revs, there’s no question that it cranks out much more power down low than the rest of the bikes with exception of the Italian Twin.
Keep the throttle pinned to the stop and you’ll notice two things. First, the engine’s voracious appetite for surging through its rpm range, and second, how much pull the throttle has compared to the competition. This slightly hinders throttle response with the rider having to really yank on the grip to get things moving. If there was one bike that could benefit the most from a racing-style quarter-turn throttle it would be the KTM.
As opposed to a conventional Twin where you can short-shift it and ride the torque wave down low, the KTM performs best at maximum rpm, producing its 155.36 hp peak just 100 rpm shy of its 10,700 redline. This slots it into sixth spot in terms of peak horsepower production.
“The KTM is kind of hard to figure out,” assesses Atlas. “Normally with big Twins you can short-shift them and just ride the torque wave but with this one you’ve got to keep it pinned and even when you do it just doesn’t quite feel as fast as the rest of the bikes.”
Despite the engine’s rev-happy nature it recorded slightly better fuel mileage compared to the Italian Twin and the thirsty Aprilia netting an average MPG rating of 30.4. Filled with 4.35-gallons of fuel this equates to a range of roughly 132 miles.
At idle the 91 decibel exhaust note belted out by its hidden belly-mounted muffler is somewhat muted as compared to the piped-out Ducati and the outrageous sounding Aprilia but still more raucous than the Japanese bikes. As expected the sound is even more pleasing at speed but still about the same as the BMW, Honda, and Suzuki at 100 decibels.
Like the rest of the bikes, the KTM makes use of a 6-speed close ratio gearbox. The transmission is complemented by fairly tall 17/37 final drive gearing. Similar to the Ducati the KTM’s clutch offers hydraulic assist. Clutch lever action is comparable to the lightest cable-actuated versions as used on Japanese bikes and the Aprilia.
Launching the KTM is a simple affair even with its tall final drive gearing, but as you can see from our quarter mile acceleration test, the tall gearing cost the KTM a few tenths of a second with it achieving a 10.14 second time at a trap speed of 139.8 mph.
Although no one reported any shifting problems with the gearbox, it still doesn’t feel quite as precise as the Japanese bikes. Still it performed flawlessly and actually felt similar to the tranny used in the RSV4R. Even though the KTM doesn’t employ a slipper clutch, we didn’t really miss it on the street. As long as you don’t mind fanning the clutch lever during aggressive deceleration you won’t either. Still, for its $19,998 asking price it’s something that should definitely come standard.
ERGONOMICS / COMFORT
One of the best features of the KTM is its versatile ergonomics package. While the Honda is still more comfortable and fits the average sized rider better there isn’t another bike in this group that offers the amount of adjustability as the Austrian machine. From the height and angle of the handlebars to the footpegs and even the seat—it’s all easily adjustable on the KTM.
Like the ultra-slim Ducati, it feels narrow between the rider’s legs. Reach to the handlebars isn’t that much of a stretch and feels similar to the elevated position of the Honda and Suzuki. The location of the footpegs (low setting) complements the seating position well giving the rider plenty of room to move around on.
Seat height-wise we selected the lower of the two options which puts it at 31.7-inches of the ground. That is 0.2-inches lower than the GSX-R giving the KTM the award for the lowest seat height. It also fosters a more intimate riding experience by making the pilot feel like they are inside the bike—like the Suzuki—rather than atop it like the Ninja and Ducati.
Although the wind protection afforded by the giant windscreen is excellent, taller riders (above 5-foot 10-inch) will find it difficult to tuck behind it due to the relatively short seating area from front-to-back. Furthermore the seat’s surface feels slippery and offers virtually no padding and when you combine it with the stiff settings of its rear suspension the KTM wears its rider out quick on the road. On a final note, although the mirrors are large and shaped well they shake excessively at freeway speeds rendering them useless.
HANDLING / SUSPENSION
Rolled onto the scales the RC8R measured in at 443 lbs fully topped off with fluids. That’s just two pounds heavier than the class-leading Ducati, and seven pounds lighter than the lightest four-cylinder (BMW). And from the moment you lift it off its side stand you can feel just how light of a motorcycle it is.
On the road the RC8R delivers CBR1000RR levels of agility. While it doesn’t offer the quickest turn-in it is planted mid-corner and the rear suspension delivers an astronomical level of road feel and is complemented by Pirelli’s outstanding Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber which provides racetrack-levels of grip. But perhaps its biggest handling attribute is when the road starts zigzagging quickly from right to left. Here the KTM just eats up road flicking from side-to-side with very little control input which may be attributed to how low the bike seems to sit.
While everyone loved the way the KTM handled, its suspension was a serious point of contention. The WP fork up front is flat-out excellent delivering superb ride quality. Conversely the rear suspension feels almost non-existent, delivering a very rigid feel which no doubt is the reason for the phenomenal road feel. We backed off the spring preload and opened the compression damping but still it had little effect on the overall ride quality.
“I really like the way the KTM handled,” said Gauger. “It doesn’t turn-in as fast as some of the other bikes but it’s stable and just really easy to ride. My favorite thing about it is how maneuverable it is on really twisty roads. But the problem is how stiff the rear suspension feels. Seriously my kidneys were aching after just 20 minutes on the bike.”
Like the Italian superbikes, the KTM makes use of high-quality Brembo braking components at both ends. Hanging off the forged aluminum front wheel is a pair of blacked-out Brembo monoblocs latching onto a set of 320mm diameter rotors augmented by a radial-mount master cylinder and stainless-steel lines. Rear braking is achieved via a single 220mm disc with a double-piston Brembo caliper.
In the braking test the KTM was able to tie the GSX-R stopping from 60 mph in a length of 127 feet. Despite braking performance ranking mid-pack everyone was impressed with the level of brake feel and power offered by the brakes. Initial bite is just a hair behind the BMW and Ducati but overall feel as you pulled on the lever was superior to all but the mighty Beemer.
INSTRUMENTATION / ELECTRONICS
The 2010 KTM RC8R looks like a stealth fighter, which our test riders found appealing. The rigid rear suspension however, did not have the same appeal
Surprisingly the KTM lacks a bit of techno gadgetry as used on the other European bikes. There’s no engine power mode selection or traction control. What the KTM does offer is a beautiful LCD display. The only problem is that it provides too much information and can be hard to read due to its small type font. Then there’s the matter of working through its complicated menu system which we still haven’t figured out…
In the final points tally, the $19,998 KTM slotted itself in seventh position. It was unanimously praised for its appearance and well-thought-out ergonomics. But its rear suspension was just way too rigid for everyday life on the street plus the engine vibrates so excessively that it makes it an uncomfortable ride for long distances. If you can forget those two main gripes however, you’ll be pleased with its handling, braking and the thrilling character of its big-bore V-Twin engine.
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