Rather than simply copy another brand’s formula, Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM has instead relied on innovation through a series of evolutionary updates when it comes to developing its premier Superbike – the RC8R. This year, it has released another revamped edition that offers riders a unique take on the best way to get from apex to apex as tested in the 2011 KTM RC8R First Ride.
If you never rode any of the other bikes in this test you’d think the KTM is the greatest sportbike on earth. There’s a respectable amount of grunt from its liquid-cooled 1195cc V-Twin, it’s light, and from front-to-back, its chassis now works in total unison. Only problem is the KTM rides so much differently than the rest of the bikes that some testers had a difficult time wrapping their heads around its unique character.
It begins as soon as the rider hops into the cockpit, as the RC8R’s riding position can feel foreign and a bit unorthodox. The placement of the seat keeps the rider low and makes him feel more a part of the machine—even more so than Suzuki’s GSX-R1000. The seat is also very short front-to-back. It’s a very slim motorcycle and requires nowhere near the same strange contortions as the 1198 since the footpegs and handlebar are placed at a reasonable level. Plus it offers the most amount of control adjustment: From the height and sweep of the handlebars to the height of the footpegs and even the seat—it’s all fully adjustable with the RC8R.
(Above) KTM’s RC8R offers tremendous bottom-end punch and leaps off corners. (Below) Celebrity guest test rider Steve Rapp never quite gelled with the RC8R which hurt it in its Superpole performance.
“I love the ergonomics,” says 5’11” test rider Corey Neuer. “Though the bike has a much different feel than any of the other bikes, it is roomy and the controls are located perfectly.”
“I really liked the way this bike feels. It doesn’t feel anything like the other bikes but it works,” adds Garcia. “The shape of the gas tank works well and I was able to hold onto it with my elbows and not feel like I was trying to hug an elephant.”
Get into the throttle and the KTM gets up and goes more efficiently than in years past. The rear suspension does a superior job of connecting power to pavement and it jumps off slow speed corners well but it still felt more unusual than the Japanese bikes which hurt it on our testers’ score sheets.
Looking at the dyno chart proves that the RC8R pumps out the most bottom-end engine power with upwards of 70 lb-ft of torque available from as low as 4500 rpm. The engine spools up quickly—on par with the 1198. Another big plus compared to last year’s bike is the reduced engine vibration and throttle pull. However once you get into the mid-range the power the Duc trumps it slightly until the KTM takes over briefly right before redline belting out 152.41 hp @ 10,200 rpm. The engine keeps on spinning for another 500 rpm until the rev-limiter comes in—nearly 1000 revs higher than the Duc. This puts it above both the Ducati and Yamaha in terms of peak power and less than one hp off the CBR1000RR. Even so the majority of our testers didn’t get along with its engine.
“The powerband was really short compared to the other bikes,” explains Rapp. “It seemed very narrow and short. It felt a little peaky—like just when it started to get going it would hit the rev limiter.”
“The power is much better than last year but it still signs off way to early. I was bouncing off the rev-limiter quite a bit because when the bike is accelerating you expect the thing to keep pulling then all of a sudden you’re on the limiter and losing speed—kind of frustrating,” adds Siglin.
In terms of measured maximum acceleration force the KTM registered the lowest reading of 0.60g off of Turn 10. This is a bit of a surprise because it actually comes off slow-speed corners like this one fairly well—at least it feels that way. The ratios inside the gearbox help maximize power but more time is spent shifting than the other bikes (like the Ducati) which might be one of the reasons why the KTM reached the second-slowest top speed (131.6 mph) before braking for Turn 11. We also encountered some mis-shifts and it even changed gears on its own mid-corner hence the low score in the drivetrain category. Even though it’s missing a slipper clutch it didn’t seem to need one with it zero rear wheel chatter during aggressive corner entry.
Braking performance was a mixed bag. While everyone agreed that there is plenty of stopping power the Brembo monobloc set-up on the KTM doesn’t deliver the best lever feel, which held it back in the subjective scoring. It did, however, record the highest maximum stopping force in Turn 1 (-1.06g) which proves just how well they work—if you can just trust them.
Weight-wise the KTM was on the lighter-end of the spectrum,
449 pounds all gassed up and ready to ride. It was 10 pounds heavier than the class-leading Kawasaki and six pounds heavier than the Ducati—it’s principal rival. Around the track the RC8R felt very maneuverable. It turned in much easier than even some of the Inline Fours and the suspension offered excellent balance. Though some just couldn’t come to grips with way it handled in the corner.
“It didn’t feel like a heavy motorcycle,” sums up Rapp. “It just didn’t feel that solid mid-corner. The bike moved around a lot for me and I just never felt that comfortable on it.”
Next to the Kawasaki it felt like it flicked from side-to-side the best through Turns 8, 9 and 10 however the data registered a flick rate of only 41.6 degrees/second. However it is important to note that the range of side-to-side lean angle was the lowest which means the rider didn’t have to lean the bike over as far to get through these corners which could explain the modest flick rate. In terms of corner speed the KTM was neither the slowest nor the fastest through Turns 4, 13 and 16 and the performance of both the fork and shock was middle of the road according to our testers.
“This is the best looking bike by far,” says our connoisseur of upscale machinery, Mr. Steven Atlas – Esquire. “Personally, with lines that remind me of ultra-exotic cars like Lamborghini’s Gallardo and others – the kind that us mere mortals can only daydream of affording. Combine that with a thin tank and seating position that puts the rider far more ‘into’ the bike than other and the end result is one downright awesome track day machine.”
In the final scoring the KTM aced the Ducati but still trailed behind the rest of the Japanese bikes. Again, the KTM is a great all-around package and a very fun motorcycle to ride. It just needs to be ridden a little bit differently than the rest of the bikes which ultimately held it back in this year’s track comparison.
2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track
2011 Ducati 1198 Track Comparison
2011 KTM RC8R Track Comparison
2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Track Comparison
2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 Track Comparison
2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Track Comparison
2011 Honda CBR1000RR Track Comparison
2011 BMW S1000RR Track Comparison
2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Conclusion