Eager to prove that it’s capable of building more than just championship-winning off-road motorcycles, Austrian brand KTM is taking Superbike racing seriously. After having success in the German Championship it is pushing more aggressively in America with its 2012 KTM RC8R.
Of all the motorcycles in this test the RC8R is the most unique. Slip into the seat and the ergonomics are more casual and relaxed then the other Japanese and Euro machines. The bars are taller than average, the seat low and the fuel tank is carved perfectly—locking the rider’s lower body to the motorcycle. Another nice touch is that the clip-ons, foot controls and even the seat height can be adjusted according to rider preference.
“It’s obvious engineers spent some time thinking about where and how the controls should be positioned,” shares Hutchison. “And it shows, as the KTM offers a reasonable degree of comfort without compromising rider stance. This is the bike I can ride all-day with no discomfort.”
“It took me some time to get comfortable with the KTM,” reveals Chamberlain. “But once I did, I loved riding it. The ergonomics were pretty relaxed with the rider sitting down in the bike a little more so than the others. The handlebars were taller too.”
(Above) The KTM RC8R is one of the sharpest steering bikes in this test. (Center) The RC8R offers a racier feel mid-corner than some of the other bikes. (Bottom) The ergonomics on the KTM are so unconventional it takes some time to get use to how it feels. Once acclimated however it was universally loved in that category.
When rolled on the scales, the orange entry proves one of the lighter bikes in this test. With its 4.35-gallon fuel tank filled to the brim it weighs 440 pounds. While it’s one of the lighter bikes in the class, it’s still 17 pounds heavier than its nemesis and class-leading Ducati. Out on track the difference doesn’t feel as substantial since it carries its weight so well in motion.
Navigating Thunderhill’s left-right-left (Turns 11/12/13) proved rather easy at the controls of the RC8R. Here it displayed the third-highest flick rate of 43.9 degree/second, slotting it just behind the class-leading Suzuki and Aprilia. Numbers aside it also ranked up there in the Turn-In category achieving the third highest score in that category as well.
“The bike turns on a dime—the way the center of gravity is on the thing you can just flick it from left-to-right-to-left and it gets it done,” describes Neuer of the KTM’s handling prowess. “Chassis-wise it’s a great motorcycle with a lot of potential.”
Once leaned over the KTM exhibits rock solid stability on the side of the tire. Some of the credit goes to a fabulous suspension set-up with both the fork and shock functioning harmoniously, allowing testers to more accurately flirt with the adhesion limits of the Pirelli tires.
“The KTM had some of the best stock suspension out there,” says Garcia. “The bike felt like it was glued to the ground. I was also surprised by just how well the rear end hooked up, it was almost like a 600 Supersport—that is how early you could get on the throttle without upsetting the chassis.”
Although corner speed at the apex of Turn 2 was the lowest of the group (66.7 mph), it was quickest where it really counted at Turn 8—a fast left hander taken in third or fourth gear. In the final measuring point (Turn 15) it was only 0.9 mph off the speedy green machine. When averaged it was credited with the second-highest score in that category. It also registered the second-highest lean angle through The Cyclone (Turn 5) which demonstrates how much confidence our riders had in its chassis.
“It felt similar to the Aprilia. It was really planted,” says Montano. “It gave you that rigid
(From full stiff)
Preload: 2 turns / 12 clicks
Preload: 10 threads showing
Low-Speed Compression: 11
High-Speed Compression: 1.5 turns
race bike type of feel mid-corner where it was just locked in the corner. It was really precise and had a lot of feel. I thought it worked good.”
While the KTM exceled in the handling department, it came up a little short under the hood even with the stimulated powerband generated by the kit Akrapovic pipe. Bottom-end performance is impressive for sure, and between 5000 and 8000 rpm the orange bike rules—pumping out in excess of 75 lb-ft of rear wheel twisting force. Peak torque arrives at 7100 revs with 88.1 lb-ft giving it title in that category. This helps the KTM accelerate off corners hard with more voracity then some of the other bikes, at first. Problem is, with a rev range of only 10,200 rpm, paired with a relatively slow shifting transmission (the KTM didn’t benefit from the simplicity of a lighting quick electronic quickshifter—it’s also missing a true mechanical slipper clutch, hence the low score in the Drivetrain category), and the second-least top-end horsepower (158.04 horsepower at 10,200 rpm) made it lag behind in straight-line acceleration.
“The engine signs off early and doesn’t have a whole lot of top-end power,” says Earnest. “It’s got a lot of grunt off corners and it hooks up great but the powerband is a little too narrow and you’re always shifting the thing. It vibrates quite a bit too—not as much as the MV though.”
(Top) The KTM RC8R offers racebike-like levels of feel and rigidity when cranked over in the corner. (Center) At 440 pounds, the RC8R is one of the lighter bikes in the class. (Bottom) Handing-wise the KTM impressed. If it could spin another 1500 rpm and make use of a Dynojet or Bazzaz-style quickshifter—it could have surprised some of the Japanese brands.
“It lacks horsepower big time,” Siglin concurs. “If the motor could spin another 1500 rpm and had a fast, Dynojet-style quickshifter it would help the KTM tremendously.”
Looking at the acceleration data shows the Austrian V-Twin machine holds its own off corners. Out of Turn 6 we measured 0.81g and another pleasing g number (0.74g) out of the final corner (Turn 15) which ranked it mid-pack. Yet, top speeds at the end of the two straightaways were at, or, near the back of the field – 158.4 mph down the front straight (1.1 mph down on the Ducati) and 140.2 mph on the back straight (4.2 mph down on the Duc).
Similar to the other Euro bikes the KTM is equipped with stout Brembo monobloc braking components. No doubt the brakes have plenty of power, they are also 100% fade-free, but they just didn’t deliver as much feel at the lever as some of the other set-ups which attributed to the low score in the subjective Brakes category. We were also a bit surprised to find that the RC8R brakes registered the lowest braking g forces into Turn 10 (-1.07g) and third-lowest at the entry point for Turn 14. Perhaps this could be attributed to the KTM carrying a slightly lower top speed so the brakes didn’t need to be hammered quite as hard.
Even with its well-sorted chassis the KTM didn’t set the world on fire in Superpole with both riders setting times that were toward the back of the field. Upon averaging both riders’ times Austria’s entry was the third-slowest machine, just ahead of the Yamaha and MV. High scores in a number of the handling scoring categories boosted the orange machine on the scorecard. However its engine performance held it back which played the biggest factor in its sixth-place result.
- Impressive bottom-end and mid-range power
- Highly maneuverable
- Excellent, fully-adjustable ergonomics
- Short powerband
- Needs more revs and/or top-end power
- No quickshifter
2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Track
2012 MV Agusta F4R Track Comparison
2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 Track Comparison
2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S Track Comparison
2012 KTM RC8R Track Comparison
2012 Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC Track Comparison
2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Track Comparison
2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Track Comparison
2012 BMW S1000RR Track Comparison
2012 Honda CBR1000RR Track Comparison
2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Track Conclusion