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2010 KTM 1190 RC8 R Review

Austria's Superbike Sharpens its Focus

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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2010 KTM RC8 R
Photo © Kevin Wing
The KTM RC8 broke plenty of new ground when it debuted in 2007; not only did its chiseled bodywork set it apart from the twin-cylinder competition (like the Ducati 1198 and soon-to-be-discontinued Buell 1125R), it was the first bike to stray from the Austrian brand's predominantly offroad-oriented offerings.

For 2010, KTM delves deeper into the genre with a gutsier, lighter version of their radical RC8-- behold the sharper, slicker, and even more revolutionary RC8 R, priced at $19,998.

The Goods: More Power, Lighter Weight, and Track-Ready Goodness

The RC8 R expands upon the paradigm established by the RC8 and adds more. Bored out 2mm (for a total displacement of 1,195cc-- still within Superbike regulations), the 75 degree V-twin powerplant gets lightweight pistons with modified connecting rods and titanium intake valves. The combustion chamber is also reworked, and the camshafts are adjustable for race modification. The cooling system has been revamped, and the gearbox has been improved for smoother shifts, while a slipper clutch has been added, as well.

On the chassis front, the RC8 R's WP suspension components get TiAIN (Titanium Aluminum Nitride) coatings. Stiffer fork damping settings and a slightly shorter wheelbase are counteracted with increased trail to aid stability, while the rear monoshock's spring rate is reduced. Braking duties are handled by dual disc, 320mm Brembo monoblocs up front and a single 220mm rear disc, and the front discs are 11 percent thicker for greater heat stability. Weight is shaved thanks to new forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, which are wrapped in Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. A carbon front fender saves additional weight, and an adjustable WP steering damper is found just ahead of the information-heavy instrument panel.

The RC8 R's weight is 401.2 pounds without fuel, and it's price has not been officially announced yet-- though KTM officials assert that their pricing will be "strategically realigned" (ie, dropped), in order to stay competitive.

Swing a Leg Over: Adjustability Rules

2010 KTM RC8 RPhoto © KTM
Racing is all about molding the bike to the rider, and KTM has gone to great lengths to make the RC8 R's ergonomics accommodating. The rear subframe can be adjusted 20mm, allowing for a seat height between 31.69 inches and 32.48 inches. Ride height has 12mm of range, and the clutch, brake, rear brake pedal and shifter are also adjustable.

Although I didn't personally adjust the RC8 Rs before I threw a leg over them at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I found the bikes surprisingly comfortable during 20-30 minute lapping sessions. The RC8 R feels relatively light when lifted off its kickstand, and though the tank initially presses up against the rider, there's nothing like the thrust created by 90.7 lb-ft of torque to tug you aft of the bike. Once nestled into a new spot on the narrow saddle, you're afforded a unique view over the handlebars; the instrument panel displays plenty of information clearly, and a large, unmistakeably bright red indicator light comes on when revs approach the 10,500 rpm redline. Most refreshing of all? After a day of riding the RC8 R, its footpeg/seat/grip relationship felt comfortable enough to keep my wrists and arms from feeling taxed... sure, my legs got a workout and the posture was certainly sporty, but I was surprised at how the RC8 R's natural ergonomics made it easy to ride aggressively all day.

On the Track: Light, Fleet, and Fantastic

The RC8 developed a reputation for choppy fuel injection mapping and a notchy shifter when it was released two years ago, but rolling out of the Laguna Seca pit lane on the new RC8 R quickly reveals those issues to be a thing of the past, with smooth roll-on power and a slick-shifting gearbox.

Merging onto the track just past the Andretti hairpin, the RC8 R comes alive when you nail the throttle on the short straight leading to turn 3. Power is surprisingly seamless as it crescendos towards the higher registers, increasing in vibration at around 7,000 rpm and lifting the front end relatively easily. Unlike Ducati's big twin engine, the KTM doesn't feel unhappy at lower rpms-- but it sure starts to sing as the revs rise. The exhaust note isn't totally tame, but it doesn't shriek, either; track day regulars will be pleased to know that a Club Race Kit is available with altered valve timing, different cylinder head sealing, and louder Akrapovic pipes.

The RC8 R turns in with extreme eagerness, revealing turn-on-a-dime maneuverability that makes low speed turns a cakewalk. Controls are light, and braking is extremely effective-- which comes in handy when setting up for the notoriously tight corkscrew (aka, turn 8 & 8A.) If the RC8 R has any surprises, it's the approachability of its performance-- though its power is fierce and its capabilities great, don't believe the subliminal message conveyed by its razor sharp styling. The RC8 R proves ready and willing for almost anything, so long as you treat its elevated limits with respect.

End of the Road: An Impressive Package from an Unlikely Source

2010 KTM RC8 RPhoto © Kevin Wing
If there are any surprises to the 2010 KTM RC8 R, it's that the bike feels so well-sorted despite its relative newness. KTM has been building offroad bikes for decades and they led the supermoto movement in recent years, but their superbike entry is a dramatically different type of motorcycle than anything they've previously attempted.

I'm fortunate enough to test many different brands and types of bikes at various stages of their life cycle, but the RC8 R is one of the first KTMs I've ever swung a leg over. That said, everything I had heard about their superbikes suggested that they produced a strong product with a few rough edges to work out. My time aboard the RC8 R revealed that those rough edges have been refined, leaving very little to criticize. At the time of this writing, KTM hasn't yet announced pricing for the RC8 R, and I'm guessing it will remain firmly planted in premium territory despite the company's "strategic price realignment" statement. Given its outrageous performance and communicative road manners-- at least based on my experiences at Laguna Seca-- the RC8 R will be well worth its pretty penny for those eager to step outside of the Japanese/German/Italian superbike mold and try something new.

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