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
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
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
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
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.