Text by Janie Omorogbe
It’s been a year, twelve whole months of waiting for KTM’s RC8R, the more powerful, refined version of the RC8 superbike. Aesthetically, the Austrian manufacture’s first attempt at a litre sports bike was a no brainer. It was (and is) simply stunning, with sharp angular lines and a rear end that’s sharper than a wasp’s tail. But there was a sting to it too. The gearbox was sloppy with a penchant for false neutrals. The vibey twin cylinder engine disguised its true potential with a linear predictability and the power delivery often felt snatchy and abrupt, especially in the lower gears. Bygones. This new and improved RC8R is the bike we’ve been waiting for and although there’s no denying KTM’s first efforts were indeed valiant and worthy of praise, this latest version has sorted the niggles and then some.
Visually, the most obvious difference is the colour scheme. The traditional KTM blazing orange is now confined to the powder-coated trellis frame, with the primary base colour being a serious matt black, highlighted with white extremities to exaggerate its sharpness. As with the standard RC8, the geometry of the bike can be altered to lift the rear end by as much as 12mm, depending on how focused you like your machinery. And although the steel frame and alloy swingarm remain untouched, the R’s wheelbase is 5 mm shorter and the trail’s been extended to 97mm (from 90/92mm) to increase stability.
My previous rides of the RC8 have always been marred with gearbox issues. Three out of three times, on road and track, it’s always been the same. Clunky gear changes mixed with a few false neutrals does nothing to encourage confidence in a bike when you’re riding to your limits. But KTM not only raised their hands at the time and admitted the bike’s imperfections, they seem to have addressed the problems with the RC8R by revising the gear selector mechanism. After a day ragging the bike on the French track of Pau Arnos, I didn’t experience any gearbox problems at all. It’s not as slick as you’d find on many Japanese superbikes, but it is a marked improvement. And it’s a welcome one.
As is the increase in power. The standard bike was fast, but it didn’t feel it. The RC8R’s performance however, feels like a closer match to the razor sharp image. The engine’s swelled from 1148cc to 1195cc, with 167.5bhp topping out at 10250rpm (compared to 152.49 bhp @ 10,000 rpm) And the additional punch is laced with a tad more torque (to 90.7 lb.ft) Although it doesn’t quite have the manic wide-eyed rush to the redline of Ducati’s 1198S, the KTM propels you towards the horizon with a definite determination, the (adjustable) footpegs tickling the balls of your feet as the vibrations build with the rising revs. It’s still manageable, still tractable, but there’s now a glint of madness to the engine character, the explosion is there . . if you are brave enough with the throttle.
That was the other issue KTM needed to address. The throttle response was as snappy as a woman with PMT with no chocolate to hand. Now there are two throttle options to choose from. Rather than use different power mappings that you select via a switch on the handlebars (like Suzuki’s GSXR-1000 or Yamaha’s R1), KTM simply have two twist grip tubes that alter the throttle response. The Race version is fitted as standard, and as you’d expect, it’s designed to be more aggressive than the ‘Street’ option. According to KTM, swapping between the two is literally a five minute job.
My RC8R was fitted with the ‘Street’ throttle and although it’s not as abrupt as the standard bike, there’s no getting around the fact that you still have to be very definite with your movements and expect the bike to respond instantly from the slightest input of your right hand. It’s not impossible to be smooth, and it’s a definite improvement but it is something you may have to consider initially.
On a track test, it’s common to begin the day on standard settings and progress as the lap times tumble to a stiffer race set up. On this occasion, I had a few sessions on the RC8R during a two day comprehensive group test of every current superbike available, (with the exception of Aprilia’s RSV4.) KTM have recommended suspensions settings for the WP package (handily noted underneath the seat) for race and road riding but raising the rear alone tips the bike onto its toes to such an extent that the ride experience is dramatically different. Any indecision or sudden movement from the rider makes the bike feel super sensitive. Initially, and noticeably in comparison to every other bike at my disposal, it felt like I’d just dive bombed into RC8R’s deep pool of handling capability and forgotten to pinch my nose. After ragging Ducati’s 1198S around in the sweltering French sunshine and jumping straight onto the RC8R, it felt immediate and extreme. For the first few sessions, as I rolled my bodyweight from side to side, I unwittingly placed too much pressure on the ‘bars. It was hard to tell who felt more nervous, me or the bike. I re-lowered the rear, levelled the ride and concentrated on being smooth. The bike was instantly easier to ride. It sliced through the track’s downhill chicane like a warm knife through butter and not only held its line through the faster turns, but hooked them even tighter with the tiniest request on the ‘bars. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could revert back to the taller setting with my newfound confidence, but one thing is for sure, the chassis is superb. It was before, and it certainly is now. The RC8R is a complete package. And it deserves real respect.
Model £ 14,995 KTM RC8R
Engine 1195cc, 75 degree V Twin
Power 167bhp @ 10,250 rpm
Torque 90.7 lb.ft @ 8,000 rpm
Transmission 6 speed
Dry Weight 182 kg
Seat Height 805/ 825mm (31.69/32.48”)
Fuel capacity 16.5 litres (4.36 gal)
KTM 01280 709500