More edgy Murciélago than flowing Maranello, the dramatic looks of the KTM RC8 are nevertheless graceful and elegant. There is a muscular purpose to the Teutonic styling that is undeniable, and the KTM’s angular lines and high-tailed stance display a pure, sinewy aggression that is certainly impressive.
The RC8 comes in two flavors, with the major difference between the two being the engine department. KTM’s latest-generation LC8 motor is a liquid-cooled, 75-degree, V-twin that displaces 1148cc in the base model. A 2mm overbore increases that to 1195cc in the R version, which also benefits from lightened pistons and trapezoidal connecting rods that reduce overall mass and increase reliability.
The heads are a little different too; there are titanium intake valves, as well as flatter combustion chambers that bump compression from 12.5:1 to 13.5:1. The camshaft sprockets are adjustable, and that helps fitment of any one of the three KTM race-kits, covering club-level racing to full-on superbike competition. Ready to Race, indeed.
The RC8s utilize 52mm throttle bodies directed by Keihin EFI engine management. There is no traction control or sophisticated ride-by-wire, but the motor revs quickly and cleanly, producing strong power from as little as 3000 rpm. Outputting a claimed 168 crankshaft horsepower (153 for the base model) at 10,250 rpm, the RC8 doesn’t quite have the brutal power output of some engines.
It is, however, in the ballpark and feels linear and especially strong in the low-end and mid-range. Almost more important than outright horsepower around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the sterling 91 ft/lbs (claimed) of torque at 8000 rpm. It rips the bike out of slow corners and lofts the front wheel easily in the first couple of gears, if desired.
The RC8 proved to be extremely responsive and easy to ride, with one small caveat–the test machines on this particular day showed a slight abruptness coming back on the throttle in mid-corner. KTM assures us that production machines will be fitted with a new eccentric twist-grip tube that dilutes throttle response by a fraction for the first half of the throttle’s movement. Do not get the impression the RC8s I tested were jerky to ride, because they were not; I just had to focus a little more than usual to ensure completely smooth throttle response.
The RC8s’ redesigned gearbox is a true revelation for me. Gone is the crunchy box of old that was prone to occasional false-neutrals, especially when changing up into third. The redesign transforms the gearbox into six, positive-feeling ratios that shift perfectly every time.
The hydraulically actuated clutch is not a slipper, which I find a little odd on such a premium quality superbike. However, on deceleration the Keihin ECU opens the rear-cylinder butterfly to slightly reduce back-torque, and I confess I did not have an issue, even when hard on the brakes.
Nothing is missing from the RC8s’ chassis–other than weight–and that is a good thing. The R model comes with Marchesini’s gorgeous forged-alloy multi-spoke wheels, and, being one of the lightest bikes in its class, it plants itself on the ground at just over 400 pounds (claimed) with everything but fuel.
That impressive lack of mass can be felt even at a standstill while rocking the bike side to side with both feet down. Once underway, the bike points and turns predictably, neutrally and with precision, making the RC8 an absolute joy to ride.
Caster angle has been increased slightly for more stability in a straight line, and the wheelbase has been shortened slightly, giving the RC8 added agility. The chromoly tubular trellis frame and top-shelf WP suspension feel initially firm, but give superb feedback. Entering Laguna’s faster-than-you-would-expect Turn 6, the fully adjustable 43mm fork and rear shock–both TiN coated for less stiction–work exceptionally well, and the RC8 effortlessly absorbs the bump and dip at the corner’s apex.
Flicking through Laguna Seca’s infamous Corkscrew is a challenge for any motorcycle.Yet, the RC8 shows great stability hard on the brakes, followed by a precise and easy transition from left-flick to right-drop on the exit. Plunging down into Rainey Curve the suspension loads up predictably and the RC8 tracks well mid-corner. No matter how hard I try, every lap the RC8 leaves me feeling that it has plenty more on tap if I’m a bit braver.
High-end components abound on the RC8R–the milled triple clamps, front fork, light alloy swingarm, brake calipers, and footrest system are all black-coated to enhance that stealth-fighter look. However, what makes the RC8s’ chassis truly stand out is the amazing amount of adjustment available to the rider with minimal effort; KTM is clearly tired of the one-size-fits-all approach to motorcycle manufacturing.
The RC8 is slim and comfortable with the handlebars changeable from HeliBar-level comfort to full-on racebike crouch, and both levers (yes, including the hydraulic clutch) are adjustable for reach. The subframe adjusters alter the seat height by almost a full inch, allowing inseam challenged riders to keep both feet planted when stopped. Likewise, the footpegs can be set in a high racing position or a more luxurious lower position for comfort. Both the shifter and brake pedal are three-way adjustable for length, while the shift lever is also adjustable for leverage and a swift change to track-shift pattern.
The now-ubiquitous Brembos handle braking on the RC8. But, having ridden many different machines over the years–all apparently equipped with the same combination of radial master cylinder and radially mounted calipers biting 320mm rotors–I have discovered that not all Brembo combinations are created equal. KTM revealed to me that it had re-worked the internal hydraulic ratios on the RC8 Brembos.
The KTM engineers’ emphasis is on progressive feel, rather than a shockingly abrupt bite on initial application, and that effort has been a success. KTM’s racing experience has again helped the company get it right. The brakes are light to the touch, predictable, and have plenty of feel, especially when leaned over and even if you’re trail braking deep into a corner as well. At no point were they lacking; if I needed more stopping power I simply squeezed harder–just the way I like it.
The instruments on the RC8s are all contained in a well-positioned, easy-to-read digital pod. There is no gear indicator, which I would like to see rectified, but there are different displays for track or street available via two separate switches on the handlebar. Settings that can be toggled through include lap times, maximum rpm, attained top speed, and total race time on the track. A clock, two tripmeters, fuel consumption, miles-to-empty, total trip time, and ambient temperatures tell it for the street.
Although the RC8 lacks traction control, ABS, a slipper clutch, or a gear indicator, do not let that prejudice you against the bike. On the positive side of the ledger, KTM’s RC8 is a terrifically designed, well-engineered machine that it is balanced and extremely easy to ride.
The engine is very impressive due to prodigious torque output and an excellent gearbox. Light weight, agility, and neutral handling make it a real pleasure to ride. The unprecedented adjustability built into the ergonomics enable anyone to precisely tailor this bike to fit, and that is a big deal. Either version of the RC8 is a remarkable machine.
With the Club Race Kit delivering an extra 10 horsepower and a 12-percent increase in torque; it is race-bred and perfect for the track. However, the street is exactly the place where the RC8 will come into its own. If you are a weekend rider who also enjoys some road miles, the RC8 will give you everything you want. While the KTM is certainly Ready to Race, the RC8 proves to be an ideal streetbike, too.
RC8 Motorcycle Specifications
RC8 R Motorcycle Specifications