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KTM unleases its 2010 RC8 R superbeast

November 14, 2009 | 12:03 am
The sticker on the RC8 R's tank pretty much says it all. It takes 94 octane gas. The lighter-weight and even more flaming-fast version of the RC8 superbike KTM introduced for the 2008 model year, the new 2010 RC8 R, is a high-compression, high-performance beast that begs to be flogged at the track.

I attempted to do so recently at Laguna Seca, where I was invited with a bunch of other moto journos to test what KTM is hoping will be its Yama-Suzu-Honda buster when it enters world superbike racing, most likely in 2012.  But this bike flogged me instead. With 170 horsepower, 90.7 foot-pounds of torque and a whopping 1,195 cc, it's a bike best left to the pros who'll be able to wring every last drop of power from its 75-degree twin cylinders and take advantage of the extreme adjustability that's been built into the bike to do so.

Like any sport bike that's been subjected to Darwinian evolution at the hands of mad engineering geniuses, the bored-out RC8 R ramps up the power, scales down the pounds and fine tunes the handling. But the big news about the RC8 R is its emphasis on easy adjustment for guys who spend their weekends -- and their paychecks -- at the track. Its camshaft sprockets and valve timing are both adjustable, so the fast can go even faster.

For the fools who insist on riding the RC8 R in the street, the license plate, turn signals, mirrors, passenger seat and foot pegs have all been designed for quick track-to-street conversion. The handlebars also have two settings, the rear subframe is adjustable and the seat offers almost an inch of height movement, from 31.69 inches to 32.48.

The seat on the RC8 R is plank-like. And spacious, which I realize is a fairly strange thing to say about a sportbike saddle, but it definitely feels roomy, in that it's easier to do the contortionist moves required on the track in corners. The concept: If you're comfortable, you have more freedom of movement, and more freedom of movement makes you faster.

Fast is, of course, the biggest compliment in sport biking. It's also a relative term. I probably got the RC8 R up to 140 mph, which is a fool's move on the street but tortoise-like at Laguna Seca. The RC8 R is a handful for mortals such as a myself. Of the bike's six gears, I only got it into fourth on the straightaway and that was just barely.

Acceleration and gear-changing was smooth, thanks to a new, quicker-shifting transmission. The suspension was also quite plush, its pieces having been dipped in titanium.  At 1195 cc and 401 pounds, this bike is big for the track, especially for a woman with flabby upper arms whose only regular exercise consists of lifting bikes off their kickstands. So it was really a pleasant surprise that the RC8 R was so easy to corner; it didn't require nearly as much muscle as I feared to yank the brakes and lean it over.

Like all excellent sport bikes, the RC8 R is a slave to its master. It understands what you want it to do and does it with only the slightest direction. The barest flick of the wrist on this torque-y twin jettisons you forward. A two-finger squeeze on the monobloc caliper brakes easily reduces warp speeds. The lightweight chromoly tubular chassis taunts you to drag a knee. And the bubble windshield lets you play peek-a-boo with the gale forces that threaten destabilization at high speeds.

I suppose this shouldn't have been a surprise. KTM is known for high-performance, off-road machines. In the few years it’s been making street bikes, the Austrian manufacturer is showing the same dedication to running the competition off the road. The RC8 R is simply the latest proof.

  • 2010 1190 RC8 R
  • Base price: $19,998*
  • Powertrain: fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 75-degree V, 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, 6 gears
  • Horsepower: 170 @ 10,250 rpm
  • Torque: 90.7 lb.-ft @8,000 rpm
  • Displacement: 1195 cc
  • Seat height: 31.69-32.48 inches
  • Curb weight: 401.2 pounds

* $285 destination charge and $200+ pre-delivery setup fees not included

-- Susan Carpenter

Video: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

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