KTM RC8R Race Spec

Ready to race

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

It’s surprising so few motorcycle manufacturers are doing it: offering ready-to-race Superbikes to the buying public. But considering that’s KTM’s corporate motto, who better to do so?

Not since the hazy days of Grand Prix two-strokes have customers been able to purchase production roadracers. Should you want to campaign a modern four-stroke Superbike, you basically have two choices: Build one yourself or develop the connections necessary to rent one. And even then, it will likely be last year’s model. Aprilia and Erik Buell Racing are the only other companies currently selling race-ready Superbikes, and both of those are prohibitively expensive: $65,000 for Aprilia’s RSV4 Max Biaggi Replica and $40,000-plus for Buell’s 1190RR.

All of which makes the $19,999 KTM RC8R Race Spec a winning proposition. In a nutshell, the Race Spec is a stripped-down RC8R outfitted with KTM’s club kit, intended to let an RC8R owner transform his streetbike into a racebike. Except in this case, the bike is delivered in race trim with no street equipment whatsoever—which means it can’t ever be registered for street use.

From the backside of a telephoto lens, the Race Spec doesn’t look that different from a standard RC8R. Obviously there’s no street equipment, such as a headlight, taillight, turnsignals, horn or mirrors. Thus the racing bodywork has no hole for a headlight, and there’s no rear fender, reflectors or license-plate bracket. The front numberplate and belly pan are painted orange, but the rest of the bodywork is refrigerator-white to allow for application of sponsor decals.

Look closer and the differences become more apparent. Tires are Dunlop slicks. Wheels are forged-aluminum Marchesinis. Suspension consists of a WP 4354 fork with a black diamond-like coating on its stanchions and a WP 4013 VP shock with separate circuits for compression and rebound damping, a la an Öhlins TTX. Brakes are Brembo Monoblocs like those on the RC8R, but with race-compound pads. Hand levers are hinged “as a precaution against ground and enemy contact.” Although the electric starter is retained, there’s little in the way of switchgear beyond a killswitch and a trigger for the onboard lap-timer. Wires springing from the gearshift linkage betray the existence of an electronic quick-shifter, permitting wide-open-throttle, clutchless upshifts.

Like the RC8R, the Race Spec doesn’t have advanced electronics such as anti-lock brakes, traction control or variable drive modes. But it does set a new standard for chassis adjustability. As delivered, the seating position is quite rangy, even comfortable by sportbike standards. Remove the spacer from each mount and the clip-on bars can be lowered an inch. The RC8R has four-position rearsets with adjustable-length pedals, but the Race Spec goes one better with KTM Power Parts rearsets, Swiss-cheesed to allow for no fewer than nine mounting positions. Likewise, the seat support can be lowered to accommodate shorter riders. Lastly, the rear ride height and swingarm angle can be altered via an eccentric in the shock linkage.

Engine upgrades are relatively minor: An Akrapovic EVO 4 exhaust (too lovely to be hidden by the fairing) works with a reprogrammed Keihin EFI, revised cam timing and thinner, higher-compression head gaskets to boost output significantly. On the official Motorcyclist rear-wheel dyno, a stock 2011 RC8R made 145.1 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 79.6 lb.-ft. of torque at 8250 rpm, compared to the Race Spec’s 155.9 bhp at 10,300 rpm and 87.6 lb-ft. at 8100 rpm. Weight has likewise benefitted, going from the stock RC8R’s 439 lbs. ready to roll to the Race Spec’s 392 lbs.—a 47-lb. weight savings.

When KTM’s Tom Moen told us about the Race Spec, we invited him to bring one along with a stock RC8R to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, where we were conducting our “Class of 2011” sportbike comparison. We rode the stocker first, and found that the main complaint we voiced during our “Class of 2010” comparison had been addressed: abrupt throttle response, caused in part by a long-throw twistgrip coupled with a light return spring. There’s no sign of that on the 2011 RC8R with its new dual-spark ignition, as the bike accelerates off of corners as smoothly as any other big-bore V-twin sportbike, even over bumpy pavement.

It took us a while to get the RC8R to handle at Infineon Raceway (our 2010 test venue), though admittedly that was because we had to backtrack from the Austrian factory’s recommended settings. No such issues with the 2011 model, as it proved both flickable and stable right out of the box—even when fitted with the hard-compound front Dunlop Sportmax D211-A that wreaked havoc on the other bikes’ handling. Moreover, the RC8R was easy on its medium-compound rear Dunlop, showing even wear in marked contrast to the shredded rubber on the traction-controlled bikes. Ironic, no?

Compared to the RC8R, the Race Spec simply offers more of the same. Not only is there more power, it’s delivered across a broader range—the proverbial “fast tractor.” And that, coupled with less weight, fiercer brakes, stickier Dunlop slicks, a quick-shifter and a slipper clutch, made it easier to ride—“sneaky-fast” best describes it. The lazy exhaust note reinforces this impression, as compared to the shrieking fours the booming twin seldom sounds like it’s working hard. Yet even so, the Race Spec was instantly 2 seconds per lap quicker than the standard RC8R, and there likely was more to be had.

The only thing holding us back was front-end chatter. With the help of KTM tech Darrin “Rookie” Sorenson (AMA Mechanic of the Year for helping Chad Reed to the 2004 Supercross Championship with Yamaha), we changed spring preload, compression and rebound damping, and even slid the fork tubes up a few millimeters, to little avail—the front end still chattered unnervingly, particularly in bumpy corners. Whether that was the absolute limit or like the buffeting before you break the speed of sound, we’ll never know. Because we damn sure weren’t going to cross that line on the only such bike currently in the country!

KTM’s RC8R Race Spec is an impressive piece that with some fine-tuning would be a serious racetrack weapon. In fact, KTMs are currently ranked first and second in the German Superbike Championship, and a U.S. team that’s been successful in club racing is planning to attend select AMA Superbike rounds later this year in anticipation of full-time involvement in 2012. If you’re a dedicated track-day junkie, a Twins-class club racer or an aspiring AMA Pro, KTM’s production Superbike warrants serious consideration. It really, truly, literally is ready to race.

Are you?

By Brian Catterson
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