News 26 Jun 2009

Full Test: 2009 KTM 1190 RC8R

KTM is back again in the superbike class for 2009, this time with the “Ready to Race” track-focussed 1190 RC8 R, taking a big step ahead to success.



Engine type: Liquid-cooled, 8-valve, DOHC, 75-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 105 x 69 mm
Displacement: 1195cc
Compression ratio: 13.5:1
Transmission: Six speed
Power (claimed): 170hp
Torque (claimed): 91ft-lbs

Frame type: Chromium-molybdenum trellis frame
Front suspension: Fully-adjustable 43mm TiN-coated upside-down WP forks
Rear suspension: Fully-adjustable WP Monoshock
Wheelbase: 1425 mm
Wheels (front/rear): Marchesini forged aluminium alloy 3.50 x 17″ / 6.0 x 17″
Tyres (front/rear): Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro 120/70 ZR 17″ / 190/55 ZR 17″
Brakes (front/rear): 2 x Brembo Monobloc four piston caliper, radially bolted, twin floating 320mm brake discs / Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, 220mm brake disc

Weight (claimed): 182kg
Seat height: 805/825mm
Fuel capacity: 16.5L

Price: $31,955 + orc
Colour options: Black/white/orange
Test bike from: KTM Australia (

Austrian manufacturer KTM made its first foray into the high paced world of the superbike class last year with the 1190 RC8, impressing at its first attempt and promising from the outset that it was also producing an up-spec model.

KTM didn’t disappoint and just one year on after its introduction to superbikes, the 2009 model RC8 R has been launched and is a brilliant step in the right direction once again – the brand also displaying its potential locally competing in select events with former Australian Supersport Champion Shannon Johnson.

Johnson has proven the bike’s performance not only with his Superstock-spec race bike, but also in minimal outings on the street version of the RC8 R, even unofficially lapping quickest of all at the recent Australian Motorcycle News AUStest against a host of factory Australian Superbike stars on Japanese machinery.

Compared to the standard RC8, the R model features an increased capacity of 1195cc (up from 1148cc) with a bore and stroke of 105 x 69mm in the twin-cylinder engine, bumping it up to a claimed 170 horsepower and 91ft-lbs of torque. With those changes, the compression ratio is also raised from 12.5:1 up to 13.5:1.

Other changes inside the engine include different cam lobes that result in changed cam timing, with a larger heat exchanger and more efficient water pump used to cope with the extra heat from the more powerful motor.

The six-speed gearbox is revised after complaints about it on last year’s RC8, adding more free play in the gears, and the shift drum is optimised – changes that were also offered to owners of last year’s RC8 free of charge.

Chassis-wise the RC8 R still features the same chromium-molybdenum trellis frame, with similar dimensions to the standard model, although the offset of the triple clamp is now 34mm, making the trail 97mm instead of 95mm.

As for the suspension, the front forks are fully-adjustable 43mm TiN-coated upside-down WP units, with a setting set for the race track as they have different valving and a revised shim setting compared to that on the RC8. There’s now a hydraulic lock stop on the fork, and the preload adjuster is now a click adjuster, whereas before it was an endless set-up.

There’s a different shim stack in the WP rear shock absorber compared with the RC8, set up for the race track, and the rebound adjuster uses a nut with a shim stack instead of a needle. The shock length is the same, but there’s a higher extender on the link to boost rear ride height from 7mm on the standard RC8 up to 12mm on the R model.

Forged aluminium alloy Marchesini wheels are lighter than the cast alloy wheels on the standard version, with Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro tyres the link between motorcycle and asphalt in standard trim.

All of these changes lead to the bike being two kilograms lighter than the RC8 at a claimed featherweight 182kg, which is astonishingly light for a twin-cylinder superbike.

Shannon Johnson has been developing the KTM RC8 R in Australia

Shannon Johnson has been developing the KTM RC8 R in Australia

Brembo’s class-leading four piston Monobloc calipers clamp the pair of 320mm discs for front braking power, while a single two piston rear brake caliper with a 220mm disc provides the stopping power at the rear.

The RC8 R and RC8 are very similar in the cosmetic department with its striking sharp-edged looks, but the R features an orange frame and race-styled number boards that makes it standout in a crowd even further.

KTM has again used the groundbreaking digital dash that’s operated from the left handlebar as on the RC8, featuring separate road and race modes. The race mode that I use at the track features lap times (best and last), top speed, race odometer and maximum rpm — all re-settable for each session.

The road mode features a fuel distance indicator, fuel trip metre and air temperature.

Both modes have a handy service interval indicator, average speed and the usuals such as odometer, trip metre, time, engine temp etc. Also featured are the usual warning and indicator lights.

So with all of these changes and revisions listed, you may be wondering how much? At $31,995 + orc, just five grand more expensive than the standard version, the RC8 R packs a lot of punch into the extra price.

Both are solid options if you’re in the market for a superbike, but you simply can’t replace displacement and the RC8 R is a better package if you’re a fan of high power motorcycles.

The suspension and improved on-track handling of the R make it a very lethal circuit weapon, with the light weight – especially the wheels – making the R a very easy machine to man-handle through corners.

With the RC8 now touted as the street bike in the KTM superbike line-up, the R has picked up the ball as the more track-focussed model in the range, which is exactly where we completed this test at Eastern Creek Raceway in New South Wales.

When I tested the RC8 at the Creek and on the streets last year I was more impressed with its street usability and comfort, while the slight lack of power compared to its 1200cc competition made it difficult to compare on track.

Never mind now though, because KTM has boosted its capacity and is now in the ball park, with the engine power increase instantly noticeable from the bottom of the range to the top in my limited laps on the bike.

The RC8 R is based from the factory Superstock race bike (right)

The RC8 R is based from the factory Superstock race bike (right)

The throttle response is smooth and precise on initial application, which is well improved over last year’s standard model, although you can feel that brutal torque of the twin kicking in as you apply more throttle on the exit of the turn.

It’s not an aggressive power band by any means, but you do get a real kick off the turns and, unlike the standard model with 47cc less, the bike wants to grunt off the turns and even wheel stand out of the slower turns as you’d expect a modern superbike should.

Luckily WP’s steering damper is again out in force, fighting off any headshake that may try to work its way into the chassis as the front-end gets light when on the gas off the turns.

On the faster bends you just can’t argue with the smooth output of power, rolling the throttle on in third gear and accelerating hard while the suspension allows the chassis to remain stable and grip to the surface beautifully.

In fact, my only real fault with the RC8 R engine is that I feel as though the vibrations are higher than those of the Ducati 1198 S, but on the other hand the KTM’s ability to climb aboard and feel comfortable right away with its low-seat, high-handlebar seating position is appealing.

In regards to the gearbox problems reported in last year’s bike, it’s safe to say that these are all gone and the shifting is as easy as anything, feeling refined and much more consistent with each shift made both up and down gears.

As the bike was set up by Johnson and the KTM race team before my ride, you could say that it was set up almost perfectly, allowing me to climb aboard and corner with confidence from the outset as I explore my way around the differences of the new model.

Everything from the unrivalled Monobloc brakes to pull me up, to the swift and light clutch, allow corner entrance to be relatively easy until you begin to really push the envelope.

In that instance I find myself running wide at times and missing my apex point simply because I’d need more time to adapt to the light freewheel of the engine upon downshift and braking.

A light engine feel on downshift is actually a good thing once you’re acclimatised, and in KTM’s case it’s caused by the Keihin EFI’s throttle kicker system, which opens the rear throttle butterfly slightly on over-rev to counter any lock under brakes instead of using a slipper-clutch.

The RC8 R's cornering abilities are matched by it's 1195cc engine Three and Out A Special Magnum for Tony Saitta dvd

The RC8 R's cornering capabilities are matched by its impressive 1195cc engine performance

Once in the turns I find that the added ride height at the rear assists quick turning, while the extra trail offers more stability, resulting in a nice compromise that is better on both tight and open corners when attacking the race track.

The light weight of the KTM makes it easy to manoeuvre and guide where you want to go, and also making this a strong point of the bike is it’s riding position where you sit deep in the saddle and feel a part of the bike even though it is ultimately a narrow bike to clamp yourself on to.

Adjustability is key with the comfort as well, with adjustable handlebars, foot rests and even the seat height allowing a wide variety of riders to get the bike feeling best for them.

Again the engine helps you get the power down off the turns and compliments the chassis, and I can admit that in my time on the bike I didn’t quite take advantage of the massive potential in its cornering capabilities – especially off the corner where you can almost snap on the throttle if you dare.

With Johnson doing the business on the race track in Oz and popular media reviews country wide, KTM has made a big step forward in cementing itself as a true contender for superbike success on both the circuit and the street.

They say good things take time, but in KTM’s case it’s been just two years and the RC8 R is already knocking on Ducati’s door in a bid to become a real threat in the 1200cc twin-cylinder wars.

Let’s hope we see the manufacturer take advantage of the RC8 R’s potential with an expanded race program both here and abroad, because it’s only then that the brand will be taken 100 percent serious in the circuit-focussed sportsbike market around the world.

After all, KTM’s slogan is “Ready to Race”!