There is no shortfall of compelling qualities in the sportbike category, but the Austrian-built KTM RC8 R possesses a concentration of characteristics that hit your senses with all the force of an avalanche. Foremost is the fact that this purebred superbike is built by a company largely perceived as a dirtbike manufacturer, but there is a whole lot more going on than that.
Take the only-in-Austria styling. I was shocked and more than a bit skeptical when the origami-shaped prototype RC8 was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show back in 2003. Would it ever reach production? Could it perform on par with the established titans of superbike tech? Yes and yes, as the inaugural 2008 RC8 proved. And with its Design Studio KISKA styling and signature KTM corporate color scheme, this orange-accented sportbike is as subtle as the Terminator strolling into a biker bar. One look and you know he ain’t from around these parts.
Progress continues, and the $16,499 RC8 R is vastly improved over the original with even better engine and chassis performance, all while maintaining the rich character and unique personality of its predecessor. This 2012 model feels very refined, with impeccable fuel mapping and one of the slickest-shifting gearboxes of all time.
The real heart of this bike is its snappy-revving, 1195cc, 75-degree V-Twin. Competitive top-end power combined with a broad torque spread makes this mill as content chugging along at 3000 rpm as when approaching its 10,500-rpm rev limit.
But the coolest thing of all is how the RC8 takes adjustable ergos to a new level. Adjustable footpegs are a fairly common feature on contemporary sportbikes, but KTM adds the ability to alter the height and angle of its clip-on handlebars and bolt-on seat subframe, too. Toss in adjustable control levers and gear selector/brake pedal, and the RC8 can be tailored to fit just about any rider or type of riding. Want to get crazy over the front and fully tucked in for a track day? A few minutes of wrenching is all it takes. Care to relax your knees, wrists and back? Same drill. Other makers please take note.
But you’ll never forget you’re on a hard-edged sportbike: Its firm seat pad and race-spec WP suspension combine to deliver chassis feedback akin to a fully prepped racer. The bike is tall, narrow and extremely light and agile on its Dunlop Sportsmart radials, a Euro equivalent to the Sportmax Qualifier II sold in the States. A rear suspension linkage eccentric allows for easy chassis attitude adjustment, and the WP steering stabilizer located atop the triple-clamp is adjustable, as well.
No other sportbike feels quite like the KTM RC8 R, no matter how you adjust it.