Tested – KTM RC8R

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KTM’s eye-catching flagship RC8R certainly stands out from the crowd – its angular bodywork looking as crisp and fresh as it did when the original bike was launched to a stunned public in 2007. It’s aged well, and still looks futuristic in this its sixth year of production.

Yet underneath the aggressively sculpted plastics, stacked headlights and bright orange trellis frame lies a dying breed – a litre bike with no sophisticated electronics or riders aids. This is very much an analogue bike in a digital age and it’s all the better for it.

Swing a leg over the bike and the first things that strikes me is just how roomy it feels. It’s one of the biggest superbikes on the market – I’m 6ft 2in tall and it easily accommodates my gangly frame, and there’s plenty of room to tuck in fully behind the screen. And if it doesn’t fit you straight out of the crate then there’s loads of adjustability – you can move the pegs up or down, the gear and brake levers can be moved, the clutch and front brake are adjustable for span, the wide bars can be moved in or out and the seat can be lowered or raised. Even the ride height can be changed quickly and easily using a concentric adjuster on the shock linkage, and changing the gearshift from a road shift pattern to a race pattern takes a mere seconds.

Turn the key, thumb the starter and the 1195 cc V-twin rumbles into life with a deep, menacing tone. It sounds angry. It sounds mean. It sounds perfect. Twist the throttle, glance up and see the revs rise on the digital clocks. The display itself is comprehensive and offers all the information you’ll need – trip, onboard lap timer etc – although this is the only area of the bike that feels dated; the dash is just too busy and the information is just too small to be of any real use. That’s nitpicking though, as the only information you’ll really be interested in is the speed.

Select first gear, pull away and the brutal cacophony dies somewhat as the bike surges powerfully forward. This KTM has power in spades and pulls cleanly from 3000rpm. This engine features twin-spark cylinder heads (two spark plugs per cylinder) for improved fuelling and improved cam timing for smoother power delivery and it works – compared to the old RC8, which suffered with poor, lumpy fuelling and a harsh throttle response, this bike feels smooth, refined and responsive, even when crawling through town.

Leaving the urban landscape behind we hook up with a B-road that I know like the back of my hand, snick a few more gears and wind up the wick. I’m starting to feel comfortable on the bike and the RC8R’s excelling. The engine’s happy equally happy being ridden hard to its 10,250 redline as it is pootling around in the lower revs, while the WP suspension and steering damper do a good job of soaking up the worst of the bumps. Admittedly, the ride is on the firm side, but it still feels comfortable and never feels bone-shakingly painful.

But it’s in the bends that the KTM shines, devouring the twisties with aplomb. It steers precisely and accurately, like a laser guided cruise missile, predictably responding to the rider’s every input and allowing the rider to unleash ever more of the bike’s brutal power as confidence and lean angle increase. It’s very easy to ride and it’s deceptively fast.

In the next five days we cover 1200 miles and I fall under the Austrian’s spell. I find myself riding purely for riding’s sake, seeking any and every excuse to spend some more time together. It’s won me over with its mixture of individual looks, quality components and engaging ride. It may lack the state-of-the-art electronics of other litre bikes but it doesn’t matter – the RC8R’s superb chassis and smooth power delivery means they’d be redundant on this bike anyway – this is a bike where the rider’s firmly in charge. I even find myself scouring the classified pages, looking for a tidy 2011 bike.

The sad thing is that the brilliant RC8R’s days appear to be numbered, with KTM CEO Stefan Pierer indicating that the bike will be phased out and replaced by V4, 1000cc RC16 in 2017 to coincide with the Austrian firm’s entry in MotoGP.

Guess I’d better scour those pages a little bit harder…

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