Dave And Paul Hit The Track
On KTMs At Brainerd International
by Dave Soderholm
I pick up the phone to hear Editor Pearman say, “Starr Cycle in Mankato has invited MMM to attend a 2011 KTM RC-8R track day at BIR. Unfortunately I’m busy. Are you interested?” “Ahhh, YEAH?!” As a former expert racer and now track day junkie, I jumped at the opportunity. With the logistics set, I arrived pretty early on the day of the event. Spotting the KTM race semi, I moseyed out to the pit wall. Gazing out at the hot pit made me go weak in the knees and express thanks to editor Pearman for being busy. Lined up in two neat rows were the 2011 RC-8Rs.
The RC-8R is an exotic European race bike ringing in at $16.5 Gs. Think, Austria’s Ducati and you have the picture. KTM’s slogan is “Ready to Race” and the RC-8R fulfills that billing. It’s moto-porn all the way. It has top shelf Brembo radial-mount monoblock brakes, WP suspension, WP steering damper, Marchesini forged wheels, and a very compact, very powerful 1190cc racing V-twin engine. All this propulsion goodness is wrapped in an exotically styled fairing package that looks like a cross between a stealth fighter and a Lamborghini. It’s a stunning, exotic, unique motorcycle to be sure, and it was mine, with an empty racetrack and full tanks of gas for the day!
Mounting up for the first advanced session introduced me to my office. For a hardcore sport-bike, the RC-8R is relatively comfortable. KTM puts adjustable clip-ons, pegs and seat on it. Set it up hardcore for track days and sport touring for the road. What a brilliant idea! The RC-8R is extremely narrow and compact. I felt like I could almost touch my knees together! You also sit well “in” versus perched “on” the bike. This really helps you feel like you and the bike are one. Finally, the dash, which slots into a nicely finished cockpit, is very comprehensive. It’s all-digital and includes things like; lap timers (current / best / last / # to go), sweeping digital tach, a bright shift light, gear indicator, speed, time, temperature, and odometer with multiple trip meters.
Pulling out onto the track I immediately noticed the RC-8R has a fantastically torquey, quick-revving beast of an engine. The throttle can be a little touchy at low rpm – although that’s easy to adjust to. A look at the dyno chart is enlightening. Torque peaks at almost 90 lb.-ft at 7,000 rpm and the 155 peak horsepower arrive at 10,000 rpm. And she only weighs 440 lbs wet. Houston – we have liftoff! Be lazy, leave it a gear high and lug it, or use the proper gear and enjoy the 155 bhp afterburner top end rush. The RC doesn’t care.
Accelerating hard on corner exits and having the front end come up a few inches in a nice power wheelie was a regular occurrence. Accompanied by that stellar KTM V-twin soundtrack; you’ll be grinning under your helmet. The only flies in the RC engine ointment are that it lacks the now fashionable slipper clutch and traction control. So what. It doesn’t need them. Learn how to ride and you don’t need them either.
Slowing for corners at warp speed is child’s play on the RC-8R. Braking for Turn 3 from 150+mph, lap after lap, never required more than one finger. Feel was fantastic and the monstrous, controllable stopping power urged you to continue waiting later and later to brake. Simply stellar brakes! The Brembo monoblocks on the RC-8R are the best brakes I have ever used, period – end of discussion!
Moving onto the chassis, the bike feels eminently trustworthy and comfortable from the first lap. It’s very nimble in tight turns and super-stable at speed. The suspension truly compliments the chassis. It is plush, controlled and firm, all at the same time. When you ride on suspension this good at speed, it is a memorable experience and the RC-8R’s WP suspension is simply amazing. No matter how aggressive I got with the throttle or brakes, the chassis simply tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry Dave, I’ve got you covered!” A great example of this happened in Turn 13, a tight right-hander under the new bridge. I was riding pretty hard when the front end slid. I rolled on the throttle and the back end started sliding while the front caught and returned the bike to my chosen line. It was all easy and drama-free, demonstrating how well KTM has integrated the chassis and suspension.
Turning lap after lap was pure joy on the RC-8R. It is comfortable, fast, thrilling and forgiving. I could ride harder and longer on this bike without tiring out than anything I’ve ever rode on the track. In the end, if you’re in the market for an exotic, unique superbike, give the RC-8R a shot. Check it out, along with all the new KTMs, at Starr Cycle in Mankato. 507.385.1990 or www.starr-cycle.com. John Zender is the owner of Starr Cycle, and is a true enthusiast that will set you up right. Thanks again John for making this event possible.
by Paul Berglund
Working for MMM can be fantastic. Dealing with ogreish editors, or “Desk Trolls” is just part of the deal. You take the bad with the good. This assignment seemed too good to be true. Starr Cycle in Mankato called up and offered MMM two golden tickets that would make Willy Wonka swoon with envy. Three local KTM dealers were sponsoring the KTM Race Orange experience at Brainerd International Raceway. Starr Cycle offered up two golden tickets and the trolls gathered in a glade near Maplewood and cast bones. Who would go?
Dave was the obvious choice; he knows his way around a racetrack. They bestowed a ticket upon him. “Who else can we send?” they rasped. “Perhaps someone with an alternate, befuddled point of view that would contrast Dave’s learned prose? Who’s that guy that’s always wearing orange and going on about KTM’s foul seats?”… Thus, I was summoned.
On that fateful day, I carpooled up to Brainerd. The two other men joining me on this sojourn were grizzled veterans of the motorcycle world. They’d been riding for years. I’ll call them Travis and Bickle. We were almost safely to BIR when Bickle suggested we stop at a gas station and get some food. Once inside, he recommended an egg and sausage thing called the “Tornado”. I don’t know much about riding motorcycles on a racetrack, but I know you don’t do it after eating a gas station Tornado. Travis and Bickle ate the forbidden fruit. I clasped my MMM® amulet and got back in the car.
At the track I found out that I knew even less about what was going on. The last time Starr Cycle dropped off golden tickets, they were for the KTM Ride Orange demo event. The truck that day was loaded with samples of every KTM road bike. I found it to be more appealing than a Chinese buffet combined with a Roman orgy run by wealthy frat girls. As we climbed out of Travis’s ride, I beheld a huge KTM truck birthing 2011 RC-8R super bikes onto the hot racetrack asphalt. This, my friend, was the KTM Race Orange event. Oh my.
For 2011, KTM dropped their 75° V-twin, 405.6 pound, 1148cc sport bike, the RC-8, from their American lineup. In it’s place, and for the same price, they are selling the RC-8R. It has the big boy version of the same motor coming in at 1190cc, 167bhp and 90 ft-lbs of torque. It is fuel injected, has a 6-speed transmission, chain drive and weighs a whispery 401 pounds without its 4.36-gallons of premium gas on board. And here in front of me were rows of them, sitting on a racetrack with the keys in them, ready to go. All I had to do was sign a waiver. The ink wasn’t dry before I had my helmet on. I thought I would burst before I could finally fire one up and have at it. We had to wait while Travis and Bickle dealt with their Tornado issue. Pants up and helmets on, we were finally set to go.
My first lap was just intimidating. I’d never been on Brainerd International Raceway, or any racetrack for that matter. That alone would have been a blast. The RC-8R is a supremely competent bike especially here in its element. On the second lap I had relaxed and the magnitude of where I was and what I was riding melted away into a morning of extreme fun. We, my car pool pals and I, were in the Novice group. We took turns with the Intermediate group and the Expert group that Dave rode with. I never got out of third gear. My bravado faded before I got to red line in third gear. Using only the bottom half of what this bike can do on the track far exceeds anything I could do out on the street with my bike.
With each lap of each session I was getting better. This was the perfect place to work on my riding skills. The bike was brilliant. I couldn’t find fault with its performance any more than I could find fault with Einstein’s math. I was in over my head, swimming like the big boys, and loving it. The RC-8R super smart dash even told me what gear I was in. Then I pulled into the pits and they gave me a sandwich and some Gatorade. If you have the chance to do a track day on a super bike, I highly recommend you do it.
After lunch I was going faster and cornering harder than I have ever done on a motorcycle. It was a glorious feeling and I was becoming a better motorcycle rider all at once. Then Travis crashed his bike. He high-sided right after pit row. He landed well and walked away from the incident. The mighty RC-8R was not so lucky. Travis, like me, had signed the waiver. It was a standard “you break it, you bought it” kind of waiver. This is not a cautionary tale. Hopefully we all know what risks are involved each time we ride a motorcycle. I urge you to do a track day or take a riding class on a racetrack. It is tremendous fun and you can perfect your street riding on a track. However, you should call your insurance agent BEFORE you do so. Any mention of “race track” will void the coverage of your bike. If you are on someone else’s bike it could be worse. Ask your agent lots of questions. Are you covered when you ride on a racetrack, or ride a dealer’s demo bike on the street? Or, how about if you switch bikes with your friend? If there is a track involved, it’s going to be a long conversation. Know exactly where you stand before you turn the key.
The mood in Travis’s car was somber on the way home. We all had a great time. Well, most of us. I did get to hang out with some great people who shared a manic enthusiasm for KTMs. I found out that KTM dealers are staffed by men and women who love to ride motorcycles. Some of those people have a real talent for riding them and a vast knowledge about them. I would like to thank everyone at Delano Sports Center, Larson’s Cycle, The KTM Race Orange crew and especially Starr Cycle of Mankato for giving me this opportunity. I loved KTMs going into the Race Orange track day, but now I love KTM people too. My orange brothers and sisters