Is The Austrian Upstart Ready To Take On Italy's Best?
Our First Ride report in June called the RC8 "the biggest threat to desmodromic domination in decades"-a reference to the inevitable rivalry between KTM's all-new superbike and Ducati's potent 1098, the current standard-bearer of sporting V-twin performance. There's no shortage of similarities between these two machines. Both come from determined, racing-oriented European manufacturers. Both slot big-bore V-twins into lightweight steel-trellis frames. Both feature top-quality suspension components-il on the Ducati, WP for the KTM. And both bristle with paddock-bred bling such as Marchesini wheels and Brembo brakes. A cursory spec sheet scan begs the obvious question: How do these two bikes stack up?
We didn't waste any time finding out. As soon as we got our greasy palms on an RC8 (one of only 10 in the USA at the time), we lined up a 1098 for a proper comparison. At Ducati's insistence, we paired the RC8 with the upgraded 1098S, which features lighter Marchesini forged wheels, Ohlins suspension and steering damper and some choice carbon-fiber bits. Hmm, maybe Bologna is nervous? To be fair, though, the $19,498 RC8 is much closer in price to the 1098S ($19,995) than the base-model 1098 ($15,995).
KTM's WP shock offers unparalleled accessibility for varying spring preload. Eccentric fit
For all their similarities, these two twins couldn't look more different. Designed by Pierre Terblanche protg Giandrea Fabbro, the Ducati's shape is organic, like a two-wheeled Tiger Shark. The KTM, drawn by Salzburg's Design Studio KISKA, is all edges and angles, like an F-117 Nighthawk. The finishes on the 1098S-woven carbon-fiber, gold hlins hardware and "murdered-out" (photographer Adam Campbell's description) metallic black paint-are pure luxury. Half the RC8's bodywork (tank, tail and fairing lowers) is molded in color, dirtbike-style, lending a Tonka-like plasticity. It's not cheap-looking, though, and gives the bike a futuristic appeal. LED turn signals and tail lights, along with a modern under-engine muffler, further the KTM's present-tense style. Conventional lenses and an undertail exhaust make the Ducati look quaint by comparison.
These two bikes come from different ergonomic planets as well. Like all Ducati Superbikes, the 1098's riding position is either unforgiving or unforgivable, depending on your degree of flexibility. The face-down, ass-up riding posture makes zero comfort concessions, with a high, forward seating position that preloads the front end for improved handling but works your upper body on long, straight stretches. Suspension settings stiff enough to blur your vision provide little relief.
Molded-in-color plastic panels contrast with metallic-painted body parts on the KTM. Built
Info-rich or information overload? KTM's multi-function display offers "race" (lap timer)
The RC8 uses standard-issue cast, five-spoke Marchesini wheels. Tires on both bikes are Pi
Ergonomically speaking, the KTM is more adjustable than an Aeron chair. Clip-on bars provide a few inches of vertical variation, and the footpegs offer high and low positions as well. The brake and shift lever toe pieces are three-position adjustable, and the hydraulic clutch and front brake levers offer five settings. The RC8's saddle is very supportive and, with the footpegs set low and the handlebars raised high, the bike provides a level of comfort superior to any competitive sportbike.
The Ducati's lusty, short-stroke, desmo-valved, 1099cc V-Twin has a ravenous appetite for revs that makes it thrilling to ride at any speed. Cavernous, elliptical-shaped 60mm throttle bodies suck air with an audible roar, and the barely-legal 2-1-2 exhaust provides auditory stimulation that will only encourage your anti-social impulses.
The second-generation LC8 motor powering the KTM is every bit the Ducati's technological equal. A dry-sump lubrication system with integrated oil tank saves weight-at 141 pounds, this compact, 1148cc twin actually weighs less than the 999cc version that powers KTM's Adventure, Supermoto and Super Duke models. High-strength, lightweight connecting rods and flat-top pistons reduce internal reciprocating mass, while 52mm throttle bodies feed more compact cylinder heads. The exhaust system consists of a large-volume, mass-centralizing under-engine muffler that manages Euro 3 compliance without sounding completely choked.
Spinning the drum on the dyno reveals some surprising similarities-and differences. Peak power is nearly identical, the Ducati putting 136.2 bhp to the rear wheel compared to the KTM's 134.9. But at lower revs the two power profiles are wildly divergent. The 1098S lords 4.4 lbs.-ft. of torque over the RC8 at 3500 rpm, then stumbles into a 2000-rpm-wide hole that gives the latter a significant midrange advantage (11.2 lbs.-ft. at 5K)-right where you want power on the street. The Ducati reclaims the advantage at 6K, however, and holds the upper hand all the way to the dark end of the digital bar tachs.
The Ducati storms down the road with ferocious authority. Massive thrust arrives the instant you let out the clutch, and the quicker-revving, shorter-stroke motor blows through that midrange hole so fast you barely notice it before the impressive top-end rush has you scrambling for the next gear. The smooth-building KTM offers a more civilized experience. Unlike the Ducati, which wheelies everywhere in the first three gears, an extra-long swingarm and exceptional forward weight bias (a claimed 54 percent) conspire to keep the KTM's front end planted. Significantly taller gearing (4.14:1 overall drive ratio, compared to 4.66:1 for the 1098S) calms things even more, making the KTM feel less lively on the gas.
Off The Record
I first saw the RC8 at the KTM factory shortly after riding the prototype Super Duke. That should give you an idea how long this thing has been gestating. What impressed me about KTM's R&D team was how much effort they'd expended evaluating the competition. Parked in the shop were examples of all the Super Duke's would-be competitors, each accompanied by a thick notebook chock-full of data. All manufacturers do this, of course, but it was especially critical for KTM, which was then developing its first proper streetbike. No doubt they did the same for the RC8, which explains why it came so close to unseating the 1098S.
Not since Aprilia and Honda made a run at Ducati has there been another competitive twin in World Superbike. Here's betting Mattighofen gives Bologna a run for its money.
Age: 45 Height: 6'1" Weight: 215 lbs. Inseam: 34 in.