Ducati 1098S VS. KTM RC8 1190 - Same Difference

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Adam Campbell, Brandon Bones

The 1098S simply feels more explosive everywhere, especially at the racetrack. We took this twosome to a Fastrack Riders track day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where Catterson threw down a best lap of 1:37.586 on the 1098S, compared to a 1:38.998 for the RC8. That's slow compared to the 1:29s the winning A Superstock riders turned in that weekend's WERA West races, but either bike would have handily won in Heavyweight Twins. Superior acceleration and a quick-shifting, close-ratio gearbox made it easier to exploit the Ducati's high-rpm output-especially on the superspeedway's banked front straight. Speedometers are never 100 percent accurate, but the 1098's digital display flashed 168 mph approaching the Turn One chicane compared to 151 mph on the RC8. You could feel that difference from the saddle.

Turn your attention away from the throttle, however, and some advantage shifts back toward the KTM. Tighter portions of the track-especially the left-right-left transition entering the infield-were unquestionably easier to negotiate on the RC8. The KTM's steering is exceptionally light, requiring little input to initiate turns. The RC8 remains impressively neutral when leaned over, and is utterly indifferent to brake inputs or pavement imperfections. Contrast this to the more top-heavy Ducati, which has a tendency to fall into turns (exacerbated by the need for strong initial steering input) and resist turning under braking. Both bikes use Brembo's stunningly strong radial-mount Monobloc calipers, so braking behavior is especially important. The Ducati's brakes feel a bit sharper on initial application, though, perhaps due to its larger-diameter 330mm rotors.

On twisty mountain roads the KTM's effortless steering and supremely balanced chassis are big confidence boosters, letting you make last-minute line corrections and steamroll potholes and sealer strips without worry. The plush WP suspension strokes predictably through the full range of travel without bottoming hard, increasing your confidence even more. It's too bad, then, that the fuel injection tends to hunt at constant throttle openings. This was especially noticeable in long, constant-radius corners, where uneven speed, coupled with the RC8's sensitive steering, could cause the bike to wander. It likes to be ridden on the gas.

In stock trim, the Ducati's up-spec Ohlins suspension is too stiff for the street-you can't tell what's going on with the chassis until you up the pace, at which point you'll be rewarded with the supreme wheel control and telegraph-like feedback we've come to associate with the Swedish suspenders. This can be a challenge on bumpy, dirty public roadways, where it takes considerable faith to ride the bike hard enough to make it work.

Though stiff and ergonomically unforgiving, the 1098S is functionally tight as a drum. Throttle response is immediate and flawless at any rpm and for any duration, thanks to twin injectors that never choke or stumble. The inherently better-balanced 90-degree engine delivers less distracting (and fatiguing) vibration than the 75-degree KTM; despite twin balance shafts, a fair amount of vibration passes through the RC8's headstock and into the bars above 7000 rpm. The Ducati's gearbox is also better, as precise and predictable as a Swiss timepiece. The KTM's tranny has a long throw between gears, which requires a firm tug on the lever-more so after we raised the footpegs and adjusted the shift linkage to match at the track. A few times it even popped out of top gear.

Looking purely at performance numbers, the Ducati remains the bike to beat-but just barely. It's remarkable how close KTM has come to upsetting the status quo with its first pure sportbike. Not only does the 1098S outrun the RC8 numbers-wise, there's also the issue of price. Though the RC8 and 1098S are just $497 apart, at $15,995 the standard-model 1098 is fully $3504 less expensive. Since it utilizes the exact same engine as the S-model, the outright performance should be quite close, tipping the scale even more in Ducati's favor.

If you'd prefer to avoid joining the ranks of the Ducatisti, though, you're not doing yourself a disservice by choosing the KTM. The RC8 is a more flexible and forgiving streetbike than the 1098, and with shorter gearing it would likely accelerate as well, too. Act quickly, though: KTM will bring just 50 limited-edition 20081/2-model RC8s into the states this year-each distinguished with a serialized plaque-and most of those are pre-sold. Let's hope the company imports more-many more-in '09, because this Italian-Austrian battle has just begun.

Aaron Frank
Off The Record

Ducati's 1098S is as close as you can get to race-ready performance on the showroom floor. This is great, provided you are prepared to ride at race pace all the time. If not, you're more likely to find yourself frustrated by a bike that is terribly uncomfortable, slow to change direction and severely oversprung for a lightweight like me. I'm more comfortable lately to ride around at seven or eight-tenths and live to rail another day. For this I find the kinder, gentler KTM RC8 a much more suitable mount. The power output is essentially equal to the Ducati, but with a more neutral, responsive chassis and more compliant suspension, it's a less demanding, more enjoyable ride. This is a fairly remarkable first effort from KTM, and one I wouldn't hesitate to park in my garage.

Age: 33 Height: 5'7" Weight: 145 lbs. Inseam: 31 in.

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