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.
Ohlins shock, fork and steering damper account for a significant portion of the S-model's
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.
Ohlins, Brembo, Marchesini ... the chassis spec is first-rate on Ducati's upgraded 1098S.
1098S dash is straight out of MotoGP. Ducati's Data Analysis System is standard equipment,
The 1098S is fitted with lighter, forged-then-machined 10-spoke Marchesini hoops. Unlike i
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.
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.
2008 Ducati 1098S | Price: $19,995
Ducati's Testastretta Evoluzione engine motivates the 1098S, topped with MotoGP-derived elliptical throttle bodies said to flow 30 percent more air than conventional round bodies. Oversquare cylinder dimensions make the motor rev quicker, and a narrow valve angle provides a straighter shot into reshaped combustion chambers. Magnesium valve covers reduce weight.
Super-light, forged and machined Marchesini racing wheels drop 4 pounds of unsprung weight compared to the base-model 1098. The latest version of Ducati's signature single-sided swingarm, composed of stiffer castings at the pivot, wheel hub and suspension link connected with fabricated aluminum sections, is lighter and stronger than before.
Ohlins FG511 fork is fully adjustable with ti-nitride coated sliders that minimize stiction to communicate even the most subtle change in road conditions to the rider. The 46PRC shock features a top-out spring to enhance ride quality. Rear ride height is adjustable independent of spring preload.
Brembo's mighty M4-34 Monobloc calipers, machined from a single piece of alloy for higher rigidity and greater distortion resistance, clamp down on 330mm rotors mounted to the front wheel. A radial-pump master cylinder offers better feedback with less lever travel, for improved modulation.
|Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin||Rear brake: Single Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc||Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.06 sec. @ 140.8 mph|
|Valve train: DOHC, 4v desmo||Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro||Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.96 sec.|
|Displacement: 1099cc||Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro||Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 36/33/34 mpg|
|Bore x stroke: 104.0 x 64.7mm||Rake/trail: 24.5/3.8 in.||Colors: Red, black|
|Compression: 12.5:1||Seat height: 32.2 in.||Availability: Now|
|Fuel system: Marelli EFI||Wheelbase: 56.3 in.||Warranty: 24 mo./unlimited mi.|
|Clutch: Dry, multi-plate||Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal.||Contact: |
Ducati North America
10433 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014
|Transmission: 6-speed||Weight (tank full/empty): 438/413 lbs.|
|Frame: Tubular-steel trellis||Measured horsepower: 136.2 bhp @ 9500 rpm|
|Front suspension: 43mm Ohlins inverted cartridge fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping||Measured torque: 79.7 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm|
|Rear suspension: Single Ohlins shock, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 330mm discs|
"Ready to Race" might be KTM's corporate slogan, but it also describes the Ducati's ergos. With one of the longest seat-to-bar reaches on the market and a minimal, 1.5 inches of bar rise, the Ducati stretches you out and lays you down. Perfect at 170 mph; less so at legal speeds.
Big valves, even bigger throttle bodies and a quick-revving motor give the 1098S a decided power advantage over and above 6000 rpm. Power drops off quickly after the 9500-rpm redline, though, and the hard rev limiter kicks in at 10,500, so short-shifting works best.
2008 KTM RC8 1190 | Price: $19,498
A bigger bore (103mm) and longer stroke (69 mm) add up to 1148cc displacement, but thanks to right-sizing, KTM's latest LC8 engine is lighter and more compact than the 999cc version that powers the firm's other twins. Double overhead cams are chain-driven and cam followers activate eight valves, for a simple, compact cylinder head design.
The RC8's trellis frame, welded in the company's Mattighofen facility, is made from chromoly steel and weighs less than 17 pounds. The swingarm is constructed from a mix of cast parts and sheet-metal sections to save weight and increase strength. The subframe pivots to adjust seat height by .8 of an inch.
Suspension comes from long-time KTM partner WP. The fork offers 10mm of preload adjustment, 32 clicks of compression damping and 28 clicks of rebound. An eccentric fitting in the rear suspension linkage permits a 20mm ride-height adjustment. Shock access, for adjusting preload, is unparalleled.
More of the same Monobloc action on the KTM, with a pair of radial-mount Brembos up front clamping down on 10-button, 320mm rotors. Each caliper contains four separate brake pads (one per piston) for improved cooling. The rear brake is a two-piston caliper, also made by Brembo, matched to a 220mm disc.
|Engine type: l-c 75-deg. V-twin||Rear brake: Single Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm disc||Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.27 sec. @ 138.1 mph|
|Valve train: DOHC, 4v||Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro||Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 3.05 sec.|
|Displacement: 1148cc||Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro||Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 40/35/36 mpg|
|Bore x stroke: 103.0 x 69.0mm||Rake/trail: 23.3/3.5-3.6 in.||Colors: Orange/black, white|
|Compression: 12.5:1||Seat height: 31.7-32.5 in.||Availability: Now|
|Fuel system: Keihin EFI||Wheelbase: 56.3 in.||Warranty: 36 mo./36,000 mi.|
|Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper||Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.||Contact: |
KTM North America, Inc.
1119 Milan Ave.
Amherst, OH 44001
|Transmission: 6-speed||Weight (tank full/empty): 441/416 lbs.|
|Frame: Tubular-steel trellis||Measured horsepower: 134.9 bhp @ 10,250 rpm|
|Front suspension: 43mm WP inverted cartridge fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping||Measured torque: 75.4 lb.-ft. @ 7000 rpm|
|Rear suspension: Single WP shock, adjustable for spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping|
|Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs|
Adjustability is the key word here, with multiple settings for seat height, footpeg position and handlebar rise. Roomy, too: The 18.6-inch seat-to-peg measurement is the longest of any sportbike we've measured, and the 3.6-inch bar rise is bettered only by Buell's 1125R.
The RC8's torque curve is flatter than a tabletop, and stout too, delivering upwards of 60 lb.-ft. of torque anywhere on the tach.
Horsepower builds strongly right up to 10,000 rpm and then flattens without falling off, leaving a nice cushion of over-rev should you need to carry a gear through a corner.