2008 KTM 1190 RC8 - Clockwork Orange

An Austrian alternative To The Traditional Italian Super-Twin

By Roland Brown, Photography by KTM

The day with KTM's long-awaited superbike had held a few surprises. I'd spent the afternoon carving the 1190 RC8 around southern Spain's Ascari circuit, where its power, handling and overall ability had been mighty impressive. That much was predictable. Less so is the V-twin's addictive low-end punch that revealed itself on the morning's road ride as we swept down curvy roads to the ancient town of Ronda. The RC8's look and KTM's competition background had suggested a hard, supremely focused machine built more for the track than the road. But the day's riding had shown the RC8 to be more comfortable and well rounded than it appears.

My test began on the road, with a white example set up for that express purpose. With the bike's adjustable ergonomics tailored for maximum room, I was surprised by how comfortable it feels. The reasonably high clip-ons and the short distance between bars and seat add up to a relatively relaxed riding position and less weight on the wrists than on many sportbikes. The seat is comfortable, too-though it remains to be seen how a passenger fits on that screw-on perch.

Heading into the hills west of Ronda with the suspension soaking up the bumps, the windscreen provides more protection than most. KTM's sporting flagship steers sweetly with little effort, feeling reassuringly rider-friendly all the while. Just remember this is a tiger, not a pussycat. Tweaking the light-action throttle sends it leaping viciously forward with a deep growl from the single muffler slung beneath the engine.

Grab a handful of throttle and there's no time to check the quick-jabbing bar on the LCD tach. The big V-twin just rips forward, propelling its claimed 414 pounds (sans gas) with a wide spread of torque that puts big numbers on the digital speedo in very little time.

Abrupt low-rpm fueling and a light, quick throttle make for jerky progress through the tight Sierra de Ronda hairpins. Beyond that a broad, essentially seamless spread of power pushes you toward the 10,400-rpm redline in all six gears, en route to a likely top speed of about 170 mph. Whether the RC8 is as rapid as Ducati's 1098 remains to be seen-but it will certainly put up a fight.

Aside from a couple of niggles, finish and function measure up to KTM's normally high standards. The six-speed gearbox is good, but not great. I caught neutral instead of second a few times shifting up from the tall first gear. Although the lever can be adjusted for length, angle and sensitivity, no amount of fine-tuning could perfect that shift. But since the bikes we rode were very new, some break-in time might help.

My other gripe is vibration. Most of the time there's just enough to add a little V-twin character, but the buzz at 7000 rpm is enough to blur rear-view mirror images and turn your fingers numb. Twin balance shafts aren't quite enough to calm the solidly mounted motor.

The RC8 will wheelie if provoked, but this bike is built for speed, not stunts. Forward-biased weight distribution conspires with the extra-long swingarm's carefully chosen pivot point to keep the front wheel planted on the pavement, even under hard acceleration.

Such stability would come in handy later in the day at Ascari, where the RC8 charges out of the slower turns at a thrilling rate. The picturesque but tricky circuit has plenty of blind bends, cambers and gradients, but the RC8's flexible engine, easy handling, stability and stopping power make the bike forgiving as well as fast.

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