KTM firmly places itself into the history books with its first ever superbike! It's orange, its fast and its right straight out of the crate. KTM really managed to impress both Jeremy McWilliams and myself. The 1148cc V-twin from Mattighofen takes on the world.
KTM showed us the very first concept version of the RC8 at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003. The Austrians are aggressive in their marketing strategy and choosing Tokyo was a nice little intimidating stunt aimed at the Japanese big four. KTM wants to make a big statement with the RC8. It says in big orange letters that if we can beat you at offroad we can beat you on the road too.
The RC8 started out as a 999cc V-Twin, and then it became a 990cc V4. KTM then scrapped everything done before and developed a brand new V75 1148cc twin from scratch in 30 months. In the last two years KTM lobbied with Ducati to get the current World Superbike regulation changes through to allow the 1200cc super twins to compete.
The real competition right now is first and foremost the Ducati 1098. The RC8 1190 is aimed directly at the 1098S at a lower price than the standard 1098. As a matter of fact, Mattighofen engineers have aimed very precisely and the RC8 1190 makes exactly the same rear wheel horsepower as the 1098S. A source also told me exclusively that KTM has purchased not one, but two brand new Ducati 1098R's for study (this is not unusual as every manufacturer studies its competition). But in the corridors lurk both a BMW and an Aprilia 4-cylinder superbike too. World Superbike racing will be extremely interesting in 2009.
Arriving at Ascari I can see around 50 spanking new RC8's lined up waiting for the world press. Half of the bikes have got number plates and mirrors, the other half are primed for the track test.
Following Jeremy McWilliams advice I opt to do the road ride first thing in the morning to allow the sun to warm up the very long Ascari race circuit. It's February and the weather conditions are not always very warm or dry in this part of Spain. Ronda is high up in the mountains and it was cold this morning.
Twisting the ignition key for the first time the orange instrument panel fires up very fast. I push the starter button and cherish the moment which will go into motorcycle history. The RC8 with its extremely distinct styling is already iconic. The 1148cc V-Twin fires up straight away despite the cold air. It sounds great!
My first impression of the seat and riding position is that of a sportbike, but slightly less extreme. It feels like I am sitting more in the middle of the bike rather than on top of the front wheel. I adjust the mirrors that also house the front blinkers. The mirrors are easily adjusted and fairly big for a sportsbike too.
I do my first few miles up into the mountains where the roads are fast at first before more and more corners keep me entertained. The power delivery feels completely civilised and the RC8 is easy to ride on the roads. The Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa's provide plenty of grip and feedback through WP top notch suspension. WP has just been outsourced from KTM to allow the firm to develop further and also to offer Ohlins, Marzocchi and Showa some more competition in the wider market. Our onsite WP technician recommended three different settings on the fully adjustable suspension ñ standard, medium and sport. All the road bikes were set up as standard.
This worked great for me on the road as even the standard setting allowed me to extract all the feedback I needed on the day. I can imagine that the bike will feel quite firm on the road for a lighter rider than me, though. For a 6 foot something weighing around 200 pounds the RC8 is an absolutely lovely superbike on the roads. Not only is the WP rear mono shock very good, the layout and look from behind is as tidy as I have ever seen on any bike.
Snaking around the engine is a beefy looking but light ChroMo tubular frame. The V75 heart is shorter than a V90 and this also allows for a shorter chassis and more space for efficient cooling up front. The trellis frame also feels a lot livelier than on a lazier steering Ducati without compromising stability. Mass centralisation is key here and a Buell style under engine stainless steel exhaust is in place. This contributes to a low centre of gravity and a very flickable motorcycle. The RC8 steers so well and even with a standard WP steering damper I can turn around at slow speed using a very low radius for a superbike. The steering angle is so good that my gloves kept touching the mirrors when turning around for the photographers on the road. The RC8 steers in a positive and accurate manner. A double sided aluminium swingarm takes care of the power put down by the cast aluminium rear wheel.
So functional is the chassis that wheelies require clutch ups in second gear. The RC8 have more than enough power to wheelie from here to the moon, but inexperienced riders don't have to worry about involuntary monos. Doing some wheelies I also found out that the speed sensor sits at the front wheel.
The radial Brembo monoblocks are pure overkill on the road and fantastic on Ascari. Brushing off 125mph + speeds into vicious hair bend corners is child's play and only the 43mm USD WP fork puts limits to modulation and feel.
Someone might want to murder me for saying this, but one of my thoughts was that the RC8 is the perfect merger of a Triumph Sprint ST and Ducati 1098. It's much more 1098 than ST, of course, but it illustrates the point that the new 1190 is, ergonomically, pretty much the perfect road racer. The distance from the foot pegs to my knees hugging that orange matte fuel tank to the roomy seat and not so extreme handlebar position suited me perfect.
All motorcycles are different and they all vibrate a little or more depending on engine characteristics and chassis. Sometimes I ride a new bike and hardly notice any vibrations at all. Then I stop for the first time and my hands can shake like a liquid mixer in a lab from exposure to high frequency vibrations.
The RC8 1190 hardly had any vibrations at all to the handlebar, but to the foot pegs some fairly noticeable vibrations reached my boots. Later in the afternoon I rode the RC8 on Ascari without noticing any vibrations to mention at all. The likely cause to this is that KTM had a different set up on the track bike. The adjustable foot pegs were mounted higher and on a race track a motorcycle generally moves around a lot more than on the road. There's a thousand things happening at the same time and even if there had been some vibrations I wouldn't have been bothered or more likely not noticed them at all.
That brings me over to the cause of those vibrations, the mighty 1148cc V75. If there was one thing about the RC8 1190 project where I had my doubts it would be the engine. I expected a rather raw and metallic engine feel and sound. Nothing like the smooth running hearty rumble I was greeted with. I bow my head in the dust for this engine. It's no secret that V-Twin engines are closer to my heart than any other configuration, but I had expected less from KTM's first ever high performance superbike. The engine is a stonker and so fabulously useable with generous reserves. The engine produces more than a claimed 160 horsepower at the crank and what I believe to be an honest 155 rear wheel horses. KTM engineers told me that the RC8 1190 produces the same amount of rear wheel horsepower as the benchmark Ducati 1098S. Peak power is reached at 10,000 rpm and a healthy 120Nm of torque is swirling through the machine at exactly 8,000 prm. The fuel injection obeys the throttle as it should, but drop down to 3,000 rpm in town and it gets a bit argumentative.
The gear box seemed to be a heavy duty indestructible one, but also a bit crude as the whole bike shook the first time I engaged first from neutral. These test bikes of ours were still tight with only about 150 miles on the odos; however, I can safely state that they are not of Japanese finesse just yet. Slightly more positive usage of my toe-tips was required. You can compare it to slicing through butter with a cold knife rather than a hot knife. The transmission otherwise worked perfectly and with such a powerful engine you can use high gears with excellent drive on the road, gearing less anyway.
KTM boldly claims that its RC8 1190 is the lightest in its class with 415-pound ready to race weight. That's a claimed weight without the 4.3 gallons of fuel, but with all other fluids and battery included. Ducati's standard 1098 has a claimed 381-pound dry weight. Add about 22 pounds to that for the battery, oil and coolant and the 1098 should still be lighter in the paper war at least. The feel of the KTM RC8 1190 is of a light enough bike anyway so the comparison is a bit academic.
No manufacturer can afford to launch such a product to the market and get it wrong. Still, that has happened before and will happen again. But by the looks of it, it will not happen to KTM. In 2005 Stefan Pierer gave the green light, two and a half years later this bike that was lucky enough to ride was ready. That's astonishing considering all the effort I can see the results of. I can't fault the RC8 on one single major thing and the design is so thoughtful. All the road livery has been designed to be removed easily for track days. Not only are the mirrors and number plate holder easy to remove, the bike also looks very tidy when ready to race. KTM really have worked overtime on this one.
The RC8 1190 has evidently been fitted with a very fast computer as the fire up routine is over and done with in about a second. If only my laptop were that quick. The instrument panel deserves mention and it features a host of functions. To mention only a few; clock, trip, digital rev counter and speedo and an easy to use lap timer are of the most useful ones.
Other practicalities that are not evident from our pictures are the fact that all the bikes are delivered with both a pillion seat and pillion pegs, but in a bag. If you are an egocentric track day fanatic you could possibly get away with lying to your girlfriend about the bike being a monoposto.
Conclusion Let me begin by congratulating KTM for producing what looks to be a very competitive package from day 1. This is no small feat in this flagship segment. The RC8 1190 is a true dream bike that can be studied for hours standing parked on the drive. At the same time it's very composed and easy to ride despite the big horsepower and low weight. I could easily live with some vibrations to the foot pegs and a solid gear box since the rest is so good. KTM has passed the big test with A+.
- Neutral and solid handling with minimal muscle needed for directional change
- Vibrating foot pegs
By Jeremy McWilliams former MotoGP racer
The KTM RC8 ride in Ascari was another good experience, and a great bike to ride in my view. I've ridden plenty of twins and all of them have their own special traits, this one has a character of it's own in the new era of oversized twins.
I like the fact that I believe anyone could ride this bike, whether in anger or a jaunt through the back roads. It's one of the most well behaved sports bike of its generation and not in the typical sport bike fashion, ass in the air full race prone position, this is more between sports and sport tourer, and the bars are level with the top yoke and not below.
To get an idea of the balance, good points or bad, I believe a test should be approached a bit like you would a qualifying lap on the track and, in contrast, a Sunday run on the road. I got the qualifying lap end of the stick in Ascari and made the most of it. Firstly, this bike gives the impression that all the weight is low. It looks shorter than I'd expected and the exhaust neatly hangs below giving the impression that much time has been spent making the whole package compact. When ridden the feeling is of a bike that has most of its mass central but not too low that direction changes become stressed.
When pushed the RC8 feels like it's stuck to the track like glue, the Super Corsa's seem to suit the geometry of this bike perfectly but don't compromise handling in any way. On corner entry this 1190 is razor sharp, enough to have me in a little early. As the bike turned so accurately on corner entry with minimal physical input my expectations of stability weren't high - how wrong. As hard as I pushed I couldn't get a weave or a protest and even jumping the not so flat kerbs in Ascari didn't give any warnings of impending disaster. I checked the neat WP steering damper to see what setting the tech's had decided might help save the gaggle of mad journos descending on this elite track and possibly destroying a very pretty fleet of orange and white Austrian pride. The damper was on zero and never needed adjusting all day. This chassis is very good. The suspension options (Standard, Medium and Sport) are a nice addition, but it would take a very fast or fussy rider to feel that the standard or medium setting wasn't for them. My preference was medium rear and sport front, just to help in the very hard braking areas.
Other niceties included the anti hop system derived from KTM's MotoGP experience, whereby on hard downshifting the back doesn't come around to greet the front. Handy if you've stepped into panic mode involuntarily and backed into first when third would've been adequate. The wheel speed differences are calculated super quick When the back locks up a servo motor one of the butterflies opens sufficiently and adds just enough fuel to get you out of trouble. The digital dash is easy to get on with; the change light is there only to remind that optimum change was probably 500rpm back. The motor does not need to be screwed to the red line in any gear, best I could make it work was changing at approximately 9,750 as the spread of torque is greatest from about 7,000 all the way until 10,000 if you so desire. Ratios are spot on, but with only about 150 miles on the bikes a positive change is needed. Still, the engineering makes this box feel like its bullet proof.
How is the RC8 1190 compared to the Ducati 1098R or S?
I've never ridden the 1098s; I know it's a completely different bike to the R so it would be unfair of me to comment until I rode the 1098s. The chassis are quite different because of the length of the motors (Ducati longer and a bit lazier than the KTM). The power characteristics are so different it would be like comparing the 848 with a 1098, a superstock blade and a superbike blade, the 1098R is over twice the price so it's not comparative.
As this RC8 1190 is KTM's first venture into the sport bike market it would be fair to say this is a seriously good effort. The lines are very KTM - sharp, angular and aggressive. This bike rides and feels a lot like its looks.