2009 KTM 1198 RC8R Review

Almost Famous

KTM’s RC8 spent so many years being a concept - a V4 and then a V2 - that no one knew whether this crazy orange design would ever see the light of day. I for one am glad to see it in its first evolved state after the 2008 world launch at Ascari. KTM must be a huge fan of Ducati as everything KTM has done with the RC8 from the L-twin (V75-V90) configuration, Ascari launch and then Portimao launch is all in the footsteps of the red giant from Bologna, Italy. But was it a wise move? Isn’t V4 the future now?

Those are questions yet to be answered, but one question I do know the answer to is whether the 1198 RC8R is a Ducati killer or not. It definitely isn’t yet, so today I’m comparing it to the liter fours and the latest and best 600cc in-line fours instead.

And it wouldn’t stand a chance there either I hear you whisper? Well, it’s not quite as clear cut as that. While cornering on the brand new Bridgestone BT-003RS tires the RC8R leans with great willingness and turning from an extreme left lean to an extreme right is the easiest thing in the world. Only the 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R felt better in this area on Almeria.

The RC8R corners like a champ.

The Brembo monoblocks worked very precisely on the RC8R with a fantastic initial bite. The 43mm WP USD fork felt fine, but not with the same feedback as the Ninja. The new fully adjustable WP mono shock must have helped a lot at the rear because the RC8R could be fired very hard out of the corners without much of a rear wheel slide. The RC8R was also of the best bikes along with the 600s for a circuit that can be ridden in second gear between the two straights. Plenty of low-end, traction-friendly V-twin torque.

Considering the fact that the 1198 RC8R loses hugely to the liter fours from third gear and up down the straight the late braking abilities need to be very good to stand a chance. But luckily for RC8 owners the RC8R does make mincemeat of all the 600s.

KTM's sportbike looks as fast as anything...but looks can be deceiving.

KTM claims 170 horsepower at 10,250 rpm which should have been enough to stay a little closer to the mighty Kawasaki ZX-10R down the straight. But it’s left for dead after three gears when I suspect the efficient Kawasaki Ram-air system really starts counting in, adding another 12 horsepower for a claimed total of 200 horsepower. The Honda CBR1000RR and Suzuki GSX-R1000 beat the RC8 R too. Perhaps the Kawasaki claimed figures are closer to the reality than KTM’s but only a Dyno bench could prove it.

The RC8R has a 2mm larger bore than the RC8 that results in an 1195cc V75 engine. It was all good for a top speed of 150 mph on the main straight where I consistently saw more than 165 mph on the ZX-10R’s speedo.

The riding position still felt like a sports tourer but the rear can be raised 20mm. Looking at all the bikes in the paddock the KTM RC8R looks the raciest of them all, but once in the seat that changes. Those of you that know your KTM will know that the company for many years specialized in making the best and most racy Enduro bikes. Then KTM launches a superbike softer than Honda’s Fireblade. Go reckon.

The 2009 KTM 1198 RC8R is still a very fast motorcycle though, but in the most extremely competitive segment I’m rating it behind all the big four, Ducati 1198S and Aprilia RSV4. The KTM RC8R is only almost famous and is not involved in any racing activity.

We’d love to see the RC8R test itself in a major racing series.


The RC8R is a very good sports motorcycle, but against its competition it’s still not good enough. As a stand alone motorcycle I’d have no problems putting my cash down for one. I like both the performance and the Austrian mad-man design. You’ll not be disappointed stepping up from a 600cc sportsbike, but the RC8R is not a serious alternative to the literbikes just yet. Unfortunately for KTM I don’t think they’ll ever rise from Ducati’s shadow with the V75. Good luck anyway.

 Highs:     Lows:
  • Brilliant and different design
  • KTM deserves kudos for trying
  • Chassis and brakes
  • The RC8 R is simply not what it could have been at this stage and why isn’t it racing where the racing counts?

Related Reading
2008 KTM RC8 1190 Review
2007 KTM Street Bike Intro
2009 Literbike Shootout
All Things KTM on Motorcycle.com

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