KTM RC8 – Video

Circuit Jerez is home to the Spanish Grand Prix, and the location for Bridgestone to unveil its new BT-016 Battlax high-performance sport tire. As I was selecting a suitably shod steed from the fleet of testbikes, I spied a slice of orange amongst the latest superbike weaponry: KTM’s RC8, a motorcycle that no one stateside had yet tested. Dibs!

First shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003, the RC8 announced KTM’s intent to become a full-line motorcycle company, and has since been going through the refining process. Its second-generation, liquid-cooled, dohc, four-valve-per-hole 1148cc motor is made zuper compact by locating some of its essentials between the cylinders of its 75-degree Vee configuration–the shaft that drives the water pump and cams, for instance, which also performs a counterbalancing act. Claimed at-the-crank horsepower is 160 at 10,000-rpm, 500 rpm short of redline.

The lightweight tubular-steel spaceframe comes with a removable aluminum rear subframe. Cast pieces and stamped aluminum sheet welded together make up the banana-ish swingarm. An interesting inverted link connects the fully adjustable WP shock; a 43mm WP fork suspends the front end. Wheelbase is 56 inches.
RC8 instruments are protected by an impact-resistant rubber cover and include a lap timer.

Orange livery is as original as the RC8’s angular, stealth-style (radar-resistant?) bodywork. Unlike the metalflake-orange fairing panels, the tank is painted in scratch-resistant flat-orange and equipped with damage-reducing sliders on both sides. Axle ends are also equipped with crash sliders. The RC8 doesn’t look as much pretty as it does beautifully purposeful.

The reach to the bars is just that, at least for someone like me who’s 5-foot-8. They’re way out there but high enough that you’re not leaning excessively on your wrists. In “rider triangle” terms–hands, seat, feet–the RC8 is pretty comfortable. Footpegs are adjustable to two positions and in the rangiest, seat-to-peg relationship is spaced out enough to unkink knees; even so, I didn’t have issues dragging any low-hanging tootsies on tarmac.

Thumb the RC8 to life. Unlike its naked cousin, the 990 Super Duke, which uses 48mm Keihin fuel spritzers, the RC8 is equipped with a set of 52mm throttle bodies as well as a more advanced engine-management system. Catalytic converters didn’t completely clog the Twin’s pulsing tones and the underbelly exhaust totally cleans up the stiletto tailsection’s visuals.

Okay, tires warmed, let’s get down to business. Predictable power characteristic makes the RC8 almost as manageable as Ducati’s rider-friendly 848–once you got past a bottom-end stumble that required careful attention to throttle management. My other criticism is, for lack of better words, the “agricultural” shift action from second to third gear; lever throw was long and gear selection notchy under acceleration. I had to be very deliberate to make sure the change happened smoothly.

The WP suspension on the RC8 worked great. The bike transitioned side-to-side effortlessly, with super-light, neutral steering. A few times there was a question of front-end push–the answer was to ride even harder to get the RC8 to finish the turn by sliding the rear. The suspension gave a highly intuitive feel for traction that inspired such antics.

Further testing awaits, but if my serendipitous Jerez test is any indication, I’d say Ducati will soon have another sport-Twin to worry about.

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