KTM's arrival on the sportbike scene with the lean, mean RC8 1190 was worth waiting for. Ever since the Austrian company unveiled the prototype RC8 V-twin sportbike at the Tokyo Show in October 2003, we've been waiting for the finished product. The final production machine features the same distinctive styling from designer Gerald Kiska but with an all-new engine that raises capacity from the showbike's 990cc to 1148cc. The chance to ride the end result at the Ascari Race Resort near Ronda in southern Spain confirmed that this small but perfectly formed contender is indeed an exciting package unlike any other in the marketplace.
Just looking at the RC8 helps corroborate this. Kiska's design still remains fresh and individual, especially in white or black rather than the trademark KTM orange. But the RC8's unique qualities are also in function as well as form.
As soon as you sling a leg over the V-twin you notice the seat seems much lower and more spacious than expected, and the bike feels very narrow and compact overall, with your knees tucking in tight to the rear of the 4.4-gallon fuel tank. Set at a surprisingly low 31.7 inches for a modern sportbike, the KTM's saddle doesn't force all your weight onto your wrists (although the seat and footpegs are adjustable and can be raised by 20mm). "Our aim was to use the compact dimensions of our 75-degree V-twin motor, even in larger-capacity 1148cc form, to produce a bike with the engine performance of a Ducati 1098 but the chassis of a Honda CBR600RR," says RC8 Project Leader Wolfgang Felber. "But we wanted to be sure there was space for the rider to move about in the bike, to feel at ease in using his body to help maximize the handling. And it is important to be comfortable, since this brings confidence." KTM has you sitting in the RC8 rather than perched atop it, with the handlebars set forward of the 43mm, upside-down WP (the Dutch suspension specialist owned by KTM) fork's upper triple clamp.
Footpeg brackets (and seat)...
Footpeg brackets (and seat) are adjustable in two positions 20mm apart, with additional adjustability in the bars as well.
Rear ride height is adjustable...
Rear ride height is adjustable using this eccentric pivot on the rear suspension linkage. Rear WP shock has both high- and low-speed compression-damping adjustment.
The fully adjustable 43mm...
The fully adjustable 43mm WP inverted fork holds a pair of monobloc Brembo calipers biting on twin 320mm discs for impressive stopping power.
The RC8 digital LCD dash has...
The RC8 digital LCD dash has two displays, one for road riding and another for the racetrack. Most of the numerous functions and displays in each can be toggled by a thumb lever on the left handlebar.
The cockpit features a highly idiosyncratic digital dash; you'd get info overload if I told you everything this covers in either race or road mode. But while the large digital speedo reading is easy to pick up, the bar-graph tachometer across the top is much less so, with small numbers making it even more difficult (good thing there are two-stage shift lights atop the dash). The lack of fuel gauge or gear indicator is an oversight that should be corrected pronto, especially on a bike as deceptive as this one with such a smooth, linear power delivery and flat torque curve.
Because that's what the KTM's engine is: deceptive. Light the fire via your right thumb, and the 103x69mm eight-valve V-twin settles into a fairly fast 1500-rpm idle speed, with a higher-pitched exhaust note than a 90-degree Ducati. The 1148cc engine uses a dry-sump lubrication system similar to the 990cc LC8 engine used in the Duke series, with the exception of the four-liter oil reservoir integrated into the crankcases. Forged Mahle three-ring pistons force a compression ratio of 12.5:1, breathing through 43.5mm intake/38mm exhaust valves (up from the 990's 38mm/33mm combination) actuated by finger followers instead of bucket tappets. The double-overhead camshafts in each cylinder head are chain-driven instead of using the composite chain/gear drive of the 990; full gear drive is "too loud and not really reliable enough," Felber states, adding, "In my opinion, you should only use gear drive when you have a very even-firing motor like a four-cylinder. In this application on a V-twin engine there was too much gear shock, so we didn't use it."
The engine's throttle response from the Keihin 52mm throttle bodies is immediate, dialing up revs even more quickly than a Ducati thanks to what Felber confirms is a light flywheel setup. Yet this free-revving motor is also torquey, pulling out of turns from as low as 4000 rpm with a linear build of power all the way to the 10,700-rpm soft rev-limiter (followed 300 rpm later by a hard cut-out). There are no steps in the power delivery and especially no dip at around 5000 rpm such as you encounter on a Ducati; perhaps this is why the KTM's power delivery doesn't seem quite as exciting as its Italian rival's. There isn't the same impression of a midrange hit on the Austrian bike, which is even more refined in its fueling off the bottom and certainly has a smoother path to your appointment with the rev-limiter. Without a side-by-side comparison it's obviously impossible to say which bike is faster, but Felber claims the RC8's 155 horsepower at 10,000 rpm, with 88.5 ft-lb of torque peaking at 8000 rpm, is comparable on the Mattighofen dyno to a Ducati 1098's claimed 160 horsepower and 90.4 ft-lb.