A little more than 16 years ago, Austrian manufacturer KTM was in the throes of financial meltdown, resulting in a corporate restructuring that separated the company's multiple manufacturing subsidiaries. Current KTM CEO Stefan Pierer saw some potential in the motorcycle division, and together with partner Rudi Knunz (the current CFO of KTM), bought out all remaining interest and assets in that sector of the company. Although the Mattighofen factory had already amassed many World Motocross and Enduro championships, many were skeptical that the relatively tiny company could sustain itself enough to make anywhere near a full return to its former glory.
So much for the doomsayers. With an aggressive marketing strategy relying on heavy factory racing participation and a product lineup patterned around that competition involvement, KTM has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become the second-largest European manufacturer. Even a two-year partnership contract with North American powersports giant Polaris was called off a year before it expired in 2006, with KTM's increasing sales and financial health helping Pierer decide that the immense monetary and infrastructural strength of a deal with Polaris wasn't worth giving up complete autonomy in KTM's direction.
After continuing to carve out an increasingly larger share of the off-road market, the upstart Austrian powerhouse is now already making a name for itself in the on-road side. The new RC8 represents KTM's first serious foray into the hyper-competitive world of supersport machinery, and after hitting European showrooms in 2008, the distinctively-styled V-twin is now set to finally reach U.S. shores as an '09 model. Our Euro correspondent Alan Cathcart gave a first riding impression and technical details of the bike in the July '08 issue ("Austrian Attack"), and his rave review had us fidgeting in anticipation of getting our paws on one to wring out on American pavement.
To our surprise, the RC8 quickly demonstrated that it's got some big differences that distinguish it from the standard V-twin sportbike fare.
The KTM footpeg brackets are...
The KTM footpeg brackets are adjustable in two positions 20mm apart, with the foot lever tabs also adjustable for feet size.
Besides adjustable footpeg...
Besides adjustable footpeg bracket height, the KTM's shift lever is also adjustable for shift throw and effort, as well as easy conversion to reverse/race shift pattern.
The clip-on bars are also...
The clip-on bars are also adjustable for height by removing the 20mm spacer on the bolt connecting them to the upper triple clamps.
Slinging a leg over the RC8 reveals a far more hospitable riding position than the Ducati 1098, with a lower seat height and higher-set bars putting much less strain on your wrists and torso, with far more legroom. A plus is that the KTM's ergos are adjustable, with the rear tailsection/seat height adjustable in two positions 20mm apart, while the clip-on bar height can be adjusted by 15mm, and the footpeg brackets can be set in either of two positions 20mm apart (we left all of them in the lower position and had no complaints, including zero problems with footpeg ground clearance during track use). Even the shift lever is adjustable for shift throw and effort. Unfortunately, although wide and flat enough to be supportive, the seat's foam is pretty hard, and the stiff suspension (more on that later) quickly turns any extended straight-line drones into butt torture after 20 minutes.
Because of the seat's low height in relation to the rest of the bike, wind protection is pretty good, and vibration at cruising speeds isn't obtrusive (even though the mirrors' images are constantly fuzzed out, making it impossible to tell if that's a police cruiser behind you). Fuel mileage is decent, averaging 40-plus mpg on the highway and dipping into the 36-mpg range when really giving the KTM the whip; the fuel tank capacity is only 4.4 gallons, however, and the low fuel warning on the dash comes on at around 125 miles, so you'll be filling up often. The LCD digital dash display has a "road" and "race" mode, each with a boatload of functions that can be toggled via paddle switches on the left bar or a button on the dash; the road mode features a digital speedometer and bar graph tachometer, but they're both a little too small to see at a glance.