This is a story about twins. Separated at birth, these twins went on to live vastly different lives. The first of these two twins was raised in Italy, where it learned to appreciate form over function, but still keeping performance in high regard. The Italian twin feels there's no reason why cutting-edge machinery can't also look timeless. At the other end of the spectrum, the second twin is of Austrian descent. There it formed a different appreciation for beauty and form; where soft, sensual lines made way for sharp edges and angular, contemporary flair.
Of course our two protagonists are the Ducati 1198S and KTM RC8R. The established king of V-twin performance, Ducati have a long history in building championship-winning machinery with its signature L-twin desmodromic engine and trellis frame combination.
With a bold company motto like "Ready To Race" it's clear KTM's ultimate goal would be to race on the world level. When the original RC8 was introduced we became huge fans of the bike's handling, but there was one glaring bit of information that left us scratching our heads: the 1148cc engine. A year after it was released in Europe the 1200cc RC8R made its U.S. debut and after Troy "Trizzle" Siahaan got his first ride taste at the intro in Laguna Seca, we knew what we had to do next.
So let's see: two European sportbikes, both V-twins, both 1200cc, and both hover around the $20,000 mark ($21,795 for the Ducati, $19,998 for the KTM). With stats like that the only thing left to do is pit them against each other. And so we did.
Together At Last
We've covered the technical aspects of both bikes in previous issues so we won't harp too much about that. This time around it's mainly about the riding experience from two of Europe's most exotic twins.
On paper the numbers look almost identical: both have nearly the same wheelbase (56.3 inches), both have equal trail figures (3.8 inches) and both even come standard with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. But there's more to these bikes than meets the eye. For starters, the KTM actually has slightly less displacement than the Ducati-1195cc vs. 1198cc-but made more peak horsepower on our dyno than the 1198S (151.1 compared to 145.1). Look at the dyno chart elsewhere in this story and you'll see a glaring figure: the 1198S makes substantially more torque much sooner in the rev range and continues building steadily, in the usable portion of the powerband that 95-percent of riders will be spending most of their time.
What that translates to in real world riding is being able to carry a gear longer, as the Ducati's massive grunt will carry you through. Of course it also helps that the red machine's gearing is spaced far enough apart to where you only need the first few gears for the majority of street riding anyway. The tall first gear and the sticky clutch we've become accustomed to on Ducatis rears its head again and we found it particularly annoying while riding around town. Speaking of which, we're starting to be convinced that ergonomics on the 1198S were designed by a masochist as the low handlebars and relatively high pegs place mass amounts of weight onto the rider's wrists and forearms, leaving the lower back in a world of hurt after only a short jaunt. A sentiment shared by Kento, scribing in his notes, "For the street...the 1198S only feels great when you're riding it hard...any other time and it's déjà vu to the old 916 torture-rack ergos."
To this end the KTM was a welcome surprise. We don't say this often for full-fledged sportbikes, but seating position was noticeably more comfortable than its Italian counterpart; clip-ons are positioned higher, while the seat and pegs felt lower as well. This is due to the adjustable saddle and rearset positions. Foot pegs have a "high" and "low" setting, and the saddle is able to be positioned in four different ways. Unlike the 1198's unforgiving clutch and tall first gear, the RC8R's short gearing helps it leap off the line and its silky smooth gearbox requires no effort to change up or down. And while it doesn't have the bottom-end torque the Ducati has, its engine spins much quicker compared to the tractor-like 90-degree twin of the 1198S. This is all well and good except for the overly sensitive throttle, something we've experienced on R model KTM's in the past. Strangely, Siahaan didn't experience this at the Laguna Seca intro.