After spending a day at the track with both of these bikes, the more I ride them the more of a convert I become. They both share the characteristics of riding a twin; user-friendly power, great steering, and predictable traction. However, make no bones about it-these are seriously fast bikes.
Given that both bikes on one level share similar characteristics, digging a little deeper really details the unique nuances between the 1198S and RC8R. The RC8R likes its revs kept high to utilize its peak power, while the Ducati's torque pulls it out of any situation. The tall-riding RC8R transitioned well and it had very light steering. Couple this with a slightly out of phase suspension and the RC8R was a bit unstable on the entry to dynamic corners. The 1198S took a little more work, but was as steady as a rock once in the corner.
While I really, really liked both bikes, to me this test came down to refinement. As amazing as the RC8R is, the refinement and sorted package of the 1198S gives it a slight nod.
Riding this class of two-wheeled machinery is a literal stirring of the soul... and wallet.
I will always be a fan of the V-twin configuration, and I'm blown away at KTM's youthful jab at the almighty Italian icon. But as much as I enjoyed the KTM's rev-hungry motor, it's clear that future refinement is still going to be needed. The RC8R has what it takes for most of its customers needs, but at mach-plus, the KTM is clearly a step below the Ducati.
Although the Ducati is left staggered-but still standing-by the comfort and prowess of the Austrian upstart, the Desmo's world-class racing development speaks for itself. The 1198 series has shown what Ducati can bring to the street, and the S model displays this performance heritage with its Öhlins suspension that makes all the difference in putting that performance to the ground. Riding the Ducati hard is practically intuitive, with front-end feedback that inspires supreme confidence-an attribute that is truly the golden key to any rider of high performance motorcycles. This alone gives "The Big Red One" an overall edge.
Sure the title of this story and its contents have nothing to do with the book, but I titled it that way for a reason. These two bikes have many similar traits on paper, but they go about their business in a completely different manner. Whereas the Ducati likes to hum right along and pull a gear as long as possible, the KTM is constantly pinging off the rev-limiter (figuratively speaking). As much as I like riding on the track, any time I rode somewhere on the street I grabbed the KTM keys.
It was a different story on the track though. The KTM never inspired the same kind of confidence in me as it did on the street. In contrast, the Ducati's refinement in comparison to its Austrian counterpart was just staggering. But I can't help but feel that with a little more time I could make the RC8R work for me. Plus-call me crazy-but I kinda like the way the KTM looks. So despite the score sheets and the advice from my colleagues, if I were to pick one I think I'd keep the RC8R in my garage.
I'm fairly impressed with the KTM. The R model definitely shores up the main weakness of the standard version (not enough power), and with its superb agility and less aggressive ergos, the KTM is a more enjoyable ride on the street. The Ducati's tall gearing and committed riding position can get annoying after a while on public pavement. The KTM's quicker-revving engine is a little more fun to play with on the street, and doesn't force you to constantly maintain high corner speed.
That said, the roles were completely reversed on the track. The RC8R's lack of torque compared to the Ducati (which incidentally had WAY more torque than our previous 1198 standard model-perhaps a result of the newer Marelli ECU and more accurate mapping?) really showed on the fast and flowing pavement of a racing circuit, forcing you to keep the KTM's throttle pinned. Meanwhile, the Ducati's combination of strong motor and excellent chassis let it go much quicker with far less effort.
Even though you're forking out a little more coin, I'd go with the 1198S.